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

Sunday, May 29, 2011

On The Road With Darwins

Still alive and kicking here, but our posting ability is much diminished by the fact that we are on the road with the whole family. In this advanced age, we have a rather shocking number of Internet enabled devices in tow, but what we do not have is much time to use them for anything other than searching for directions. After a long day of route finding and peace making with the back seat brigade, the parents need sleep mlre thanthey aspire to literary endeavors.

We'll be back after the holiday.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Turkish Delight

Since Calah is busy packing for her big move to Texas, I have a guest post at her blog, Barefoot and Pregnant, in which Darwins try Turkish Delight.

Don't We All Know Someone Like This?

From Crime & Punishment, Part Five, Chapter One:

[Luzhin] "I am not going on principle, not to take part in the revolting convention of memorial dinners, that's why! Though, of course, one might go to laugh at it.... I am sorry there won't be any priests at it. I should certainly go if there were."

[Pyotr Petrovitch] "Then you would sit down at another man's table and insult it and those who invited you. Eh?"

[Luzhin] "Certainly not insult, but protest. I should do it with a good object. I might indirectly assist the cause of enlightenment and propaganda. It's a duty of every man to work for enlightenment and propaganda and the more harshly, perhaps, the better. I might drop a seed, an idea.... And something might grow up from that seed. How should I be insulting them? They might be offended at first, but afterwards they'd see I'd done them a service."

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Culture Clash

Brandon of Siris is always willing to tackle not only abstruse philosophical questions, but the difficult cultural issues:
Bollywood vs. Islamic extremism. As to the all-important Sheila vs. Munni issue, Munni is prettier, but Katrina Kaif, if you are reading this and want to try to change my mind, that's an experiment I'm willing to try.
Important questions like this clearly require further study.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Do Non-Pacifists Need To Stop Calling Themselves Christian?

I was originally writing this as a comment on Kyle Cupp's post "Auding Christianity" at Journey's In Alternity, in which he discusses a post by Andrew Hackman of Hackman's Musings entitled "Bill Maher Needs to Preach at YOUR Church This Sunday". However, a couple days passed due to "the press of business" (to use Scrooge's term) and when I got around to starting to write the comment it was running long, so here it is as a post.

To set the stage, Hackman quotes approvingly a Bill Maher rant in which Maher claims that Christians who share his (Maher's) excitement over Osama Bin Laden's death should stop calling themselves Christians:
New rule: if you’re a Christian who supports killing your enemies and torture, you have to come up with a new name for yourself.
For almost 2,000 years, Christians have been lawyering the Bible to try and figure out how “love thy neighbor” can mean “hate thy neighbor” and how “turn the other cheek” can mean “screw you I’m buying space lasers.”

Martin Luther King gets to call himself a Christian because he actually practiced loving his enemies.

And Gandhi was so fucking Christian he was Hindu.

But if you rejoice in revenge, torture and war – hey, that’s why they call it the weekend – you cannot say you’re a follower of the guy who explicitly said, “love your enemies” and “do good to those who hate you.” The next line isn’t “and if that doesn’t work, send a titanium fanged dog to rip his nuts off.”
Christians, I know, I’m sorry, I know you hate this and you want to square this circle, but you can’t.

I’m not even judging you, I’m just saying logically if you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you’re not a Christian – you’re just auditing.

You’re not Christ’s followers, you’re just fans.

And if you believe the Earth was given to you to kick ass on while gloating, you’re not really a Christian – you’re a Texan.
Hackman agrees and asserts:
Let's face it, pretty much everyone outside of Christian circles thinks Christians are ass-hats. I think most Christians are ass-hats, and I am one of them (sort-of, kind-of, maybe). Why is that? I think it is because of what Bill hits on here. If we lived these core teachings, we would really be Christian. However, we have turned Christianity into a club where I am in and you are out. Instead of spreading Jesus' teachings - that the Kingdom of God means you love your enemy and bless those who curse you - we encourage people to join our church or get them to do an "accept Jesus" prayer. Then, with our blessed assurance in tow, we go on to live just as self-absorbed as our darkest corners dictate.
Kyle gives some qualified agreement and says:
Let’s face it, if the ethos of Jesus Christ doesn’t apply in the real world, with all its nuances and morally messy difficulties, then it’s bubcus. If it doesn’t apply when Christians are faced with the annihilation of their families or their country, then it’s a crap system. An ethos is only worth something if it applies in the worse situations imaginable.

Maher is more or less right when he says, “…nonviolence was kind of Jesus’ trademark. Kind of his big thing. To not follow that part of it is like joining Greenpeace and hating whales. There’s interpreting, and then there’s just ignoring. It’s just ignoring if you’re for torture – as are more evangelical Christians than any other religion. You’re supposed to look at that figure of Christ on the cross and think, ‘How could a man suffer like that and forgive?’ Not, ‘Romans are pussies, he still has his eyes.’” You can’t say you’re a follower of Jesus when you rejoice in revenge, torture, and war.

If Christians respond to their enemies the same way that others do, then there’s something really big missing in the practice of their religion.
Several points in response.

- On the main point of whether Maher has brought up an important insight on Christianity and Christians, here: I think that Hackman and you err a bit in seeing Maher as making a valuable contribution here, perhaps misled by the fact that he's ostensibly making a provacative point about an issue which you feel strongly about and are frustrated that more Christians are not more activist about.

Hackman says:
Let’s face it, pretty much everyone outside of Christian circles thinks Christians are ass-hats. I think most Christians are ass-hats, and I am one of them (sort-of, kind-of, maybe). Why is that? I think it is because of what Bill hits on here. If we lived these core teachings, we would really be Christian.
At the risk of sounding mealy-mouthed here, I think part of why Hackman finds Maher's typically angry rant appealing is that Hackman has allowed himself to fall into, like Maher, thinking that most Christians are asshats.

Now, as Maher says, this is fine if you're a non-Christian and you think it's just fine to hate a large portion of the world's population, but it's problematic if you're a Christian. Hackman is angry that Christians do not, by his reading, love their enemies. His response, however, is apparently to decide that Christians are people that he can hate. As Foghorn Leghorn would say, "That just don't add up." You can't revel in hating Christians because you think that they in turn hate other people too much. At least, not if your claim is that you are Christian and that Christians are supposed to be marked by their lack of hatred for others.

- Once we leave aside the "asshats" complaint, which basically boils down to Hackman saying that he doesn't like most Christians, how much validity is there to this argument that most Christians who aren't pacifists need to come up with another name for themselves?

First off, I think we could agree that this is a highly unattractive way for a Christian to try to make a point. Christ made even stronger points about a number of other moral issues, but I don't think that Kyle or Hackman would necessarily be as quick to endorse some far right wing commentator who said, "So let's just be clear: if you're a Christian, and you're divorced, you need to find some other name to call yourself. I’m not even judging you, I’m just saying logically if you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you’re not a Christian – you’re just auditing."

Or even a poverty advocate who said, "So let's just be clear: if you're a Christian, and you haven't sold all your possessions -- all of them! -- and given them to the poor, you need to find some other name to call yourself. I’m not even judging you, I’m just saying logically if you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you’re not a Christian – you’re just auditing."

These are bad ways of making an allegedly Christian point because they don't exude love for the other, they do not echo the beatitudes, they exude scorn and derision. There's more of the Pharisee in this approach then there is of Jesus.

This isn't to say that Jesus' sermons were all about fuzzy animals, flowers and rainbows -- but at a basic level, scorn doesn't convey love, and rage doesn't convey pacifism.

- Alright, so leaving aside the idea of some Christians finding another name for themselves, is there a core nugget of truth here?

Yes and no.

On the one hand, Maher has (in his effort to make the case that Christians should abandon Christianity because they were never Christian anyway) successfully come up with some examples of hatred and vindictiveness so extreme that he's right. If you look at a crucifix and think, "Romans are pussies, he still has his eyes," then there is indeed a good case that you're not working within a Christian frame of reference.

If you would much rather that terrorists on the far side of the world be torn apart by attack dogs than that they have a conversion of heart and stop being terrorists, then you are putting violence and revenge above Christian forgiveness.

And if Christians really are thinking that way, then they need to reexamine their feelings based on the teachings that they take the name of.

That said, in the second half of Kyle's post, he seems to want to make the case that the tension which Maher's rant points to is that any idea of just war or violence on the part of Christians is necessarily in conflict with the beatitudes and with Christianity. Now, Maher might agree with this, especially as his entire point is that Christianity itself is irrational and not even lived out by its adherants. Further, Maher is engaging, from the outside, in what many people think that Christianity consists of: Reading the bible in a vacuum and then announcing that Christianity is whatever your first impression of what Jesus was "all about" suggests. Thus Maher's conclusion that Christians must not merely renounce hatred and revenge (which they clearly musted) but that they just endorse total non-violence.

However, we as Catholics do not approach the bible in this contextless fashion. We come to it through the Traditions and doctrines of the Church as developed by the Church Fathers and by saints and theologians down to the present day. And looked at this way, just war and self defense (when properly understood) are not cases of people 'lawyering the Bible to try and figure out how “love thy neighbor” can mean “hate thy neighbor”', they are what Christ's Church teaches.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Seven Quick Takes

1. Hate you, Blogger.

2. Thanks for all the music advice. I'm going to check out Mumford and Sons and the Wailing Jennys. Bernard mentioned Dave Matthews, which took me way back to my sophomore year, when I listened to almost nothing else.

3. Here's another example of a song I liked right away:

I guess this is a cover, but the other versions didn't grab me at all. So I went to look up this band, but they've drifted off the scene. This version of this song isn't available on iTunes, and the album it's on costs about $30 used. I considered buying it, but as I Googled around, I found the band's old page on which some impassioned but silly political opinions were bandied about. Nope, I'll listen to it on youtube.


4. Here's a video for commenter Mandamum:

If my brothers hosted a talk show, this is how it would go.

Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake can come dance in my living room any day.


5. Do you think the neighborhood minds that three out of four panels of the screen door are ripped and flapping? Because it's not getting fixed any time soon.


6. We've been talking about going on Parents' Retreat: going away just by ourselves (shut up!) for a weekend, to talk about family, about schooling, about plans, about anything. By ourselves. Without, for example, a two-year-old sitting on my lap trying to push the space bar. Of course, we've been talking about this for almost a year, but it keeps getting put off due to the demands of... the family.


7. This was not really the day you want to have right before The Rapture. Maybe I'll be whisked up into Purgatory, or does it work that way?

Vacation next week!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The New Music Post

Last Saturday I drudged, cleaning the kitchen, slogging around doing dishes, scuffing across the floor I'd just mopped a few days before, and getting increasingly irritated at the radio. I don't know the stations around here well yet, but everything sounds the same. If there's a classical station, it's never playing music when I flip around the dial. If there's an oldies station, I can't find it. I'm weary of the pop songs that all sound the same, and the easy-listening station that has a rotation of the same 100 tired hits, and the greasy alternative whiners with their canned angst. I wanted something fresh that would get into my blood. More than anything, I wanted to sing.

As I pushed junk around the counters, the DJ crooned, "And here's that number by Adele that's been climbing the charts," and I heard this, and it was as if I suddenly woke up.

I was instantly addicted, and I did something I haven't done in years: I bought a CD. For one song.

And finally it arrived, and I popped it in, and how deflatingly right I was: I bought the CD for one song. I'm not so young and impressionable that any ditty of love and longing can hook me in. I won't fault Adele as a singer: her voice continues to resonate with me. I think it's amazing that she can drive a music video by simply sitting in a chair and singing her heart out. But it's not enough. The producers seemed to know they had a good thing on their hands with "Rolling in the Deep" and poured all their creative powers into that one song, leaving nothing for the rest of the album. Everything else was... kind of boring, frankly.

But now I want more. Where is the good new music? Who are the compelling new singers and songwriters? What is interesting and fresh and compelling? And -- this is key -- what is singable?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

San Francisco Travelogue

Last week saw me in San Francisco for four days and five nights for a conference put on by the company which makes the pricing and analytics software that I use at work. A typical Southern California boy, I'd never been to Northern California until I flew to Silicon Valley a year ago for a job interview, and I'd never been in downtown San Francisco at all. The degree of my ignorance was shown by the fact that when our department admin had asked me, some weeks before, "Do you want a rental car or will you take a taxi?" I'd blithely replied, "A car if that's alright. That way I can get around and see some of the city between sessions."

Ha. Should you ever find yourself going to the financial district in San Francisco, do not attempt to bring a car. Parking costs as much as a hotel room in other cities. The fee for parking at the hotel (where they would let you get your car out on ten minutes notice) was so high that the during my first break between sessions I set out to find another place to put it -- and found somewhere slightly less expensive where they lowered my loaned Toyota into the bowels of Hades via a special elevator, to some level of the underworld in which wicked cars go to await their final judgement. As one would expect in the vestibule of hell, there were no "in and out" privileges, and so I was now a pedestrian for two days until I retrieved it and decamped to more driver-friendly territory at the airport hotel.

It was a relief, really. Downtown San Francisco is thick with taxis, such that one could step out onto the curb in good 30s movie style and flag one down in a moment, and those who did drive in the canyon-like (mostly one way) streets were mostly crazy anyway.

Setting out on foot amid this maze of canyons, I found a coffee shop and sat down at an outside table on the corner of Mission and 3rd to drink my coffee and people watch while charting my course via iPad. Watching the constant flow of pedestrians and cyclists going by, I felt like I should be snapping pictures for The Sartorialist. I'd never before been in the sort of city center where business men in designer suits zipped by on bicycles and women apparently do not consider five inch heels to be obstacles to rapid long distance walking.

But the fact is that while I am happy to watch people, I have not the lens courage to blatantly take pictures of strangers at close quarters without explanation. So I simply sat and watched and reflected that I had been right in deciding last year that the Bay Area was not my clime.

Coffee finished, I set off down Market (in the opposite direction than I meant to) and quickly came upon St. Patrick's, a parish dating back to the Gold Rush days.
I slipped inside to make a visit, and found a beautifully unspoiled turn-of-the-century church with large saint statues by every pillar and a beautiful high altar of milk white stone. (Looking over the parish history display case in the vestibule, I learned that the church had been destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and rebuilt the next year with the oddly short and square bell tower seen above.)

The interior picture really doesn't do the sanctuary justice, but people were gathering from 5:15 mass and I didn't want to use the flash. When I returned for 5:15pm evening mass the next day, I found that the once heavily Irish immigrant parish is now home to a thriving community of Filipino immigrants. There were some hundred people there for a Tuesday weekday mass. Including the usual characters one finds in any downtown parish weekday mass: A couple of business men in suits, stopping in after work. A homeless person sleeping in the back pew. A grizzled old character in a leather jacket with a large American flag sewn on the back, who circulated constantly through the sanctuary during mass pausing at each statue to lay his hand on the foot of the saint and pray silently for a few moments.
Leaving the church, walked headed back down Mission street to where it dead-ends into the Bay, and offers a view of the Bay Bridge. (with rocket)
You can walk out along Pier 14 for a better view. The late afternoon was a sunny with temperatures in the low 60s, and a lot of people were taking advantage of the weather. As I headed down the pier a young couple and their photographer were trying to find just the right angle to catch the sun on a new engagement ring. As I sat out near the end, watching the boats going by, a couple with nearly impenetrable Australian accents asked me to take their picture with the bridge in the background.
I could have happily spent another hour or two on the pier, but my Blackberry summoned me to "networking" and dinner.

Two days later, the conference over, I stowed my suitcase with the front desk of the hotel, hoisted my backpack (so as to be provided with iPad and camera) and set off to walk to the Golden Gate Bridge, unsuitable attired in "business casual". One does these things. Or at least, I do. There is something so very enticing about a city map, especially one which does not have a scale written upon it. It makes you look at it and declare stoutly, "This is a walking city, and I am a great walker."

I took Market down to The Embarcadero on the theory that if I followed the water from there, I couldn't get lost. Down by Pier 39, I found some of the locals hanging out.

It turns out that there's a technology and economics reason for all the piers along San Francisco Bay which are now tourist attractions, parking garages or industrial warehouses. Back in the days before shipping containers, cargo ships came up along the long piers to be unloaded by longshoremen. Container shipping, however, required large cranes and a big area next to the docks for containers to be sorted and loaded onto ground transportation. There wasn't room enough to put in all this in San Francisco, where the city went right down to the bay, but Oakland had space to spare, and so commercial shipping moved across the bay.

And sure enough, San Francisco's famously hilly streets run right down into the bay.

Across which bay, I could now see my destination in the distance.
And Alcatraz out in the middle of the bay. 
I passed Fort Mason and headed down Marina Boulevard -- yachts to the right of me, posh ocean front property to the left of me, expensive looking joggers and cyclists (by some strange rule of nature, the former invariably female, the latter male) passing me. I had told myself, on setting out, that if I got too tired I could always hail a taxis. By this point I was getting seriously footsore however, as it turned out, once you reach this more residential portion of San Francisco, taxis are not to be found.

Still, there is something to be said for finishing what one starts, and my destination now loomed closer.
A closed road and detour send me scrambling up the unpaved shoulder of a hilly road.  The one satisfaction was that traffic was completely gridlocked.  The out-of-place-looking pedestrian in "business casual" conference clothes tramping through the dust was making significantly better speed than the BMWs and Audis sullenly idling on the blacktop.  And the view back over where I had come from was beautiful.
And so I reached the bridge.  Afterwards I worked out this has been about a 5.5 mile trek thus far.  The sun was still in the sky for another couple hours, and the bridge didn't look all that long.  (Wikipedia now informs me it is in fact 1.7 miles across.)
So I set off.
It looms ahead.
There's a really cool fortress down under the start of it.

One is advised against despair.  (Wikipedia informs me that the Golden Gate Bridge is the site of more suicides than any other place in the world.) By the time I was heading back, and wondering how far I would have to retrace my route before finding a bus or taxi or something, I began to wonder if one could use one of these to summon a ride.  I did not, however, make the attempt.
And so I reached the far end and looked back.  (Actually, this is not the very, very end, but that picture is right by the road and doesn't look as interesting.  This is from the walk around the second tower.)
Speaking of which, the towers have a great deal of rivet-y, '30s charm.
And having waxed eloquent about container shipping near the beginning of my odyssey, I could not but with joy note a container ship passing beneath me, having set out from Oakland. 
What then, dear reader? It turns out there is a bus stop by the tourist center which was able to take me a third of the way back. A mile's walk then brought me into a tourist area where I could catch a taxi. For those not accustomed to buses, be advised that precise change is required. However, the bus driver had mercy on me (perhaps by this time I really looked rather pathetic, as I put my twenty back in my wallet and stepped sorely off the bus.

"Just go ahead and have a seat," he said. "Next time, remember to bring change." I will.

John Wilkins on Higher Education vs. Professional Training

John Wilkins of Evolving Thoughts has a post up about credential inflation and the tendency to create university programs to support careers which is the more interesting for the family history examples it provides:
When my grandfather was a boy of 14, he started a career as a fireman that led to him being the chief of the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade in the 1930s. While he did this he gained an engineer’s certificate, but he was working, earning and building a career. He was not unusual at the beginning of the 20th century.

My father, who managed to get himself ejected from the MMFB for conducting unauthorised and explosive chemistry experiments in the West Melbourne station, worked in radio from the age of 16. He never got a post-secondary qualification so far as I can discover. I left school at 16, and worked in a newspaper before I became a graphic artist and printer (without qualifications). I could have become a journalist if I had shown the determination, through a cadetship at the Herald and Weekly Times, even without matriculating.

However, now, students are expected to complete not year 10, or even 12, but a Bachelor’s degree, in order to even enter the professional workforce, and to have at least a Master’s degree to get ahead. This means that the very earliest one can start earning in full is around 24, a full decade later than my grandfather’s day, and if you continue to study, you might not begin to earn properly and start to even pay off your education debt before you are in your 30s.
This is something I tend to grouse about myself, as I now work in circles in which MBAs a very common (My current and previous job were both advertised as "MBA strongly preferred") while I have a BA only and that in Classics not a "professional" field.

I also have to wonder how sustainable the increasing credential inflation trend is as we get into generations in many Western countries which will be smaller than the previous ones. Having an increasingly small number of workers to support retirees seems unsustainable enough, encouraging those workers to not do much of anything until their late 20s or early 30s seems like an even worse idea.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Why Doesn't Warren Buffet Pay Extra Taxes?

A friend once complained to me that, "All you ever seem to write about is money and sex." I'm not sure this is entirely the case, but they are certainly topics which I can write about very quickly. So while I'm still working on some travel writing about my sojourn in San Francisco last week (at a conference put on by one of the vendors I work with) I thought I'd throw up a quick post on this WSJ editorial which caught my eye, because it makes a seemingly valid point about wealthy people who call for higher taxes on the rich.
I wish I had a dollar for every time a wealthy liberal has declared he thinks he should pay more taxes. That list includes Warren Buffett, George Soros, Bill Gates Sr., Mark Zuckerberg and even Barack Obama, who now says that not only should rich people like him pay more taxes, they want to pay more. "I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me," he said of his tax-hike plan. "They want to give back to the country that's done so much for them."
So why don't they? There is a special fund at the Treasury Department for taxpayers who want to make "gift contributions to reduce debt held by the public." But very few do. Last year that fund and others like it raised a grand total of $300 million. That's a decimal place on Mr. Zuckerberg's net worth and pays for less than two hours worth of federal borrowing.
I understand the basic satisfaction of saying, "Look, mister, if you really want to pay more taxes, no one is stopping you," but I don't think that it's actually a very good argument. The reason why people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet advocate for higher taxes but don't voluntarily pay higher taxes than the law requires is pretty obvious: If the US raised the top marginal income tax rate and the capital gains rate in order to try to collect more money from people like Buffet and Gates, this would affect all people in that tax bracket. (If the current tax brackets were used, that would man any married couple making more than $379,000/yr.) This would mean that while high tax advocates such as Warren Buffet would pay more taxes, their relative wealth compared to the other wealthy would remain the same. Thus, Buffet's ability to buy or control things via his wealth would not diminish relative to the other wealthy.

On the other hand, if Buffet decided to simply write an extra check to the Feds each year for $10 million, the result would be that his relative income (and thus buying and influencing power) would fall somewhat relative to other members of is class. Now, as someone who makes a number of high profile donations, Buffet is clearly willing to give money away, but when he makes a direct donation to a non-profit he has a pretty good say in how that money will be used. If he simply writes a check to the Feds, he has very little. As someone who supports higher taxes, he's clearly okay with handing more money over to the Feds -- but I think it's pretty rational that he's not willing to do so in a way that reduces his economic power, and doesn't do all that much to stem the budget problems.

So really, I don't see there as being much hypocrisy in the unwillingness of rich high tax advocates to voluntarily pay extra. Though at the same time, it's important to understand there's no virtue in their claim that "they'd be willing to pay more". They are, clearly, willing to pay more (thus the advocacy) but only if they can do so in a way which doesn't reduce their standing versus other rich people (and the rest of the country).

My Soul Shall Live For Him

Long-time readers may remember praying for little Jack, who died in 2006 after battling cancer. His aunt, Barb (a long time friend of mine) was the one who kept us updated on his condition. Now Barb herself is struggling with cancer, and is scheduled today for surgery.
I was awake early this hands are a bit shaky as I type. It is a cool, cloudy day...when I put up the shade in our bathroom this morning and I looked out, I asked the dear Lord if I could see one little glimpse of blue sky. Just then some clouds moved and I got a glimpse of a tiny patch of blue; very quickly it disappeared again. God is good, indeed.
Please keep her and her family in her prayers today, and leave a note of support for her. She's blogging her cancer story at her blog, My Soul Shall Live For Him.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


All right, internet friends: who lives near Erie, PA (or west of Cleveland, maybe, or north of Youngstown) and would want to see Darwins on the evening of Wednesday, May 25?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

More vanity, or not

Bearing continues the conversation on vanity vs. looking good:

It was five or six years ago, when we only had two children, that we switched to a parish a little farther away -- we picked it because it had a perpetual adoration chapel -- a parish that happens to have a lot of big families and a lot of growing families.

Some of you moms of bigger families are going to laugh at me for my naiveté, I know, but one of the things that surprised me and kind of astonished me -- and enchanted me -- was the number of really beautiful women in the parish who had four, five, six, seven, eight, even nine or ten children.

And no, that's not code for "every mother of many children exudes an inner beauty." Not every mother is objectively beautiful -- sorry, but it's true; some people look tired and harried all the time, even in their Sunday best. It may not be their fault. My point is: when I mention beautiful women, I really do mean visually beautiful, at least as objective as my own opinion can be.
And on the original vanity post at Betty Beguiles, SuburbanBanshee has the last word:
I'm not a wife or a mother and live alone. I guarantee you that if I don't look after my middle-aged appearance, it can quickly slide from "forgot to look in the mirror" to "forgot to perform basic hygiene tasks" and into "looks to be suffering from mental illness". And frankly, it's a pretty basic human need (right up there with food, clothing, bathing, etc.) to be neat and well-dressed. To do otherwise is to disrespect the templeness of your body.

Even among primates, being well-groomed and healthy-looking is one of the most important signs that one is healthy and taking care of oneself. Among humans, it shows a maintenance of civilization. St. Francis de Sales says that it behooves religious people to dress reasonably nicely and not too ridiculously far behind the fashions, either.

Vanity comes way way down the line.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Weight and See

Couple of interesting conversations going on about weight loss and body image and vanity going on at Betty Beguiles' place and Betty Duffy's and Bearing's.

I've been losing weight lately, mostly through the expedient of eating less. No snacking after dinner, light breakfast, etc. I don't have the time to squeeze in lots of exercise right now, but there's no opportunity cost to not stuffing your face. It has not yet ceased to amaze me that my figure is still there and still recoverable. There is probably an element of vanity here; I concur wholly with Bearing when she says:

Yes, yes, we're all supposed to pay lip service to "health" as the reason to become physically fit and lose weight and all that sort of thing. I've done it myself. But admit it people.

You (yes, you) want to have a hot body.

Yes, I want to look good. I don't want to look "hot" for anyone but Darwin (and I do mean that), but yes, for him, I'm not averse to being a siren, sure.

As I've lost weight, my ten-month-old has stopped gaining weight. This is likely unrelated to my weight loss, as even stuffing her with pureed turkey and chicken and potatoes and rice cereal for a month hasn't fattened her up; she stays resolutely petite, though her hair has gotten very thick and she's added a few more teeth. She's exceedingly healthy, all fourteen pounds of her. But when, at her last weight check, the doctor suggested supplementing with formula and theorized that perhaps my milk wasn't providing enough nutrition for baby, I had to consider -- would I want more nutritious milk at the price of regaining weight, especially when the baby is getting older and going to be eating solids more and more? And I don't know the answer. It's not as if I'm her only food source. She nurses more for comfort these days than for nourishment (especially if it's right after a filling meal of yogurt and chicken and "tender pureed green beans").

I haven't parsed all this in my mind yet, let alone figure out where health and vanity start butting heads. I will say, though: I've been amazed (and that's not too strong a word) to see contours of my body I'd forgotten I had reappear, as if there's a whole new healthy self emerging. Vanity, perhaps, but also wonder and delight at the thought that this is ME! And that's not to be lightly brushed off -- God made my body, and it is good.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Controlling Catholic Media

One of the notable things about Catholicism is that it has a central teaching authority such that it is possible to say with a fair degree of certainty (at least on many doctrinal topics), "The Church teaches X" or "The Church does not accept Y as true." By comparison, if you want to say something about "What Muslims believe" or "What Baptists believe" much less "What Buddhists believe", the best you can do is a cite a number of authorities and recognize what the preponderance of them appear to say. (Even this gets very tricky, as different people will have different standards as to who is an acceptable authority.)

Given this, Catholics often suggest it would be a good idea if there were more quality control over who got to go around labeling things as Catholic. Conservatives sometimes ask why it is that Notre Dame and Georgetown are still allowed to call themselves Catholic universities, and make noises that someone should "do something" about publications like Commonweal and National Catholic Reporter. On the flip side, once and a while one hears more left-leaning Catholics ask why it is that the bishops don't do something to about the largely right-leaning Catholic blogsphere, or reign in venues such as EWTN or Real Catholic TV.

Certainly, control over what is written is something with a long history in the Catholic Church. We are, after all, the ones who had The Index Of Forbidden Books for many years, and who required that authors get an Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat from the local bishop when publishing works.

Further, I do think that there are egregious cases (which those are will always be controversial) in which Church authorities do need to step in and state that a given work is in error on some important doctrinal issue.

However, bringing more oversight to bear does not always have the effect that those who advocate it desire. I remember a few years back when our diocese at that time announced that it would be conducting a review of religious education textbooks and approving three texts which all parishes would be expected to use in their religious education classes for children. At first there was some enthusiasm for this in conservative quarters, with people hoping this would mean that watered down texts would be banned. Instead, perhaps predictably, it was the texts from the three largest mainstream textbook publishers (the ones, perhaps coincidentally, with the resources to market most effectively to the diocesan education office) that were approved, and parishes that had been using books from Ignatius Press or the Baltimore Catechism were instructed to stop.

It strikes me that, in an imperfect world and particularly in a culture which is deeply divided over social and political issues, trying to exert strict control over what is published or broadcast under the name Catholic is probably going to result in more problems than benefits. Indeed, it may be that this is the case not only now, but at all times.

On the one hand, nearly every educated Catholic has at some point known the frustration of having a friend or family member come to one after having read some book which, "Told me all sorts of things I hadn't known about the Church before," only to find that this is because the book is simply wrong or deceptive at a number of levels. And yet, pushing for greater control will result sometimes in one interpretation or another quashing all dissent, and other times in a conflict averse middle quashing any interesting discussion by either side.

Mess and imperfect though such an approach may be, it seems like there is a great deal of practical benefit in simply allowing a very wide range of expression -- curbed by the arguments of others, even at times those in authority, when writings go astray, but with the power to silence left nearly always unused. If the frustrations of those who disagree with one claiming to speak for the Church can be great at times, the frustrations of several factions within the Church being effectively gagged at any given time would, it seems to me, be greater. And very often it would be the vocal minorities most eager for greater "quality control" who would find themselves silence.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Video Killed the Blog Star: Pseudo-Highbrow Edition

Why write when I can link to linky goodness?

The Lady Gaga Fugue

Okay, I've only heard this song in its French Revolution spoof, but it has a hook that lodges in one's brain. Here, some enterprising musician has written a Bachesque counterpoint that sounds surprisingly authentic. The Youtube site has a link for downloading the score, so I know what I'll be practicing this month.

Existential Star Wars.
French, with faux Sartre subtitles.

"Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. I exist, and I find it nauseating."

Jersey Shore, by Oscar Wilde.
Again, something I've never seen, transmogrified into something I find hilarious.

That Mitchell and Webb Look: Posh Dancing.

Jane Austen never wrote this, especially not that naughty word.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Oh, Thank You

From our mailbag:
Darwinism and Catholics, one based totally in objective science entirely founded on theory where no intuitive value is found and one in a religion where blind faith in others other than oneself lies and, also, the fact that said religion will never admit, directly and openly to the powerful influences of pity, remorse and emotional composure and how cultist it is and that, inevitably, and without doubt in this mind - that God is simply the collective will of many flowing into emotionally controlled idiots.

Do you wish to produce minds that wander about wondering themselves into misery?

There are simpler ways.

Also, original sin, was the first thing I conquered before I conquered my own ego. This mind, is so free, that I taunt everyone and everything subliminally and directly around me into making me miserable yet I find myself having to meditate every day as to not show this very forceful and genuine smile I have as to not insult everyone with the amount of bliss I carry myself with.

In all seriousness, I will, some day, write a book called: "Bliss management." I am so happy, content and at peace that it nearly takes away my own focus.

Always happy to express myself.

PS. Your website has no value in it and neither does your mind.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Choosing Hell

This post originally ran (I've cleaned up a few typos, but otherwise left it unchanged) back in 2006, but the topic has been on my mind, and having found it via Google while researching the topic of the Fundamental Option I decided to rerun this one rather than writing a new one.

Quite some time back, Pontifications ran a post about the theory of "fundamental option", which it seems is the theological term for the idea that one's salvation is based upon a fundamental choice that one makes either for or against God.

This image for the determination of one's salvation has a certain utility in that it is simple and evocative. C. S. Lewis uses it in The Last Battle, where all of Narnia's creatures face Aslan and swerve either to his right (with loving expressions) or to his left (with hate in their eyes). And yet, like any image or illustration, applying it absolutely leads to distortion. The 'encounter God and choose' image helps to emphasize that God's judgment is not some arbitrary judgment imposed upon us. It also helps to explain how someone externally appearing to have sinned many times might be saved, while someone who to all appearances led a virtuous life, yet held pride in his heart, might reject God and be condemned. And yet, taken as an absolute of 'salvation by choice alone' the theory of 'fundamental option' becomes just as much a heresy as 'salvation by faith alone'.

John Paul II said as much in Veritas Splendor:
To separate the fundamental option from concrete kinds of behavior means to contradict the substantial integrity or personal unity of the moral agent in his body and in his soul. A fundamental option understood without explicit consideration of the potentialities which it puts into effect and the determinations which express it does not do justice to the rational finality immanent in mans acting and in each of his deliberate decisions.
It is keeping this integrity between the human agent's identity, will and action that is the difficult balance for most of us, I think. Our culture tends to think of each choice as a totally free activity. Thus, the idea of experiencing for an instant the clarity of the Beatific Vision and in that instant choosing for or against God seems like an isolated decision point, unencumbered by past decisions. Indeed, some use this view to support the claim that perhaps all will be saved, because no one (when truly seeing God for what He is) would reject Him.

And yet, classic Christian moral theology does not support this view of total personal freedom. Virtue is often described as 'the habit of doing good' while attachment to sin is that moral habit which, once one has sinned, makes it hard to make the right choice in the future. Thus, the first time you lie in order to get out of a difficult situation, you struggle to make it come out convincingly and fear for days that your lie will be found out. But with each transgression the lie comes more naturally, until it becomes nearly impossible to tell the truth in a difficult situation -- the convenient lie comes out without even thinking.

It is because we are changed as moral agents by our past choices that our fundamental choice for or against God at the particular judgment cannot be divorced from the moral decisions we have made throughout our lives. Each time we sin or resist sin, makes it harder or easier to make that decision at the moment of personal judgment.

Perhaps, as in so many other things, the analogy of marriage is useful. One can, as a moral agent, choose at any given point in one's marriage to do something that is good for or bad for one's spouse. And yet, a given man with a given history can make it harder or easier to treat his wife well by building a history of good or bad behavior. While, in theory, a man who has lied and mistreated and been unfaithful to his wife can still, at any given decision point, choose to treat her well, he has vastly decreased both his ability to treat his wife well, and also his knowledge of what his wife truly wants, and thus his ability to treat her well even if he wants to.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Thoughts on Reactions to Bin Laden's Death

Perhaps I'm just a colder fish than usual, but it's hard for me to get all that worked up about our final success in taking out Osama Bin Laden. There's a completeness to it all, but it's hardly something that would inspire me to grab a flag and rush out into the streets cheering.

If this meant that "the war is over, and everyone can come home" it would be different, but that was the kind of victory one used to see when organized modern state fought one another, not when fighting against a diffuse guerrilla organization. Hopefully, in the long run, this causes problems for Al Qaeda, but I would tend to fear that it is, by now, the sort of organization which can survive the loss of its totemic leader pretty easily. It's not as if people will stop shooting at out troops in Afghanistan today.

At the same time, I can't help feeling rather put off by come of the "How can we be such an unforgiving country as a celebrate someone's death" and "We should all be praying for Bin Laden's soul," commentary that I've seen in a few Catholic quarters. I'm ready to agree that allowing oneself to be sufficiently consumed with hate to celebrate death is problematic -- at the same time, this particular death is perceived (perhaps simplistically, but still) as a victory that will end terrorist attacks, which is something worth celebrating. And frankly, I think it would be the rare person who would have the right disposition to pray honestly for Bin Laden's eternal repose: too often "forgiving" or "praying for" some global scale bad guy is simply a gesture of high mindedness, a sort of spiritual showing off. I can forgive bigger than you can forgive.

This is not to say that forgiving those who do huge wrongs is never honest, but I think when we make a point of "forgiving" people who did big spectacular wrongs far away from us, it's very had to do so honestly. John Paul II showed his true sanctity when he forgave his assassin. He was, after all, the one affected, and the one able to offer forgiveness in some real sense. Some random TV news watcher half a world away could refrain from filling with hate at the pope's assassin, refrain from speculating loudly on how he should be punished, but it seems to me it would be spiritual self indulgence for him to announce, "I've forgiven the pope's assassin," and similarly for me to go around saying, "I forgive Osama Bin Laden."

Perhaps I'm thinking about this wrong. It's certainly quite normal for us to pray for people we don't know when we hear about some tragedy half a world away, affecting people we'll never know or see. Yet somehow that seems different. When we pray for the victims of some attack or natural disaster far away, we do so in part through a sympathy in which we imagine such an event happening to ourselves to to those we know. We identify, thus, with their suffering, and this helps us to pray for them.

I'm not sure that many of us this side of sainthood are all that good at doing the same when it comes to forgiving wrongs. Not to say that we shouldn't try to forgive wrongs, and refrain from hate, but that it's far to easy to make a big deal about forgiving those at a distance, while scorning those near by who have different (and more human) reactions.

Perhaps the more human check on the urge to celebrate an enemy's death would be to temper any glee at the idea of Bin Laden prematurely reaching his moment of judgment before the Almighty with the knowledge that we may, each one of us, find ourselves snatched away to that final judgment at a similarly unexpected time.