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

Monday, May 27, 2013

Book Review: Pope Francis in His Own Words

The Darwin family is on one of its road trip vacations, so posting has been rather light. However, there's no better time than vacation to catch up on reading, and thus on book reviews.

Like a lot of Catholic bibliophiles, I've been eager to get to know Pope Francis by reading his writings. This is a little tricky, as at the time of his election not a single one of Bergoglio's books (and there aren't many) was available in English. Thus, I jumped at the chance to get a review copy of Pope Francis in His Own Words from New World Library.

Whether this book appeals to you is going to depend a great deal on what sort of book you are looking for. This is not a unified theological work, it's a collection of quotes (most of them one to three sentences) from articles, homilities, addresses and interviews with Bergoglio over the years and from his earliest papal addresses. Most of them are comparatively recent (1999 to 2013) and they are organized by topic. For example, under "On Poverty" there are two quotes:

"A community that stops kneeling before the rich, before success and prestige, and which is capable, instead, of washing the feet of the humble and those in need, will be more aligned with [God's] teaching than the winner-at-any-price ethic that we've learned -- badly -- in recent times."

Annual Message to Educational Communities, Easter 2002

"Is there anything more humiliating than being condemned [to an existence in which] you can't earn your daily bread?"

Annual Message to Educational Communities, Easter 2002

As you can see, these are not mini essays on various topics as in John Paul II's Crossing the Theshold of Hope. They are more on the order of short quotes, the sort collection you'd pick up once a day to read a quote or two from, not the sort of book that you'd sit down and read cover to cover.

The quotes are very accessible and often throught provoking. A few strike me as being so short and out of context as to be simply stating the obvious. For instance, under "On Atheists" appears the quote:

"[I] know more agnostics than atheists; the first is more undecided, the second, more convinced."

Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra, 2010

Well, yes. That's definitionally true, but not necessarily worth pulling as a quote. However, most of this fairly short book (90 pages of quotes and then a short chronology of Pope Francis's life, followed by a long attribution section) is not filler of that sort.

This is not the book of Pope Francis's writing that I've been waiting for. However, if you or someone you know enjoys a collection of short, inspirational "thought of the day" pieces, this may be a good acquisition or gift.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Quick Takes, for fun and profit

Mental profit, that is.

While I was prostrate with morning sickness last week, the stomach bug swept through, a brutal combo that left me in bed for 36 hours straight, and many more between brief bouts of trying to stand up. But lo! A new week has dawned, and I suddenly have a burst of brilliant second-trimester energy, four weeks early. And God knows I need it, because we're going on driving vacation on Wednesday, and there's a family-load of packing to do.

So! Some quick takes for ya!

1. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishopess of the Episcopal Church, has produced an interpretation of St. Paul casting a demon out of a slave girl that is... stunning in its originality.

Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves.  But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!
Emphasis mine.

I'd like to hear Bp. Schori expounding on how Jesus deprived the Gerasene demoniac of his gift of strength.

2. But perhaps the good Bishopess makes more sense if we Gizoogle her:
There is some remarkable examplez of dat kind of blindnizz up in tha readings our crazy asses heard dis morning, n' slavery is wrapped up in a shitload of dat shit.  Pizzle be annoyed all up in tha slave hoe whoz ass keeps pursuin him, spittin some lyrics ta tha ghetto dat he n' his companions is slavez of Dogg.  Biatch is like right.  She’s spittin some lyrics ta tha same truth Pizzle n' others claim fo' theyselves.[1]  But Pizzle be annoyed, like fo' bein put up in his thugged-out lil' place, n' he respondz by deprivin her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Pizzle can’t abide suttin' da thug won’t peep as dope or holy, so tha pimpin' muthafucka tries ta destroy dat shit.  It gets his ass thrown on lockdown.  That’s pretty much where he’s put his dirty ass by his own refusal ta recognize dat she, too, shares up in God’s nature, just as much as da ruffneck do ��" maybe mo' so!  

3. Simcha Fisher has given this piece of silliness the fisking it deserves.

4. Go you and Gizoogle something, but don't blame me for your lost time or your damaged keyboard.

5. Here, a palate-cleanser: my nephew Benjamin in the crabby suit I bought for him months ago, because I already knew he was a boy.

See his Peter Rabbit sticker? That's because he was a good boy at his first doctor's visit. The sticker is nearly as big as his head.

6. Julia, age nine, doesn't have any patience for foolishness. Yesterday, after enduring Mom's boring oldies on the radio, she demanded to know, "What do they mean, you can check out but you can't leave?"

7. Speaking of old-timey sounds, we are so fascinated with the iPhone Gramophone, but it's hard to find a good example of how acceptable the sound quality is playing modern stuff, as opposed to music that already has a retro sound.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Requiescant in Pace

Please remember in your prayers the soul of Lawrence Charles McClarey, son of Donald McClarey of The American Catholic, who died Saturday night of a seizure related to autism. He was 21.

Requiem Aeternam dona eis, Domine
et lux perpetua luceat eis:
Requiescant in pace. Amen.

I'm Sorry

I do not, as far as I know, owe anyone an apology, but this song is so lovely I almost wish I did.

The artist is Alanna-Marie Boudreau, a friend of a friend.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Ethics of Historical Fiction

If you asked someone to describe the personalities and lives of Mozart and Salieri, you'd probably get an answer that had a lot more to do with the movie Amadeus, based on Peter Shaffer's play, than with history.

Obviously, Salieri is long past being hurt by anyone's opinion of him, but though I like the movie very much I can't help feeling a bit odd about the ethics of producing such a work. On the one hand, the movie simply wouldn't work with made-up composers. It works precisely because it's about a real person who is synonymous with youthful brilliance, and because it's full of Mozart's music. And yet, I can't help feeling as if there's some sort of ethical issue with an author intentionally giving his readers a false vision of real people or events.

Of course, any fiction is "not true" in some sense, definitionally. And an author who is writing about real historical characters or events will necessarily fictionalize: Combine people, arrange meetings that didn't take place, make up details that aren't known. None of these bother me in the least.

I think what it is that bothers me is when an author takes a historical person or event and intentionally represents it differently than it was in order to write some other story or convey some other point -- using the established cultural meaning of a real person or event to lend color to his fiction.

Amadeus makes a pretty good example in that some of the changes to history are pretty blatant. For instance, in the movie, the motivation for Salieri's hatred of Mozart is that he as a youth made a vow to God that he would commit to a lifetime of celibacy if God would give him musical genius in return. He thinks he's got a fairly good return on his bargain until Mozart shows up: He's a popular composer and he has a beautiful young opera singer as a student who he covets but doesn't touch. Then Mozart arrives and is clearly more brilliant than Salieri, and sleeps with the opera singer to boot. Except that, in history Salieri was married and had a number of children, plus that opera singer was rumored to be his mistress. Nor is this change in Salieri's character peripheral to the plot of the movie -- it provides the key motivation for Salieri's plan to destroy Mozart, and for Salieri's own apparent loss of faith and descent into madness. The made up personal history for Salieri fuels a made up rivalry: There's very little evidence that Salieri disliked Mozart, much less that he was seeking to destroy him.

Even as I express this, I imagine the reader replying: So what? Everyone knows it's fiction. What's wrong with making things up?

In cases where we're talking about obvious fiction (say, Agamemnon and Napoleon in Time Bandits or Abraham Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter) this strikes me as true. But in a lot of cases, fiction isn't "just" fiction. Rightly or wrongly, Amadeus represents a lot of what many people know of Mozart's life. Gone With the Wind formed a lot of people's impressions of the old South and the Civil War. Downton Abbey, even though everyone knows its a high class soap opera, still informs people's ideas of what the English class system was like.

Historical fiction has a fair amount of power. We often remember characters from books and movies better than we do anything we read in a history book. As such, it strikes me a problematic when historical events are treated as cultural short hand for some big idea rather than being portrayed in human terms.

I was also reminded of this recently when I came across a review/interview with Mark Helprin about his novel, A Soldier of the Great War:
Mark Helprin does not let too much of the outside world into his fiction -- certainly not impersonal facts. "Research kills a book. It makes a book like a historical romance," he said in a telephone interview from his home in Seattle. "An Italian who fought in the First World War or was a historian of the period" who reads his novel, "A Soldier of the Great War," "would probably become apoplectic," Mr. Helprin said.

I had a highly mixed reaction to A Soldier of the Great War when I originally read it some years back, and as time has passed my negative impressions have persisted more than my positive ones, and I think most of the reason had to do with what struck me as the basic historical dishonesty of the story. Helprin wanted to write a novel about various moral and aesthetic ideas, and he used a highly impressionistic (and thus simplistic and inaccurate) version of the Great War as a background for it. This example, perhaps, especially bothers me because it seems to me that with the Great War in particular the legend has in many ways consumed the reality. It's become such a cultural short hand that a work which portrays it accurately would run the risk of being laughed off the stage for being "inaccurate".

And that, I the end, strikes me as the danger with knowingly inaccurate historical fiction, it runs the risk of obscuring from us the real human events and dramas that people experienced in the past. And when we don't know what really happened in the past, in a certain sense, we no longer know who we are or how we got here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Abstinence Without Morality

Various people have been writing about the issues with some of the content in abstinence-only sex education programs in public schools. (Calah Alexander kicked things off. Elizabeth Duffy has, to my mind, the most balanced and sensible take..)

One of the main things being critiqued is that some of these programs (not having been to or sent a child to public school, I honestly haven't studied the question of how many) take an approach to describing the undesirability of premarital sex which suggests that once you've had sex, you're "damaged goods" and there's no way back, so you might as well do whatever. Examples cited include: Once a stick of chewing gum has been chewed, no one else wants it. If someone takes a drink from a glass of water and then spits the water back in, no one else will want it. No one wants an oreo cookie that's already been chewed. Etc.

The basic message of these is: Keep clean, save sex for marriage. At some very basic level, that makes sense, but the examples represent such a simplified view they get a lot of things wrong. For instance, there's no room for conversion or repentance in these examples. If a stick of gum gets chewed, it becomes worthless to anyone else. However, no person is worthless. No matter what we've done in the past, it's always better to do the right thing in the future, and we're always capable of making ourselves more like the divine by rejecting evil and pursuing virtue.

One can say all sorts of things about how a shame culture or a dualistic view of morality is at fault for these things, but I think there's something even more basic we need to keep in mind. I'm sure we'd all agree that a discussion of sexuality should cover the whole topic: What sex is for. The nature of the human person. The purpose of marriage. Etc.

But here's the problem: Addressing the topic that way in public schools is illegal according to the current interpretation of the law. Sex education is supposed to talk about health (physical and mental) but not morality.

Since abstinence programs aren't allowed to say that sex outside of marriage is wrong, they instead try to come up with way to say that it's icky -- which most people will go and mentally convert to "wrong".

So while all these suggestions about how the topic should be addressed are great, none of them would pass muster for what's taught in public schools. They can't talk about the moral meaning of sex. They can't talk about how the end of sex is procreation and the proper context for it is marriage. Theology of the Body is verboten.

Given all this, and the fact that the enforced secularism of our public schools is unlikely to change, there are basically three options:

- Support abstinence based programs which will be restricted to making some sort of (necessarily flawed) case that having sex outside of marriage is somehow un-hygenic.

- Support "comprehensive" programs which will explain in loving detail how to "safely" insert very possible protuberance of the human body in every possible orifice.

- Support simply pulling behavioral sex-ed out of schools entirely and just coving questions of how the human reproductive system works in biology class -- which could probably use a little spicing up anyway once everyone is done dissecting frogs.

Of course, my ideal would be that we abandon the absurdity of trying to enforce "neutral" public schools at all and simply allow public funding to be spread around to any school of the family's choosing (religious or secular) so that people can pick schools that fully express their cultural and moral preferences. However, short of that, the third option seems to me by far the best.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Here's what I ate yesterday:

8:30 Cheerios with milk and honey
9:00 Two pieces of cheese toast
11:30 A chocolate malt
12:30 A whole package of ramen
3:00 A blueberry/pomegranate smoothie and a Chicken Ranch McWrap
6:00 Tortilla chips and milk
7:00 Salad with croutons, an entire wedge of Brie (just about) and french bread
And I would have eaten the leftover birthday cake if I'd been able to stay awake that long.

I eat these days. All I do is eat. The only time I am not queasy is when I am eating. The only time I'm not eating is when I'm sleeping. My brain capacity is so diminished that I feel the functional equivalent of a cow, either grazing or chewing her cud at all times. I don't throw up, which means that there's no relief. Either I am consuming, or I am consumed by pangs of nauseating hunger. Eating has become a chore (though fast-food chicken sandwiches make it more bearable).

Once upon a time, about a month ago, the kids and I had been exercising. We were ready to Get In Shape, no more fooling around. We faithfully worked out, four days a week, to the dulcet strains of Jillian Michaels' 30-Day Shred. Even the two-year-old was doing jumping jacks and squats and twists. We felt invincible. I felt invincible. Look at me, five weeks pregnant, if not fully shredded, then at least mildly deckled around the edges! I was going to keep exercising as long as I could. I was not going to get fat and slothy this pregnancy.

From my bed of quease I look back on those days as a distant, foggy memory. I got up and walked yesterday -- to the frozen custard shop. On Mother's Day I spent the day mothering, literally -- too sick to get out of bed much, sleeping for four hours in the afternoon and waking up heavy and sluggish and queasy again. I'm wearing knit pants from Lands' End because they're the only thing that fits, and I don't even care that much.

I really hope it's true that woman will be saved through childbearing, because that's all I have right now. I can't count on my expanding body, my reduced mental acumen, my practically non-existent works, my barely-there housekeeping, my current "go change yourself" parenting philosophy, my incoherent prayer life. I am bearing a child, and it consumes me physically, mentally, spiritually. It doesn't burn away my old self -- only Christ can do that -- but it has taken the physical manifestations of the vices to which I'm most prone, sloth and gluttony, and transformed them into hard acts of service. You like to eat? Then eat without ceasing from necessity, because another life depends on it! You like to do as little as possible? Now your inactivity is compelled, not chosen!

One thing I have been doing in this time of enforced inactivity is reading through the New Testament letters multiple chapters at a time, not in the shorter passages of the daily readings. Reading the books as books instead of brings continuity to what can sometimes seem like unrelated chunks of spiritual meditation. Here's a passage from Romans that stopped me: "More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Rm. 5:3-5). I could follow the progression from suffering to endurance, and endurance to character, but why would character necessarily produce hope? Lo and behold, three chapters later an answer appeared, one that I might not have noticed had I been reading piecemeal:
I consider that the suffering of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope, because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning with labor pains together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is unseen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it in patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words (Rom. 8:18-26).
Character is that endurance which is not merely plodding, but which has the imagination, the grace, to grasp at the prize that is unseen. Character believes that we endure our current futility not because futility is the natural condition of everything, but this futility has a purpose and a duration: we have been subjected and therefore will one day be set free. Character is more than the existential survival of endurance; "waiting in patience" presupposes the hope that underlies the patience, because patience means waiting for something, not nothing. Suffering consumes; endurance plows on despite the consumption; character sees purpose in the consumption; hope lifts us beyond endurance, allowing us to be burned away but not consumed (Ex. 3:2) because hope is God and God is hope.

This Land Is Whose Land?

I was kind of fascinated today to run into an article about the Solutrean Hypothesis -- a claim that the one of the earliest stone tool "cultures" in the Americas, the Clovis Culture (named after the town of Clovis, NM where examples of these stone tools were first identified) was derived from the Solutrean stone tool culture which was situated in southern France and northern Spain from 22,000 to 17,000 years ago. According to the Solutrean Hypothesis, members of the Solutrean culture worked their way across the northern Atlantic by sea -- hunting seals and other arctic animals on the ice in the manner of the Inuit -- until they reached North America and thus spread out across North America. The hypothesis doesn't deny the generally accepted theory that "Native Americans" are the descendant of Asian peoples who crossed from Siberia into North America via the Bering land bridge roughly 14,000 years ago, it simply holds that the Solutrean people had got to the Americas first. Given that genetic and linguistic evidence suggests that the peoples inhabiting the Americas when Europeans arrived in the fifteenth century were descended from Asian peoples, the assumption would presumably be that the Solutrean people died out or were genetically overwhelmed by a much larger population with an Asian ancestry.

The two biggest current proponents of the Solutrean Hypothesis, Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, have a book coming out next month in which they put forward their case: Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America's Clovis Culture. My initial impression, reading around, is that the case is kind of thin, though I'm intrigued enough that I may see if I can find a copy through the library when it comes out.

One of the things that struck me most, however, reading around was the political significance that people seemed prepared to give to the issue, as if it had some sort of moral significance whether the ancestors of the American Indians had in turn displaced some earlier people who had come from Europe rather than Asia.

I find the idea of these stone age migrations fascinating, of course, and it satisfied our curiosity to try to figure out what happened, but I can't quite understand why anyone would think it had moral or political significance whether the people who first reached the Americas did so from Asia or from Europe. I mean, we're talking about 15,000+ years ago. In human terms, that's so long ago it's kind of hard to wrap one's mind around.

The idea seems to be that if the ancestors of the American Indians had, in turn, displaced some other people in the Americas, that this has something to do with the way they in turn were displaced by Europeans -- the more so if that other people had originated several thousand years before in Europe. This, however, is quite wrong. Whether the manner in which group A treats group B has everything to do with what A does to B and nothing to do with what B's ancestors did or where they were from.

There is not some one people that really and truly owns a region. We are all, on this mortal earth, migrants, not natives.

Monday, May 13, 2013

My Meh For Mercy

In a First Things post which has been circulating endlessly on Facebook over the last month, Robert P George makes an impassioned plea that Kermit Gosnell, who today was convicted on three counts of first degree murder and literally hundreds of lesser charges, and thus potentially faces the death penalty in Pennsylvania, be spared execution.
Kermit Gosnell, like every human being, no matter how self-degraded, depraved, and sunk in wickedness, is our brother—a precious human being made in the very image and likeness of God. Our objective should not be his destruction, but the conversion of his heart. Is that impossible for a man who has corrupted his character so thoroughly by his unspeakably evil actions? If there is a God in heaven, then the answer to that question is “no.” There is no one who is beyond repentance and reform; there is no one beyond hope. We should give up on no one.

If our plea for mercy moves the heart of a man who cruelly murdered innocent babies, the angels in heaven will rejoice. But whether it produces that effect or not, we will have shown all who have eyes to see and ears to hear that our pro-life witness is truly a witness of love—love even of our enemies, even of those whose appalling crimes against innocent human beings we must oppose with all our hearts, minds, and strength. In a profoundly compelling way, we will have given testimony to our belief in the sanctity of all human life.

I do not myself believe that the death penalty is ever required or justified as a matter of retributive justice. Many reasonable people of goodwill, including many who are strongly pro-life (and whose pro-life credentials I in no way question), disagree with me about that. But even if the death penalty is justified in a case like Gosnell’s, mercy is nevertheless a legitimate option, especially where our plea for mercy would itself advance the cause of respect for human life by testifying to the power of mercy and love.
I have to say, it seems to me that in a civilized society, it would be clearly understood that someone who for twenty years made a career out of murdering infants would be executed. But the fact is, we don't live in a civilized society. Nor, even if Gosnell got the death penalty, would he be likely to ever be executed. Pleas would go back and forth. Politics would play out. Appeals would be filed. Circumstances would be appealed to. And Gosnell (already age seventy-two) would die of old age before ever seeing an executioner.

So I'll say this much in favor of mercy in Gosnell's case: Assigning him the death penalty would have little deterrent force, and would achieve nothing in making people safer from him. It would be unlikely to result in his actual execution, and it would cost far more money and time and drama and public angst than he is worth. While a just society would doubtless execute Gosnell, and facing the prospect of immanent execution might indeed be the only thing likely to bring him to something like repentance for his crimes, we are not such a society and we do not have such a justice system. So we should not sentence him to death.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Newbery Medal Winners Meme

Brandon has started a reading meme from the list of Newbery Medal winners. Here's my entry -- this sort of fun bookish meme is just my speed right now, when the only time I'm not queasy is when I'm horizontal.

Have read
Have not read, but have heard of (includes "I don't really know much about this book, but I've seen it on the library shelves enough times to notice and remember it.")
Have on my shelves **

2013: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (HarperCollins Children's Books)
2012: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (Farrar Straus Giroux)
2011: Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books)
2010: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books)
2009: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, illus. by Dave McKean (HarperCollins)
2008: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick)
2007: The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, illus. by Matt Phelan (Simon & Schuster/Richard Jackson)
2006: Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins)
2005: Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)
2004: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick Press) (listened to the first chapters on CD and couldn't take it; maybe it's better reading than hearing?)
2003: Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi (Hyperion Books for Children)
2002: A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park(Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin)
2001: A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck (Dial)
2000: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (Delacorte)
1999: Holes by Louis Sachar (Frances Foster)
1998: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (Scholastic)
1997: The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg (Jean Karl/Atheneum)
1996: The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman (Clarion)
1995: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (HarperCollins)
1994: The Giver by Lois Lowry (Houghton)
1993: Missing May by Cynthia Rylant (Jackson/Orchard)
1992: Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (Atheneum)
1991: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli (Little, Brown)
1990: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (Houghton)
1989: Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman (Harper)
1988: Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman (Clarion) **
1987: The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman (Greenwillow)
1986: Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan (Harper)
1985: The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (Greenwillow)
1984: Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary (Morrow)
1983: Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt (Atheneum)
1982: A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers by Nancy Willard (Harcourt)
1981: Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (Crowell)
1980: A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-1832 by Joan W. Blos (Scribner)
1979: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (Dutton)
1978: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (Crowell)
1977: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (Dial)
1976: The Grey King by Susan Cooper (McElderry/Atheneum)
1975: M. C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton (Macmillan)
1974: The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox (Bradbury)
1973: Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (Harper) (I think I've read this.)
1972: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien (Atheneum)
1971: Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars (Viking)
1970: Sounder by William H. Armstrong (Harper)
1969: The High King by Lloyd Alexander (Holt)
1968: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (Atheneum)
1967: Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt (Follett)
1966: I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino (Farrar) **
1965: Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (Atheneum)
1964: It's Like This, Cat by Emily Neville (Harper)
1963: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (Farrar)
1962: The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton)
1961: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell (Houghton) **
1960: Onion John by Joseph Krumgold (Crowell)
1959: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Houghton)
1958: Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith (Crowell)
1957: Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen (Harcourt)
1956: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham (Houghton)
1955: The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong (Harper)
1954: ...And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold (Crowell)
1953: Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark (Viking)
1952: Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes (Harcourt)
1951: Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates (Dutton)
1950: The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli (Doubleday)
1949: King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry (Rand McNally) **
1948: The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois (Viking) **
1947: Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey (Viking) **
1946: Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski (Lippincott) **
1945: Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson (Viking)
1944: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (Houghton) **
1943: Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray (Viking)
1942: The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds (Dodd) **
1941: Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry (Macmillan)
1940: Daniel Boone by James Daugherty (Viking)
1939: Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright (Rinehart)
1938: The White Stag by Kate Seredy (Viking)
1937: Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer (Viking)
1936: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (Macmillan) **
1935: Dobry by Monica Shannon (Viking)
1934: Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs (Little, Brown)
1933: Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis (Winston)
1932: Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer (Longmans)
1931: The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth (Macmillan)
1930: Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field (Macmillan)
1929: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly (Macmillan)
1928: Gay Neck, the Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji (Dutton)
1927: Smoky, the Cowhorse by Will James (Scribner)
1926: Shen of the Sea by Arthur Bowie Chrisman (Dutton)
1925: Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger (Doubleday)
1924: The Dark Frigate by Charles Hawes (Little, Brown)
1923: The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (Stokes) **
1922: The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon (Liveright)

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Guest Post: Evangelicals and International Adoption

Mother Jones recently ran an article by Kathryn Joyce purporting to expose the sordid underbelly of Evangelical Christian international adoptions, focusing mainly on one messy family in Tennessee.

In 2007, the Christian Alliance for Orphans, which took root around the same time Campbell published her first adoption articles, held a pivotal meeting at the Colorado headquarters of James Dobson's Focus on the Family; pastors emerged ready to preach the new gospel of orphan care and adoption, according to an account in the Los Angeles Times. Focus was soon predicting that, within a decade, it would be "pretty uncommon" for Christians "to not adopt or not care for orphans." 
Indeed, just two years later the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest Christian denomination save the Catholic Church, passed a resolution calling on its 16 million members to get involved, whether that meant taking in children themselves, donating to adoptive families, or supporting the hundreds of adoption ministries that were springing up around the country to raise money and spread the word. Neo-Pentecostal leader Lou Engle also called for mega-churches to take on the cause, which would give them "moral authority in this nation." 
The movement spawned numerous conferences and books built around the idea that adopting a needy child is a form of missionary work. "The ultimate purpose of human adoption by Christians," author Dan Cruver wrote in his 2011 book, Reclaiming Adoption, "is not to give orphans parents, as important as that is. It is to place them in a Christian home that they might be positioned to receive the gospel." At an adoption summit hosted by the Christian Alliance for Orphans at Southern California's Saddleback Church, pastor Rick Warren told followers, "What God does to us spiritually, he expects us to do to orphans physically: be born again and adopted." 
Families wrote about their "adoption journeys" in blogs with names such as Blessings From Ethiopia or Countdown 2 Congo and raised money for their adoption fees by soliciting donations or selling T-shirts. Describing herself as "a dumpster diving orphan lunatic," a mother wrote that she was still "afflicted with my Orphan Obsession" after bearing two kids and adopting four more. One ministry declared simply: "Adoption is the new pregnant."

Brianna Heldt, a Catholic convert from evangelical Protestantism and adoptive mother, wrote a response to Joyce's post, with the provocative title of The Sin of Adoption.

This "orphan fever" phenomenon among evangelicals has actually intrigued me for a long time now.  Because adoption is not only common in evangelical circles, it has spread like wildfire.  If you don't believe me, consider that adoption ministries, organizations, agencies, support groups and grant funds have exploded in recent years.  When we brought our sons home in early 2006 for example, there were five agencies placing children from Ethiopia.  Within a few years that number had jumped to well over fifty.  It's simply a fact: evangelicals have the corner on international adoption. 
My interest in evangelicals and adoption has only grown since converting to Catholicism, because international adoption seems to be more or less unique to evangelicals.  In other words, international adoption is not nearly so common among Catholics or other religious/nonreligious groups.  For whatever reason, it is the evangelical Protestant subculture that has somehow managed to build an entire theology around adoption, mobilizing thousands of couples (most of them perfectly capable of having more biological children) to cross the globe in order to add to their families.  It's rather fascinating really, and indicative of a question that I believe many evangelicals are asking: what is the purpose of the church?  Of faith?  Of a relationship with Jesus?  Is there more to Christianity than a good sermon and Chris Tomlin choruses sung over and over again?

Those questions honestly make sense to me, because I started asking them myself once upon a time.  (Watch out by the way, because if you dig too deep and read too many papal encyclicals and Scott Hahn books you might wind up reconciling with the Catholic Church.  Just sayin'.)  Protestants have of course answered those questions differently throughout the centuries, and adoption seems to be one of the primary "answers" right now for evangelicals.  They tout scriptures like James 1:27, and use the fact that we are all adopted by God (a la Ephesians 1:5) as a sort of mandate or justification for adopting orphaned children.

I have even seen adoption become a litmus test for being a Christian (or for being pro-life) within evangelical circles--if you truly want to follow Jesus, you'll care for the orphan in this way.  If you really believe abortion is wrong, you'll put your money (and life) where your mouth is and adopt.  All of a sudden, the conservative evangelical standard had been raised from reading the Bible and going to church each week to claiming vulnerable and abandoned children as your own.  And this shift in thinking and religious practice has manifested itself in what we see today: a booming international adoption infrastructure and, in the case of the agencies placing children, business.

As it is, I know several Catholic families who have pursued international adoptions. One of those friends, who is currently in the midst of her adoption process, wrote a response to Joyce's article and graciously allowed me to run it as a guest post:

Recently there has been a lot of media interest in the evangelical adoption movement, prompted mostly by Kathryn Joyce.  She published this article in The Nation in 2011.  She has since gone on to publish her book The Child Catchers, which has set off another flurry of articles such as the one in Mother Jones. I'd first like to poke holes in Joyce's arguments. 
Joyce lumps evangelicals and fundamentalists together and I have seen other articles imply that Rick Warren started the adoption movement. Evangelicals and fundamentalists have very different world-views. The Allisons, the family profiled in the Mother Jones article, are extreme fundamentalists. We're talking live off the grid, buy a lot of guns, and practice a form of courtship that looks a lot like arranged marriages. Fundamentalists generally do not like Rick Warren because they think that he is a wolf in sheep's clothing preaching a feel-good psychobabble in a Christian dressing in order to get rich. There was a movement toward "orphan care" in both fundamentalist and evangelical circles and it preceded Warren. He is just well known enough that it caught the eye of the secular media once he started really trying to spread it in evangelical circles. 
Second, articles make this seem like the next big thing that is really gathering steam. International adoption has declined every year since 2004.  Today the number of international adoptions is half of what it was in 2004.  Topics such as homeschooling and courtship get much more discussion and interest among both evangelical and fundamentalist churches. 
While it is true that there are more adoption conferences and ministries now, these people are not all rushing to adopt. Similar to how the media presents the entire pro-life movement as people picketing abortion clinics, the adoption movement is much more than actual adoption. For most churches, an adoption ministry would include praying for families who choose to adopt and supporting their fundraisers, bringing them meals when they return, and maybe having an adoptive families group at their church. Large churches might actually partner with a particular orphanage in the Caribbean or Africa which they support financially and visit for mission trips.  (For an inside view of adoption ministry, you might listen to this podcast.) 
Articles critical of the evangelical adoption movement focus on international adoption because it fits the narrative, but many of these same churches are also helping the foster community. In in a large city in my area, there is one well-respected adoption agency that partners with local churches to host info on becoming a foster family or offering respite care. Sometimes churches will have a lending closet of clothing and baby furniture for foster families to use when they need to come up with a crib and clothing for a placement on short notice. This is a good article about one church that really made foster adoption a mission
Now to be critical of the adoptive community: I would agree that they often turn a blind eye to the trafficking issue and can make it worse. The main problem is that most people who want to adopt only want a baby girl. I can't tell you how many times I've run across someone has said that "God told me to adopt a baby girl." There are at least 20 on my China adoption group and people say it over and over again! This creates a market for baby girls, and this is where the trafficking comes into play. I do question how many of these people are confusing their desires for an ideal family with what God is asking them to do. Call me cynical, but I have a hard time thinking God would tell someone to wait in a line for 2 years to adopt a baby girl when there are so many boys, older children, and children with special needs who need homes right now. 
I have really only seen a few people say that evangelization was a motivation for adopting. Usually it is tossed in towards the bottom of the list "... oh, and we're also kind of spreading the Gospel this way, too." But I agree with the "Sin of Adoption" blog post that what the real problem is, is a feeling of entitlement. There is very little understanding for the hard decision that families made for these children to be available for adoption. Many people seem to feel that if trafficking is going on, yeah, it's kind of bad, but these kids are probably better off for it anyway. Any Mom who abandons her child, brings them to the orphanage, can't provide for them, they don't deserve the child. There is always the presumption that those moms must not like girls, those moms hate them because of their special needs, those moms must have cast them off like garbage because they don't care. It seems to never have occurred to many of them that this was a decision made out of love so that the child wouldn't starve, or so they could get life-saving medical care. I think for many adoptive parents it is probably a defensive reaction, so that they don't feel guilty for benefiting from another family's poor circumstances.   
At other times, couples which feel a call to adopt might take on more than they can handle in terms of age, large sibling groups, or special needs.  Families such as the Allisons profiled in Mother Jones seem unprepared for children who have survived trauma, sexual or physical abuse, and have suffered losses.  Often the evangelical adoption community can portray "the miracle of adoption" with a romantic narrative.  The parents fall in love with the child in the photo at first sight, and as they are united on "gotcha day" they all live happily ever after.  Adoptive parents are sometimes afraid to speak frankly about the challenging aspects of adoption because of fear of backlash, fear of scaring people off from adoption, and because they want to respect the privacy of the children involved.  In my opinion, a church with an adoption ministry would want to ask couples to consider adoption, but also help them discern if they can handle the needs of the children who need homes.  Sometimes those couples might find that the answer is actually no.  In that case they should put their energies into supporting "orphan care" in other ways rather than increasing the demand for baby girls so that they can feel they have done their part to make the number of orphans "one less", as the t-shirts frequently say.

Ascension Baby

Here's my handsome nephew, Benjamin Joseph, 8 lbs 5 oz, born at 11:35 am. What a dude! His parents are resting up after a long labor. He's resting up because it's exhausting to be so manly at such a young age.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

My nephew takes his sweet time

Friends, please pray for my brother and sister-in-law, who have been in the hospital for four days trying to get their little boy (incidently, my first nephew) induced to avoid complications from gestational diabetes. Despite slow-ups, complications, lack of hospital space, and baby just taking his time -- so like his father! -- my brother and his wife are still in good spirits and hoping strongly to meet their son today.

If you'd be so kind, please offer a prayer that everything goes smoothly and quickly today, and that my brother can hold his kicking, yelling firstborn son in his arms tonight.

Children Are Persons, Not Accessories

There's a guest post over at Catholic Moral Theology by Holly Taylor Coolman which makes a good an important point about what parenting is, and how that differs from many ideas in mainstream society.
Last week, the Huffington Post offered readers an essay similar to several publications in recent years, in which mothers and fathers describe with candor the frustrations of parenting. For this father, writing anonymously, the situation looms in the near future: his wife is pregnant, and together they face the prospect of adding twins to a family in which they are already parenting a young son. Ironically, they actually very much hoped for a pregnancy. In fact, they “desperately tried to get pregnant for two years,” finally turning to artificial technologies with that express intent. It is just that the details are wrong. Already having a son, they wanted a daughter. Now, prenatal testing shows that they are expecting, instead, two additional sons.

What is striking is the level of disappointment this creates. Considering the unexpected gender and also especially the practical difficulties involved in raising two newborns at once, the author summarizes his situation with a defiant command: “So tell me how this isn’t going to suck.” He is unapologetic on this count. After all, having kids, he notes “is a selfish endeavor,” and the hard truth is that he and his wife simply “know better than to think that life with three children is going to be perfect.”

The question that has to be asked is a simple one: exactly what was he expecting of life with two? What if the pregnancy had gone exactly as the author and his wife had hoped? The implication seems to be that, in that case, they would have gotten exactly what they wanted. And in that case, the only additional question is exactly how long that illusion could have been maintained.

The author does know that his ideal, hypothetical daughter (like her older brother) probably would have cried and probably would have interrupted her parents’ sleep. What he does not seem to know is that the ways children fail to be what their parents want, the ways they fail to provide their parents a perfect life, go on and on. Children simply don’t stick to the plan. They require nerve-wracking trips to the ER. They have trouble in school. They fall ill, sometimes in ways that reshape their parents’ lives. They turn up, late-night, at the police station. They pair off and marry in ways their parents find desperately foolish. Decades later, they suddenly need assistance in ways no one could have predicted.

Happily, Catholic moral theology offers a vision that makes sense of this reality. These children, it would remind us, are persons, possessing absolute innate dignity. They are not commodities to be acquired for the benefit they provide. They can never be reduced to an expression of others’ choices, not even the choices of those who play a part in their conception.
Perhaps the author is right when he says that parenting is a “selfish” enterprise. At least, that may be possible for those with a complex and long-term account of self-interest. The purpose of children , though, is not to provide anyone with a perfect life. Whether they are girls or boys, whether they come in ones or twos or greater numbers, thank God, they themselves point toward their greater worth and a higher calling when they refuse to be exactly what we want them to be.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

This Year's New Priests

NCR has a summary up of CARA's latest survey of the new priests being ordained this year:
About 500 men will be ordained priests in 2013.... The median age of the 2013 ordination class is 32, a slight increase from last year. The youngest to be ordained was 23, while the oldest was 69.

Almost 10% percent of those to be ordained, called “ordinands,” are converts. Eighty percent of survey respondents said both their parents are Catholic, and more than one-third have a relative who is a priest or vowed religious.

Half have more than two siblings, while 20% have five or more siblings. About 40% are the oldest sibling.

Parish service was also common. Two-thirds have been altar boys, about half participated in a parish youth group, and 20% participated in a World Youth Day before entering the seminary.
Two-thirds identify as white, 15% identify as Hispanic or Latino, 10% are of Asian or Pacific Islander background, 5% are African-American, and 1% identify as Native American. Whites and Asians or Pacific Islanders in the 2013 ordination class are overrepresented compared to the general U.S. Catholic population, while Latinos are underrepresented.

About 30% of respondents were born outside the U.S. Of these, the largest numbers came from Mexico, Vietnam, Colombia, Poland, the Philippines and Nigeria. Foreign-born ordinands have on average lived in the U.S. for 14 years.

About 42% attended a Catholic elementary school, the same rate as all Catholic adults. They are somewhat more likely to have attended a Catholic high school. Forty-four percent attended a Catholic college, compared to 7% among U.S. Catholic adults.

Read more:
I was struck by the percent with five or more siblings. Just 0.05% of US families have six or more children, but apparently such families provided 20% of our new priests this year.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Because Gendercide Must Be Protected as a Matter of Women's Rights

American filmmakers made a documentary dealing with the issue of sex selective abortion and infanticide. The amount of this going on in the world is staggering. Estimates suggest that more girls are killed in India and China each year due to families wanting sons instead than are born each year in the US.

You would think that this is the sort of issue that everyone could agree on. Not so, however. Slate columnist Sital Kalantry chastises feminist groups for allowing themselves to be sucked in by a documentary which was apparently (gasp) made by pro-lifers:

It’s a Girl, a documentary about the tragic practice of sex-selection abortions in India and China, is being widely screened by pro-choice groups across America, including the New Jersey Chapter of the National Organization for Women and feminist groups on university campuses. It was an official selection for the Amnesty International Film Festival in 2012 and appeared in Ms. magazine’s feminist movies review. But as organizations and groups evaluate whether to screen this movie, they should be aware that the film’s director worked for Harvest Media Ministry, an organization that makes pro-life and other videos for church groups.

How did this happen? How did a movie linked to a pro-life group become the darling of the pro-choice community? The story involves clever disguises on the part of financing sources that managed to hide their involvement and pass off a movie about the horrors of sex-selection abortions as just a sympathetic movie about the plight of women in India and China. And the pro-life message is subtle enough that they got away with it.
The closest the movie comes to endorsing a broad anti-abortion message is at the end, when Indian writer Rita Banerji states that “all life is sacred.” The final scene is a lengthy heart-wrenching depiction of a woman playing with her two daughters who she refused to abort despite her in-laws’ insistence. But the message is subtle enough that a recent review appearing in the Atlantic claims that the movie “doesn't buttress either pro-life or pro-choice—or, at least, doesn't buttress one at the expense of another.”
Pro-life groups have in recent years begun using the practice of sex-selective abortion—a practice that is rare in the United States—in foreign countries as an excuse for limiting women's access to abortion here at home. A bill was recently filed in the North Carolina legislature to ban sex-selective abortion, and a similar bill was defeated in the U.S. House of Representatives last year. Although no one supports sex-selective abortion, pro-choice groups correctly worry that such laws could be misused to restrict abortion more broadly.
Female feticide and infanticide will end only when the inequalities— such as dowry, inheritance laws, lack of equality in education, lack of economic opportunities, and other forms of discrimination against girls and women—that create a son preference change. As well-intentioned Americans who wish to address human rights violations in other countries, we should fully inform ourselves about the background, goals, and tactics used by filmmakers and organizations before we choose to support them.
Apparently, if it's pro-lifers who are opposing the wholesale slaughter of girl babies, it is in the interest of women's rights to stand back and wait for the root causes of the slaughter to abate. Otherwise, they might somehow be playing the game of those anti-choice fanatics.

Now We Are Six

This is going to be my family photo next year:

Darwin and I are delighted to announce that the reason things have been slow around here is that we're expecting Small Darwin #6 right around Christmas. When the kids found out, they jumped around the house singing the Hallelujah Chorus. That kind of enthusiasm, entirely untinged with cynicism or all the fears, real or imagined, that plague adults, was so heartening. Their continued joy sustains me.

So if you've been wondering why it's taking so long for the next Stillwater installment, now you know. (Also, I just acquired a guitar which is absorbing my creative energies. Hey! I can already play "Smoke on the Water"!) 

Friday, May 03, 2013

First World Problems

I have the day off and given the season my plan for the afternoon is to catch up on a bunch of yard work. I'm not a yard perfectionist by any stretch. Nor do we live in one of those neighborhoods which tries to enforce lawn and garden perfection. But when one owns a lawn, one wants it to look nice. And as it's finally creeping up on the frost date, I want to be able to turn my attention to the vegetable garden in the next couple weeks.

What is more, now that I work for a company that sells lawn and garden products, and my neighbors know this, I feel a certain duty to not look utterly disgraceful. And I have this sense that somehow I'm staying in touch with my hard working middle class roots by doing all my own outside work and not being one of "those people" who hire someone to do it.

There's a lot of worry about "those people" at work, since they don't buy consumer lawn and garden care products. They may put down week killers and insect killer and fertilizers, but they're likely to buy in bulk and go with commodity brands. They don't buy the top shelf products.

This week I had a new employee starting on my team who hails from the Republic of Congo. One of the first steps is getting to know the products, so in the afternoon I took him out to Home Depot and Lowes to look over the relevant sections of the store and discuss the industry. After an hour of touring the garden section he asked me whether the company sold much into the developing world. We don't. He nodded and observed it seemed hard to imagine people back home buying plant food specially formulated for orchids or fertilizers that make your lawn greener while killing weeds.

I figured that this might be the wrong moment to explain that people worried the US was becoming too affluent to bother with our products. Still, I'll at least have the knowledge that in venturing out to trim my grass and mulch around the new apple tree, I am at least in union with many centuries of oft-mocked Anglo-sphere bourgeois before me.

American Girl at the End of History

I had a sister, and I was one of those kids who would read more or less anything that was around the house and not nailed down, so I read a number of the early American Girl books when the came home from the library with my sister. The catalog made its way into our house as well, where my mother and sister examined the dolls and their historical wardrobes and accessories with fascination.

These days, our daughters read the American Girl books, and due to the generosity of friends with older girls, they even sport a small colony of well used dolls. As such, I read Alexandra Petri's riff on the de-emphasizing of the historical side of the American Girl line (dolls and books) and the increasing emphasis on the Girls Just Like You, with some interest.
The Atlantic points out the dreadful change that the once-famed catalog of historic yet personable dolls is slowly undergoing. Forget Samantha the Victorian girl, Molly the plucky World War II doll with the Victory Garden, or original Colonial girl Felicity. Felicity’s been retired to the Upstate Doll Farm. So’s Samantha. Kirsten the pioneer? Gone. Instead, get a Girl of the Year, or a My American Girl who Looks Just Like You.

Full disclosure: I never had an American Girl doll but I got the catalog every month, read it cover-to-cover, and subscribed to the magazine. My parents offered to buy me Kirsten, the one who looked like me, but she had, in my 9-year-old opinion, a boring story. Her adventure was being part of a pioneer family. Trek across the country with your Scandinavian family in a slow, bulky vehicle without air-conditioning? I did that every summer.

But compared to what’s on the market now, Kirsten was adventure itself. At one point in her story, someone dies of cholera. She has to tangle with winter and rough conditions and being forced to dress up as Santa Lucia.

Here is the story of McKenna, the 2012 American Girl of the year: ”Ten-year-old McKenna Brooks has always excelled in school and in gymnastics. So when her grades suddenly fall, McKenna begins to doubt herself. With the help of a new friend, McKenna learns to focus on her strengths to overcome her challenges, one step at a time. But just as she begins to shine in school, McKenna is sidelined with a gymnastics injury. Will McKenna be able to springboard to success again?”
In “Meet Addy,” “Addy and her mother make a terrifying journey north, holding fast to their dream that the war will end and one day, their family will be together again in freedom.” That’s the Civil War, mind you. In “Meet Molly,” “World War Two turns Molly’s family upside down. While her father is away, war threatens to break out on the McIntires’ home front, too.”

Contrast what Saige is facing: ”Saige Copeland loves spending time on her grandma’s ranch, riding horses and painting. Her school made the tough choice to cut art classes, which means she’s lost her favorite subject. So when her grandma decides to organize a “save the arts” fundraiser and parade to benefit the school, Saige jumps on board. She begins training her grandma’s beautiful horse, Picasso, for his appearance in the parade. Then her grandma is injured in an accident, and she wonders what she can do to help. Can she ride Picasso in the parade and make her grandma proud? Can Saige still raise money to protect the arts at school?”


Now, Petri is arguably shading things a bit to fit her point. Normally the users of around here are the young ladies, but having just taken a look around I can confirm that the contemporary dolls and the marketing for them do seem to get top billing. You have to click a couple layers into the site to get to the "historical characters". However, although some of the classic dolls have been retired, their books are still available in the store, and there are actually more historical character dolls than there were 20+ years ago. Our second eldest has recently been working through the adventures of Celine & Marie-Grace, a cross-racial pair of friends in ante-bellum Louisiana. And the other day I found Rebecca (an urban Jewish girl living in 1914) lying around on leave from the library. (It seems a rule of the American Girl books that the characters are only religious if they are ethnic. You won't hear about religion from Molly or Samantha.)

So while under Mattel the American Girl brand has put a lot of emphasis on some rather vacuous contemporary characters, it doesn't seem like they've dropped the historical angle so much as added a great deal more material.

However, what did strike me in Petri's piece is the importance that learning about people in other places and times plays in growing up with any kind of perspective. The Saige story described is not going to broaden anyone's horizon's. If anything, it simply increases our all too ready tendency to consider every little struggle as titanic.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013


More haunting abandoned houses, photographed by Dutch photographer Niki Feijen. It's like Detroit, only with old-world elegance. Where did the owners go?

What strikes me: If I walked out of my door today and never came back to my house, it would look in seventy-odd years like the aftermath of a tsunami, not perfectly gorgeous like these specimens.

Also: the television is the jarring note in these photos. Everything else looks timeless, and many of the non-electronic items would probably still function just as well now as they did on the day they were last used. But the television, likely the most futuristic item in any of these dwellings when they were abandoned, looks pathetic and obsolete. There is no grandeur about it. It's just junk.

Be sure to click through and look at the the eeriest photo of all: the figures in church.