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

Friday, April 29, 2011

The First Time; or, Practice Makes Perfect

In honor of wedding season, I repost this controversial piece from 2009. The comments on the original post are worth reading as well.

This being our anniversary, it's time to talk about sex.

When I was a newly-wed, I worked at a theater. One afternoon, as I was working on tech with two other girls, the subject of sex came up, and both were surprised to hear that I had been a virgin when I got married. That set them off reminiscing about their first times. For all our cultural and moral and experiential disparity, we could all agree on one thing: the first time had been awkward, painful, and kind of alarming. This was a bit surprising to me -- surely the heat of the moment ought to be more conducive to getting it on than after a long and stressful wedding day? Not so much, it seems.

There's this pervasive myth that sex always equals pleasure. Sex, so the thinking goes, should always be mind-blowingly fantastic, and if it isn't, something is wrong. How better to insult someone by denigrating his or her sexual prowess? To insinuate that a woman is "frigid" or a man can't get it up is, in essence, calling that person abnormal. Fictional characters do it with a frequency and ease that leaves a subconscious impression that anyone can just hop in the sack and perform with aplomb, or else something's wrong.

Modern orthodox Catholics are justly proud of the way that we've made strides in reclaiming sex from the secular culture and proving that we can do it better because we've placed it within its proper sphere. That's all quite well and good, but it also tempts us into the mindset of "awesome sex through understanding!". Ask a teen why he or she is saving sex for marriage and one of the answers will be, "Because I want the first time to be special." One of the implied benefits of NFP is a better sex life. Listen to a Theology of the Body presentation and you hear that sex is pretty much heaven on earth. A young couple, all in love and high on hormones, could be forgiven for thinking that since they've done everything the right way (waiting until marriage, taking all the classes, having a basic grasp of biology) they're on the way to instant bliss -- just add vows! Unfortunately for our eager friends, the first time is not guaranteed to be fabulous -- in fact, it's pretty much the opposite. For the woman, it's awkward and it hurts (a lot). I don't think I'm the only girl in history to have cried in pain and frustration on her wedding night.

For a while I felt gypped. Maybe if we'd gone on honeymoon right away! Maybe if I'd had more champagne! Maybe if we'd waited until the next night! But you know what? I don't think it would have mattered. There were plenty of times before we were married that I felt more "in the mood" than I did on my wedding night. I'm glad we waited -- not only because God intended sex to occur only in a marital relationship, but also because the bitterness of committing a mortal sin would have been compounded by the shock that sex for the novice is not all it's cracked up to be. I sold my soul, and I got was this lousy lay!

Since sex has a spiritual component, it's important to learn about the Theology of the Body. Since it has a biological function, one must understand the basic principles of Natural Family Planning. But as it's a physical activity, it's the same as any other athletic venture: if you want to be good at it, you've got to practice. For a while. With a dedicated partner. Sex is a learned activity, and it takes more than one roll in the hay to get the basic skills down, and that's before you kick it up to notches unknown. There are better things than instant gratification.


For those shocked and appalled at the idea of talking about sex with my theater compatriots: that conversation turned out to be one of the best evangelization opportunities I've ever had. Using Theology of the Body terminology and a bit of NFP, I was able to explain, to their great amazement, that the Church's opposition to birth control was because sex has an intrinsic meaning of unity and total self-giving that is violated by divorcing fertility from sex. "Wow," said one of them. "I always thought the Church just didn't like people to have sex." So there you have it.

UPDATE: From about half the comments and some private correspondence, it becomes plain that I need to clarify one thing here: all I'm trying to say is, as "a guy" puts it in the combox: "It's sort of surprising that for all we supposedly know about sex, we don't teach the fact that structurally a woman's first time just isn't made, by nature, to be automatically pleasurable. " Perhaps this post is only applicable to young Catholic newlyweds (or those who once were young Catholic newlyweds) who wonder on their wedding night, "Wait a minute! What are we doing wrong? Isn't this supposed to be a wonderful experience, mirroring God's love for the Church, etc.?"

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Keynes vs. Hayek, Round Two

Russ Roberts and friends have come out with another Keynes vs. Hayek rap video:

The production values on this are great, and I like the noir look they've got with, but I have to admit I slightly prefer their original:

Still, a load of econ geeky fun.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Looking Back at Lent: Why Do Penance?

Thinking back over Lent, one of the things that hits me, as it has before, is that I am much better at not doing things for Lent than doing things. Even moderately big changes in my daily routine such as "fasting" by having only one meal a day on Wednesdays and Fridays, or abstaining from alcohol entirely, are fairly doable. However, my resolutions to start each day be reading Morning Prayer, or reading the Pope's second volume of Jesus of Nazareth, or blogging my way through all of Augustine's Confessions -- not so much.

That's the point at which I find myself wondering: Is putting so much focus into not doing something a mistake? There is, after all, nothing wrong with eating, or with having my nightly beer or glass of wine. Why should God have any interest in my not doing these perfectly acceptable things? It's not as if God gets satisfaction out of thinking, "Ah, it's Lent. I do so look forward to all those little human creatures going in for a little bit of voluntary discomfort. I thrive on discomfort."

So why give up a few pleasures for Lent -- especially while at the same time failing in doing some positive things which would arguably be better things to do?

Well, obviously, the reason for penance is not that God wants us to be miserable.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Future of Catholic Schools

With the discussion relating to Catholic homeschooling last week, I was strongly reminded of this (very good) article on the future of Catholic schools in the spring issue of National Affairs which a good friend pointed me towards a while back. As the article points out, the issues facing Catholic schools are many, though perhaps the biggest are:
  • Public schools are no longer the explicitly Protestant institutions they were back in the 1900-1960 era
  • The teaching orders whose virtually free labor made Catholic schools relatively affordable in their golden age virtually ceased to exist in the decades following Vatican II
  • Changing demographics have moved Catholic populations away from many of the schools already built, and in this day and age building new ones is vastly more expensive
This has left many dioceses struggling with whether to shutter schools, and many of the continuing urban Catholic schools serving students who are mostly not Catholic.
The Archdiocese of New York, for example, reported in 2008 that, among its inner-city schools, nearly two-thirds of students lived below the poverty line and more than 90% were racial minorities. In Washington, D.C., as of 2007, more than 70% of students attending the lowest-income Catholic schools were non-Catholic. In Memphis's inner-city "Jubilee" Catholic schools, as of 2008, 96% of students lived below the poverty line and 81% were non-Catholic. In fact, over the past 40 years, the portion of minority students in Catholic schools overall increased by 250%, and the share of non-Catholic students increased by 500%.

Many of the people associated with these schools will explain that they are motivated not by an obligation to evangelize but by a desire to fulfill their faith's longstanding commitment to service. Among them, an unofficial creed has slowly emerged: "We don't serve these students because they are Catholic, we serve them because we are Catholic." Regardless of one's position on public support for religiously affiliated entities, it is difficult not to acknowledge that these schools are fully engaged in the noble vocation of public service, civil rights, and social justice. The challenge now is to clear the way for public support of that vocation — and one promising policy innovation may provide the solution.
The situation in the suburban Los Angeles Catholic schools that I was familiar with as a youth had similarities and differences. They didn't lack for students, because a crumbling public school system left many parents searching for private alternatives. But there were a great many non-Catholic parents as well as Catholic ones eager to send their children to schools with tuition substantially lower than secular private schools. (Charters didn't exist back then, so that dynamic may be changing.) As a result, with waiting lists for admission, schools often selected parents likely to pay their tuition bills regardless of religious affiliation, and as student bodies became less Catholic, so did the instruction. Aside from the wishy-washiness of many of the people in parish or diocesan religious education, if you have a lot of parents paying your bills who would like a vaguely "religious heritage" but not very rigorous catechesis, money usually ends up talking.

Either way, however, what you get is Catholic schools which are run by Catholics, and to some extent for Catholics, but which do not have imparting the faith to students and maintaining an explicitly Catholic culture as a primary mission. And as this ceases to be the case, many of the parents who are most serious about their children's faith (and thus who are most likely to provide lots of support and volunteer hours to a school) will start to wonder if it's really worth making major financial sacrifices in order to send their children to a Catholic school.

What the solution to this is I honestly can't say. In a world in which we don't have the massive numbers of religious brothers and sisters who staffed schools in the past -- people willing to accept a live of celibacy and poverty in order to care for the wider Church family rather than have families of their own -- operating traditional format private schools is financially prohibitive without a tithing culture which goes far beyond what Catholics generally achieve. And with a more educated laity, homeschooling and independent Catholic schools are realistic alternatives in a way in which they simply were not 50 or 100 years ago. It may be that the age of the Catholic school systems (an era which lasted less than 100 years in this country) is simply passed, not to return. If it is to continue, it would seem that it will need to do so through substantial change over the years to come.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Do The Wealthy Pay Their Share?

Having linked last week to some discussion on whether the US is really becoming "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%", I was struck by this chart, which I saw a link to this morning, over at Carpe Diem, showing top marginal income tax rates versus percentage of income tax paid by the top 1% of earners since 1980.
However, I thought it would be a lot more interesting if the chart showed the percentage of total income earned by the top 1%, and also showed the total federal tax liability (including Social Security and Medicare) rather than the just the income tax. Luckily, all this information is available easily on line. (Percent of taxes paid. Percent of total income. Historical tax tables.)

Here's the chart I produced with that data:

The blue line is the share of total federal tax liability paid by the top 1% of households by income. It doubled between 1980 and 2007 from 14% to 28%.

The green line is the share of total adjusted gross income earned by the top 1% of households. It increased by 2.7x from 1980 to 2007, from 8% to 23%.

Whether this means the wealthy are paying "their share" or not probably depends a lot on one's point of view. On the one hand, the share of income earned by the very wealthy has increased more than their share of total tax liability. On the other hand, their share of total tax liability remains greater than their share of income. Personally, I would tend to think that this represents the right balance, but there are sure to be those who think this means the wealthy are not paying enough (their income grew faster), and others who think it means they are paying too much (their share of tax liability is greater than their share of income.

Perhaps another way to look at the extent to which our tax system is adjusting for growing inequality is to look at the share of total federal tax liability for the bottom quintiles (A quintile is a 20% range, so the bottom three quintiles of income distribution are 0-20%, 20-40%, 40-60%) versus the share of total adjusted gross income earned by the bottom 50% of households. (I don't have this by quintile in the above sources, but I think the bottom 50% should compare moderately well if we look at all three bottom quintiles, representing, in sum, the bottom 60% of earners.)

The result is as follows:

The share of adjusted gross income earned by the bottom 50% of households went down by about a third from 1980 to 2007, from 18% to 12%.

During that same period, the percentage of total federal tax liability (including Social Security and Medicare) went down by over half for the bottom quintile, from 2% to 0.8%; by a third for the second quintile, from 7% to 4.4%; and by nearly a third for the third quintile, from 13.3% to 9.2%.

Finally, it's perhaps worth noting that the main "drag" on the progressiveness of the US tax system at this point are is the pair of "universal" programs (Social Security and Medicare) which tax all income up to ~110k at the same rate and then provide all citizens (rich and poor) with benefits. If those programs were made to work more like a welfare program and less like a fixed benefit pension, the solvency of these programs would no longer be in question and the tax burden on the poor and middle class would be lighter.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Snippets

For many years, Good Friday was a day I successfully spent almost entirely on spiritual reading, liturgy, and manual work around the house. Now the kids are at that age where it is more or less impossible to create a sense of solemnity all day -- or even for a short period of time. So here are some realistic moments from Good Friday at the Darwin household.

Eleanor, our eight year old, was caught watching Electric Company on the computer when computer time was verboten, and sent to her room. "I'll show you, I'll do something terrible." Several moments later, a stuffed panda bear falls halfway down the stairwell with a jump rope tied around its neck and the "panda's" voice cries from upstairs, "Oh no, I've hanged myself."

Julia, (seven -- coming up on her first communion) at dinner, "I think I'd better try some wine. I need to know what it tastes like." Takes a sip. "Tastes like... wine. I better add some water." She adds some. "Tastes like... wine with water in it."

Jack (2.5) looking through The Last 1000 Years picture history. "Sword. King. Henry the Eighth."

We rushed over to check, and it was indeed Henry the Eighth that he was pointing towards.

He kept leafing through and identified Louis XIV as "king", Peter the Great (in armor) as "knight", the Vietnam War as "gun" and then reached a page entitled "Social Revolution" which showed rioters burning things in protest over Apartheid. "Oh nuts," says Jack, pointing to the riot.

A week ago, our venerable vacuum attained the interesting habit of smoking and sparking whenever connected with an outlet. We considered taking it into a repair shop and spending more on it that it's worth, but among other things it's an upright, dating back to before we put hardwood into our old house, and our new house has no carpet at all. So we got a new friend which arrived today (things had got rather dusty in the interim) and suddenly everyone wants to help with lots of vacuuming.

Finally we know how to motivate children to do chores, but it's way too expensive to do repeatedly.

Perhaps explaining where Jack learned to visually identify Henry VIII, Isabel (5) was going around this afternoon singing "Mommy is attracted, to Daddeeeeeeee! Daddy is attracted, to Mommeeeeeeeeeeee!" to the tune of Henry, Henry.

We cracked up, but Julia advised, "Don't kiss! Don't you dare kiss in here!"

But now the two eldest are engaging in some Lectio Divina with Highlights and the next two in the food chain are vacuuming the landing upstairs, so I'm going to go catch a bit of quiet.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Thursday Art

I always feel compelled to look for something other than the Last Supper. This year's yield follows. A blessed Triduum to all. We shall in all probability be rather scarce until after Easter, though I have some hopes of getting a final couple Augustine posts up.

Who Said It?

"But then comes Holy Week. The triumph of Palm Sunday. The humility of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. His slow march up that hill, and the pain and the scorn and the shame of the cross.

"And we’re reminded that in that moment, he took on the sins of the world -- past, present and future -- and he extended to us that unfathomable gift of grace and salvation through his death and resurrection.

"In the words of the book Isaiah: 'But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.'

"This magnificent grace, this expansive grace, this 'Amazing Grace' calls me to reflect. And it calls me to pray. It calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that I’ve not shown grace to others, those times that I’ve fallen short. It calls me to praise God for the gift of our son -- his Son and our Savior.
President Obama, at the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast.

h/t Happy Catholic

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Diocese of Austin: Homeschoolers Need Not Apply

Twenty years ago, when my parents began homeschooling first my younger brother (who had some non-standard learning needs) and later all of us, homeschooling was still very much a fringe phenomenon. It was not unusual for people to predict, on hearing that children were homeschooled, that they would not be able to get into college, or for neighbors to harass homeschoolers by repeatedly calling the truancy officers on them. The extent to which homeschooling has become mainstream since that time has been quite extraordinary, and due in no small part to the academic and personal successes that homeschooled students have shown themselves capable of. Many states' public education systems are now actively friendly towards homeschoolers, and make state curricula available free of charge to homeschoolers who wish to use them at home.

Sadly, one area where this increasing social acceptance of homeschooling has often been lagging is in Catholic circles at the parish and diocesan level. Homeschoolers are sometimes seen as a threat by parochial school systems -- this despite the Church's teaching that parents bear the primary responsibility as first educators of their children.

Such a situation has recently reared its head back in our old home diocese of Austin, Texas. A local Catholic homeschooling group, Holy Family Homeschoolers, sent an invitation to their annual Homeschoolers Blessing Mass to newly appointed Bishop Vásquez. In past years, an invitation had always been sent to the bishop. Bishop Aymond had officiated at the Blessing Mass when he first came to the diocese and had allowed a certain degree of openness in dealing with Catholic homeschoolers at the parish and diocesan levels.

Given the many demands on Bishop Vásquez's time, it is hardly surprising that he was unable to attend this year. What is, however, both surprising and distressing is that the response to the invitation sent to Bishop Vásquez's office came not from the Chancery but from the Catholic Schools Office, and in a tone which was decidedly dismissive:
> Bishop Vásquez received your invitation to celebrate a Eucharistic liturgy for the fall homeschooling blessing Mass.
> Bishop Vásquez believes Catholic education, and in particular Catholic school education, is an essential part of the life of the Diocese of Austin. As you know, Catholic schools are at the heart of the mission of the church.
> Bishop's presence at the homeschooling Mass would convey a contradictory message equating the importance of Catholic school education with Catholic homeschooling; therefore, Bishop Vásquez must respectfully decline the invitation.
> Sincerely in Christ,
> Ned F. Vanders, Ed.D.
Ned Vanders is the diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Schools, and I think that the above email pretty clearly backs up the complaint I have heard that he is "openly hostile to homeschooling".

Again, let me be clear: I think it is quite reasonable and understandable that Bishop Vásquez is unable to attend. A note from his office to that effect would in no sense be offensive. However, I think that the response that was received by the Holy Family Homeschoolers is worrisome in two senses.

First, it suggests that "Catholic education" means nothing other than institutional Catholic schools run by the diocese. Understand, Austin is not one of these diocese with a long and rich history of parochial schools. In a rapidly growing diocese of half a million Catholics in 125 parishes, it offers 17 elementary schools and 5 high schools, serving a mere 5,000 students. Clearly, the diocese is equipped to serve only a small minority of Catholic school-age children directly through its schools. One would think, under such circumstances, that the diocese would be especially eager to work with parents who take it upon themselves to provide a Catholic education to their children in the home. Instead, what we see is the claim that "Bishop's presence at the homeschooling Mass would convey a contradictory message equating the importance of Catholic school education with Catholic homeschooling."

Surely, Catholic education is something more than a particular 22 institutions in the diocese, serving a small fraction of the diocese's children. Catholic education includes not merely those 22 schools, but also the religious education programs in all 125 parishes, and also the efforts of those parents who, in the spirit of the Church's teaching that they are the primary educators of their children, take on the responsibility of educating their children. If "Catholic education... is an essential part of the life of the Diocese of Austin" then surely this essential part encompasses more than 1% of the people in the diocese. Surely it involves the education, in the faith, of all the children in the diocese. This does not mean that the bishop must be present at a mass blessing homeschoolers. He is a busy man with many duties, and such things are often not possible. But it does mean that it should not be suggested to homeschooling parents that they are acting in opposition to "the heart of the mission of the church."

Secondly, it is concerning to see such a response issued on behalf of the bishop and the diocese to members of the flock. Politeness is something which costs very little. A simple, "Bishop Vásquez appreciates the efforts of Catholic parents who are striving to educate their children in the faith, but the demands of his office make it impossible to officiate at the Blessing Mass this year," would have caused the diocese no inconvenience and earned it continuing goodwill among a dedicated and active group of parents. Instead, the response sent seems calculated to be as dismissive (if not actively adversarial) as possible.

In my experience, such an openly contemptuous communication to the public is almost never made by an administrator unless he believes that he has the full backing of his superiors -- or believes his superiors to be so oblivious to his actions that he has free rein. If Superintendant Vanders' email is an accurate indication of Bishop Vásquez's attitude towards Catholic homeschooling, it seems to suggest a great deal of unnecessary antagonism on the bishop's part. If it is, instead, an indication that the Catholic Schools Office receives little guidance or oversight, that seems a troubling sign for the diocese.

Either way, this is a regrettably provocative opening in the relationship between homeschooling families and the Austin Diocese.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Responding to Stiglitz on Inequality

There's a Vanity Fair piece on income inequality by Nobel Price-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%", which has been cited again and again in the commentariat lately, and it's a frustrating piece because of the extent to which is makes logical leaps or simply distorts reality. Scott Winship of The Empiricist Strikes Back does a good job of going through the piece and addressing it point by point, including taking on a few of the talking points which are increasingly becoming things "everybody knows" in the wonk community but which don't actually mean what they seem to.

One of the problems with our modern society's fixation on "data" is that people, even very educated people who should know better, often fixate on a given metric (for example, the claim that "While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone.") without taking the time to dig into what we can discover of the realities that underlie that measure. Sometimes those realities do not fit with the ideological picture which makes the original metric so appealing. (Winship's responses to the just quoted claim, both in the main article linked above and in this older one, are fascinating.)

Definitely worth a read.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Today in Cinema

Over at Korrectiv, Matthew Lickona and his brother Mark have been bringing the drama. Literally. The guys have been restaging a few scenes from the movies, putting their own touches on characterization and motivation, and they've done an impressive job on a shoestring. And who knew Matthew had such a dreamy baritone?

Check out their Untouchables, 1984, and a classic monologue from Pulp Fiction.

Two Reviews Of Good Catholic Stuff

1. I once visited the monastery of the Norbertine Fathers in California, but I didn't get to hear them chant. Now I have, and you can too: they've just released a new album, Gregorian Chant: Requiem. I received a review copy last week, and I've listened to it several times already because the music is so peaceful and soothing. The album was recorded during a violent storm, and so the sound of pounding rain can be heard at times, underscoring the chant. Sounds about right for the Mass for the Dead.

The requiem mass is very familiar, even to people who don't know much about chant: the Sanctus and Agnus Dei are the most commonly-sung Latin settings in American parishes. The Norbertine Fathers apparently use a form of chant exclusive to their order, but I couldn't tell the difference except for a few melodic quirks in the more elaborate pieces. The monks have outgrown their old quarters, but as their current monastery is built on geologically unstable ground, they'll have to start from scratch on new land. You can see and hear the monks at prayer in this segment from NBC News.

2. The undisputed queen of Catholic bloggers, Julie Davis, has given us Happy Catholic: Glimpses of God in Everyday Life.

Julie shares her blogging philosophy in the introduction:
After my confirmation, though, I was a given a Catholic book, and that began a reading frenzy. I began seeing a pattern of truth and beauty that I never knew existed. Soon, everywhere I looked, I recognized the pattern. Books I read, movies I watched, songs I heard were reflecting bits of the Truth that was God. I realized that this reality had been there all along. I just couldn't see it before.  It made everyday things glow. I couldn't hold in my delight and began e-mailing friends with my discoveries. The e-mails turned into a blog, Happy Catholic, which reflected everything I loved about Catholic every day.

This book continues that sharing.
Julie Davis has been recognized as one of the best Catholic bloggers, and her book stays true to her sharp, easy style -- she shifts effortlessly between spiritual reflections and pop culture, drawing insight from both. Happy Catholic is a series of blog-length meditations, each kicked off by a great quote (and now I'm wanting to go find the source material for the ones I didn't recognize).  You can read it cover to cover, of course, but I enjoyed it best when I flipped it open at random and read a few meditations at a time -- much as I might go through someone's blog archives.  It's pretty compulsively readable.

I can't wait until my girls are a few years older -- Happy Catholic would be great reading for a teen trying to make sense of the shifting patterns of the world.

You can get an autographed copy here
, and Julie will include one of her favorite quotes that didn't make it into the book. Here's ours:
Life: how curious is that habit that makes us think it is not here, but elsewhere. -- V.S. Pritchett

Thursday, April 14, 2011

DarwinCatholic Enters the Facebook Age

If I have understood things aright this should be a link to the DarwinCatholic facebook page, at which links to future posts (starting with this one) will be syndicated. Alternately, one can subscribe via the Networked Blogs app page for DarwinCatholic, which is taking care of the feed for the page.

Seeing as I mostly use Facebook to put up notes about the kids for real world family and friends, I've generally made a point of not putting up links to the blog (as some old friends and family would not necessarily find their lives made more joyous by encountering my opinions on political and religious issues regularly.) However, enough blogs seem to make syndication available these days that I figured it was worth while to set up a separate page for the blog itself.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Next Narnia Movie: Magician's Nephew

[ht: Siris]
Despite the lackluster performance of the movie adaptation of Voyage of the Dawn Treader at the domestic box office (abroad, it apparently did better than Prince Caspian) Walden Media has decided to move forward with another Narnia movie: The Magician's Nephew
Why do The Magician's Nephew next?

It's a creative decision in terms of what story we felt has the best opportunity to draw the largest audience. The box office has pretty closely followed the sales pattern of the books. Prince Caspian sells about half of the books of Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, and it did about half of the box office. Caspian sells about a third more books than Dawn Treader, and it did about a third more box office. That pattern continues to decline with Silver Chair being the weakest book in the series in terms of consumer demand.

We just think the origin tale of The Magician's Nephew is a great one, and it brings back the characters that have proven to be the most popular—a lot of Aslan and the White Witch. It explains the origin of the lamppost and the wardrobe. The order of these books is something that few people agree on anyway. While Silver Chair certainly continues Eustace's adventure, we never knew when Magician's Nephew would come in the sequence of films. We never assumed it would be last, and we never assumed it would be first.
Now personally, it seems to me that you could do a bang-up movie of Silver Chair, which is one of my favorites out of the series (I think I'd rank favorites as Last Battle, Horse and His Boy and Silver Chair in that order) but it'll certainly be interesting to see Walden take a shot at Magician's Nephew next. I wonder if they'll go for Horse and His Boy after that. It seems fraught with peril for a movie studio given modern racial sensitivities and the situation in the Middle East (Lewis does, after all, fairly explicitly set the Calormenes up as a pagan version of the Turks) but if done deftly it seems like it could be a very cinematic story. My advice: cast a hot young Bollywood actress and Aravis and push the cultural influences in your Calormen design further East.

Two Charitable Ladies

Some characters you may know, courtesy of Mr. Dickens.

“In-deed! Mrs Jellyby,” said Mr Kenge, standing with his back to the fire, and casting his eyes over the dusty hearth-rug as if it were Mrs Jellyby’s biography, “is a lady of very remarkable strength of character who devotes herself entirely to the public. She has devoted herself to an extensive variety of public subjects, at various times, and is at present (until something else attracts her) devoted to the subject of Africa; with a view to the general cultivation of the coffee berry — and the natives — and the happy settlement, on the banks of the African rivers, of our superabundant home population. Mr Jarndyce, who is desirous to aid any work that is considered likely to be a good work, and who is much sought after by philanthropists, has, I believe, a very high opinion of Mrs Jellyby.”
[W]e turned up under an archway, to our destination: a narrow street of high houses, like an oblong cistern to hold the fog. There was a confused little crowd of people, principally children, gathered about the house at which we stopped, which had a tarnished brass plate on the door with the inscription JELLYBY.

“Don’t be frightened!” said Mr Guppy, looking in at the coach-window. “One of the young Jellybys been and got his head through the area railings!”

“O poor child,” said I; “let me out, if you please!”

“Pray be careful of yourself, miss. The young Jellybys are always up to something,” said Mr Guppy.

I made my way to the poor child, who was one of the dirtiest little unfortunates I ever saw, and found him very hot and frightened and crying loudly, fixed by the neck between two iron railings, while a milkman and a beadle, with the kindest intentions possible, were endeavouring to drag him back by the legs, under a general impression that his skull was compressible by those means. As I found (after pacifying him), that he was a little boy, with a naturally large head, I thought that, perhaps where his head could go, his body could follow, and mentioned that the best mode of extrication might be to push him forward. This was so favourably received by the milkman and beadle, that he would immediately have been pushed into the area, if I had not held his pinafore, while Richard and Mr Guppy ran down through the kitchen, to catch him when he should be released. At last he was happily got down without any accident, and then he began to beat Mr Guppy with a hoop-stick in quite a frantic manner.

Nobody had appeared belonging to the house, except a person in pattens, who had been poking at the child from below with a broom; I don’t know with what object, and I don’t think she did. I therefore supposed that Mrs Jellyby was not at home; and was quite surprised when the person appeared in the passage without the pattens, and going up to the back room on the first floor, before Ada and me, announced us as, “Them two young ladies, Missis Jellyby!” We passed several more children on the way up, whom it was difficult to avoid treading on in the dark; and as we came into Mrs Jellyby’s presence, one of the poor little things fell down-stairs — down a whole flight (as it sounded to me), with a great noise.

Mrs Jellyby, whose face reflected none of the uneasiness which we could not help showing in our own faces, as the dear child’s head recorded its passage with a bump on every stair — Richard afterwards said he counted seven, besides one for the landing — received us with perfect equanimity. She was a pretty, very diminutive, plump woman of from forty to fifty, with handsome eyes, though they had a curious habit of seeming to look a long way off. As if — I am quoting Richard again — they could see nothing nearer than Africa!

“I am very glad indeed,” said Mrs Jellyby in an agreeable voice, “to have the pleasure of receiving you. I have a great respect for Mr Jarndyce, and no one in whom he is interested can be an object of indifference to me.”

We expressed our acknowledgments, and sat down behind the door where there was a lame invalid of a sofa. Mrs Jellyby had very good hair, but was too much occupied with her African duties to brush it. The shawl in which she had been loosely muffled, dropped on to her chair when she advanced to us; and as she turned to resume her seat, we could not help noticing that her dress didn’t nearly meet up the back, and that the open space was railed across with a lattice-work of stay-lace — like a summer-house.

The room, which was strewn with papers and nearly filled by a great writing-table covered with similar litter, was, I must say, not only very untidy but very dirty. We were obliged to take notice of that with our sense of sight, even while, with our sense of hearing, we followed the poor child who had tumbled down-stairs: I think into the back kitchen, where somebody seemed to stifle him.

But what principally struck us was a jaded and unhealthy-looking, though by no means plain girl, at the writing-table, who sat biting the feather of her pen, and staring at us. I suppose nobody ever was in such a state of ink. And, from her tumbled hair to her pretty feet, which were disfigured with frayed and broken satin slippers trodden down at heel, she really seemed to have no article of dress upon her, from a pin upwards, that was in its proper condition or its right place.

“You find me, my dears,” said Mrs Jellyby, snuffing the two great office candles in tin candlesticks which made the room taste strongly of hot tallow (the fire had gone out, and there was nothing in the grate but ashes, a bundle of wood, and a poker), “you find me, my dears, as usual, very busy; but that you will excuse. The African project at present employs my whole time. It involves me in correspondence with public bodies, and with private individuals anxious for the welfare of their species all over the country. I am happy to say it is advancing. We hope by this time next year to have from a hundred and fifty to two hundred healthy families cultivating coffee and educating the natives of Borrioboola-Gha, on the left bank of the Niger.”

As Ada said nothing, but looked at me, I said it must be very gratifying.

“It is gratifying,” said Mrs Jellyby. “It involves the devotion of all my energies, such as they are; but that is nothing, so that it succeeds; and I am more confident of success every day. Do you know, Miss Summerson, I almost wonder that you never turned your thoughts to Africa.”

This application of the subject was really so unexpected to me that I was quite at a loss how to receive it. I hinted that the climate—

“The finest climate in the world!” said Mrs Jellyby.

“Indeed, ma’am?”

“Certainly. With precaution,” said Mrs Jellyby. “You may go into Holborn, without precaution, and be run over. You may go into Holborn, with precaution, and never be run over. Just so with Africa.”

I said, “No doubt.” — I meant as to Holborn.

“If you would like,” said Mrs Jellyby, putting a number of papers towards us, “to look over some remarks on that head, and on the general subject, which have been extensively circulated, while I finish a letter I am now dictating — to my eldest daughter, who is my amanuensis—”

The girl at the table left off biting her pen, and made a return to our recognition, which was half bashful and half sulky.

“I shall then have finished for the present,” proceeded Mrs Jellyby with a sweet smile, “though my work is never done. Where are you, Caddy?”

‘“Presents her compliments to Mr Swallow, and begs—”’ said Caddy.

“‘—And begs,’” said Mrs Jellyby, dictating, “‘to inform him, in reference to his letter of inquiry on the African project’ — No, Peepy! Not on my account!”

Peepy (so self-named) was the unfortunate child who had fallen downstairs, who now interrupted the correspondence by presenting himself, with a strip of plaster on his forehead, to exhibit his wounded knees, in which Ada and I did not know which to pity most — the bruises or the dirt. Mrs Jellyby merely added, with the serene composure with which she said everything, “Go along, you naughty Peepy!” and fixed her fine eyes on Africa again.

Bleak House, Chapter 4

Among the ladies who were most distinguished for this rapacious benevolence (if I may use the expression), was a Mrs Pardiggle, who seemed, as I judged from the number of her letters to Mr Jarndyce, to be almost as powerful a correspondent as Mrs Jellyby herself. We observed that the wind always changed, when Mrs Pardiggle became the subject of conversation: and that it invariably interrupted Mr Jarndyce, and prevented his going any farther, when he had remarked that there were two classes of charitable people; one, the people who did a little and made a great deal of noise; the other, the people who did a great deal and made no noise at all. We were therefore curious to see Mrs Pardiggle, suspecting her to be a type of the former class; and were glad when she called one day with her five young sons.

She was a formidable style of lady, with spectacles, a prominent nose, and a loud voice, who had the effect of wanting a great deal of room. And she really did, for she knocked down little chairs with her skirts that were quite a great way off. As only Ada and I were at home, we received her timidly; for she seemed to come in like cold weather, and to make the little Pardiggles blue as they followed.

“These, young ladies,” said Mrs Pardiggle, with great volubility, after the first salutations, “are my five boys. You may have seen their names in a printed subscription list (perhaps more than one), in the possession of our esteemed friend Mr Jarndyce. Egbert, my eldest (twelve), is the boy who sent out his pocket-money, to the amount of five-and-threepence, to the Tockahoopo Indians. Oswald, my second (ten-and-a-half), is the child who contributed two-and-ninepence to the Great National Smithers Testimonial. Francis, my third (nine), one-and-sixpence-halfpenny; Felix, my fourth (seven), eightpence to the Superannuated Widows; Alfred, my youngest (five), has voluntarily enrolled himself in the Infant Bonds of Joy, and is pledged never, through life, to use tobacco in any form.”

We had never seen such dissatisfied children. It was not merely that they were weazened and shrivelled — though they were certainly that to — but they looked absolutely ferocious with discontent. At the mention of the Tockahoopo Indians, I could really have supposed Egbert to be one of the most baleful members of that tribe, he gave me such a savage frown. The face of each child, as the amount of his contribution was mentioned, darkened in a peculiarly vindictive manner, but his was by far the worst. I must except, however, the little recruit into the Infant Bonds of Joy, who was stolidly and evenly miserable.

“You have been visiting, I understand,” said Mrs Pardiggle, “at Mrs Jellyby’s?”

We said yes, we had passed one night there.

“Mrs Jellyby,” pursued the lady, always speaking in the same demonstrative, loud, hard tone, so that her voice impressed my fancy as if it had a sort of spectacles on too — and I may take the opportunity of remarking that her spectacles were made the less engaging by her eyes being what Ada called “choking eyes,” meaning very prominent: “Mrs Jellyby is a benefactor to society, and deserves a helping hand. My boys have contributed to the African project — Egbert, one-and-six, being the entire allowance of nine weeks; Oswald, one-and-a-penny-halfpenny, being the same; the rest, according to their little means. Nevertheless, I do not go with Mrs Jellyby in all things. I do not go with Mrs Jellyby in her treatment of her young family. It has been noticed. It has been observed that her young family are excluded from participation in the objects to which she is devoted. She may be right, she may be wrong; but, right or wrong, this is not my course with my young family. I take them everywhere.”

I was afterwards convinced (and so was Ada) that from the ill-conditioned eldest child, these words extorted a sharp yell. He turned it off into a yawn, but it began as a yell.

“They attend matins with me (very prettily done), at half-past six o’clock in the morning all the year round, including of course the depth of winter,” said Mrs Pardiggle rapidly, “and they are with me during the revolving duties of the day. I am a School lady, I am a Visiting lady, I am a Reading lady, I am a Distributing lady; I am on the local Linen Box Committee, and many general committees; and my canvassing alone is very extensive — perhaps no one’s more so. But they are my companions everywhere; and by these means they acquire that knowledge of the poor, and that capacity of doing charitable business in general — in short, that taste for the sort of thing — which will render them in after life a service to their neighbours, and a satisfaction to themselves. My young family are not frivolous; they expend the entire amount of their allowance, in subscriptions, under my direction; and they have attended as many public meetings, and listened to as many lectures, orations, and discussions, as generally fall to the lot of few grown people. Alfred (five), who, as I mentioned, has of his own election joined the Infant Bonds of Joy, was one of the very few children who manifested consciousness on that occasion, after a fervid address of two hours from the chairman of the evening.”

Alfred glowered at us as if he never could, or would, forgive the injury of that night.

“You may have observed, Miss Summerson,” said Mrs Pardiggle, “in some of the lists to which I have referred, in the possession of our esteemed friend Mr Jarndyce, that the names of my young family are concluded with the name of O. A. Pardiggle, F.R.S., one pound. That is their father. We usually observe the same routine. I put down my mite first; then my young family enrol their contributions, according to their ages and their little means; and then Mr Pardiggle brings up the rear. Mr Pardiggle is happy to throw in his limited donation, under my direction; and thus things are made, not only pleasant to ourselves, but, we trust, improving to others.”

Bleak House, Chapter 9

Monday, April 11, 2011

Motherhood Was The Road Out

There's a smug view out there that anti-abortion opinions are the purview of the safely bourgeois, and have little to do with the lives of real people with real problems. Calah of "Barefoot and Pregnant" refutes this handily with a powerful post about her experience of being a "woman in crisis":
Amidst the debates swirling around about defunding Planned Parenthood, some oft-repeated catch phrases are being tossed around like word grenades. One of these are "women in crisis." I'm sick and tired of hearing about "women in crisis" and how they need access to emergency contraception and abortions. That is a huge, steaming pile of lies, propagated by people who like to murder babies. Women in crisis do not need access to abortions. What they need is love, support, a safe place to live, and people (even strangers!) who will tell them the truth: that they are more than capable of being a mother. That they can do this. That their crisis, no matter how terrible, will be healed in the long, sometimes painful, always joyful process of becoming a mother.

Think this makes me heartless, speaking from my comfortable suburban home, having never known trials in my cushy little life?

Think again.

When I got that positive pregnancy test, the one that changed my life, I was addicted to crystal meth.

And do you know what the people around me did? They didn't take the secular line and say, "this baby's life would be horibble. You're unfit to be a mother. Better for it to not be born at all."

But neither did they take the typical pro-life line in that situation and say, "you are clearly unfit to be a mother, but all you have to do is carry the baby to term and give a stable couple a wonderful gift."

The Ogre said, "you're a mother now, and I'm a father, and together we'll raise our child."

My parents said, "marry that man, and raise that baby. You've made the choices, you have to live with them."

My friends said, "you screwed up, big time. But we love you. We'll throw you a baby shower, buy you maternity clothes, and babysit while you finish your semester."

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't easy, being a newly-pregnant drug addict. But it gave me something to live for. Someone to live for....
Read the rest.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Augustine's Confessions: At a Distance from God

In Book 3 we saw Augustine's fall away from the Church, in Book 5 we will see the beginning of his return. Book 4, however, is focused primarily on his years as a Manichean.

This is where we get the fairly brief description which is nearly all we have on Augustine's longest romantic relationship:
In those days I lived with a woman, not my lawful wedded wife but a mistress whom I had chosen for no special reason but that my restless passions had alighted on her. But she was the only one and I was faithful to her. Living with her I found out by my own experience the difference between the restraint of the marriage alliance, contracted for the purpose of having children, and a bargain struck for lust, in which the birth of children is begrudged, though, if they come, we cannot help but love them.
We also hear a bit about Augustine's life as a hot shot young rhetorician. In addition to his Manichean beliefs, he falls into consulting astrologers frequently, in part to learn the auspices when he's entering major academic competitions. At one point, a magician of some sort offers to assure that he will win a competition, but although Augustine finds the idea that that stars and planets can influence worldly events appealing (and has no qualms about consulting astrologers and books of astrology) he recoils at the idea of the magician sacrificing animals to dark powers in an attempt to secure a victory for him.

After winning one of these competitions, he finds himself in conversation with a proconsul renowned for his learning. They became friends, and the proconsul tells Augustine that he really should abandon all this astrology nonsense. He provides several arguments as to why the stars and planets are not in fact able to control our fates, but Augustine is as yet unable to be persuaded, though he says these arguments remained with him and were instrumental in persuading him years later.

Augustine's major personal and religious crisis in this period stems from one of his close friendships, another young man who, like Augustine, was a Christian catechumen but had strayed into Manicheanism. They both now consider themselves much more philosophically and spiritually sophisticated than their Christian families. However, the friend falls sick and appears likely to die.
His senses were numbed as he lingered in the sweat of death, and when all hope of saving him was lost, he was baptized as he lay unconscious. I cared nothing for this, because I chose to believe that his soul would retain what it had learnt from me, no matter what was done to his body when it was deprived of sense. But no such thing happened. New life came into him and he recovered. And as soon as I could talk to him -- which was as soon as he could talk to me, for I never left his side since were were so dependent on each other -- I tried to chaff him about his baptism, thinking that he too would make fun of it, since he had received it when he was quite incapable of thought or feeling. But by this time he had been told of it. He looked at me in horror as though I were an enemy, and in a strange, new-found attitude of self-reliance he warned me that if I wished to be his friend, I must never speak to him like that again.
After that, Augustine leaves the topic alone, assuming that once his friend recovers and is past the worry of a major illness, he'll come around. But shortly after this the friend takes a turn for the worse again and dies.

The Augustine who is a character in the Confessions, Augustine in his mid twenties, takes his friend's death very hard indeed, nearly to the point of despair.
My heart grew sombre with grief, and wherever I looked I saw only death. My own country became a torment and my own home a grotesque abode of misery. All that we had done together was not a grim ordeal without him. My eyes searched everywhere for him, but he was not there to be seen. I hated all the placed we had been together, because he was not in them and they could no longer whisper to me 'Here he comes!' as they would have done had he been alive but absent for a while.
Augustine's description of grief is so familiar and so human as to be instantly familiar -- and yet, the authorial Augustine also has a critique of his feelings a decade and more before. Looking back, Augustine sees himself as having expected something more than human of his friendship. He expected it to be unending and eternal. In a sense, he expected it to be god-like. Now, to the degree that love springs form God and all true loves are modeled on God, this is well and good, but Augustine now reflects on how his young self expected a beloved friend to be with him always, whereas it is God alone who can say truly, "I shall be with you always."

Had he loved his friend in God rather than as God, the older Augustine sees, he would have understood, if still suffered from, the separation. It was because he lacked the understanding (something which, perhaps, none of us in this mortal life can have to its fullness) that he and his friend were still united in God that his friend's absence seemed so unbearable and desolate.

The edition I'm reading is the Penguin Classics edition of Confessions, translated by R. S. Pine-Coffin.

You can also access a full, modern translation of Augustine's Confessions by Alberet C. Outler online, courtesy of Fordham University

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Messing With My Head

Darwin: ...and this weekend I need to do some work around the house and the yard.
Isabel (age 5): Will you fix the basement door in the back yard?
(one of the boards in the cellar door is rotting out)
Darwin: Well, that does need fixing, but I don't know if I will do it this weekend.
Isabel: You should work on the door soon. Sometimes I worry that man will get into the house.
Darwin: What man?
Isabel: The one who looks at me.
Darwin: Wait. What man are you talking about, Isabel? When was this?
Isabel: The man who looks at me. I don't like it.
Darwin: Isabel, when did this happen? Where did you see this man?
Isabel: Daddy, you know... The one eyed man. In my head.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Writing vs. Creating

When we moved into this house, the shelves in the library were filled with books that the children of the previous owner hadn't wanted to divvy up amongst themselves. There were a few gems tucked away, but most of them were, as Darwin put it, "novels that were Very Important the year they were published", or biographies of minor cultural figures and second-tier authors. We kept a great deal of them on the principle of hating to get rid of books, but now the tedium of contemplating the sheer bloat of mediocre prose evokes a deep lethargy upon me.

I spent the other evening skimming a biography of a woman who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1929. I'd never heard of her or her novel; you haven't either. At the time it was considered a shocking and sensual novel about a black woman and her sensual, shocking life, written by a white plantation mistress. Perhaps it was a step forward for civil rights in 1929, but the snippets of her writing in the biography made my teeth ache. One more book to be culled from the shelves.

People tend to think that writing is a vastly creative act that confers a certain immortality on the author's thought, but the truth is that most books published are read by a few people and then quickly forgotten. (Or, in the case of Dan Brown's novels, read by many people and then quickly forgotten.) This is attested to by the myriad forgotten tomes here, their few insights had been gleaned in one quick deflowering years ago. And what of all those authors who poured so much ink and effort into getting their baby into print? What did they neglect in order to write these dusty books?

Betty Duffy, who has more literary power in her pencil eraser than Ms. Pulitzer 1929 had in her collected works, writes:

And I thought, heck--why wait to get pregnant for this reward? I'm going to enroll in the Master's Program now!

I downloaded the application materials. I talked to friends who are enrolled in the program. I had my husband's approval. All systems were go.

Then I got pregnant. It's funny how this works on me. Maybe other women don't feel this way about having babies--but I called Pedge on my way home from my last community class in which I'd been a lackluster participant, and asked why it is that I've lost interest, once again, in these projects I've built up in my mind. Is it that I'm chicken? I'm afraid of failure, and having babies is away of excusing myself from trying? Am I just morning sick? Do I harbor some deep-seated anti-feminist notion that I don't deserve further education? Why do these things that were so important and exciting to me just a month ago, suddenly feel so trivial?

Pedge put into words for me what I had begun to sense, but felt sort of stupid saying, since at the time I was only a few weeks along: "You really are a different person than you were two weeks ago. You're now a mother of six. It's completely unknown territory to you and it makes perfect sense that you would want to move other things out of the way so that you have room to become the person you are going to be."

And it doesn't mean I'll never go get that MFA, or nurture anything other than children--but for now there really is nothing else I want to do but allow myself to mother this child.

My congratulations to Betty, who in raising her six children is engaged in one of the most essential and enduring occupations in this world.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Mid-Week Snippets

If things are a bit quiet around here, it's because I find myself under a sufficient crush of deadlines at work at the moment that much of my waking time is currently in front my work computer, and when I'm able to break I generally don't want to see a computer screen. The following are thus rather brief and unformed notes in lieu of a post.

The Billion Dollar Man

Due to the above factors, I haven't got around to downloading a new book from Audible, despite having a credit waiting for me and War and Peace finished, so I find myself back on NPR on the commutes. As such, I am actually moderately up on the news, and heard about President Obama's official kick-off of his 2012 presidential campaign. The goal, we are told, is for the Obama campaign to raise one billion dollars for the presidential campaign, an unprecedented number. This would leave far behind the already staggering spending of the 2008 campaign, in which Obama raised $745 Million and McCain raised $368 Million. Somehow I can't help finding this darkly funny as several of my progressive friends have been posting frantically over the last few months about how Republicans are funneling all the money to the rich and Citizens United has shockingly tainted the political process with money.

More Sleep Please

It seems that inequality isn't only a matter of money, it's a matter of sleep. The WSJ tells us this morning about the real top 1%:
For a small group of people—perhaps just 1% to 3% of the population—sleep is a waste of time.

Natural "short sleepers," as they're officially known, are night owls and early birds simultaneously. They typically turn in well after midnight, then get up just a few hours later and barrel through the day without needing to take naps or load up on caffeine.

They are also energetic, outgoing, optimistic and ambitious, according to the few researchers who have studied them. The pattern sometimes starts in childhood and often runs in families.
I am not one of these. I work very well at night, when I get going, but mornings are not my time at all. Instead, I seem to be one of the "wanna be short sleepers", people who routinely get less than seven hours of sleep a night but end up tired as a result. There just don't seem to be enough hours in the day.

GE and Taxes

Now that the fuss is mostly behind us, it appears that GE is in fact paying taxes, though it won't be clear for several years, in all likelihood, exactly how much their 2010 federal taxes are, since these things are negotiated for years. Megan McArdle takes the opportunity to advocate for reducing the corporate income tax to a nominal amount such as 1% of profits so that it's not worth dodging, and catching the money on the other end by taxing capital gains at the same rate as income. This is, however, one of those typically libertarian suggestions which is so logical and reasonable that it will probably never happen. Sigh...

For someone who finds it all too easy to mindlessly eat, when given the chance, fasting is typically not all that hard for me. I suppose mindlessly not eating is in a sense not all that different from mindlessly eating. However, one forgets that for most people Fridays are days to let loose a little bit more than usual, until one walks into the breakroom and sees this, as I did last Friday:
The crock pot on the left is shredded turkey in sauce, while the one on the right is shredded beef. Yeesh.

On a family trip last weekend we had a chance to listen to a couple of different audiobooks (from the family collection or the library) that are more kid friendly. The girls were just finishing up listening to The Last Battle (read by Patrick Stewart). It was striking me that it's too bad that the Narnia movies seem to be foundering badly on the first three books, which aren't structured well for movie adaptation, as the last four really are much better structured to be movies. Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle have always been my favorites out of the series.

We also listened to a good chunk of Kipling's Jungle Book, which I haven't read in a long time (if ever) in its entirety, though some stories from it such as Rikki Tikki Tavi are family favorites. It was also striking me how delightfully frank about matters of life and death Kipling's animal characters are -- as one would expect animals to be.