Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Not-So Cut Cord

Now that I have a commute again (and until I get audio courses and books unpacked) I find myself listening to NPR at times on the road. The basic approach of NPR appeals to me far more than the conservative alternatives, though I find it's politics very annoying. (Now if there were a radio network that filled the audio niche which the Wall Street Journal fills in print...) But most amusing of all is when they run a story on what they consider to be some culturally emergent phenomenon which really just shows how far inside the bubble the NPR world is.

Such an example was a story this morning about people taking the radical (radical!) step of stopping their cable TV subscriptions. Yes, you see, some people just don't get cable TV. Have you heard of this?

To show what this radical new lifestyle is like, they interviewed a CNET editor whose blog Diary of a Cable Cord Cutter chronicled his life without cable TV... for one month. Yes, you see, he was going to go without cable in order to save money, but he and his wife found it's hard to watch a lot of TV if you don't have cable. So they got it back.

Perhaps, some day, if they search very hard in the hinterlands of this wide country, they will find someone who has pursued the even more mysterious path of not watching much TV.

Though I don't know, someone like that might be, I don't know, religious or something. Or read books. Or... Well, clearly be a pretty odd person.

Personally, I'm finding it quite relaxing to not have cable again after three months of having it while in temporary digs. Though we will be glad to have the high speed internet hooked up on Friday.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

We're In This Together

At mass on the Feast of the Holy Family, I was in particular struck by the readings. The first reading, from Sirach, deals with relationships between parents and children:
God sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.
Whoever honors his father atones for sins,
and preserves himself from them.
When he prays, he is heard;
he stores up riches who reveres his mother.
Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children,
and, when he prays, is heard.
Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;
he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.

My son, take care of your father when he is old;
grieve him not as long as he lives.
Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him;
revile him not all the days of his life;
kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
firmly planted against the debt of your sins
—a house raised in justice to you.
The second paragraph here is one that has always particularly struck me, as it emphasizes that honor to one's parents is not simply a matter of "they have good ideas, so you should listen to them" but rather that parents deserve honor because they are parents. "Even if his mind fail... revile him not," is something I had cause to remind myself often (though judging from my actions, not always often enough) during the time we spent caring for my Dad's mother in her last days -- a women who wanted things done her way at all times, even as simple things like making coffee and putting things in the fridge became impossible for her to do herself.

The second reading is the passage from Colossians 3 which is nearly the same as the Ephesians 5 passage which was discussed at some length a few weeks ago.

And the gospel chronicles St. Joseph's unquestioning obedience to God's direction as he took the Holy Family from Bethlahem to Egypt and from Egypt back to Nazareth.

Somehow these readings brought together for me two very disparate lines of thought I'd had over the last few days.

One is the thought every father gives to how his children will be affected by what he does -- thrown to prominence at this particular time as we move into a new house, in a new state. Will this be the house they look back fondly on? Will the large yard and rambling house be the place they spent numerous happy days as children? Will the large rooms they play in now also provide the privacy and refuge that they want as older children and teenagers? Will they be happy here? Or will this be Mom and Dad's big project that took up time and family finances for years which they just remember as too big to clean, too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer, a big house that always felt empty?

Are we doing the right thing?

One of the intriguing aspects of being a parent is that sometimes one experiences, usually in a moment of extreme frustration, a sudden recollection of some long ago event along with an intense understanding of just why one's own parents reacted to a seemingly innocent escapade (such as securing the window against potential burglars by means of a whole spool of dental floss) with such inexplicable anger. Yet while these moments bring about a new-found kinship with one's parents, they also make one realize how distant we are from our younger selves, and likewise from our young offspring. Here we are trying to do what is best for the young lives entrusted to us, and yet much of how our choices will affect them in the long term is necessarily unknown to us.

The seemingly unrelated line of thinking relates to the argument one often hears out of "social justice Catholics" that thinking of salvation and holiness only in terms of the individual is a narrowing of the Gospel message because the human person can only exist in community. There is enough discussion in roughly these terms in actual Church writings that I don't think it can be totally ignored, but I am at the same time quite sure that it does not mean what salvation is to be achieved through the imposition of The Perfect Government System Which Will Create Love And Joy For All, which is what said "social justice" types often seem to imply it means.

All of these injunctions for how to live our lives relate to living in community at the most granular level: husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and workers, etc. Why? How do these human relationships relate to our relationship with God?

Because as creatures who live in community, our beliefs, our actions and our dispositions are affected by all those others we interact with: family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, strangers, even enemies. As members of the Body of Christ, we constantly affect the other members, often in ways we are barely aware of.

If you're known around the office as the "guy who goes to church", yet you're constantly heard on the phone arguing with your wife or belittling her concerns, your actions don't merely affect your relationship with your wife, they may well help form (or malform) your coworkers ideas about God, Christianity and marriage. While it is certainly true that it is our own actions that we will be judged for at the end of our lives, those actions are not isolated actions in a void, but actions which affect, perhaps in some cases deeply affect, others' relationships with God.

In this sense, it is particularly important that we approach our relationships with those we interact with the most, our spouses, children, parents and neighbors, as Christians, because it is often through how we interact with those people that they understand what being Christian is. When we teach love through our actions, even to people who are not Christian or don't know we are Christian, we teach the nature of love through action. When we teach selfishness or hatred through our actions, we inspire similar actions in others.

Most certainly, others have the choice whether to return love for hatred, or selfishness for love, but our actions are never without effect on others, and as such we are constantly making it easier or harder for others to know, love and serve God through our success or failure in doing so ourselves.

A Bad Witness to the True Meaning of Christmas

It was December 21st and MrsDarwin and I were standing in the local branch of our bank, getting a cashier's check for more money than I like to think about so that we could go close on our new house. These things take time, as people don't normally come in and asked to cut large chashier's checks, and as we were standing there I gradually became aware of an increasingly loud conserversation between an elderly male customer and a teller at the other end of the counter.

"I'm very offended," he announced. "Very, very offended. And do you know why I'm offended?"

"Why sir?"

"Because I am a Christian and when I look around here four days before Christmas I don't see a single Christmas decoration. Do you know how long I've been a customer here? I want to talk to your manager."

At this juncture I ceased half-paying-attention and began full on spectating, since in the customer service hierarchy dealing with a shouting customer ranks higher on a manager's list of priorities than signing off on the large cashier's check of a quiet couple holding a sleeping baby, and thus we wouldn't be going anywhere until this fellow was dealt with.

The manager attempted to smooth things over, pointing to a few red bows and fake evergreen that decorated the branch, but the man would not be pacified.

"Those aren't Christmas decorations," he declared. "Christmas is a religious holiday. It's about Jesus. And I don't see a thing in here to show that it's happening this week."

Further attempts of the manager to placate got nowhere, as the fellow demanded, "Look up my account. Look how long my wife and I have been banking here and how much money we have with you. If you don't care about Christmas I'm closing out my account and taking my money elsewhere."

At last, the manager apparently decided that reasoning wasn't getting anywhere, so he took his soon-to-be former customer off to one of the side offices while one of the tellers brought out a bill counting machine in order to fulfill the customer's request that his money all be withdrawn, "In large bills." Our spectating ended, as the manager signed off on our cashier's check as he passed, and so we were able to leave shortly thereafter. As we passed the closed door of the glassed-in office, I could see the man still gesticulating and talking inside as the manager nodded in the pained way that those tasked with taking care of disgruntled customers do.

As we drove off, I couldn't help feeling depressed about the whole spectacle. Though a nominally Christian country, at least as the polling data goes, people who are in any way serious practicing Christians are increasingly a minority in our culture, and as such ripe for being understood primarily based on their loudest representatives. That one of these should be a man angry that the local branch of Chase didn't have religious Christmas decorations on display seemed, if anything, a way of making people more averse to Christianity rather than the contrary. Indeed, if I were to list the difficulties that Christianity faces at this time, the failure to be endorsed by J. P. Morgan Chase does not seem high on the list.

Though as the saying goes: You can pick your friends, but you can't pick your family. This goes as much for brothers in Christ as for blood relatives.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hodie Christus Natus Est!

Merry Christmas to our loyal and patient readers! Christ was born in a stable, but the Darwin house resembles the inn, with family rattling merrily around the new homestead. The vast swathes of paneling give the place a fine acoustic, which my sister (the opera singer) has exploited to fine effect. Every day reveals new facets of the house, both amazing and discomfiting, such as: there used to be a house phone! The ceramic heater in the bathroom still works! Out of four showers in the house, only one is fully operational! The downstairs bathroom door neither catches nor latches -in fact, only one of the bathrooms locks! Fortunately, it's the one with the working shower.

The home Internet connection won't be functional until later this week, and the iPad, for all it's toy value, is recalcitrant when it comes to typing much more than a sentence or two. (Witness, or rather don't witness, because you can't, the paragraph of inimitable prose it just ate as I tried to fix a minor typo.) We shall be back in form soon, and with photos to boot. What the move takes away, it restores: the memory chip to the digital camera, lost in the move from Texas, was discovered again in the midst of packing for Columbus.

We're about to settle in the library to watch A Christmas Carol (the George C. Scott version; Darwin will countenance no other). God bless us, every one!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Divided Thoughts over the Tax Deal

I find myself with oddly divided feelings about this whole tax deal making its way through congress.  On the one hand, while extending the tax cuts which we're already experiencing seems prudent, especially in a recession, piling additional tax cuts on top of those (especially the across the board 2% reduction in social security withholding) seems seriously unwise when our deficit is already the size that it is.

On the other hand, I could certainly use the extra $150+ per month in take-home income.  As I look at moving bills and such, I keep thinking, "Well, if this passes my paychecks will go up soon."

We routinely scorn politicians for being easily bought, but I'm feeling rather hungry for my pot of lentils myself about now.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ember Days

Since today is the start of the Ember Days, we run a guest column by Pinky, who comments at The American Catholic, responding to Darwin's post about fasting and self-denial.
“If virtue is a habit, perhaps it’s time to form some more habits around denial of appetite.” – DarwinCatholic

It has always been the practice of the Church to prepare for feast days with prayer and fasting. The opportunity to take part in one of the Church’s oldest traditions is approaching on the 15th, 17th, and 18th of December this year, the tradition of Ember days.

Ember days likely came into being in the years when the Catholic Church was expanding into pagan lands and Christianizing their rituals, although some have dated them back to the time of the Apostles. Further confusing the origin of the practice is the unknown derivation of the word “ember” itself: possibly from the Latin word tempor (time) or the Celtic word ymbren (seasonal cycle).

On the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of four weeks spaced throughout the year, the faithful have been encouraged to prayer, fasting, and partial abstinence (meat was allowed during the one meal except on Fridays or during Lent). These Ember weeks were standardized in 1095 to begin on the Wednesday following the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross (Sept.14) , the Feast of Saint Lucy (Dec.13), Ash Wednesday, and Pentecost. Ember Saturdays are popular days for ordinations.

Among the strongest supporters of Ember days were the sainted bishops Augustine and Charles Borromeo. For St. Augustine, fasting was linked to almsgiving as well as austerity:

First and foremost, clearly, please remember the poor, so that what you withhold from yourselves by living more sparingly, you may deposit in the treasury of heaven. Let the hungry Christ receive what the fasting Christian receives less of. Let the self-denial of one who undertakes it willingly become the support of the one who has nothing. Let the voluntary want of the person who has plenty become the needed plenty of the person in want. (Sermon 210)

St. Charles Borromeo was well-known for his asceticism, and promoted the practice of Ember days in his Archdiocese of Milan. The painting “St. Charles Borromeo at Supper”, by the 17th century Milanese painter Daniele Crespi, depicts the saint eating bread and water, lost in Scripture and prayer.

As with many traditions, Ember days faded out in the changes after the Second Vatican Council. They are still practiced in parts of Europe. In the US, they may sometimes be found as days of prayer for peace on newer calendars. We can still participate in this ancient tradition, practicing self-sacrifice and devotion in preparation for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ephesians 5 Round Up: Does "Wives Be Submissive" Have Any Content?

As I wrote a bit over a week ago, my attention was caught by a post in which Brett Salkeld asked the question, Does the Injunction that Wives Submit to Their Husbands Have any Content? He said:
I am not so progressive that I am opposed in principle to the idea that there might be something of value in this claim. In other words, I do not presume that Paul’s teaching on this matter can be dismissed simply as a function of his era. Of course, investigation may determine that his teaching is not central to the Christian understanding of marriage and is simply the result of his writing at a particular time and place, but that is not my presumption. Such claims, for me, must be demonstrated, not presumed. I am conservative enough to insist that they are are not self-evident.

I have found myself frustrated, however, by those authors and commentators within the church who insist that wives must in fact submit to their husbands—that men are, necessarily, the “head of the household.” Such an insistence is typically followed by numerous qualifications and caveats indicating precisely what such a claim does not mean in the concrete. Men are not to be tyrants. They are not to make every decision independently. They are to provide space for the development and self-expression of their wives. All well and good, of course. Who would disagree with any of these? But as easy as it is to highlight what not to do in the concrete, it seems to me that this teaching will have no purchase on the reality of contemporary marriage if no one can articulate what it actually does mean in the concrete.
Is it essential to the Christian understanding of marriage that men be the “head of the household”? Does Paul’s insistence that wives submit to their husbands belong to the deposit of faith, or is it merely a historical accretion on the gospel? Finally, and this is what interests me the most, if this injunction is essential to Christian marriage, what does it actually mean? What does it look like in the day-to-day lives of married people?
I shared a bit of the timidity which frustrated Brett as I attempted to answer his question, but I felt the urge to do so because I agree with him that it seems inappropriate to discard the quote or answer it only with qualifications as to what it does not mean. Nor did I find any of the comments he'd got particularly helpful. So, knowing that as a couple-written blog here at DarwinCatholic we have a pretty good mix of male and female readers, in my original post I asked a number of married women bloggers who are, virtually-speaking, in the neighborhood their thoughts on the matter. There were a number of very interesting responses.

MrsDarwin talked about submission from a specific and personal point of view.

Bearing of Bearing Blog responded with a part one which contained general considerations as to what "wives be submissive" means, and a part two which addressed the question in more specific terms. Both of these are very well thought out and helped to clarify my thinking a bit. I'd strongly encourage reading them if you haven't already.

Dorian Speed of Scrutinies also responded with a part one and a continuation, talking both about why this can be such an aggravating topic and giving some specific ideas as to what being "submissive" as a wife means.

Betty Duffy also provided some very good thoughts on the issue.

 Willa of Quotidian Moments and Calah of Barefoot and Pregnant stepped up and provided thoughtful and personal responses.

This is the sort of group discussion between disparate people who hold the same things sacred which I find particularly enjoyable about the Catholic blog community. I really can't recommend strongly enough that you read the above-linked posts. The only reason I don't quote more of them is that there's a finite practical length to posts which I will already be pushing with this one. But do please click through.

I'm going to respond to one of the themes that was brought up several times and then attempt, having read all of these responses and thought further on the topic, to address the questions with which Brett closed his piece.

I'd purposefully directed all of my tags to married-woman bloggers, because I particularly wanted to understand what this passage meant to Catholic women who are married. One of the thoughts several put forth was that the injuctions for women to submit to their husbands and husbands to love their wives represented a case of telling each sex to focus on what comes less naturally to them. Willa put it in most detail:
Men, I would argue, don't have to be told to submit. It is something that comes very naturally to them. It is part of their strength, and it can also be a weakness. Sure, they will jostle for first place. But I am always struck by how on athletic fields and in other masculine areas, men are able to acknowledge the best among them, and admire the one who comes in first, without hard feelings or jealousy OR cringing servility. In the past, the best men have had no problem kneeling to a king without feeling a loss to their own dignity. In fact, the most masculine men are usually the ones who can serve nobly and faithfully. Think of the centurion who Jesus spoke of admiringly, who drew the analogy between the men who served him and then applied it to Jesus's power.

Think also of chivalry and the romantic ideal -- a man naturally thinks in terms of service, I believe. Where I think he may sometimes need to be reminded is in the area of "love"-- that is, a faithful and long-term drawing-together, a willingness to be perfected and completed by the other, to stay in the holistic relationship and in the true sense "husband" and cultivate his family rather than making his role a sort of stylized formality. I think that this kind of wholehearted love and commitment is harder for a man. Perhaps Adam reneged on his role when he basically took the "whatever" role when Eve set it upon him, and then laid the blame on her for his own lapse of commitment.

Women, I would argue, don't have to be told to love. They will love whether told to or no. They are attracted to the good even when it's hidden, and receptive to it. They look for completion in a relationship. But they have a harder time submitting, putting their agenda in second place. Even their service and sacrifice can be a form of control if they don't watch out. Ask me how I know, as long as you don't expect me to answer. But "sub-missio" implies making your mission wholeheartedly subordinate to that of the other. I would argue that the feminine difficulty with this goes back to Eve's seizing of the initiative in the relationship of our First Parents, and was decisively set back to rights by Our Lady's Fiat at the Annunciation.
The first couple times women brought this up in comments and in response posts, it seemed very odd to me. As a man, I don't necessarily think of myself as particularly good at submitting. I am, after all, like many other men, very conscious of hierarchy and thus very competitive to be at the top of hierarchies rather than lower down. Reading Willa's post, however, I realized that this is in a sense what is being said. In management circles, people sometimes talk about "male-type" decision making structures which have very clear hierarchies of responsibility and command versus "female-type" decision making structures which are based on consensus. In a highly "male" structure, each person is clear on his responsibilities and makes decisions on his own about issues within his scope while deferring up the command structure for issues that excede his brief. In a highly "female" structure, there's a major effort to make sure that everyone agrees before a decision is made, and people feel betrayed if decisions are made without first informing everyone and making sure that everyone is in agreement.

At a practical level, it's very hard to run any organization (a family very much so) without consensus, but it's even harder to run an organization if there's not a clear way of deciding differences of opinion and if everyone thinks he or she has to be consulted before any decision is made.

Applying this to the point at hand, it seems to me that this pair of submit/love commands suggests that Paul is taking the husband to have the final say in the familial decision-making hierarchy, while reminding the husband that his command of the family is not for himself but rather for his wife and for his children.

Brett asked three questions which I'd like now to try to answer to the best of my ability, though I'll treat them as two:

Is it essential to the Christian understanding of marriage that men be the “head of the household”? Does Paul’s insistence that wives submit to their husbands belong to the deposit of faith, or is it merely a historical accretion on the gospel?

I think I would answer this "No" and "Yes". I don't think that it is "essential" to the Christian understanding of marraige that men be "head of household" in the sense that this is how Christ revealed marriage to be and so we must live it that way or else we're sinning. I don't think that the husband being the head of a family is an idea created by Christianity or unique to Christianity. However, I don't think that this is "merely a historical accretion on the gospel" either by any stretch. Rather, Paul is assuming that this is the way that things work, that husbands are dominant over wives in the family command structure, and telling us how, given this, we as Christians should live out marriage. For comparison, look to the following two pairs of commands in chapter six: Children, obey your parents; fathers, don't provoke your children. Slaves, obey your masters; masters, do not mistreat your slaves.

We may not have slaves anymore, but we still have earthly masters and the advice:
obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; 6 not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. 7 Render service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not to men and women, 8 knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord, whether we are slaves or free.
could just as well apply to your relationship with your boss at work in modern day America as it did to a slave's relationship to his master in the first century Roman Empire. Come to that, managers could use the advice to masters:
And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.
Paul isn't laying out a new set of social institutions here. Instead, he's telling people how to live in a way that turns their ordinary lives into means of sanctification. He's not laying out a new set of social structures and redesigning human society, he's tell us how to live holy lives in the society that already exists.

This is the sense in which I think that a more fundamentalist reading of "wives be submissive" goes wrong: There is no holy and sacred command that we preserve and maintain what we imagine to have been the command structure of a first century marriage.

At the same time, I think those who see this as a historical relic of a partriarchal past go seriously wrong. Paul accepts that a family is headed by the pater familias, and I think he does so not by some historical accident that this is how things happened to work in the particular time and place where he was, but rather because this is how we as humans work. Men and woman are not interchangeable but rather complimentary, and as such husbands and wives have different functions in a family. This does not mean that one is better than the other, but it does, among other things, mean that one is the "head". This doesn't mean that the husband makes every decision (that's a terrible management structure) and it certainly doesn't mean that he is to do so without regard to the wife (via a Christian understanding of leadership he is the head for her not for himself) but he is the head. And honestly, in a command structure of two, you have to have someone who is finally in charge. There is, otherwise, no tie breaking vote in a group of two.

So given this fact that the husband is, in some sense, the "head", Paul tells us how we as Christians are to live out lives of virtue within the structure of marriage. The wife is to submit willingly to the husband. The husband is to love his wife as he loves himself, as his own body.

Finally, and this is what interests me the most, if this injunction is essential to Christian marriage, what does it actually mean? What does it look like in the day-to-day lives of married people?

I think what this actually looks like is going to vary a whole lot from couple to couple. That may sound like a cop-out, but since I'm holding that Paul's injunction is not some magical command of "your marriage must work precisely this way" but rather an injunction on how to live as a Christian within the thing that is marriage, I think that it really will vary not only with time and place but also with specific husbands and wives. One of the things I always realize when I have the chance, as in the responses to my original post, to read about how other people's marriages work is how little I understand other people. We know the most about being us. I know myself and my wife moderately well. But other people, even ones I know quite well, are often mysterious to me. Sometimes more so as I get to know them better, since when we know little of someone we often fill in the gaps with "just like me".

To sum up, let me see if I can lay out some of what I think that this headship means for husbands and wives.

For Husbands:
- The buck does indeed have to stop somewhere. There are times when no one wants to go on record as making a decision. Congratulations, that's when you get to step in and make the decision. And take responsibility for it.
- When you are at the top of the command structure you bear responsibility for all decisions. This means that if something your wife wanted to do did not work out well, you do not get to play "I told you so". If you really thought it was such a bad idea, you should have said no.
- As in any other leadership situation: Do not ask your wife to do anything you wouldn't want to do. If you love having a clean house, but whenever you personally have free time to prefer to read or play video games or go hang out with the guys rather than doing any share of the cleaning, then you can hardly get upset if your wife shows similar preferences when she has time which she could either spend cleaning or reading a mystery novel. That doesn't mean you have to do everything, but if you're not willing to ever do some particular task, yet you're asking your wife to do it, you are probably being unreasonable somewhere.
- Just as you must love your wife as your own body, you also need to command her the way your command your body. In sports your learn quickly the dangers of trying to make your body do things it can't. Don't ask your wife to do things or be things that she can't.
- Your wife is part of the team; never, ever undercut her in front of other members of the team, much less other teams.
- If your management style with your family is one that would annoy you if your boss used it on you, find a new style.
- Any time you start feeling all "leaderly", remember the purpose for which you are the leader: to serve others not to boss them around and aggrandize yourself.

For Wives (heavily cribbed from MrsDarwin, Bearing and Dorian):
- When things go badly with a decision, be assured that your husband probably already feels pretty bad about it and don't pile on.
- Be willing to believe that your husband means the best even when you think he's not making the best decision. While you should certainly provide him with all the help/advice that he's willing/able to take, at some point a decision needs to be made. And unless this is the sort of catastrophic issue you think you need to put your marriage on the line over (and if that sort of issue seems to come up all the time, something is wrong) there's a point in which you need to allow a decision to happen. There is, in Catholicism, a long tradition of obedience as a path to holiness -- it's why monks and nuns take vows of obedience to their superiors. Hard as it may be, you may need to do this sometimes with the thin comfort that cheerful obedience can be a means to holiness even when the decision is not good. (And when the only other choice is resentment, it's probably more enjoyable in the long run too.) Plus, predictions of failure backed up by uncooperation tend to be self-fulfilling.
- Don't undercut or mock your husband in front of the children or behind his back with your girlfriends.
- If you want something, be willing to ask for it (and risk a no) rather than silently contemplating what a failure your husband is for not thinking of doing it for you.
- Try to be realistic about who your husband is and what he's capable of, and try to accept that with grace.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Transmission of Human Life

The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.

The fulfillment of this duty has always posed problems to the conscience of married people, but the recent course of human society and the concomitant changes have provoked new questions. The Church cannot ignore these questions, for they concern matters intimately connected with the life and happiness of human beings.
--Humanae Vitae 1

She urges man not to betray his personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients.
-- HV 18
In a hospital room on the Greek island of Crete with views of a sapphire sea lapping at ancient fortress walls, a Bulgarian woman plans to deliver a baby whose biological mother is an anonymous European egg donor, whose father is Italian, and whose birth is being orchestrated from Los Angeles.

She won't be keeping the child. The parents-to-be—an infertile Italian woman and her husband (who provided the sperm)—will take custody of the baby this summer, on the day of birth.
The Wall Street Journal's article "Assembling the Global Baby" is about the new business of surrogacy. I use the term "business" advisedly: there is a product that can be customized to the demands of the consumer, which is being outsourced because foreign workers will do the job for less than their first-world counterparts. And the excessive inventory is liquidated if the buyer doesn't want to purchase it.
Some of his own clients have faced the abortion decision, Mr. Rupak says. "Sometimes they find the money" to pay for more children than they expected, he says. After all, they went to such lengths. And if they decide otherwise, Mr. Rupak says, "We don't judge."
From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. -- HV 10
PlanetHospital's most affordable package, the "India bundle," buys an egg donor, four embryo transfers into four separate surrogate mothers, room and board for the surrogate, and a car and driver for the parents-to-be when they travel to India to pick up the baby.

...Mr. Rupak says he is vigilant about the risks inherent in a lightly regulated business. He says he stopped using egg donors from Georgia in Eastern Europe, for instance, because a black market for eggs has sprung up in the region. This fall, Greek authorities busted a group of Romanian and Bulgarian men for allegedly forcing poor immigrant women to undergo egg extractions.
No statement of the problem and no solution to it is acceptable which does violence to man's essential dignity; those who propose such solutions base them on an utterly materialistic conception of man himself and his life. The only possible solution to this question is one which envisages the social and economic progress both of individuals and of the whole of human society, and which respects and promotes true human values. -- HV 23, quoting Mater et Magistra
...The couple planned on having two children. But their two surrogate mothers in India each became pregnant with twins.

At 12 weeks into the pregnancies, Mr. Aki and his husband decided to abort two of the fetuses, one from each woman. It was a very painful call to make, Mr. Aki says. "You start thinking to yourself, 'Oh, my god, am I killing this child?'"
Consequently, unless we are willing that the responsibility of procreating life should be left to the arbitrary decision of men, we must accept that there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go, to the power of man over his own body and its natural functions—limits, let it be said, which no one, whether as a private individual or as a public authority, can lawfully exceed. These limits are expressly imposed because of the reverence due to the whole human organism and its natural functions... -- HV 17

Friday, December 10, 2010

New Traditional Parish established in Old Traditional Church

Folks in the Ohio area: Rich Leonardi is doing his on-the-ground reporting about Archbishop Schnurr's decision to set up a parish specifically devoted to the traditional Latin liturgy.

The parish will be established at St. Mark's, a gorgeous church that was recently closed. This is a wonderful way to keep such a beautiful building in use, even when shifting demographics mean the neighborhood itself can't support a geographical parish.

There will be an open house at St. Mark's on Sunday Dec. 12 from 1-3, hosted by Una Voce, the local traditional community. I'll be there.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


There are all sorts of Real Topics I could post about, but I'd rather just post a video of Jackie Chan singing War.

"What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!"

For Your High Brow Trashy Fix

I regret to inform that your numble correspondent is ending up completely brain fried today, via a combination of lots of competitive price analysis and even more mortgage and house-buying paperwork. Thus, my intent is not to write tonight but rather to veg out over a bottle of Trader Joe's Holiday Ale and a set of DVDs from the library.

And so, seeking something less mentally demanding than a movie and yet higher brow than network TV I ask them as might be willing to venture an opinion: Sopranos, Six Feet Under or Big Love -- which one and why? (I've never seen any of any of them, but having a number of non-kid-present hours and a lot of tired braincells to un-wind, I thought I might give one a try as the library seems well provided with DVD sets.)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Class and Marriage: A Reverse

[Yes, I will write an Ephesians 5 round up and follow-up shortly, but this caught my attention and was easy writing.]

It's long been a trope of the "culture war" that the rich as social and religious libertines while the stolid middle class cling to traditional values. Or, as another portion of America sees it, that the educated elite have moved beyond the primative and prejudices social mores of the past while the uneducated cling to their guns and their religion. I would venture to say that for many of us reading here this may also to a stereotype which fits with our lived experience.

However, a report out from the Institute for American Values stands this set of stereotypes somewhat on its head, showing a educated elite which is going to church more and sleeping around less, while the broad middle class is going to church less, having more children out of wedlock and getting divorced more often.

One thing to keep in mind in looking at this is that the report's definition of the broad middle class is all those adults who have completed high school but have not completed a four year college degree (people with just a high school diploma, an AA or "some college"). This makes up 58% of the US population -- something which I find myself liable to forget since not getting at bachelor's degree was virtually unthinkable in my family. Both my parents had been the first in their families to earn college degrees and they believed very strongly in the importance of higher education. But while Dad's community college staff salary (plus 1-2 part time side jobs at a given time) put us squarely in the middle of the population by income demographic, this survey would have put us in the "highly educated" upper class -- those with a four year college degree or beyond, making up roughly 30% of the US population. The "less educated" in this study are composed of those without a high school diploma. Thus, this is playing somewhat outside the set of class definitions which I normally think in terms of -- which realistically are more like sub-divisions of the middle and upper middle classes.

Still, the data is fairly startling and speaks well for itself, which given a lack of time this morning, I will let it do.

Percentage of people who say they consider pre-marital sex to be "always wrong" by educational demographic, 1970s vs. 2000s:

Percentage of women who bear children out of wedlock by educational demographic, 1970s vs. 2000s:

Percentage of people aged 25 to 70 who are in an intact first marriage by educational demographic, 1970s vs. 2000s:

Percentage of people who say divorces should be made more difficult to obtain by educational demographic, 1970s vs. 2000s:

Percentage of people who "almost always" attend religious services at least once a week by educational demographic, 1970s vs. 2000s:

Ross Douthat has some interesting things to say on it.

I'm trying to formulate what this tells us about the state of our culture, but it's certainly interesting. Thoughts?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Ephesians 5: My Experience

Ephesians Chapter 5 (NRSV)
21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, 27 so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind--yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." 32 This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. 33 Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.

I suppose my response to Darwin's Ephesians 5 request is in itself an act of submission; it goes against my innate laziness to put up a post (you really don't know how serious I'm being here), but I love my husband and honor his requests, usually, unless they involve appeals to call the movers... Apparently I'd written on this before, but upon re-reading that post I found it deathly dull, so I hope I can be more engaging now.

The lesser injunction of wifely submission is subsumed in Paul's larger points: "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." (5:21) and "Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband." (5:33) The first of these is directed toward all Christians; the second, toward both spouses. I should say that personally, this passage has never been a stumbling block or even much of an issue for me. I've no doubt that there are gonzo guys out there who give husbands a bad name by being overbearing or controlling or just plain jerky, but my husband falls into none of those categories. I don't find it onerous to consult him or ask his advice. However, he's never "ordered" me to do anything, and our relationship as adults is such that he never will.

Every marriage faces hard choices, however. Here, a bit of pseudo-fiction I composed myself, several months ago, in the midst of our recent job change. Names are eliminated to protect the melodramatic.
There once was a woman whose husband was considering moving to California for a job, but the woman didn't really want to go to California, despite the fact that the job was at IdealDreamCorp. and would have been an perfect fit for her husband. The woman was just sick at the thought of California, but she didn't want her husband to see how unhappy she was, so she choked it down, shutting herself off from him in the process. The family moved to California and had to live at in a small, ugly house (in California), but the husband was happy at work, finding great intellectual companionship and doing awesome stuff. Meanwhile the woman grew more and more unhappy: her house was small, the kids were crazy, there were no Real Catholics (tm) and she couldn't write on the internet about how unhappy she was because she wanted to hide it from her husband, because she didn't want him to be unhappy by how unhappy she was. She began avoiding him so he wouldn't discover this secret, and she sunk into a funk and couldn't get out of it, and he met someone more interesting and not so moody at work, and the woman and her husband got divorced and it was SO TERRIBLE...
Oh, the pathos! Was it really so much more interesting to be divorced (in some future alternate non-reality) than to trust that my husband, who loves me as Christ loves his Church, would do what was best for our family? Was there really so much for the divorced mother of many children that I would even want to imagine such a life of isolation? Quentin Tarantino once said so eloquently in Pulp Fiction, "I don't want to get f%^ing divorced!" I concurred, completely.

And that slap of reality across the tear-streaked face of my maudlin story was enough to pull me up short and make me reassess my life in the clear light of truth. So I went to Darwin and said (honestly) that I thought that I could probably live in California, if that seemed like the right choice for him to make for our family. That statement of submission (if that's what you want to call it) freed him to look at the job and the situation through his own eyes, instead of with the nagging fear of my total disapproval behind him (though that was probably in play too, since he's not a jerk) and to see the negative aspects of the area and the warning notes in the interview. He took the difficult and humbling step of turning down the position despite being a clear front-runner.

Difficult and humbling steps: the same steps that Christ took on the way to Calvary, as he gave Himself up out of love for His Church.

And yes, I "submitted" the whole silly story to Darwin, my own humbling step.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

I Remember MrsDarwin 6

Once again, it's my birthday! and that means it's time for everyone's favorite compilation of egregious falsehoods.
If you read this, if your eyes are passing over this right now, even if we don't speak often, please post a comment with a COMPLETELY MADE UP AND FICTIONAL MEMORY OF YOU AND ME.

It can be anything you want--good or bad--BUT IT HAS TO BE FAKE.

When you're finished, post this paragraph on your blog and be surprised (or mortified) about what people DON'T ACTUALLY remember about you.
Brush up on the mendacity from years past:
I Remember MrsDarwin 2009
I Remember MrsDarwin 2008
I Remember MrsDarwin 2007
I Remember MrsDarwin 2006
I Remember MrsDarwin 2005

Friday, December 03, 2010

Seven Quick Takes

This is not my post in response to Darwin's submission post, needless to say. It was just something I had ready to go up.

1. I've seen the future of low-budget children's programming, and it's cheap-ass computer rendering. Sorry junk. I hate the TV right now.

2. Here's how we do school here: the girls are writing out their Christmas lists in their best cursive because Santa can't read bad handwriting.

3. Here's our other homeschooling activity right now: we sing the times tables along with this CD. Hey, it works. I remember my younger siblings singing these songs, and a dedicated homeschooling group was able to help me locate it for my own kids. I find myself wandering around singing the Sevens waltz and the Eights boogie, so you know it's catchy.

4. My grocery shopping takes twice as long now because I don't know where anything is in the new store. Before we moved I had it down to a science; now, I wander aimlessly through the aisles because everything is in the wrong place.

5. This song:

It's so bizarre, and yet I have to listen to it for the weird twangy beat and the bass progression. Upon youtubing it, I discover that it's from Paul McCartney, and now I never want to hear another Beatles song again. Curse you, Paul McCartney, for the strangest Christmas song ever.

6. Diana (who will be henceforth called Pidge, because that's what we call her) rolled off the bed last night. I had five months of baby immobility, but now it's over. I wish she wouldn't, and yet it's so cute to see her squalling and kicking on her stomach, having rolled there and not knowing how to roll back.

7. Just a heads-up: my birthday is coming up, so get your thinking caps on...

Thanks to Jen for hosting.

What Does "Wives, Be Submissive" Mean?

A while back, Brett Salkeld asked the question, Does the Injunction that Wives Submit to Their Husbands Have any Content?
I am not so progressive that I am opposed in principle to the idea that there might be something of value in this claim. In other words, I do not presume that Paul’s teaching on this matter can be dismissed simply as a function of his era. Of course, investigation may determine that his teaching is not central to the Christian understanding of marriage and is simply the result of his writing at a particular time and place, but that is not my presumption. Such claims, for me, must be demonstrated, not presumed. I am conservative enough to insist that they are are not self-evident.

I have found myself frustrated, however, by those authors and commentators within the church who insist that wives must in fact submit to their husbands—that men are, necessarily, the “head of the household.” Such an insistence is typically followed by numerous qualifications and caveats indicating precisely what such a claim does not mean in the concrete. Men are not to be tyrants. They are not to make every decision independently. They are to provide space for the development and self-expression of their wives. All well and good, of course. Who would disagree with any of these? But as easy as it is to highlight what not to do in the concrete, it seems to me that this teaching will have no purchase on the reality of contemporary marriage if no one can articulate what it actually does mean in the concrete.
Is it essential to the Christian understanding of marriage that men be the “head of the household”? Does Paul’s insistence that wives submit to their husbands belong to the deposit of faith, or is it merely a historical accretion on the gospel? Finally, and this is what interests me the most, if this injunction is essential to Christian marriage, what does it actually mean? What does it look like in the day-to-day lives of married people?
To be honest, this is the sort of thing which doesn't really bother me. It makes sense and seems true to me, and yet I can't think of specific rules as to what "headship" means in our household, much less formulate some sort of universally applicable principle which must apply in all circumstances.

Having the biological bent that I do, I would perhaps go a little far by modern standards by saying that, overall, marriage relationships will work better when the male is more in the "provider" role and the female in the "nurturer" role. This doesn't mean it's "wrong" for women to work, or for a woman to be the primary provider in a household, but I think that in most cases this will introduce certain tensions that will have to be worked out between the couple. Humans are a sexually dimorphic species, meaning that males tend to be larger and physically stronger than females, and with that come a number of deep-seated instincts about how men and women interact. While, on the one hand, I am very far from endorsing the kind of "women should know their place" thinking that goes on in some fundamentalist circles, assuming that these differences simply do not exist is equally mistaken.

Perhaps part of the difficulty in addressing this question is deciding at how "high" a level we, as Christians, should address marriage as a concept. On the one hand, we have a very "high" idea of marriage in that the relationship between Christ and the Church is analogized to marriage. On the other hand, marriage is something of this world, Christ said that there would be no marriage in heaven, and so to some extent marriage is, while a blessed relationship, also "just" a biological one, a mated pair among a species which reproduces through mating.

So when Paul says that wives should be submissive to their husbands while husbands should love their wives, is he describing a "high" ideal, or is he saying something alone the lines of: Given that marriage is a relationship between a male and a female, and given that males tend to be the dominant sex physically and culturally, women should seek virtue in marriage through willingly submitting to their husbands, and husbands should seek virtue in marriage by loving their wives rather than simply dominating them.

Given those general thoughts, it occurs to me that the DarwinCatholic network includes a number of very thoughful married woman bloggers -- not least among them my own wife. So I'd like to specifically ask her, Bearing, Betty, Jennifer, Dorian, and Pentimento if they would be open to posting (or commenting) on the topic. (Any other commentary is, of course, welcome as well.) If this shameless attempt at tagging proves successful, I may go so far as to post a round-up follow-up post.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Blah-g post

I'd totally missed that November was the month for blogging every day until Jamie mentioned that she'd finished up. Of course I felt I'd missed out on something, because although I haven't got a novel in me, I like to yap. So I thought, Aw, what the hell, I'll write every day in December, because there's always plenty of winter fun to commentate on. But I missed yesterday driving up in the snow to Columbus (snow is pretty; driving in it at night with five kids is... hairy) and today I feel drugged and achy, like something's creeping up on me about to seize me in its unhealthy grip and I can only stave it off by going to bed with Nero Wolfe and tea and crackers. So I depart, but not before I give (for about the fourth time on this blog) a topical link to my favorite piece ever of my own composition, which is not actually my own creation but merely a pastiche of Evelyn Waugh, written sometime when I was really sick and not just feeling weird.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Iron Man 2: A Review In Three Bullets

My brain was in a condition such that opening any of my current reads seemed too challenging, and my internet connection too was showing signs of fatigue, declaring itself too sluggish to deliver Netflix, so I betook myself to a nearby RedBox and picked up a copy of Iron Man 2.

  • The first Iron Man was, to me at least, unexpectedly and rawly fun. One felt as exuberant watching it as the irrepressible Tony Stark. In this installment, Stark is in a nearly endless hangover as a result of side effects of his magic chest power source thingy. And the movie too lacks the boyish enthusiasm which made the original so delightful.
  • I don't know why it's so hard for the writers of these comic book action franchises to grasp the idea that one need not square the number of plot threads the side characters in each additional installment of a series.
  • That Scarlett Johansson of all people reported she needed to lose a lot of weight in order to log her cat-suited-female-superhero-side-character role underscores how far off the normal curve of female biology that archetype resides -- however grateful the world's men may be for her taking one for the team in this respect. And yet it's actually more interesting to watch Pepper Potts struggle with her unwanted CEO job than it is to watch Johansson give significant-yet-never-fulfilled glances to Stark, and occasionally take time out to bounce off walls and kill people in gymnastically unlikely ways. There must be something wrong with that...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cancel the Christmas Suicide Watch

Sometimes a claim seems to tell such a reasonable story that no one ever thinks to check to see if it's true. Such a one, it seems, is the annual think-of-those-less-fortunate story that family holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas see the highest suicide rates of the year. I must confess, the idea seemed plausible enough that I never thought to question it till a friend shared the Snopes link.

Of course, the other story is equally credible: holidays are enough to cheer up even deeply troubled people, at least for a few days. Whether that story is more reflective of what goes on in people's heads I have no idea, but at least it fits the facts. Though not quite as good at tugging the heart strings.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Stuffing

Every year, without fail, I go out to the grocery store on the eve of some major holiday and wonder who all these people are and why they're clogging up the place when I just want to grab a few things.

Today I'm heading out to pick up the last ingredients for the cornbread stuffing, our family's major Thanksgiving tradition. Hope the crazy people out there have left me some celery...
  • 2 boxes Jiffy cornbread mix, enough to make a 9x13 pan of cornbread (you can make your own, but the sweetness of the Jiffy works well with the stuffing; I prefer it.)
  • 2 c. celery, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 c. onions or scallions (I often use green onions)
  • giblets from turkey to make broth (or 1 can, about 2 c., chicken broth)
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 Tbs. parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. basil
  • 1/4 tsp. sage
  • 1/4 tsp. thyme
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  1. Bake cornbread and put it into a large bowl. Don't crumble it too much yet.
  2. Boil giblets and neck to make turkey broth (my mom says just cover them with water, but it works out to be about 2 cups.) Alternatively, boil chicken broth.
  3. Add celery, bell pepper, onions, and butter to broth; boil until tender.
  4. If using giblets and if desired, chop up giblets and neck meat and add to corn bread.
  5. Add all seasonings to cornbread along with salt and pepper to taste, mix.
  6. Pour broth with vegetables over cornbread mixture and stir just until everything is moistened. This can be refrigerated for several days (makes great leftovers!) or you can put it in a pan, dot the top with butter, and heat through. Serves lots.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Because there can never be too many new house pix.

St. Margaret and Macbeth

My confirmation name is Margaret, after St. Margaret of Scotland, queen and mother. (I've emulated her in one aspect, if not in the other). Brandon of Siris provides some historical background on Margaret, including her tangential connection with Macbeth (the real guy, not Shakespeare's version).
I really do think this would make a more interesting television series than most things you find on television. Who doesn't like Vikings, Scottish kings, Anglo-Saxon political bickering, and Norman Invasions, all rolled into one big story?

Waiting for Blood

I've been ending day lately with an hour or two of reading Jose Maria Gironella's, The Cypresses Believe in God, a massive novel set on the eve of the Spanish Civil War. Given the novel's sheer size, and that it starts out spending so much time just giving a sense of early 30s Spain as a place and time, as the civil war itself begins to approach one feels with the characters a certain creeping unreality, as the descent of politics and then society as a whole into factional violence seems to become first imaginable, then possible, and finally inevitable.

Having fallen asleep, as it were, in 1935 Catalonia, it was with an odd sense of unreality that I clicked on a link this morning and found a New York Times columnist declaring it impossible to work with his political opponents peacefully and darkly predicting "there will be blood".

Monday, November 22, 2010

When Are Points Not Worth Making?

The media firestorm swirling around Pope Benedict's discussion of morality and condom use seems like a good illustration of the problem of great trouble and anguish being caused by making completely true and reasonable points. The pope's comment itself is both true and sensible: there is nothing magically wicked about condoms in and of themselves, rather it is using them in order to render sexual relations sterile which is immoral. However, because the pope is such a uniquely high-profile figure in the world, both those (inside and outside the Church) who are desperately eager for the Church to approve artificial contraception as morally licit, and those who live in constant fear that the faith will somehow be betrayed to the ravening hoards outside, immediately went into full freak-out mode.

Various writers who consider the Church's stance on birth control to be hopelessly backward immediately declared a "first step".

Nervous traditionalists took pause, yet again, to publicly worry that Benedict is betraying them.

And, doubtless, many people (Catholic and otherwise) who don't pay much attention to such issues noticed the headlines, didn't read any in-depth coverage, and quietly filed away in the backs of their minds, "Oh, so Catholics can use birth control under some circumstances."

This kind of thing can be frustrating to those who care deeply about exploring the nuances of moral points. On the one hand, what the pope said is completely true. On the other, the way in which it became publicized will doubtless lead more people into error than into truth. Does this mean that such nuanced discussion of high profile moral issues should simply not happen? Or that it should not be undertaken by someone as high profile as the pope?

It seems anti-intellectual to say that issues sufficiently borderline as to present the danger of leading people astray should simply not be discussed. And yet, at a certain level, the purpose of our Church is to bring people to heaven -- including ordinary people who are easily unsettled or deceived -- not to serve as a debating society for a small number of people who are educated in the finer points of theology. Ideally, it would be possible for the pope to discuss such issues in venues primarily read by those capable of understanding what he is saying, and not have his comments distorted and repeated out to those who are likely to be confused or upset. Yet in a world of mass global communications that seems clearly impossible.

The same technology which makes it more possible than ever for anyone, anywhere to access Church documents and other sources of Catholic teaching which were much harder to come by only a few decades ago also makes it all to easy for a line or two to be pulled out of context from some longer statement and flooded all over the world in a matter of hours. Whether that means that prominent thinkers must now be more circumspect in what they choose to discuss at all than was the case in the past is probably a question worth giving at least some thought to.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ticking Time-Bomb Molestation

You all remember the ticking time-bomb torture scenario: what it -- what if? -- we had a terrorist in custody, and it was known that he's planted a time-bomb somewhere. Couldn't we torture him, just a little, in order to save all those lives that would otherwise be blown up?

It seems to me that this TSA pat-down/strip search flap is this very scenario put into practice, but without the imperative urgency of the time-bomb. Someone out there might be carrying something dangerous on a plane. What if -- what if? -- we could prevent this by fondling children in airports? Don't you think it would be worth it? Aren't you concerned about lives that might be saved, if only you'd consent to be searched, or let your children be searched?

My answer to someone who would insist that searching me was only for my safety: of course it's not for my safety, if you're searching me. It's not for my child's safety, if it's my child being searched.

Check out Bearing's thoughts on what to do if ever confronted with this situation in an airport

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cthulhu in the Basement

The house passed inspection with flying colors, though parts of the basement retain their terrifying aspect.

Where Cthulhu sleeps:

Where Cthulhu goes potty:

But the house is pretty:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Good House Cheer

I've been sitting here reading Simcha and trying to laugh quietly so that the baby doesn't wake up, only it comes out as little snorts and guffaws and then my nose starts running. Now I feel bad that all I do around here anymore is complain, so I'm going to try to dredge up something cheerful to discuss, like our new house.

First, let's talk about asbestos! Asbestos is the stuff that gets in your lungs and kills you in a horrible gurgling way, but not before you hire a high-priced lawyer and get a settlement for mucho dinero from The Man. Less widely known is that it has fire-resistant properties, and so it used to be used in homes for insulation, I guess. At any rate, that's what it's doing in the basement of the house we want to buy: insulating the pipes. If that's all it were doing, it wouldn't be a problem. Modern practice is to just seal the stuff up and let it keep working its fire-proof magic; it's only once it gets into the air that it seeks to embed itself in your lungs, like so many small children trying to worm their way into your nice cosy bed on a cold morning. But when, for example, it's crumbling off the pipes, it has to be removed.

Good news: this only takes one day.
Middling news: the health department needs ten days' notice.
Bad news: it costs mucho dinero.

We knew all this before making our offer on the house, however, which should tell you how much we like it.

Now, let's talk about the basement. The house is 150 years old, but it was given a complete renovation about sixty years after it was built, so in the 1920s. It's got this Hollywood Tudor look going on, which makes you forget just how old the place is. When you go in the basement, you remember. It's so old it really has to be called a cellar. The massive stone foundations are a bit unsettling, but moreso is the toilet room. It has no door. What it does have is padded walls. Someone, in the distant past, thought it would be cozy to put up some kind of padded fabric, studded with upholstery tacks, in this tiny toilet cell. The toilet itself looks like it might fetch mucho dinero on eBay or Antiques Roadshow. I worry that someone might break into our house and start filming Saw XI.

Our burglarizing filmmakers would be delighted as well by the room next to the bathroom, which, though not original to the house, was added far enough in the past to give me the creeps. Like the toilet room, it has no door. What it does have is the remnants of a chain lock on the inside. Also, it has a closet-like door that opens only to the stone wall.

So that's a little weird, but okay. It does not adequately prepare you for The Boiler of Doom. I have never before seen such a massive heating element in a basement, because they can only reside in cellars. There is another boiler downstairs, added later, for which they just ran the pipes through the original behemoth, so the two are intertwined in an ungodly embrace. On our second visit to the house, I moved to open one of the hatches on the beast, then stopped. I just didn't want to see what was in there. Let it keep its secrets.

There's the egress for the laundry chute in the cellar, but the previous owners were wise enough to move the laundry room up behind the kitchen. We'll close up the drop to the cellar, even though that will leave an open disused passage in the walls in which something could nest.

Speaking of disused passages, about the time of the kitchen renovations (early 80s, if the style is any guide) someone closed up the back staircase. Upstairs, you have an odd closet with a high ceiling and a transom window, in which the floor suddenly changes texture and becomes uneven towards the back.

Downstairs, in the kitchen, is the ugliest pantry ever, with a side wall that begins at the top of a step.

Kitchen, with glimpse of ugly pantry side wall.

So, closed up, is an empty staircase. Walled up. Silent. Alone.

But we like it! Look at this awesome bathroom!

Oop, wrong bathroom. How about this one?

Pretty vintage, what? These are but two of the five bathrooms* in the house, so we should never have a line -- or any water pressure.

We have our inspection today. Light a candle in front of St. Joseph and please pray that there's nothing unlivable about the house -- other than the asbestos and the haunted laundry chute and the Empty Staircase of Madness. Home sweet home!

*The toilet cell in the basement is not included in that number. Perhaps it's not a room if it doesn't have a door?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Doors opening...

Four days before Christmas, this will be my front door. Offer accepted; please pray that the inspection goes well, and only tells us about the problems we already know about, like the asbestos.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Big Government and Small Society

The Democratic Party suffered a historic drubbing a couple weeks ago. However, one of the things with which several left leaning commentators publically consoled themselves was that demographics are in their favor. The parts of the electorate which tend to vote for Democrats are growing, while those who tends to vote for Republicans are shrinking. Progressives like to focus on the examples of this they feel proud of: the non-white percentage of the US population is growing, and non-whites tend to vote Democratic. Young people also lean more heavily progressive on a variety of issues than previous generations did at the same age.

From a progressive point of view this sounds pretty good: progressivism will succeed in the end because it is supported by young and diverse people, while conservatism will die out because it is supported by old white people -- and no one like them anyway, did they?

I'd like to propose an alternate reading of the data: Progressive policies are more widely supported by those who are isolated within society and thus forced to rely on their relationship with the State for support rather than their relationships with family, friends, church, etc. However, the number of people who are living such a socially isolated experience is growing, and with it is growing support for progressive policies.

Democracy Corps and the Women's Voices, Women Vote Action Fund (two progressive advocacy groups) put out a report just prior to the election this year in which they talked about the need of the Democratic Party to reach out to and excite voters in the "Rising American Electorate" or RAE. The RAE consists of unamarried women, non-whites(who have lower marriage rates than whites) and young people (who marry less and marry later than earlier generations.)

And while organizations sucxh as Women's Voices, Women Vote Action fund are naturally most interested in the voting preferences of single women, polls which distinguish voting preferences of married vs. unmarried men show that while there is a 37% gap in party preference between unmarried women and married women, there is a 29% marriage gap for men as well, with unmarried men slighly favoring Democrats and married men strongly favoring Republicans. (This example is from April this year.)

For those who consider the family to be a thing of the past, this may be just fine. But for anyone who considers the family to be a basic building block of society, the fact that support for progressivism is expanding only as a result of the breakdown of other relationships than that between individual and state should be concerning. It also opens an obvious question: Do people come to support an all-consuming relationship between individual and state because other social institutions have already broken down for them, for some unrelated reason, and they have nowhere else to turn for support, or is it the growth of a state which leads to the breakdown of other social relationships, as the guarantee that one can be supported at some minimal level as an individual makes other personal relationships unnecessary?

Jane Eyre!

I first read Jane Eyre when I was thirteen. I remember staying up all night, in my aunt's guest room, reading voraciously and sobbing a bit when Jane declared to Mr. Rochester, "I am not an automaton!"

Enbrethiliel posts the trailer for the new adaptation of Jane Eyre
, over which I'm drooling. It looks extremely gothic, as it should. I loved the version PBS aired a few years ago, with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens, but if there's one thing the world can use it's more Jane. Bring it!

(Also, it looks like the new one gets it right that Blanche Ingram had black hair, not blonde.)

Monday, November 15, 2010


If you want to know what I'm thinking, just read Betty Duffy.

And read Betty Duffy

Emily J.'s take on Erica Jong's take on motherhood. I love Emily's comments; what struck me about the Jong article was that it never seemed implied that a mother might actually love her children and want to do what was best for them, regardless of whether that choice was AP or working full-time.

A meme about books which brought back good memories.

Speaking of memories, the worst book I ever read.

The Crazy Season

I'm so grateful for all the readers who are so generous with their prayers and love. Your comments cheered and encouraged me when I really needed it. I'm glad that we have such a generous and gracious readership. I would like to clear up concerns, however, that I'm either depressed or suffering from SAD. I love fall weather and the early darkness and the gray half-light of winter, but in fact it's been bright and gorgeous almost every day of our sojourn in The North. I also would never lightly dismiss signs of depression, since in my time I've lived with people who suffer from it and have seen what it can do to relationships and families, but that's never been something that's affected me -- thank God! I was hesitant to post because I feared sounding crazy, but this is a crazy season.

My biggest problem is really that my husband is gone five days a week. We knew going into this that it would be tricky, but I just wasn't prepared for the gaping hole this separation would rip in our family structure. The kids need Dad around for stability and love and discipline, and I need my husband for support and encouragement and love. We see Darwin every Friday night, of course, but it seems like it's Thursday each week when everything blows up. Of course!

We're starting to gather the threads together and start patching our existence back together. Darwin and I went back to Texas this weekend to be godparents to the prettiest little girl, and that time alone was just what we needed to shake off the difficulties of the week. This week I'm finally meeting up with people I know in this area, so the kids will get out and play with friends and I'll have some congenial adult company. We have in an offer on a perfect house for our family, and we're waiting for a response from the sellers. (And we got Ohio temp tags, so hopefully there's no more harassment from Cincinnati's finest.) We're weaving the strands back together -- for today, anyway. I don't think the crazy season will end any time soon. But I'm looking forward to the normal zany family craziness to take over from the unsettled fatherless moving craziness.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

This Too

I've always had this image of myself, and I think it's pretty much borne out by reality, of being rational and level-headed and overall a clear thinker. I don't have a reputation for being high-maintenance. And I thought I was pretty equal to most situations. And maybe I still am, but this move is testing the limits of my emotional equilibrium.

I don't often write about being in a bad mood or feeling out-of-control, because I know that what's written is written, even when the moment passes, as it inevitably does. But lately, I live on the edge. It's been about eight weeks since we left Texas, and each week has been more difficult than the last. Perhaps that's to be expected: we're finally coming up on making an offer on a house in Columbus, with all the stress that entails; we're encountering frustrating delays with the relocation company regarding our house in Texas; we only see Darwin on the weekends (and the baby is four months old, with all the cyclical unpredictableness that entails); and the kids are unsettled and acting out. But I don't like my metamorphosis into some who's often on the verge of tears all day. I don't like the shaky panic I feel in my stomach when it's 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon and I remember that Daddy's not coming home tonight. And I don't like the increasing frequency with which I take all this out on the kids, who in turn have discovered that Mommy will allow them to watch hours of old cartoons after lunch so that she can just get some peace and quiet.

All this culminated this morning in my bursting into tears while bargaining with a policeman I discovered attempting to tow my van for having expired Texas plates. (And I'm delighted to discover that profiling is not practiced in the state of Ohio, since the cop solemnly declared of my four-year-old minivan bursting with children's paraphernalia, "Sometimes drug dealers use cars with expired plates and park 'em on the side streets here.") He magnanimously desisted after my strangled yelp in response to his suggestion that since I didn't have a permanent Ohio address, I could get temporary tags in my dad's address and bring them to the impound lot, but I was left with a citation and my dad's uniquely unparkable garage in which to house the minivan that dare not show its plates. This was compounded by the oddly out-of-body experience of weeping maudlin thanks to the sympathetic neighbor -- me! crying in public! To a person I've only ever nodded at! MrsDarwin, I hardly knew ye.

I know that this is not the end of the world, or even all that horrible a problem. People around the world are starving, are ill, are being abused or wondering if that dreaded knock on the door will come today, and my big issue is how to register a van in a new state before I fly to Texas tomorrow night. My life is not that bad, but it is wildly chaotic, and I'm dismayed to find that I can't handle it like I thought I could.

Today is Veterans' Day, and I salute all the military wives and mothers who hold up their families and our country. You're braver than I can be.