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

Friday, March 30, 2012

Faith, Belief, and Faithfulness

I had wanted to respond to Bearing's post of faith, which was in turn a response to my post a couple weeks ago, and it's emblematic of how things have been the last couple weeks that I'm not getting around to it until now.

I find myself in agreement with much of what Bearing says (and if you haven't read her post, I encourage you to do so) but the nature of faith is a topic sufficiently broad and deep that it seems one does not lose by drawing out its meaning in different directions, making distinctions as one goes along.

Bearing says:
He classifies "faith" as being an act, and this is correct; but it seems that he identifies it too much with "belief," or with being convinced "enough" of something. Here is the statement of Darwin's that I disagree with:

This usage still informs the way that we use the term in reference to interpersonal relationships. I have faith that my wife loves me. She has faith that I am faithful to her. Etc.

Obviously, in this sense one can have faith in any number of things or people, and as it notes, faith in this sense necessarily presupposes belief. I can hardly have faith in my wife's love (as in, trust in its existence and steadfastness) if I don't really believe that I have a wife or don't really believe that she loves me. When Christians talk about "having faith" however, they're pretty specifically talking about "having faith in God" -- that combination of believing in God's existence and of trusting in God to remain steadfast and trustworthy in His love for us.

Darwin is failing -- at least clearly -- to make a distinction between "I am faithful to my wife" and "I have faith in my wife."

The first is concrete. The second is the metaphor.

The faith that Christians are supposed to have is not the same thing as trust that God's love exists and is steadfast to us. The faith that we are supposed to have, I am certain, is faithfulness *to* God -- fidelity to the laws and precepts that He sets out for us insofar as we are aware of them. When we are told to have faith, this is not at all a command to believe something. (How can you be commanded to be convinced of a truth?) It is a command to do something: to live your life, in your body, in your mind, in accord with the will of a God.
I don't think it's so much that I am failing to make a distinction as that I am primarily talking about the latter, of which I think that the former is something of a subset.

We're in agreement that in human relations, the relationship between spouses is probably one of the best analogies for faith in God, but when talking specifically about the kind of faith which an agnostic or atheist is talking about when he or she says, "How can you believe in something you can't prove?" I think that perhaps the best analogy is "I have faith that my wife loves me."


I think that in this analogy it is important to keep in mind that we are, as believers, responding to someone despite doubt or incomplete knowledge. I have all sorts of reasons to believe that MrsDarwin loves me, and none that I can think of to believe otherwise, so it's not like this is a difficult leap of faith. But at the most basic level, we never know what is going on in some other person's head. And just about all of us have had the experience in life of some situation in which we find out that for some other person was not thinking or acting in at all the way that we believed. So, even in the closest marriage, if one thinks about it, one must admit the possibility (however unlikely) that one's spouse does not actually love one but is acting in the manner he or she is for some other reason.

The reason I think this is a useful analogy in talking about faith in God is because we all know that the correct response to this doubt is not to decide, "I'll just hold back a bit and make sure that I don't act too loving in return, because it would be bad if I responded to love that wasn't really there." That's a sure recipe for making your spouse's love wither.

So, despite not knowing with certainty that MrsDarwin loves me, the correct response for me if I want a happy marriage is to perform an act of faith: I choose to believe that she loves me, and following on this I should choose to in faith by responding to the love which I have chosen to believe in.

Obviously, I could believe that she loves me and refuse to love her in return. There are those who do this in response to God's love. Bearing quotes the relevant passage here:
The Greek word for "faith" in James 2 (the faith and works discourse) is the same Greek word (pistis) translated as "belief" in the passage from Mark that I quoted above. Does pistis mean "steadfastness" in any way? Or does it only mean an intellectual assent? It goes on to use pisteuis in the next verse to mean "believe" as in "You believe that God is one" and then "pisteuousin" in "Even the demons believe, and shudder." The "faith" mentioned in James is then the same as the "belief" which even demons can have.

I don't really think of demons as "steadfast."
Certainly, I agree with James' point: faith without works is dead. Indeed, I'd go the same direction as Bearing and say that if we draw a distinction between "faith" and "belief", it would be accurate to say that faith without works isn't even faith. Faith is an act, not just a mental act, but an act of the whole person.

Where does this leave us with the marriage analogy?

Well, it's not a perfect analogy, as tends to be the case with analogies. Personally, I think that biggest utility of the analogy is in pointing out that in a situation where we are not sure of something (and while I can't say that I've experienced this, I gather many people at some time in their marriages experience a point at which their spouse's love seems in question), if we want to have a lasting relationship the correct response to that doubt is not to hold back or hedge one's bets, but rather to make a decision and act accordingly. When we talk about salvation, the marriage analogy is also a bit useful. Damnation is, after all, the decision to be eternally separated from God. Salvation is the decision to be eternally united in loving union with God. Just as deciding how to response to our doubts about our spouse's lose determines whether we will have a lasting relationship, so does our decision how to respond to one's doubts about God.

About those doubts, Bearing says:
One may be "faithful" while having severely impaired belief, even no belief at all. (Which raises the question: Why would someone who did not believe in God ever strive to live according to God's laws? I will not answer the question here, and maybe will bat that question back to Darwin, but I will simply note that it is not logically impossible to be faithful in this way without belief; whereas if faith == belief, it does become logically impossible to have faith without belief.)
I guess this is where it's my turn to wonder if she's using too intellectual a definition of "belief" here. To me, if you say "Why would someone who did not believe in God ever strive to live according to God's laws?" I find myself thinking: I really don't know, unless that person thinks those laws happen to be good laws to live by regardless of whether a deity exists who made them. But I would say, someone who doesn't feel belief might very well live in accordance with God's laws because he chooses to believe that God exists. I'd tend to say that if you want to follow God's laws because they are God's laws, if you want to "act faithfully" towards God, even though you feel unconvinced that God really exists, you do believe in God. You may not "feel" it, you may be assailed with doubts and discouragement, but you do believe.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

After a Long Day: The Double Manhattan

It's crunch time at the office. Yesterday ran to 14 hours, the day before that to 12. (Today, hopefully, we wrap up on time and get a some good rest before our big presentation Friday morning.)

When you get home at 11PM after a day of data analysis fueled by take-out, beer or wine will not do. It's too late for these more meal-like beverages. Late night is the time for hard liquor.

I'd been wanting to mix up a Rye Manhattan ever since I picked up a bottle of (rī)1 whiskey. The size was appropriate to the evening, but was determined primarily that I was finishing off the last of my bottle of Carpano Antica sweet vermouth while maintaining something like the proper proportions.

4oz (rī)1 rye whiskey
2oz Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
3 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters

Shaken vigorously over ice (I believe Nick Charles specified in the first Thin Man movie that a Manhattan must be shaken to the Fox Trot, but I am not so virtuosically rhythmic) and then strained into a tumbler (no respectable cocktail class will hold 6oz).


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

In Which I Consider Engaging with The Hunger Games

I have a slight reactionary streak that protests against paying too much attention to big Pop Culture deals. Often this saves me the unnecessary loss of brain cells (no one was ever hurt by ignoring Jersey Shore), but occasionally I come late to the party everyone else has already discovered, and I feel silly for sitting so long outside with my back to the door. (Ex.: Downton Abbey.)

I've paid scant notice to the phenomenon of The Hunger Games ever since it's been a phenomenon, but now I'm trying to figure out whether I'm on the wrong side of the fence here. Really, I blame Brandon for this, because he posted this video.

At first I didn't pay much attention to it, because, I mean, Taylor Swift! But the next day, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal (my source for What's Happening Now) about "soundtrack compilation albums", those pieces of "inspired-by" marketing designed to trap crazed movie fans who hunger for just one more piece of arcana. The article was about the success of the soundtrack compilation album for The Hunger Games.
One cut from the album, Ms. Swift's "Safe and Sound," went on sale online in late December and has sold 735,000 copies, according to SoundScan... 
Mr. Lipman says that the theme of soundtrack meetings was "What does music from the Appalachian mountains sound like 300 years from now?" 
To that end, director Gary Ross enlisted music producer T Bone Burnett, whose "O Brother Where Art Thou?" soundtrack was a smash hit in 2000—an unlikely feat for a collection of old-time favorites like "Keep on the Sunny Side" and "In the Jailhouse Now."
Now I had to confront my prejudices, because I like T Bone Burnett's work on "O Brother Where Art Thou?", and I was curious what his concept of futuristic Appalachian music might be. So I had to go back and watch Taylor Swift. And then watch it again, and then hum the song for the rest of the day. And then go to iTunes and listen to clips from the rest of the album. And the long and short of it is, now I'm considering buying an album (which I never do) based on a movie I haven't seen, based on a book I've never read.

We probably will read The Hunger Games, but seeing as the wait list at the Columbus library is almost 1000 deep, it might be a while.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Darwin Goes First Class

Saturday night, I got a call from Delta Airlines. My flight back to Ohio from Texas was overbooked due to the substitution of a smaller plane. Would I volunteer for another flight in return for a $200 travel voucher?

Thinking both of our upcoming whirl of June travel (when wedding season arrives in all its fury) and of the fact that my current flight required that I be at the airport returning my car by 5:30 AM, I called them. The change the proposed was beneficial all around: I would leave two hours later (winning two precious hours of sleep) and spend two hours less in layover in Detroit, arriving in Ohio at the same time as before. Plus they would give me $200 towards future travel. I agreed.

Next morning, slightly more rested than I had originally expected, I arrived at the airport and checked in. My seat could not yet be assigned, the kiosk told me. I should check in at the gate. When I did so, the gate attendant gave me a pained smile. "You see, we're over booked," he explained. "On the last flight, we didn't have enough volunteer and we had to bump some people, and now they are on this flight. Would you consider taking another flight?"

"Possibly," I said. "So long as I can arrive back in Ohio not too much later."

He consulted the terminal which held all the occult knowledge of a major airline. "If you'll wait till 12:15 instead of 9:30," he advised, "I can route you through Atlanta and you'll arrive at your final destination at 5:20 instead of 2:15. I can give you a $400 travel voucher and upgrade you to first class for both flights."

Four hundred dollars was more than I normally made for three hours of reading Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honor trilogy. And I had never flown first class. I said yes. I was issued several flimsy slips of printed paper: two first class boarding passes, a voucher whose nineteen digit code I was advised to secret away with due care as it would secure me $400 in travel, and a coupon worth $6 of airport food (which in the Dallas Airport can score you roughly 2/3 of a deli sandwich).

I took my novel and went off to find a place to sit, all the while in the knowledge that while I might look, to others, like the same groggy traveler, bearing a backpack and an Everyman Library hardcover, I was in fact a First Class Traveler.

"So," MrsDarwin asked, after I had reclaimed my baggage and was setting off towards home. "Was it everything you had dreamed it could be?"

I'm not sure I quite expected to be whisked off into the airline paradise of Catch Me If You Can, but had I done so, I would have been disappointed. At least on 1-3 hour connector flights around the US in moderate size planes, flying first class is kind of like flying economy, only with all the most annoying aspects removed. You get to board right away and get off right away. The seat is large enough to fit an adult comfortably, without pressing one's shoulder against the capacious person next to you. The stewardess offers you allows you to choose a snack from a little basket featuring six different kinds of snacks (sun chips, shortbread cookies, peanuts, etc.) and in addition to the standard sodas you can select (for free) from three brands of beer, two colors of wine, or a variety of poorly mixed and over-iced drinks.

Ah, but that is only the world weary explanation I give afterwards. At the time, I settled back in my seat, ordered a succession of gin and tonics (which I was never quite able to convince the stewardess should include a lime wedge rather than a lemon wedge) and flirted with the thirteen-month-old who was in the seat next to me.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Book Giveaway: The Overwrought Urn Winner

Jack shook up the names in his captain's hat, and drew out:

Our Heroine!

Heroine, please drop us an email (contact info in the sidebar) and you will soon find yourself the possessor of more phony lit. crit. than you can shake a stick at, assuming that you'd want to shake a stick at a book.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Isabel's Sad Drawing

Here is Isabel's sad artwork, as referenced in the last post.

Isabel has a knack for pathos. Once, shortly before Diana was born, she drew a picture of a small baby on a broom, crying. "This is Diana," she explained. "She's flying too high on a broom, and she's crying because she's scared."

"No, Isabel!" I protested. "Why don't you make her come down. Don't make the baby scared."

But Isabel was adamant. The drawing was rather upsetting to me -- there was my baby, and she was crying because she was scared, up too high on a broom! -- but even though I pleaded, almost to the point of tears, Isabel would not alter a jot of her drawing. It was what it was. I kept it for a while, because it was  cute as well as pathetic, but eventually I had to throw it out. I couldn't take it any more. Isabel had won the game of chicken.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Day You Were Born

The kids from across the street came over this afternoon and asked if they could come over.

"Sure," I said. "Why don't you all play in the back yard?"

They looked ill-at-ease.

"My mom is having the baby right now," said the older one, a boy.

"Oh good!" This was the event we'd all been waiting for, a new baby on the street. "So she's at the hospital right now?"

"No," said the little girl. "She's at home."

"By herself?" I was prepared to charge down the street and catch the baby, aided by the expertise of my five deliveries.

"No, Dad and Grandma are there, and the ambulance is coming."

Sure enough, we heard the sirens in the distance and all went outside to wait and watch. As we sat on the lawn, the kids volunteered information about the impending joyous occasion.

"Mom was sitting on the toilet, and she could see the head in the mirror!"

"She was screaming, and Grandma told us to go outside."

We discussed the having of babies. I assured them that many babies were born at home, and were none the worse for wear. My three youngest, prime examples of this, sat out with us. The little girl absently bounced Baby on her knee.

"I bet she yelled," I said. "Having a baby is hard work, and it hurts. Have you ever had diarrhea, or felt like you were going to throw up?" They had. "Having a baby feels like that, only lots worse. But then the baby is born, and the pain goes away. She'll do fine."

By this time the ambulance was wailing down the street, followed by a fire truck that set up in the middle of the road. We all strolled down to see if we could catch a glimpse of Mom being loaded into the ambulance. It was an exciting moment, and fraught with change. One morning you go to school and your family has four people; that afternoon, you come home, and by suppertime you've got a new sister.

"Look, your little sister is stopping traffic on her very first day!" I pointed out, as the firemen placed cones in the road. Everyone was fixated on the empty stretcher in the yard. Sure enough, a moment later we saw  Mom being wheeled up to the ambulance. She was able to wave to us, but as they were loading her in I saw her face contort and her back arch. I felt sympathetic vibrations down my sciatic nerve.

Grandma and I exchanged cell phone numbers, and as she dashed off for the hospital (fortunately only a five-minute drive away) the kids and I returned home. The little girl was quietly anxious.

"Shall we make cookies or a cake for your mom?" I asked her.

She considered. A cake could be split into almost sixteen pieces, but cookies were more compact and so received her vote. At home, there were cards to be made, wrapping paper to be chosen (I blessed the previous owner of the house, who had stockpiled gift wrap in a drawer upstairs) and dough to be mixed. The kids worked with purpose while I whispered Hail Marys for the laboring mother. In the midst of all our scrambling, there was a knock on the door. It was Grandma.

"What? Has she had the baby?" I exclaimed.

"Twenty-four seconds after they got into the hospital!" said Grandma, beaming with relief and pride. Already there was a picture of baby, and we crowded round to admire. The little girl held the phone and gazed at her new sister, swaddled in a blanket and hat. Grandma was on her way home to change before heading back to the hospital, so the little girl opted to stay with us for a bit longer. The cookies weren't done yet, and she had been rolling out the next batch.

As they baked, we sat outside and chatted with another neighbor, a teenager with autism. Babies were much on our mind, and after we told the story of the hectic afternoon, she was thoughtful.

"I had a friend who was going to have a baby, but it died when it was three months old, in her stomach. She wasn't even pregnant yet!"

"Well," I gently corrected, "she was pregnant, but the baby died inside her. That's called a miscarriage. I had one once, before Isabel was born." Isabel sat straight beside me, her glossy hair gleaming in the late afternoon sun. She knows that there was a little baby who died before she came. Once she drew a picture of her and the baby. She had big tears running down her cheeks, and the tiny baby is ascending to heaven. I can't bear to look at it -- nobody draws sad like Isabel can -- but it hangs on the fridge nonetheless.

The little girl was tired after her big day -- even a second-grader can only take so much excitement -- and was ready to go see her sister. We wrapped up the cookies in a ziploc, which we placed inside a little blanket that Julia had crocheted, which we put in a box, which we wrapped with pink Pooh paper, which we placed in a big gift bag. The bag was an item of note. The little girl had given it to one of us on a birthday, and now it was going back to her house again. Everything today had a special significance, because this was the day that the baby was born. Every detail was being filed away so that one day, everyone could tell her, "This is what happened on the day you were born. We remember."

This evening, after the kids were in bed, I sat and thought of my own miscarried baby, something I had not done for a very long time. The pain of the miscarriage subsided long ago, eased by the subsequent arrival of Isabel, she of the blue eyes. That baby had blue eyes too, as do all babies at eight weeks of development. It, he, she, would have been seven years old in October. I tried to wrap my mind around a seven-year-old, maybe even a seven-year-old boy, but the idea was just too strange to contemplate, and I soon let it go. But I had remembered, and the remembering was sweet.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book Giveaway: The Overwrought Urn

 Darwin is traveling to Texas for a few days, so in lieu of a substantive post today, I offer another book giveaway from our inherited library. Up this time: The Overwrought Urn; a Potpourri of Parodies of Critics Who Triumphantly Present the Real Meaning of Authors From Jane Austen to J. D. Salinger, edited by Charles Kaplan.

The black spot in the photos is courtesy of my phone's camera and should be taken as no reflection on the book. 

The Overwrought Urn is a selection of parodies of lit crit, in the style of The Pooh Perplex (in fact, one of the Pooh Perplex essays is included). I would maintain that The Pooh Perplex is generally funnier and more enduring, but some of the essays here are brilliant. Jorge Luis Borges contributes a delightfully pompous analysis of Pierre Menard, a Frenchman whose aim was to immerse himself in the study of the life and times of Cervantes and thus to be able to write for himself, in the exact same words, Don Quixote.
The text of Cervantes and that of Menard are verbally identical, but the second is almost infinitely richer. (More ambiguous, his detractors will say, but ambiguity is a richness.) It is a revelation to compare the Don Quixote of Menard with that of Cervantes. The latter, for instance, wrote (Don Quixote, Part One, Chapter Nine): 
...La verdad, cuya madre es la historia, emula del tiempo, deposito de las acciones, testigo de lo pasado, ejemplo y aviso de lo presente, advertencia de lo por venir. 
[...truth, whose mother is history, who is the rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, example and lesson to the present, and warning to the future. ]
Written in the seventeenth century, written by the "ingenious layman" Cervantes, this enumeration is a mere rhetorical eulogy of history. Menard, on the other hand, writes: 
...La verdad, cuya madre es la historia, emula del tiempo, deposito de las acciones, testigo de lo pasado, ejemplo y aviso de lo presente, advertencia de lo por venir. 
[...truth, whose mother is history, who is the rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, example and lesson to the present, and warning to the future. ]
History, mother of truth; the idea is astounding. Menard, a contemporary of William James, does not define history as an investigation of reality, but as its origin. Historical truth, for him, is not what took place; it is what we think took place. The final clauses -- example and lesson to the present, and warning to the future, are shamelessly pragmatic. 
Equally vivid is the contrast in styles. The archaic style of Menard -- in the last analysis, a foreigner -- suffers from a certain affectation. Not so that of his precursor, who handles easily the ordinary Spanish of his time.

I was also amused by W.B. Scott's Chicago Letter.
April, 1949
Agony, a sense of plight; a sense of agony, plight -- such, one soon preceives, are the attributes of the Chicago of our time. But I shall have more to say about them later in this letter.
I traveled by the Erie, as one must, I think, do, now and then. The trip is longer, to be sure, on its ancient twisting right-of-way than on other roads. But there one escapes the "lumpenaristokratie" (in Roscoe Chutney's phrase) of the Century or the Broadway, and it is only from the Eire, of course that one my catch those extraordinary night glimpses of Youngstown and Akron.
The longest and silliest essay contains a "new reading" of the old chestnut "Trees".
I think that I shall never see /A poem as lovely as a tree.
Instead, we are given to contemplate the original draft of the poem, written by one Joe E. Skilmer, entitled  "Therese".
I think? That I shall never, see?
Up, owe 'em love. Leah's a tree. 
The resulting analysis of the entire piece makes about as much sense as the version to which we're accustomed.

So. If you like that sort of thing, it's the sort of thing you'll like. A few of the essays fell rather flat, but most of them made me smile at least. And it's free -- you can't say fairer than that!

Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing, and I'll have one of the kids draw names from a hat on Saturday.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sesame Street Pinball (Eleven Twelve)

Sure, I watched Sesame Street back in the day, and it was plenty psychedelic in the heady days of the early 80s. There must have been a quantity of educational filler, but what's stuck with me for more than twenty-five years is the Pinball segment. This was ostensibly a counting exercise but I think must have been a creative outlet for animators who dropped too much acid before I was even a twinkle in my father's eye.

In case you need to jazz out to the music, here it is performed live by Fighting in the Streets.

And because we're tripping down Memory Lane, here's more Sesame Street for you: the wizard at the bridge. I remember the wizard. I remember the bridge. I just didn't remember what I was supposed to have learned.

Oh yes, of course. Circles.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What Is Faith and Who Has It?

Leah of Unequally Yoked has been hosting some interesting discussion on the topic of faith lately. This started out when she re-posted a challenge from atheist blogger John Loftus of Debunking Christianity. The challenge was as follows:
Christian theists make two claims about faith:
  1. That atheists define the concept of faith wrong, and
  2. That atheists have faith just like Christian theists do.
So here’s my challenge: Define faith in such a way that it fulfills both requirements!
Leah then critiqued two answer to this. The first which she described as defining faith as "standing on the shoulders of giants" was as follows:
Faith is knowing by testimony rather than by experience. I believe that the Earth orbits the Sun, because the scientists tell me so, and I believe them. I can become an astronomer or an astronaut and find out more concretely, but I can also become a monk and find out the experience of divine revelation more directly.
Leah object to this saying:
I think this is defining ‘faith’ too broadly (and it’s certainly underestimating how much we take on authority). When I was an intern in a genetics lab (one of the more empirically-based things you can do), I transfected cell lines I didn’t create with plasmids I didn’t sequence that were meted out pipets that were calibrated by someone I didn’t know. When it came time to analyze my data, I used a machine that I wouldn’t know how to repair and sent the results to a biostatistician whose methods I wasn’t familiar with.
Long story short, we all do a lot of standing on the shoulders of giants. Our modern lives are complex enough that we have to accept on authority the way most of the physical world around us functions, let along the metaphysical aspects. Using this as the heart of faith makes the definition useless to me, if I want to talk about a way of knowing that differentiates atheists and theists.
This framework might be useful if we think the two groups have different criteria for identifying credible authorities, and I’d be interested in your thoughts on that topic in the comments. My hunch is that, when it comes to metaphysics, it’s not that atheists and theists are turning to different authorities, but that atheists mostly aren’t seeking out explicit authorities on these topics at all. Most atheists don’t cleave to particular philosophers the way Christians might be shaped by a certain theologian. So this doesn’t end up being a fight about how we answer questions, but about what we’re trying to find out.
The second definition she criticized came from Loftus himself and was as follows:
In my opinion faith is what fills in the gaps of the probabilities. If, say there is a 70 % probability something is the case then to conclude more than that 70% probability is faith, and I reject faith based reasoning like that. To reject that kind of faith is to live and operate based on the probabilities. If there is a 70 % chance of something then that’s all I can conclude and that’s all I can use to base my decisions on. And so I could never give my whole life over to a 70% probability. I could only give 70% of my life over to a 70% probability. This is Lessing’s ditch when applied to the past, as you know. Kierkegaard responded by acknowledging Lessing’s point and therefore decided faith must go beyond what the evidence calls for. And that’s what I must reject.
Leah points out this seems to suggest a basic misunderstanding of probability:
Loftus is essentially saying that, when we aren’t certain, we have to hedge our bets, but that can be the wrong way to reason. Let me give an example. I tell you that I have a weighted coin — it is 60% likely to come down heads and 40% likely to come down tails. Plenty of people, given this data, will conclude that they should call out ‘heads!’ 60% of the time and ‘tails!’ 40% of the time. They’ll lose out to the people who call ‘heads!’ every single time you play with enough iterations.
What that 70% means is that you need less new evidence to change your mind about this action than you would if you were truly 99% confident. But, absent that new evidence, there’s no reason you shouldn’t stay the course. Instead of half-heartedly committing to the choice you’ve made, you should just stay vigilant that you don’t discount new evidence in either direction, because you’ve started thinking of your current confidence level as an important part of your identity, one that it would hurt you to lose.
Faith is a really, really big topic, but I wanted to suggest a few clarifying thoughts, though not a complete answer to the questions posed.

First off, it seems to me "faith" itself is a fairly broad term. Christians often talk about the need to "have faith", but in a sense that is a shorthand. Faith in what?
The old Catholic Encyclopedia in its article on faith describes the Old Testament use of the term to be essentially "trustfulness" or "steadfastness":
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew means essentially steadfastness, cf. Exodus 17:12, where it is used to describe the strengthening of Moses' hands; hence it comes to mean faithfulness, whether of God towards man (Deuteronomy 32:4) or of man towards God (Psalm 118:30). As signifying man's attitude towards God it means trustfulness or fiducia. It would, however, be illogical to conclude that the word cannot, and does not, mean belief or faith in the Old Testament for it is clear that we cannot put trust in a person's promises without previously assenting to or believing in that person's claim to such confidence. Hence even if it could be proved that the Hebrew does not in itself contain the notion of belief, it must necessarily presuppose it.
This usage still informs the way that we use the term in reference to interpersonal relationships. I have faith that my wife loves me. She has faith that I am faithful to her. Etc.

Obviously, in this sense one can have faith in any number of things or people, and as it notes, faith in this sense necessarily presupposes belief. I can hardly have faith in my wife's love (as in, trust in its existence and steadfastness) if I don't really believe that I have a wife or don't really believe that she loves me. When Christians talk about "having faith" however, they're pretty specifically talking about "having faith in God" -- that combination of believing in God's existence and of trusting in God to remain steadfast and trustworthy in His love for us.

So one sense in which Christians might say that atheists also "have faith" is that in which atheists perform a similar action (they believe in some thing and that it may be relied upon steadfastly) but in reference to different objects: loved ones, friends, science, progress, etc. Clearly saying one "has faith in" any of these things would carry somewhat different meaning, because these are different kinds of things, but arguably there is some commonality in the type of action which "having faith" in any one of these things might be.

Secondly, I think it's important to be clear on what kind of a thing faith is: faith is an act of the will. St. Thomas Aquinas discusses the issue in typical fashion here in Article 1.
If, on the other hand, "to think" be understood in the second way, then this expresses completely the nature of the act of believing. For among the acts belonging to the intellect, some have a firm assent without any such kind of thinking, as when a man considers the things that he knows by science, or understands, for this consideration is already formed. But some acts of the intellect have unformed thought devoid of a firm assent, whether they incline to neither side, as in one who "doubts"; or incline to one side rather than the other, but on account of some slight motive, as in one who "suspects"; or incline to one side yet with fear of the other, as in one who "opines." But this act "to believe," cleaves firmly to one side, in which respect belief has something in common with science and understanding; yet its knowledge does not attain the perfection of clear sight, wherein it agrees with doubt, suspicion and opinion.
If I'm paraphrasing this right: To have faith, or to believe, is not simply to make an passive assessment as to the probability that something is true, it is to decide to believe something to be the case or not be the case (and one presumes to act accordingly.)

Looking at Loftus and Leah's points about probabilities, I'm having a little trouble grasping how exactly you would act on a 70% probability belief. Leah makes one reasonable assumption. It seems to me that another would be that one would simply lower the stakes. If someone comes up to me and says, "This weighted coin has a 60% chance of coming up heads. How much money would you like to bet that it will come up heads?" I might offer a different size bet than if she had said, "This weighted coin has a 90% chance of coming up heads." But either way, I'm placing a degree of faith in the idea that it will come up heads. In this example, refusing to place any faith in it's coming up heads would mean refusing to bet on the toss at all, or betting on its coming up tails.

But this underscores the argument that "everyone has faith in something", in that, faith being an act, just about everyone ends up acting in some way on a given point in which they must make a decision as to what to believe. In many situations, even refusing to act ends up being some kind of an act. As in, for instance, if I had refused to act in any way as if I believed that my future wife loved me, you can probably bet that she wouldn't have married me. Virtually any act (including refusing to act) that I chose to take would have represented a "bet", either slight or strong, that she either did or did not love me. Refusal to take a position on the question was not really an option.

This emphasis on faith as an act (rather than a piece of knowledge or a feeling) is particularly comforting to me. After all, I can't really say that I know God exists and came to suffer and die for our sins in some absolute, sure sort of knowledge. Nor can I say that I always feel the truth of this. But I most certainly can choose to believe it, and act accordingly.

The Ides of March are come...

In honor of the Ides of March, we watched Julius Caesar from the BBC's Shakespeare's Animated Tales. It has enough plot and action to keep the girls interested, and enough of Shakepeare's language (beautifully spoken) to give them a taste for the originals

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why I never read romance novels

It's the content, stupid.

The Wall Street Journal informs us that books that used to require a brown paper wrapper have assumed a new disguise: e-reading devices. Apparently women are increasingly using their Kindles, Nooks, or iPads to read romance novels in all their increasingly bizarre incarnations:  Amish, historical, pastoral, tragicomical, erotica, and now romantica, in which it seems that couples can have their sex cake and eat their happy ending too. And how convenient is it to have an e-reader so that you can have all 17 volumes of your favorite series without having to display them on a shelf to the scorn of your friends?

The Journal obligingly provides us with a brief excerpt from this literature. I won't give their summary of the plot of this particular book since it doesn't really matter anyway, but get a load of this (yes, it's fairly safe for work):
' "Thank you for spilling wine on my shirt," Elec said, stepping back and unbuttoning his shirt. He yanked it off with little care or concern for the fabric and tossed it on the floor with hard movements. His T-shirt, which also sported a smaller wine stain, was peeled off and sent after the dress shirt.
Tamara almost choked on her drool. Oh. My. God. "My pleasure," she said and gawked mercilessly at his ripped chest and abs.'
Well, I guess if you're churning this stuff out for the consumers, the quality is bound to slip a little.

"He yanked it off with little care or concern." How do you yank off a shirt with care but no concern? With concern but no care?

"And tossed it on the floor with hard movements." Again, how do you "toss" something with "hard movements"? Maybe you can hurl something with hard movements. Maybe you can throw, or possibly fling (though that sounds too airy), or sling or cast it. And with hard movements, no less. Did he karate chop his shirt to the floor? Maybe he did the robot while undressing -- kind of a jerky little dance. I assume his hard movements were meant to be the opposite of sinuous movements, though I bet the author gets that adjective in there somewhere in the book. It's too good not to use.

"His T-shirt, which also sported a smaller wine stain..." Now this is just lazy writing, but I bet we can make it more interesting. How 'bout: "The wine had seeped through his dress shirt and bled onto the chest of his T-shirt"? How 'bout: "He peeled off his ruined T-shirt and thrust it at her. 'Wash it,' he demanded." That's got a little air of realism to it.

"Tamara almost choked on her drool." I actually have seen this sort of thing happen, to infants, and believe you me it is the antithesis of erotic.

"and gawked mercilessly". How does one gawk mercilessly? How does one gawk mercifully, if it comes to that?

I'm reminded of Florence King's observations on pornography from the hilariously unrecommendable When Sisterhood Was In Flower:
About this time, I came across an anti-porn essay by Pamela Hansford-Johnson, who claimed that the literary worthlessness of porn can be proved by transposing its style to a description of the boiling and eating of an egg.
I gave it a try and came up with this: 
I took the glistening, virginally white oval out of the fiercely bubbling cauldron of hot, hot, hot water and cupped my hand around it, feeling its contours with sensations of shimmering delight. I reached for my long, sturdy, battering egg knife and tapped. The shell slipped off and I touched the tender, moist, protein-swollen membranes of the secret softness. The steamy slice of hot, ready, delectable egg burned my fingers but I thrust firmly with my rigid tool and inserted the erect, serrated blade. The lubricious, golden yellow, ambrosial nectar of the pulsating, quickening core gushed out into my egg cup. I centered my mouth over the slickened surface of the gently curving silver spoon and ate, ate, ate. 
When I finished this exercise, I stared at my long, yellow, blue-lined Nixonian legal pad in horror.
Wrap that egg in brown paper!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How I Almost Missed Sunday Mass

I was traveling this weekend, and although some people have assured me that there is a dispensation from Sunday obligation for those on the road, somehow I couldn't square it with my conscience to miss Mass because I was out of town at a Catholic conference. A word about the Behold Conference: I enjoyed immensely the chance to get to see many of my favorite women in person, and I took full advantage of the precious opportunity to receive the sacraments and sit in adoration unencumbered by small children. The organizers were attentive, and everything was beautifully planned and executed. The chant choir was exquisite. But as the weekend wore on, I yearned more and more to be home with my family, and particularly with Darwin. It seems I am not a person who likes to travel without her husband. By the time Sunday rolled around, I was in an agony to get home and just be with him.

We were already under travel constraints, since through a minor but honest comedy of errors we had missed the Saturday mass we'd wanted to attend. No matter. We still had all Sunday. But as we drove eastward, missing every Sunday mass from Peoria to Columbus, I grew more and more uneasy. My excellent travel companions Betty Duffy and Sarah Reinhard are women gifted with a fabulous amount of articulate intelligence, and I myself went to college, but though the three of us had reckoned individually with the loss of an hour to Daylights Saving Time and with crossing time zones, we were unaccountably defeated by the unusual combination of the two, which meant that the 1 pm Spanish mass we'd counted on was over by the time we rolled into Betty's town at 2 pm. I knew there was a 6 pm mass at a church along the Columbus beltway, but through a combination of careless navigation errors I couldn't get there in time. But I knew I had one more out -- there was a 7 pm on the campus of Ohio Domincan I could reach just in time.

Trying to use an iPad to navigate while you're driving alone is a dangerous business, as the drivers around me could attest, but I found the quiet campus of Ohio Dominican and hunted the quiet grounds until I found the quiet building with the chapel. It too was quiet, because Ohio Dominican, it seemed, was on spring break. Through the glass doors I could see straight to the silent altar, but the door between me and Jesus was locked.

I had thought, earlier, that the most important thing to me was to get home and be with my husband. I was wrong. Slumped on a bench outside the locked chapel, fighting down rising panic at the possibility of missing mass on Sunday -- a mortal sin, something that could separate me from God forever, and knowing that I could have made better choices during the weekend that would have prevented this situation -- I knew that nothing, nothing, was so important to me as to get to mass that day. Going to mass isn't just an obligation, just as spending time was with my family isn't an obligation. It's an act of love, one I want to perform, and one that by this time I desperately wanted to perform, wanted more than anything else. And here I sat, choking on the very real possibility that I had just blown my chances to do what I had just truly realized I most desired.

There were still five hours left in the day, however, and in a big metropolitan area that turns out to be plenty: the Newman Center at Ohio State University had a 9 pm mass. I passed numerous fast food places, but they had no pull on me -- not because I wasn't hungry, because I was, but because I had no desire to be anywhere but with Jesus. And when I reached OSU with an hour and a half to spare and finally was able to sit in the chapel with the tabernacle, I had to sob a bit for sheer happiness at finally being exactly where I needed to be. All the scripture verses I had ever heard about the beauty of God's house and the deer longing for running streams and one day in your courts came flooding back to me, and they were true. I didn't get home until almost 11 pm, but it didn't matter. I had been to mass on Sunday.

I'll never again make jokes about the "sinner's mass". And now I think I'm going to have to be an OSU fan. Go Buckeyes.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bring It On

It seems that the threats to "reproductive freedom" have simply become too much for some people to bear. A group calling themselves "Liberal Ladies Who Lunch" have announced the "Access Denied Sex Strike":
In truth, if we lose our hard won rights to medical care, birth control and pregnancy choice, it won’t only affect women. Men will have to go back to the days when they waited for or paid for sex. This issue impacts all of us. This strike is designed to make that point. Ask your man to speak up for your rights, because when we lose our reproductive choices, so do they.
I have to say, these women appear to be on to something. However, I fear they may not have planned on enough time for the effect to really sink in. Eight days might just not give the world enough time to miss their hard work.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My Beef With The Bechtel Test

Kyle had a post up a little while back linking to a video from Feminist Frequency about how the 2011 Oscar contenders measure up on the "Bechdel Test". I forget where I ran into the test before, but I definitely remember it rubbing me the wrong way. As summarized in the video (if, like me, you hate videoblogging, you can read the transcript here):
The Bechdel Test is a very basic gauge to measure women’s relevance to a film’s plot and generally to assess female presence in Hollywood movies. It was popularized by Allison Bechdel in her comic Dykes to Watch Out For back in 1985. In order to pass the test a film just needs to fulfill these three, very simple, criteria: A movie has to have at least two women in it who have names, who talk to each other, about something besides a man. Pretty simple right? I mean this is really the absolute lowest that we could possibly set the bar for women’s meaningful presence in movies.
Now, I gotta say, this just makes me climb the walls. I have a strong dislike for simplistic litmus tests that allegedly determine the quality (or even more generally the qualities) of fiction, and I also dislike "gotcha" tests that are supposed to determine hidden bias. These seems at the confluence of these two, and as a result it takes a certain amount of effort to separate my annoyance from the topic enough to try to come up with some less gut-level reaction to it. Given this aim, I'll start with working through the things I can't accuse the test (in this particular use) of, than then work back to why I have an issue with it as a means of evaluating fiction.

First off, the way that the test is being discussed here is not necessarily that advocated by the comic strip characters who originated it -- where "the rule" was to not watch any movie that didn't fit the criteria. Feminist Frequency (and Kyle) on the other hand, admit that a movie might be quite good while not passing the test. Here's Feminist Frequency again:
Again, to be clear this test does not gauge the quality of a film, it doesn’t determine whether a film is feminist or not, and it doesn’t even determine whether a film is woman centered. Some pretty awful movies including ones that have stereotypical and/or sexist representations of women might pass the test with flying colours. Where really well made films that I would highly recommend might not.
Obviously, there's some level of tension here, because while she insists that some really good and recommendable films might not pass the test, she also seems to see it as a problem when individual films (such as 7 out of 9 Best Picture nominees) do not clearly pass. But still, at least formally the concession is clearly made that passing the test is not necessary to a movie's being good or indeed to having strong and essential female characters.

Also, I feel I should concede that passing the test will correlate fairly decently with films that have more female representation in them. Yes, you can have a woman-centered story with a female main character but structured in such a way that the film doesn't pass, or a story which is evenly balanced between one male and one female character, but in general movies in which a woman or women have a lot of screen time will pass.

This leads to the beginning of my criticisms, however, because although most stores that have a lot of screen time for women will pass, they will often do so rather incidentally. So, for instance, I'm finishing up reading Jane Eyre -- certainly generally considered a "girl book", and one that has such a strong female main character, who repeatedly stands up against the expectations of a male dominated world, that it is considered by some critics to be an example of proto-feminist fiction. Thinking of the recent movie of Jane Eyre, it does indeed pass, but even so probably 90% of the screen time involves either Jane interacting with men or Jane talking with other women about men. Even with the more spacious book, if you cut it down to only the scenes which involve Jane talking to another woman about something that does not involve any men, you get some fairly pedestrian scenes in which she talks to her female cousins (and listens to them argue), talks to Helen Burns about books and life, talks to her teachers and to the kitchen maid and her aunt's house, and talks to her pupil Adèle. You miss virtually all of what's interesting in the plot: the conflict.

Now, someone will be pointing out to me that the claim isn't that the scenes that meet the Bechtel Test are the most interesting in the story, just that if the story has a substantial part for women that it is likely to pass the test. And I get that. But it frustrates me that someone would try to analyze fiction based on a criteria that is clearly and admittedly incidental to what it is they're trying to measure. Measuring something like the percentage of the time a named woman character is on screen, or the percentage of lines spoken by a woman, would, however, but a lot less fun than the gimmicky three criteria Test. And something like "are female characters realistic and important to the plot" is hard to quantify, and thus wouldn't produce a fun site full of people rating movies according to one's criteria.

Aside from the fact that the Bechtel Test is clearly measuring something incidental to what it's actually looking to find, it seems to me that by design it isn't really set up "to measure women’s relevance to a film’s plot" as to determine the extent to which women are a separate and self sufficient group within the plot. So, for instance, despite it's female protagonist the movie True Grit fails the Bechtel Test as applied by Feminist Frequency:
Interestingly, even though True Grit is a female centered story, following the adventures of Mattie Ross struggling to get by in a man’s world, when we apply the 60 second rule the film doesn’t pass. In fact the only exchange she has with any other woman is with Mrs. Floyd the innkeeper and those incidental interactions total less than a minute. This style of film where the female lead inhabits an almost entirely male world, brings to mind the Smurfette Principle which I’ve discussed in my Tropes vs Women video series.
So clearly, what's being tested for (and what Feminist Frequency desires to see in a movie) is not simply that women in the movie be well rounded character or that they be essential to the plot, but rather that they be in a world which is at least moderately separate from men. This seemed particularly driven home to me by her complaint against a movie I haven't actually seen (and thus can't provide my own evaluation of the characterization) but the analysis itself is telling:
Tree of Life is a more experimental film about a boy and his family. It fails the test because the only brief scene where two women talk, the conversation is about the death of the family’s son. While it’s true there’s very little dialogue in the film as a whole, the father and the son do speak to each other on multiple occasions.
So, a conversation between to women isn't real if it's about how they feel about a male who has died. If it was a woman, that would be fine, since they're talking about the death of a male, it fails. (Heck, if they'd talked about designer shoes instead of about the death of a family member, it would have passed.)

Similarly, any film which is tightly focused on a relationship (between a man and a woman) is going to at least flirt with failing.

Now, given that this test originates on a comic stripe entitled "Dykes to Watch Out For" perhaps that's reasonable enough. But if one's interest really is in characters and stories well told, I don't see why one would allow oneself to get caught up in this particular analysis gimmick. I don't think that woman characters are less real when they talk to men than when they talk to women, or when they talk about male characters than when they talk about female characters. Yes, perhaps that fact that many Hollywood films don't pass it says something about the extent to which women are represented as independent characters in mainstream films, but if so only in a very incidental fashion. And given that the majority of films lack any well rounded characters of either sex, I find this hard to get particularly excited about.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Reading Jane

Though I'm hardly averse to reading "girl books", I had never read Jane Eyre. I think I'd had the idea that the Brontes' oeuvre was yearning hearts and ghosts in lonely manor houses. But MrsDarwin had told me that I should read Jane, and so when I had a spare credit on Audible one month I picked up an unabridged recording, which I've been listening to lately on my commute.

I've been enjoying it far more than I expected, mainly because Jane herself is a far more engaging character than I had anticipated. I tend to loose patience with characters who get lost in their emotions and do obviously stupid things, and for some reason that what I'd expected Jane to be. (Falling in love with a guy who keeps a mad wife in the attic doesn't exactly seem like the wisest thing one can do.) Nor do I have much tolerance for the over-innocent damsel who is buffeted about by an increasingly improbably series of events, which seemed like the other likely explanation for the vague outlines of the plot I was aware of. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised at finding Jane to be a genuinely strong character, despite being (in Bronte's language) "of a passionate character". Despite her "sensibility", Jane is most definitely no Marianne Dashwood. I'd expected to be reading the book as something of an outsider, and Jane is indeed 100% girl, but she's reasonable and rigorously self possessed enough to appeal to my masculine sensibilities, even while seeming genuinely (though appealingly) foreign to them in her emotions.

I've also been struck, given my historical and economic interests, with the portrayal of mid-19th century England you get from Jane's point of view. As a tenuous member of the "respectable" class, Jane is well suited to appreciate the fragility of lower upper middle class existence. When she finds herself in Whitcross, without friends, money or references, she's changed instantly from the educated person Mrs. Fairfax was glad she would have to talk to rather than "the servants" into someone unlucky even among beggars:
Reader, it is not pleasant to dwell on these details. Some say there is enjoyment in looking back to painful experience past; but at this day I can scarcely bear to review the times to which I allude: the moral degradation, blent with the physical suffering, form too distressing a recollection ever to be willingly dwelt on. I blamed none of those who repulsed me. I felt it was what was to be expected, and what could not be helped: an ordinary beggar is frequently an object of suspicion; a well-dressed beggar inevitably so. To be sure, what I begged was employment; but whose business was it to provide me with employment? Not, certainly, that of persons who saw me then for the first time, and who knew nothing about my character. And as to the woman who would not take my handkerchief in exchange for her bread, why, she was right, if the offer appeared to her sinister or the exchange unprofitable. Let me condense now. I am sick of the subject.
This is perhaps the quintessential middle class terror: I am someone, yet one misstep and I could be no one.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

But Will it Play in Peoria?

So. Let's blog. We'll start with a generality. Funny thing about the internet: it fosters connections between people who might never have met otherwise, but it's no substitute for the in-person interactions these friends eventually crave. Now let's work in a personal anecdote: Last October, when Darwin and I were riding down to New Orleans with Betty Duffy to hang out at the Walker Percy Symposium with The Korrectiv gang, we had to ride on the spare all the way from Indy to Nashville because we couldn't get anyone out to the Duffy homestead to repair a flat tire (just inspected the day before!) at 5 am. In Nashville we spent a congenial hour with Jordana while Betty's car was attended to. Turns out nothing was actually wrong with the tire, but if it hadn't chosen to act up that morning, we would have missed connecting with an online friend.

Are you tired of the meta-blogging yet? I am, but the mechanics of writing a blog post are on my mind because I'm off this weekend to Peoria, famously middle-American territory, to attend the Behold Conference and to sit in on the Meet the Bloggers session on Friday night. "New Media" is a hot topic these days. Everyone, it seems, wants to write the next big blog, and I am here with my big bad seven years of blogging experience to share the secrets of blogging success (not mine, but someone's) with you.

Write well about interesting things. Often.

Meet the new media, same as the old media. No matter what pretty templates the aspirational blogger uses or how riddled a page is with bullet points, one will not attract or maintain faithful readership (large or small) without being able to meet these criteria. No amount of highlighting or money quotes in bold font will compensate for poor writing, or a dull topic, or for a posting schedule so sporadic that readers stop tracking after a while (though Google Reader may take care of that, but since I don't use Reader we'll call that point irrelevant to our discussion).

Now Behold is a Catholic women's conference, and my feelings on "lady conferences" have been eloquently summarized by Betty Duffy, but in this case it's Betty I'm going to see.  She and Sarah Reinhard and I are carpooling out to Peoria, where the big draw is not the conference, though I'm sure it's very nice, but the chance to hang out once again with Jennifer Fulwiler and Hallie Lord. Those ladies have come a long way from when the three of us used to visit each other's living rooms in Texas and resolutely ignore the antic screams of our combined children: Hallie has just edited a book called Style, Sex, and Substance: 10 Catholic Women Consider the Things that Really Matter, and Jennifer and Betty are two of those ten women. And the reason I'm making the midwinter trek to Illinois is that people I know but don't get to see often (or people I'm meeting for the first time in person, such as Jamie who invited me to come in the first place) are taking the same journey. The internet giveth friendships and it sustains them long-distance, but nothing beats sneaking out of a talk so that Duffy can take a cigarette break while the girls pass the flask down the line and exchange erudite and profane banter.

That's my blogging cue to embed a YouTube video exemplifying erudite and profane banter:

This did not play in Peoria.

Here's my last blogging tip for the New Media crew: know when to stop writing. When you look at the clock and it's almost 1 am, that's a pretty good sign you ought to pack it in.

UPDATE: Registration for the Behold Conference has been extended to Friday morning, so it's not too late to sign up and attend.

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Accomplishments of Youth

Saturday was parent observation day at eight-year-old Julia's ballet class. I hadn't had the chance to watch her in class since she started at the metropolitan ballet school downtown, though I had certainly noticed that the technique she deploys in the nearly nightly dance performances she puts on the living room had much improved over the last year. Watching her among the 20 or so other students, I could see why. While many of the 7-8 year olds were flopping around in the way that little kids with limited attention spans tend to do, and then having trouble going through the directed exercises, Julia was paying very close attention, and had some of the better technique in the class. The showed all the signs of being a girl who took her dance very seriously.

In some ways, this is a bit of surprise, as getting her out the door to ballet class every Saturday morning is invariably occasion for complaining, foot dragging, and complaints that the classes are boring and she wants to go back to the neighborhood arts center (which I am sure does provide more fun classes, but based on the annual recitals does not turn out a very polished product.) Indeed, that very day the complaining had been such that MrsDarwin and I had privately agreed, "This isn't worth it. If she isn't interested in the better classes, the local ones are cheaper and less disruptive to the schedule."

We have no particular desire to be "dance parents", but MrsDarwin and I do both have a strong tendency towards the, "If you're going to do it, you should do it well," line of thinking. Thus, since Julia has the talent to benefit from higher quality lessons, it seemed like the natural thing to put her in them, and it seems frustrating that she prefers the lower quality class instead.

On some topics, I think it's arguably worth it for parents to cite authority and worldly wisdom and force the issue. Looking back, I kind of kick myself that when I was leaving parochial school at the end of 5th grade and my parents asked, "Do you want us to sign you up for piano lessons through a teacher while you're homeschooling?" I declined because I didn't enjoy practicing, and my parents (taking the line that they weren't going to force a kid to take music lessons when he didn't want to) didn't force the issue. I can still, at the most rudimentary level, puzzle out simpler sheet music on the piano, but despite several attempts to revive and develop the skill through self study, I can't play the piano to any degree. And I wish I could. (MrsDarwin, on the other hand, kept up piano lessons for ten years and plays very well.) One of these days, I'd like to go back and actually take lessons. And, with that in mind, I have a certain hesitance to let the kids off just because they don't like the tedium of good lessons.

On the other hand, while playing the piano is a skill that, once mastered, can be maintained and enjoyed all one's life, it occurs to me that ballet is something that virtually no one does past their teens. I don't necessarily imagine that, talented though she is, Julia is slated for a career in professional ballet. And short of that, most girls put away the shoes by the time they are out of college and never dance ballet again. And if that's the case, and she prefer the local lessons which are more fun and have her local friends in them, then perhaps there's really no reason to force the issue.

After all, no one is making her dance, even if she does know when to come in.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

If We Are Given The Time

The weekend's Wall Street Journal has an article on the increasing trend of "gray divorce". The number of divorces overall is falling steadily, but the group among which it has increased significantly is those who are over 50, for whom the divorce rate has doubled in the last 20 years. What can one say? The baby boomers are bad news.

If that last sentence isn't a dead give away, my main reaction to this kind of thing is a kind of sullen resentment, unbecoming though that may be. I recall when my mother used to come back from her quilting group, which was heavily populated with women in their mid sixties who complained about how onerous it was to have their newly retired husbands around the house all the time. "I wish he'd just go find something to do," they'd complain. "I don't want to see him that much."

This recitation would invariably end with my parents' gazes meeting. "I'll enjoy it when you retire," Mom would say. "I couldn't have you around too much."

As it happens, that was not to be. My father's retirement papers finished processing a few days after his death from cancer at the age of 57.

Irrationally, I can't help seeing this as some sort of trade: Have a happy marriage, die early. Have a less happy marriage, retire and complain about spending too much time together.

And thus, since there's nothing I would enjoy more than being home all day with MrsDarwin, it's hard to imagine it will ever come to that.

We just finished updating our life insurance -- something we hadn't looked at in six years, at which time we made a lot less and had only three children. Part of what we took into account at this point is that the level of income that I make at this point is not one it would be easy for MrsDarwin to replace without having the time to go back to school for a professional degree and spend a while working up the ladder, something that is not easy to do as the sole provider for five or more children. So now, if I shuffle off this mortal coil in the next twenty years, the insurance company will provide MrsDarwin with enough money to effectively replace my income throughout that period.

I'll be fifty three in twenty years, which even with my half-Irish cynicism seems just enough to be realistic. And having started on life early, we'll likely have progressed to being grandparents by then (as we'll have daughters aged 29, 28 and 26.) But it would likely take another ten years beyond that (if not far more, given the changing age demographics of the country and the economic outlook) to reach the point when I could credibly retire. And that seems a very long and unlikely way.

Still. I can't think of anything better.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Sleepless Nights

Posting has been light this week. We've been consumed with serious issues here, wrapped day and night in contemplation of life's twists and turns and mysterious coincidences. All day we fret and ponder, wondering what might have been done differently and what will happen next. We've not had a proper night's sleep in almost a week, and we stagger through our days in a haze.

Damn you, Downton Abbey.