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

Friday, January 31, 2014

Cruel Beauty drawing winners!

I threw all the names into Diana's tasseled hat, and she and Isabel picked our winners.

Diana picked Melanie B.!
Isabel picked Kelly!

UPDATE: Melanie said that since she'd already bought a copy, she hadn't meant to enter, so the new winner is: Jenny!

Please drop us an email at darwincatholic(at), and we'll get your copies in the mail as soon as they're delivered to us. I just got a shipping confirmation email from the independent bookstore that was hosting the signing; I ordered them three weeks ago and I happen to know that they were all signed about a week ago. Meanwhile, my daughter is already playing Hanon's piano exercises from the book I bought off Amazon yesterday. And people wonder why small bookstores are in decline...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

I Swear...

I need some author's guidance from people with extensive experience in other languages. I'm looking for an understanding of profanity/vulgarity in French, German and Russian, most especially if you can comment on profanity and vulgarity that would have been used 100 years ago (during the Great War.)

Thus far I've done a certain amount of reading around about this in regards to French, and my initial impression is that French does not have nearly as much variety of profanity or vulgarity as English. I came across "merde" and "zut", neither of which is apparently all that bad. Is there anything else out there? That seems pretty tame compared to English in which the world wars brought "fuck" in its many manifestations into general usage. (I gather the Australians are often blamed for this, but who is to say.)

What is out there for German and Russian? Am I simply spoiled by English? Do we have an unusual range of things to call people and exclaim?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Missionaries Create Democracy?

There's a long and interesting article at Christianity Today about the research conducted by sociologist Robert Woodberry into the correlation between the development of stable liberal democracies in developing nations and the work of missionaries there.
Woodberry was digging into one of the great enigmas of modern history: why some nations develop stable representative democracies—in which citizens enjoy the rights to vote, speak, and assemble freely—while neighboring countries suffer authoritarian rulers and internal conflict. Public health and economic growth can also differ dramatically from one country to another, even among countries that share similar geography, cultural background, and natural resources.
While studying the Congo, Woodberry made one of his most dramatic early discoveries. Congo's colonial-era exploitation was well known: Colonists in both French and Belgian Congo had forced villagers to extract rubber from the jungle. As punishment for not complying, they burned down villages, castrated men, and cut off children's limbs. In French Congo, the atrocities passed without comment or protest, aside from one report in a Marxist newspaper in France. But in Belgian Congo, the abuses aroused the largest international protest movement since the abolition of slavery.

Why the difference? Working on a hunch, Woodberry charted mission stations all across the Congo. Protestant missionaries, it turned out, were allowed only in the Belgian Congo. Among those missionaries were two British Baptists named John and Alice Harris who took photographs of the atrocities—including a now-famous picture of a father gazing at his daughter's remains—and then smuggled the photographs out of the country. With evidence in hand, they traveled through the United States and Britain to stir up public pressure and, along with other missionaries, helped raise an outcry against the abuses.

To convince skeptics, however, Woodberry needed more than case studies. Anyone could find the occasional John and Alice Harris or John Mackenzie, discard the Nathan Prices, and assemble a pleasing mosaic. But Woodberry was equipped to do something no one else had done: to look at the long-term effect of missionaries using the wide-angle lens of statistical analysis.
One morning, in a windowless, dusty computer lab lit by florescent bulbs, Woodberry ran the first big test. After he finished prepping the statistical program on his computer, he clicked "Enter" and then leaned forward to read the results.

"I was shocked," says Woodberry. "It was like an atomic bomb. The impact of missions on global democracy was huge. I kept adding variables to the model—factors that people had been studying and writing about for the past 40 years—and they all got wiped out. It was amazing. I knew, then, I was on to something really important."
Like a mechanic taking apart an engine only to rebuild it, he had to counter his own theory in order to strengthen it. That meant controlling for a host of factors: climate, health, location, accessibility, natural resources, colonial power, disease prevalence, and half a dozen others. "My research assistants were entering all these variables, and the missions variable was amazingly robust," says Woodberry. "[The theory] kept on holding up. It was actually quite fun."

Fun, but hard to believe. Woodberry's results essentially suggested that 50 years' worth of research on the rise of democracy had overlooked the most important factor.
This is fascinating stuff. Though as a Catholic, one wrinkle stood out to me:
There is one important nuance to all this: The positive effect of missionaries on democracy applies only to "conversionary Protestants." Protestant clergy financed by the state, as well as Catholic missionaries prior to the 1960s, had no comparable effect in the areas where they worked.

Independence from state control made a big difference. "One of the main stereotypes about missions is that they were closely connected to colonialism," says Woodberry. "But Protestant missionaries not funded by the state were regularly very critical of colonialism."

For example, Mackenzie's campaign for Khama III was part of his 30-year effort to protect African land from white settlers. Mackenzie was not atypical. In China, missionaries worked to end the opium trade; in India, they fought to curtail abuses by landlords; in the West Indies and other colonies, they played key roles in building the abolition movement. Back home, their allies passed legislation that returned land to the native Xhosa people of South Africa and also protected tribes in New Zealand and Australia from being wiped out by settlers.

"I feel confident saying none of those movements would have happened without nonstate missionaries mobilizing them," says Woodberry. "Missionaries had a power base among ordinary people. They [were] the ones that transformed these movements into mass movements."

He notes that most missionaries didn't set out to be political activists. Locals associated Christianity with their colonial abusers, so in order to be effective at evangelizing, missionaries distanced themselves from the colonists. They campaigned against abuses for personal, practical reasons as well as humanitarian ones.
Whether this has to do with Catholicism itself or with cultural factors that shaped Protestant versus Catholic missionaries would be an interesting question. Woodberry suggests that it may have to do with Protestant tendencies, such as the desire to have all ordinary Bible read and interpret the bible for themselves. There's also arguably less of a hierarchical emphasis to Protestantism, such that it's probably no surprise that liberal democracy originates more in the Protestant world than the Catholic.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cruel Beauty: Win an autographed copy!

Today we're basking in the reflected glory of the release of Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, Darwin's own little sister.
photograph by Janelle Bighinatti

To celebrate this red-letter event, we're giving away an autographed copy of the book to two lucky readers. Leave a comment to be entered in our drawing (and don't be anonymous, of course), and the kids will draw the lucky winners out of Diana's fleecy hat with the four tassels.

Wondering what it is you'll win? Read the first 70 pages.
Would you rather listen? Hear a clip at Audible.
Want to try some a bit different first? Try Rose's story Dreams and Desires and Powers, a a short mythology-inspired story of memory, murder, and regeneration, inspired by a GIF.
And there are more stories at her website.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Silly Europe, Debt is for Kids

One of the topics economists wrangle about is whether, in a recession, governments should cut spending in order to keep outlays in line with reduced tax revenue and avoid debt, or increase spending in order to try to relieve suffering and prop up consumer spending. For the spenders, the argument is that it's much less painful to get a country out of debt by returning it to economic growth (with the result that tax revenues naturally grow) rather than cutting spending. Matters of principle aside, Megan McArdle (working off a post by Tyler Cowen) points out that the "grow your way out of it" may not be a realistic scenario for rapidly aging countries where the birth rate is well below replacement rates (read: Italy, Greece, Japan, etc.)
Strong growth by Europe’s troubled debtor nations would of course offer a different, and less painful, way out. After all, if you make $30,000 a year, a $10,000 credit-card balance is crippling; but if you make $300,000 a year, it’s fairly trivial. The faster Italy’s economy expands, the more manageable Italy’s debt becomes.

But that’s where the dearth of workers comes into play. Everyone agrees that rapid growth would be much nicer than higher taxes and slashed pension payments. The hitch is that over the past five years, growth in the Italian economy hasn’t averaged even 1 percent a year. Soaring growth will be tough to achieve, because more and more Italians are getting too old to work -- and fewer and fewer Italians have been having the babies needed to replace them.

If you do a big stimulus when the population is growing, you can expect, over time, to be able to spread debt payments over more people. The value of the debt may not change, but the per-capita debt burden will shrink.

But if you undertake a big stimulus when the population is stagnant, or even declining, then over time, the per-capita debt burden will rise … and if your society encourages long retirements, the debt burden per-worker will rise even faster.

That may change the cost-benefit calculation quite a bit when you’re considering a stimulus program. Not so much in the U.S., at least right now, because our population is growing. But this may suggest that however painful austerity has been for Europe, the austerians still did the right thing.
This is actually not unlike the considerations necessary in household finance, where a useful concept when thinking about debt is that of total lifetime earnings. The idea is that your spending during your adult life is based on an assumption of how much you're likely to make over the course of your life, not just how much you make now. When you're fairly young, most of your earning years are still ahead of you, and you'll probably make more in the future than you do now. In that situation, using debt to deal with large purchases (car, house, etc.) makes a fair amount of sense. You haven't had much time to save, and you will probably be making plenty more money in the future to deal with the obligations. For the same reasons, when you're young you often need to use debt in financial emergencies. When the car breaks down or the heat goes out, you probably don't have the savings to deal with the situation, so you need to borrow, and within reason you have a very good chance of being able to meet those obligations.

As you get older, however, you need to wind down debt obligations, because you have fewer earning years ahead of you. If you incur a thirty year mortgage at 60, you're saying you'll be paying on that debt until you're ninety, or more likely that you'll never clear that obligation. As you near what, on average, will be your peak earning years around 50, you need to be much more heavily focused on saving, and much less willing to take on debt, because you have fewer earning years left in front of you and you are less likely to make more in the future than you do now. Getting into debt on the assumption that you'll grow your way out of it will no longer work.

Of course, countries don't have a set lifespan. But to the extent that a society stops growing and starts becoming older and smaller, it has little ability to grow its way out of problems. For the US this is already a somewhat iffy proposition. For rapidly aging countries, it's not remotely possible.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Being the Manager

I had a new-hire start on my team this week, bringing my grand total of direct reports up to two. This, coinciding with an unusually busy period in our annual cycle of pricing work, has had me really busy during the days. Bringing the team up to three, however, has also provided an interesting opportunity to reflect on being a manager.

I added my first employee to the team six months ago, but a team of two people always has a slightly odd dynamic, especially when one is much more experience in the field than the other. It's not equal, but it also doesn't have the feel of being a team. Now, with two employees, things are starting to feel more team-like.

One of the experiences that I've often had as a parent is being in the middle of some interaction with the kids and suddenly having a flash of insight, "This is what my parents were going through that time." Words or actions which had one meaning when coming from those distant and all knowing creatures "the parents" look very different when you're one of the parents.

The last few days I've been having similar flashes of realization with regard to being a team manager, moments when to my chagrin I find myself doing things that I realize are the same as inexplicable or frustrating things that I recall past managers doing. And now I realize much of it simply stems from being short of time or short of information.

Ye Ballade of Mistress American Pie

Geoffrey Chaucer, who doth forsake thys realm of Blogger for the wyldes of le Twitter, hath composed a fair ballade yclept Bye, Bye, Englisshe Jakke, a translacioun of the ancient songe Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie. Take and rede, gentils all. Take and rede.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Abortion vs. Truth

In honor of today's March for Life on the anniversary of the travesty which is Roe v. Wade, here is part of piece written back in 1981 by novelist Walker Percy:
I feel like saying something about this abortion issue. My credentials as an expert on the subject: none. I am an M.D. and a novelist. I will speak only as a novelist. If I give an opinion as an M.D., it wouldn't interest anybody since, for one thing, any number of doctors have given opinions and who cares about another.

The only obvious credential of a novelist has to do with his trade. He trafficks in words and meanings. So the chronic misuse of words, especially the fobbing off of rhetoric for information, gets on his nerves. Another possible credential of a novelist peculiar to these times is that he is perhaps more sensitive to the atrocities of the age than most. People get desensitized. Who wants to go about his business being reminded of the six million dead in the holocaust, the 15 million in the Ukraine? Atrocities become banal. But a 20th century novelist should be a nag, an advertiser, a collector, a proclaimer of banal atrocities.
The current con, perpetrated by some jurists, some editorial writers, and some doctors is that since there is no agreement about the beginning of human life, it is therefore a private religious or philosophical decision and therefore the state and the courts can do nothing about it. This is a con. I will not presume to speculate who is conning whom and for what purpose. But I do submit that religion, philosophy, and private opinion have nothing to do with this issue. I further submit that it is a commonplace of modern biology, known to every high school student and no doubt to you the reader as well, that the life of every individual organism, human or not, begins when the chromosomes of the sperm fuse with the chromosomes of the ovum to form a new DNA complex that thenceforth directs the ontogenesis of the organism.

Such vexed subjects as the soul, God, and the nature of man are not at issue. What we are talking about and what nobody I know would deny is the clear continuum that exists in the life of every individual from the moment of fertilization of a single cell.

There is a wonderful irony here. It is this: The onset of individual life is not a dogma of the church but a fact of science. How much more convenient if we lived in the 13th century, when no one knew anything about microbiology and arguments about the onset of life were legitimate. Compared to a modern textbook of embryology, Thomas Aquinas sounds like an American Civil Liberties Union member. Nowadays it is not some misguided ecclesiastics who are trying to suppress an embarrassing scientific fact. It is the secular juridical-journalistic establishment.

Please indulge the novelist if he thinks in novelistic terms. Picture the scene. A Galileo trial in reverse. The Supreme Court is cross-examining a high school biology teacher and admonishing him that of course it is only his personal opinion that the fertilized human ovum is an individual human life. He is enjoined not to teach his private beliefs at a public school. Like Galileo he caves in, submits, but in turning away is heard to murmur, "But it's still alive!"

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

At The Front

Circumstances seem to conspire to keep posting light here. I've been incredibly busy as work, young William continues to do his cute best to take up a great share of time as well. In what few free hours we have late at night, MrsDarwin has been working away at Stillwater and I've been doing research and outlining for my own next project.

You've seen the most recent installment of Stillwater, and there's more coming soon, so here's a sampling of what I've been busy with lately. These are a few selections from A Soldier Unafraid, a collection of letters written by Andre Cornet-Auquier, a French protestant who was called up as a reserve officer in 1914. Captain Cornet-Auquier was killed in action, and his family helped put together this collection of his letter which was published in English in 1918.

September 10
I am writing you a few hundred yards from the enemy's lines I have been lying only two hundred yards from the Germans and I can assure you I kept my eyes open. We are all beat out. It is ten days since I have had a wash and I haven't had my shoes off for a week I couldn't give you an idea of my complexion if I tried. It was the heavy artillery which gave me my first baptism of fire. For three hours we lay flat on the ground while the shells fell all around us. One of them burst scarcely more than five or six yards from me making a great hole in the ground and covering me with earth and debris But the worst thing about all this is the smell of the dead bodies. The other day my section was detailed to bury some thirty half putrefied corpses. You cannot imagine what this work is. Oh what horrors I have witnessed, terrible wounds and ruined villages. What brutes these Germans are to burn the farms. I am quite ready to give my life if I know that you will make the sacrifice of it for France. I feel that I am surrounded with prayers and I often pray for you all. One of my best comrades here is a priest who is also a second lieutenant like myself. A thousand affectionate remembrances to all God preserve us all as He has done so far Your son and brother who sends warmest love.

That Andre's friend is a priest serving as an active duty soldier is not unusual. The anti-clerical laws of the Third Republic had both got rid of army chaplains and required priests to serve as conscripts just like any other profession. Some priests required to serve sought out non-combatant roles such as stretcher bearers, while others served as ordinary soldiers or officers.

As the fighting settles down into trench warfare, Andre describes his dug-out.
Jan 15, 1914
The den in which I live with my friend Captain Cornier is a big subterranean room with a rather low ceiling the entrance door being especially low. In one corner is a little Godin stove which burns wood not scarce in these parts. We keep up a gentle heat in it, the thermometer registering on an average fifty eight degrees. As soon as it gets up to sixty degrees we smother and have to open wide the door. I say door for there is no window. For lighting purposes we have an old petroleum lamp which is kind enough not to smoke.

When we want to peer into the obscure corners of our room we use our flashlights. Near the stove are some shelves for our stores: petroleum, shoe grease, blacking, and brushes. In another place are our eating things: tea, chocolate, cakes, etc., etc.

Our washstand is a roughly planed board with a pail as pitcher and an old salad dish as washbowl. In addition we have a table two chairs and a stool which consists of three pieces of wood nailed to a board. This board is cracked and the legs are on the point of going each one its own way.That's what I sit on when the major comes to see us as he does every two days to take tea with us which we indulge in every afternoon when we get back from our duties. And finally at the end of the room are our beds adorable twin bedsteads so low that if we fall out of them during the night we don t go very far though they are not right on the ground and so are not damp. The ingenious man who made them provided them with a spring mattress so that the whole thing is wonderfully fine even though our sheets are simply straw. My two army blankets and cape serve as covers my haversack is the pillow and my tent canvas the pillow case. This completes the list of my bed fixings where I sleep splendidly.

In late winter, Andre's company loses its beloved colonel:
January 29
For the past two days the regiment has been in mourning for our dear colonel was killed in a pretty severe skirmish, in which our battalion did not take part, however. It has made us all sick at heart and there is no merriment now. He was a leader in every sense of the word and a noble hearted man to boot. We all had perfect confidence in him. He was prudent and courageous at one and the same time. He fell while leading in a charge two battalions. He need not have been there but this shows the kind of man he was. He knew that the task set the soldiers was a hard one and that some of them might hang back, so he put himself at their head and thereby set a good example.

February 3
We have finally got the colonel's body which was lying some six yards from the German trenches. After several unsuccessful attempts to accomplish this a soldier wrapped himself in a white sheet so as not to be too conspicuous on the snow in the moonlight and though the night was terribly cold he crawled carefully up to the body which was held fast to the ground on account of the freezing weather. He then fastened a strong rope to the body. But the frozen snow began to creak and the Boches who heard the noise commenced firing in that direction. Fortunately they could not distinguish on account of the sheet the outline of the soldier so that notwithstanding the fusillade of which he was the center he was not hit and got back safely to our lines. When the firing stopped he went back to the body and this time succeeded in bringing it home with him. But he had taken the precaution to attach a rope also to himself so that he could be pulled back to our trenches in case he was wounded. He was made a corporal on the spot given the military medal and the war cross with palms.

Later [same day]

I am just back from the colonel's funeral. I have rarely been present at a more moving ceremony. The little village church was filled with officers and soldiers in their fighting trim. The hymns were well rendered by a choir composed of troopers and the solos were given by a tenor of the Lyons opera house. At the cemetery were our regimental flag covered with crape and the cross alongside of it. Never have I been so affected. All differences and diversities of opinion disappeared in the presence of those two emblems symbolizing the two ideas for which we are fighting God and Country. The tenor in uniform sang the Requiem and the Dies Irse. A Christ expiring on the cross spread his arms above the soldiers who had a revolver at their side while in the distance we could hear the booming of the guns. What a contrast and what grandeur. It was hard to believe that in that coffin slept the beloved chief whom we would have followed anywhere. The major delegated Captain Cornier and me to be present at the burial 'because it was you two whom he loved best', he said. At the grave I wept like a child which did me good. Poor dear colonel. The general who spoke at the tomb did not hide his religious convictions. Among other things he said, "My dear friend Dayet, we had the same hopes and there is our consolation in our grief. We know that some day we shall meet in the celestial land. May God be near your widow and children."

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Poetry a la Green Acres

So, that episode of Green Acres in which Eva Gabor recites Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 43. Through a combination of detective work and stupid obsession, I found it. Here, watch.

The poem starts at 4:08, but you might as well start at the beginning and watch the whole scene (until 8:37) to get the all the payoffs.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Cruel Beauty sneak peek

Cruel Beauty, the debut novel by Darwin's own sister Rosamund Hodge, doesn't debut until Jan. 28th, but you can read the first chapter for free:
I was raised to marry a monster. 
The day before the wedding, I could barely breathe. Fear and fury curdled in my stomach. All afternoon I skulked in the library, running my hands over the leather spines of books I would never touch again. I leaned against the shelves and wished I could run, wished I could scream at the people who had made this fate for me. 
I eyed the shadowed corners of the library. When my twin sister, Astraia, and I were little, we heard the same terrible story as other children: Demons are made of shadow. Don’t look at the shadows too long or a demon might look back. It was even more horrible for us because we regularly saw the victims of demon attacks, screaming or mute with madness. Their families dragged them in through the hallways and begged Father to use his Hermetic arts to cure them.
Sometimes he could ease their pain, just a little. But there was no cure for the madness inflicted by demons. 
And my future husband—the Gentle Lord—was the prince of demons. 
He was not like the vicious, mindless shadows that he ruled. As befit a prince, he far surpassed his subjects in power: he could speak and take such form that mortal eyes could look on him and not go mad. But he was a demon still. after our wedding night, how much of me would be left?
Read the rest here, then pre-order your copy! Or if you're willing to take your chances, we'll have some autographed copies to give away once the book hits the stores.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Gatekeeping Baptism

Duly vested, Don Camillo approached the font.'What do you wish to name this child?' he asked Peppone's wife.

'Lenin Libero Antonio,' she replied.

'Then go and get him baptized in Russia,' said Camillo calmly, replacing the cover on the font.

The priest's hands were as large as shovels and the three left the church without protest. But as Don Camillo was attempting to slip into the sacristy he was arrested by the voice of the Lord.

'Don Camillo, you have done a very wicked thing. Go at once and bring those people back and baptize their child.'

'But Lord,' protested Don Camillo, 'You really must bear in mind that baptism is not a jest. Baptism is a sacred matter. Baptism is...'

'Don Camillo, the Lord interrupted him, 'Are attempting to teach me the nature of baptism? Did I not invent it? I tell you that you have been guilty of gross presumption, because, suppose that child were to die at this moment, it would be your fault if it failed to attain Paradise !'

'Lord, do not let us be melodramatic,' retorted Don Camillo. 'Why in the name of Heaven should it die? It's as pink and white as a rose !'

'Which means exactly nothing!' the Lord admonished him. 'What if a tile should fall on its head or it should suddenly have convulsions? It was your duty to baptize it.'

Don Camillo raised protesting arms: 'But Lord, just think it over. If it were certain that the child would go to Hell, we might stretch a point; but seeing that despite being the son of that nasty piece of work he might very easily manage to slip into Paradise, how can You ask me to risk anyone going there with such a name as Lenin? I'm thinking of the reputation of Paradise.'

'The reputation of Paradise is my business,' the Lord shouted angrily. 'What matters to me is that a man should be a decent fellow and I care less than nothing whether his name be Lenin or Button. At the very most, you should have pointed out to those people that saddling children with fantastic names may involve them in annoyances when they grow up.'

'Very well,' replied Don Camillo. 'I am always in the wrong. I must see what I can do about it.'
from "The Baptism", The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi

I was a bit surprised to read Dr. Ed Peters' posts on the set of baptisms at which Pope Francis recently officiated, in which one of the babies baptized was the child of two parents who are not married in the Church. Peters is cautious about the precedent being set. In his first post on the topic he wrote:
First, unlike the foot-washing episode last Holy Week (here and here), the pope’s actions today occasion no reason to think that canon or liturgical law has been—what’s the right word?—disregarded, for no canon or liturgical law forbids baptizing the babies of unmarried couples, etc. Indeed, Church law generally favors the administration of sacraments and, in the case of baptism, it requires only that there be “a founded hope” that the child will be raised Catholic (1983 CIC 868 § 1, 2ยบ). A minister could certainly discern ‘founded hope’ for a Catholic upbringing under these circumstances and outsiders should not second-guess his decision.

But here’s the rub: a minister could also arrive at precisely the opposite conclusion on these facts and, equally in accord with the very same Church law, he could delay the baptism. I know of many pastors who have reached this conclusion and who used the occasion of a request for a baby’s baptism to assist the parents toward undertaking their duties in a more responsible manner, including helping them to regularize their marriage status in the Church, resume attendance at Sunday Mass, participate fully in the sacraments, and so on.

Now, if the pope’s action today was as reported (again, we don’t know that yet), pastors who delay a baby’s baptism in order to help reactivate the Faith in the baby’s parents are going to have a harder time doing that as word gets out about the pope’s (apparently) different approach to the rite. Whether that was the message Francis intended to send is irrelevant to whether that is the message that he seems to have sent.
In his second post he elaborates on why he is more concerned about the situation of parents married outside the Church than about single mothers -- Pope Francis being famous for having emphasized back in Argentina that priests should not refuse to baptize the children of single mothers:
Quite simply, being an unwed mother is not sinful. Besides the fact that the acts by which a single woman became pregnant (assuming they were objectively sinful in the first place) could have been repented of long before the baby comes for baptism, a variety of circumstances could result in there being no sin associated with the pregnancy whatsoever, let alone with motherhood! I don’t know what priests might be like in Argentina, but I am very sure I have never heard of an American priest withholding baptism from a baby based solely on the fact that the mother of said baby was not married. A pastor could well arrive at a founded hope that the child of such a mother could be raised Catholic and proceed with the baptism in accord with Canon 868.

But the situation of Catholics actually married outside the Church is quite different. Setting aside my concerns that canonical form itself has become a pastoral stumbling block, I know how the law on canonical form currently reads and that, in the great majority of cases in which canonical form is violated, the Catholics involved are in objective grave sin and give scandal by their state. From that fact, it seems quite plausible to me that a pastor might delay the baptism of the child of such parents until, also in accord with Canon 868, a founded hope that the child could be raised Catholic is attained.
Certainly, I recognize that baptism of an infant should represent (on the part of the parents) a serious intention to raise their child as an active and believing Catholic. But it seems to me important to be clear on why that is. By being baptize, an infant is made a member of the Church, of Christ's body on earth. To attain the purpose for which we are all created (to know, love and serve God, and to be happy with Him one day in heaven) the child must be shown how to live the faith and instructed in the faith's beliefs. Parents who do not make an effort to bring up their children in the faith they were baptized into do those children a great wrong. And so, it makes sense to use what leverage the Church has to try to make sure that the parents understand those responsibilities before baptizing their child, and that the parents commit to making that effort.

However, baptism is not a reward for being committed to raising your child in the faith. And at the end of the day, while it's important that the Church strive to draw from the parents a commitment to raise their child in the faith, it seems to me that the Church also has a solemn duty to baptize those who come (or are brought) to it seeking baptism. This is where I found myself kind of perplexed by Dr. Peters' take:
Final point: Lost in this whole discussion has been, I fear, any recognition of the fact that, while baptism is of great value, it is also to take on very serious, life-long duties. Imposing via baptism those burdens on a child who is at heightened risk of not receiving adequate assistance in the Faith, and on some parents who in public respects seem ill-equipped to live the very Faith they want passed on to their children, is itself pastorally problematic, no?
Now, maybe I'm an odd mix of old fashioned and new, but it seems to me that the value of baptism should much outweigh its obligations when thinking this through. While the Church emphasizes God's mercy and thus trusts that God must deal mercifully with those who, though unbaptized, have to the best of their ability lived a good life: we also say that the only way that we know people receive the graces necessary for salvation is through baptism.

This is one of the reasons that we've always made sure that our children are baptized as soon as possible after birth. (William at just five days.) No, I don't believe that if our child somehow died without baptism, that God would consign him to limbo or to hell. I believe that God's love and mercy finds ways to work in such situations. But I would much, much rather that they be baptized. If we are right in believing that baptism washes away original sin and infuses the soul with God's grace, then it makes a difference.

As such, it seems to me presumptuous and risky to take the approach that since we can count on God's mercy and love towards those who aren't baptized, we should hold off baptizing a child we're not sure will be properly raised in the faith so as not to impose the obligations of being a Catholic on that child. It seems to me that in doing so, we put that child's soul at risk. We deny the child the graces of the sacrament, we leave him with the stain of original sin. Even if his upbringing is not as well formed in the faith as we could hope, it seems to me that we must believe that the graces of baptism will make a different in that child's life, and a difference that we should not deny.

So while it seems entirely appropriate to take action to try to impress on parents who bring their child to be baptized that they must raise their child in the faith, I am very skeptical of the idea of telling parents (whatever the state of their marriage or lack thereof) who bring their child to be baptized that we refuse.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Smith on the Three Orders

This section of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations came up recently in a discussion I was having, and since time has been short lately I thought perhaps it could make for an interesting post. What I think is particularly interesting here is that while Smith considers that businessmen (those in trade) probably have the best understanding of the mechanics of how the economy works, he's deeply suspicious of following their recommendations in terms of policy. He believes that the interests of landholders and workers align more with those of society as a whole, but at the same time he thinks they have little knowledge of their own interests:
The whole annual produce of the land and labour of every country, or, what comes to the same thing, the whole price of that annual produce, naturally divides itself, it has already been observed, into three parts; the rent of land, the wages of labour, and the profits of stock; and constitutes a revenue to three different orders of people; to those who live by rent, to those who live by wages, and to those who live by profit. These are the three great, original, and constituent, orders of every civilized society, from whose revenue that of every other order is ultimately derived.

The interest of the first of those three great orders, it appears from what has been just now said, is strictly and inseparably connected with the general interest of the society. Whatever either promotes or obstructs the one, necessarily promotes or obstructs the other. When the public deliberates concerning any regulation of commerce or police, the proprietors of land never can mislead it, with a view to promote the interest of their own particular order; at least, if they have any tolerable knowledge of that interest. They are, indeed, too often defective in this tolerable knowledge. They are the only one of the three orders whose revenue costs them neither labour nor care, but comes to them, as it were, of its own accord, and independent of any plan or project of their own. That indolence which is the natural effect of the ease and security of their situation, renders them too often, not only ignorant, but incapable of that application of mind, which is necessary in order to foresee and understand the consequence of any public regulation.

The interest of the second order, that of those who live by wages, is as strictly connected with the interest of the society as that of the first. The wages of the labourer, it has already been shewn, are never so high as when the demand for labour is continually rising, or when the quantity employed is every year increasing considerably. When this real wealth of the society becomes stationary, his wages are soon reduced to what is barely enough to enable him to bring up a family, or to continue the race of labourers. When the society declines, they fall even below this. The order of proprietors may perhaps gain more by the prosperity of the society than that of labourers; but there is no order that suffers so cruelly from its decline. But though the interest of the labourer is strictly connected with that of the society, he is incapable either of comprehending that interest, or of understanding its connexion with his own. His condition leaves him no time to receive the necessary information, and his education and habits are commonly such as to render him unfit to judge, even though he was fully informed. In the public deliberations, therefore, his voice is little heard, and less regarded; except upon particular occasions, when his clamour is animated, set on, and supported by his employers, not for his, but their own particular purposes.

His employers constitute the third order, that of those who live by profit. It is the stock that is employed for the sake of profit, which puts into motion the greater part of the useful labour of every society. The plans and projects of the employers of stock regulate and direct all the most important operation of labour, and profit is the end proposed by all those plans and projects. But the rate of profit does not, like rent and wages, rise with the prosperity, and fall with the declension of the society. On the contrary, it is naturally low in rich, and high in poor countries, and it is always highest in the countries which are going fastest to ruin. The interest of this third order, therefore, has not the same connexion with the general interest of the society, as that of the other two. Merchants and master manufacturers are, in this order, the two classes of people who commonly employ the largest capitals, and who by their wealth draw to themselves the greatest share of the public consideration. As during their whole lives they are engaged in plans and projects, they have frequently more acuteness of understanding than the greater part of country gentlemen. As their thoughts, however, are commonly exercised rather about the interest of their own particular branch of business. than about that of the society, their judgment, even when given with the greatest candour (which it has not been upon every occasion), is much more to be depended upon with regard to the former of those two objects, than with regard to the latter. Their superiority over the country gentleman is, not so much in their knowledge of the public interest, as in their having a better knowledge of their own interest than he has of his. It is by this superior knowledge of their own interest that they have frequently imposed upon his generosity, and persuaded him to give up both his own interest and that of the public, from a very simple but honest conviction, that their interest, and not his, was the interest of the public. The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market, and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers. To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can only serve to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens. The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Remote Cooperation

Our current foray into British costume drama of the literary variety is North and South, the 2004 adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's 1855 novel about the conflict between the pastoral South of England and the newly-industrialized North. Although the first episode didn't have enough fist fights or sword action to satisfy Son, a five-year-old madman, the ladies watched avidly and were able to discuss the plot and themes with satisfactory understanding.

So we were all looking forward to watching the second episode last night after dance classes and dinner. We assembled in the living room, already (mostly) cleaned in anticipation of the evening's viewage, we popped in the disc, and we set about searching for the remote control. This is not because we are too lazy to walk across the room and push buttons. On our DVD player, at least, there's no way to select an option down the menu without having the remote. And of course, the remote, last seen on the arm of the couch, had gone missing again.

Back in acting class, the professor told us that all drama starts either with "You never did that before!" or "You always...!" Drama was starting, and it was of the "always" variety. The remote is lost almost every day, because people never put it back in the big armoire that houses the TV, and so one is forced to search between the couch cushions and under the radiators almost every time one wants to watch something. And the longer the search goes on, the more intensive the finger pointing.

Everyone's mood comes out in moments of remote stress. I, who felt this an object lesson to all the children, proclaimed matter-of-factly that this was what happens, and if people wouldn't put things back then the innocent would suffer as well as the guilty, and let this be a lesson. Darwin, who had been particularly looking forward to relaxing and seeing what happens next, kept his cool in a clenched-jaw paternal sort of way as in the course of his search he kicked over the bin of tiny beads that some lady had been using to make bracelets. The oldest, 11, immediately went slack-jawed as she stood in the middle of the floor trying to retrace everywhere she'd seen the remote that day (without expending the energy to actually look in any of those places). The second, 10, felt she was being unfairly blamed when she is the hardest worker in the family, and was growing increasingly resentful and shrill. The 7-year-old was on her tummy on the rug, demanding tweezers to pick up the smallest beads from the carpet, and playing detective with the 11-year-old. 5- and 3-year-old were packed off to bed, and baby nursed loudly through it all.

The remote refused to be found, our evening show was canceled, and all children went to bed in a huff. I began to feel remorse for my role in agitating everyone by pontificating at them, and said so to Darwin when he came downstairs after putting everyone away and doing evening chores. He laughed and reported the tenor of the discussions among the big girls. The 10-year-old's outraged sense of justice had finally brought her to the conclusion that parents were always blaming people, but what if this time the parents had actually lost the remote? It was probably Mom and Dad's fault anyway.

"Don't you agree that Mom and Dad really lost the remote?" she demanded to the other girls.
"Yes, yes," said the 11-year-old impatiently as she and the 7-year-old hunched over a notebook. "Now can we make a list of everyone's alibis throughout the day?"

At intervals over the next hour, we could still hear the Magistrate holding forth while the armchair Sherlocks assembled their clues and tuned her out.

The remote was finally found this morning, tucked far back under a bookshelf where it had no business being, and the 10-year-old was finally satisfied.

"So, we're all agreed," she said. "Mom knocked it off the couch while she was nursing, so it's all her fault."

"Let's have a jump-rope contest!" said the 7-year-old.

The 11-year-old gazed fondly at the remote. "Mom, can we watch TV now?"

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Little Toddy for the Body

I've spent a good ten minutes searching my own blog for the toddy recipe I was sure I posted last year, only to slink over to the WSJ site in defeat to pull it up from their archives. So that this appalling situation will never again occur, I enshrine here the ultimate Hot Toddy for your (and my) delectation:

In a large cup, combine 1 spoonful honey, juice of ¼ lemon, 1 cinnamon stick, small dash tabasco (optional but recommended) and the tea bag of your choice. Stick 3 cloves into 1 small lemon wedge and add to the cup. Pour in a slug of bourbon, as much or as little as you like. Fill cup with boiling water, stir well and let steep 5 minutes. Savor slowly; repeat as necessary.

Here's the original article from last January, with a slightly different recipe (they recommend cayenne instead of Tobasco, but I found the Tobasco blends better). This is absolutely drinkable and repeatable, and you don't feel bad about it because it's mostly tea and stuff that's good for you.

But wait, you say! I don't come here to read about your drinking, MrsDarwin; I come here to see photos of William! Well, we aim to please, so here's William giving his sister the suspicious eye:

And since I'm on writing a post, which hasn't happened since last year, I believe, here's what I'm watching/listening to these days.

I told Darwin that I would marry him all over again if he could play the tambourine like that. And Lawsy-day, I would give my figurative eye teeth if I could play the pianny like Scott Bradlee.

I'm working through the books I received last Christmas (2012), and in particular The Lion Sleeps Tonight by South African journalist Rian Malan. Malan is provocative, profane, and a damn good stylist. Here's the essay I was reading aloud to Darwin this evening: The Beautiful and the Damned, about the Miss World 1993 pageant. (The link has all but the last few paragraphs of the piece.) The only problem is that I have no South African accent for reading aloud, and all I know about South African pronunciation comes from Sharlto Copley's character in District 9.

What are we watching? As a family, we spent our evenings last week working through the 500 minutes of the BBC's 2005 production of Bleak House, a Christmas (2013) present from my dad. We paused after every episode to discuss plot developments, and even Diana showed a surprising grasp of plot, though she insisted on calling Mr. Tulkinghorn "Tulky". Stepping down a bit on the cultural front, the kids have been enthralled with the new antenna on the TV, which allows us reception of the aptly named Antenna TV channel. Antenna TV shows classic mid-century sitcoms, so we've been steeped in the arcana of Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, and Green Acres. My verdict: Bewitched and Jeannie are one-gag shows, and if you've seen two episodes you've seen them all. Green Acres, on the other hand, is consistently funny and often hysterically absurdist. Eddie Albert is marvelous, and Eva Gabor is a talented comedienne who has the perfect grasp on her character. Plus, in one episode, she gave the most beautiful recitation of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "How Do I Love Thee" sonnet, approaching high art, and all for a toss-off gag so peripheral to the plotline of the show that I can't find any video after an hour and a half of searching through the Green Acres channel on YouTube.

And now William is demanding his very own toddy. Good night, dahlings, as Eva would say.

Each Number of Kids Is A Lot of Work

The last few days have been incredibly busy because I was frantically working away at a big presentation for work (now done) and somehow despite (or perhaps indeed because of) the fact that he doesn't do anything other than eat, sleep and fill diapers, the newest Darwin seems to make it very hard to get anything done.

However, there was a point during Sunday afternoon when, suddenly, everything became quiet. The oldest four kids had all gone off to play with various friends around the street. I was making dinner. MrsDarwin was writing. Miss Three-year-old was by turns dancing and coloring in a coloring book from Christmas. Young William was snoozing quietly in his swing.

It was all so quiet. We could talk. MrsDarwin could write without anyone wanting to get on PBS KIds or put music on iTunes. I could cook without people demanding to know when dinner would be and what it would be and whether they could have an apple so they didn't die of hunger in the next fifteen minutes (and can we make popcorn sometime? Dad, we never get to make popcorn! Pleeeeeeeeease?)

"You know," I said to MrsDarwin, this is normal for most people. "Two kids. No wonder everyone thinks we're crazy."

It was awfully nice for a brief while. Still, thinking about it, that's in great part because we live a five kid life, yet were temporarily down to two. People who lead one kid or two kid lives are themselves pretty busy, I would imagine. Oh, sure, the sheer amount of noise and mess that six kids can generate in a short period of time is unmatched by smaller numbers. But arguably most of why things seemed so quiet is because we currently have organized ourselves into a five kid life -- and we're currently going through the difficult process of adjusting that to a six kid life.

You decide what activities to get involved in, what things to own, what rules to set, what routines to follow based on the number of kids that you have. You may not do this consciously, but eventually, things fall into place. You organize around what you deal with, and you tend to organize to capacity: some precarious balance between the demands upon you and the things you need and want to get done.

Add another kid, especially the particular demands of a new baby who needs to be held and fed and gazed at tenderly much of the time, and for a while everything falls apart. Then you reach a new normal which is adapted to the demands of having the number of kids you have. From what those who have started down the other side, with the number of kids falling as older ones move out, have told me, it sounds like adaptation works in the other direction too. As you have fewer kids, you gradually adjust your life so that on most days it still seems like it's a lot of kids even though you now have fewer.

Sure, looking back, when we only had one or two kids there were things we could have done differently that would have given us a lot more time. But that's a six kid parent talking.

The good news is that it's not nearly as impossible as people think to adjust to having more children -- so long as you're not utterly rigid in your ideas of how things will run in your house. We always seem to come to a new normal which (though it's not easy) doesn't actually seem harder than before. The bad news is: there really is just never time.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Disagreeing With Women

Megan McArdle has a piece up on the topic, which with good reason re-surfaces ever so often, of the abuse the female commentators (both on the internet and more generally) seem to come in for in particular.

On the other hand, it can be unpleasant to be a man on the Internet. I know from experience that liberal women tend to believe that they are getting vile abuse not just because they are women, but also because they are liberal women -- that the reason they get so much abuse is that conservative men are virulent sexists who oppose their bold truth-telling about sex and the patriarchy. Conservative women who have been savaged by liberal male pundits and their followers can attest that this is not true. They wonder if this isn’t something about liberal men not having any norms of civility about how to treat women. It’s a bipartisan vice.

My experience is that the torrent of abuse comes not from “conservatives” or “liberals” but from “people you are disagreeing with.” It tends to pop up when a pundit on the other side links you, or something you’ve written goes viral. There appears to be something particularly disagreeable to many men about a disagreeing woman. And for that matter, disagreeable to many women. I’ve had feminist women, for example, essentially say “You’re just saying that to get a boyfriend” when I differed with something they wrote.

Some of this, clearly, is related to the internet. People, for some reason, feel far more comfortable being verbally abusive online than they do in person, probably because being verbally abuse is in part a way of treating someone else as not-quite-a-person, and that's easier to do when you can't see the person standing in front of you. However, McArdle observes there seems to be a broader trend as well.

I wrote about this last year, when Democratic spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter briefly became the target of an Internet hatefest:

[People] get very uncomfortable when [women] contest men on skill: when they are arguing, in essence, "I'm smarter than you" or "I've thought this through better" or "My ideas are more compelling" or just "I'm in charge, and we're going to do it my way". It's not just that the women may be wrong -- 50% of the time, they probably are. There's a real anger that the women are daring to put themselves out there, to declaim in a space where they have no right to be.

Politics seems to me to be very definitely one of those arenas. When Stephanie Cutter does her job right, she wins the news cycle -- and the people who have lost take a double blow. They were beaten, and they were beaten by a woman. It's galling.

Which is why Rush Limbaugh garners outrage and fear, while Michelle Malkin garners a sort of hysterical contempt, incredulity mixed with horror mixed with "How dare that uppity [expletive deleted] state her stupid opinions!" And why the reaction to both Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin was somewhat out of proportion to their actual faults.

The general defense that gets mounted to this is “But I don’t denigrate women. I think these women are great!” followed by a list of women who agree with them politically.

But to go back to what I noted above, it is the combination of women and politics (or some other highly emotional topic) that triggers the abuse. A woman who is vociferously agreeing with you is not exactly violating the patriarchal dynamic, is she? The fact that women on your side do not trigger your atavistic instincts does not mean that there isn’t residual sexism lurking in your behavior. And before the guys go and get all defensive, let me be clear: I am not singling out guys. Women do it, too, including feminists, many of whom are nastier and more judgmental about women who disagree with them than they are about men who do, even as they are incredibly solidaristic with fellow feminists. I don’t think it’s hypocrisy; I don’t think they know they’re doing it.

What I’m saying is that I think all people are unfairly hard on women and minorities on the other side than they are on opponents who are men. I’m not calling on men to flagellate themselves for what a terrible burden white men are on the human race. I’m pointing out that we have an unconscious and unfair double standard. Sometimes it manifests itself in sheer crazy. More often it manifests in dismissing women on the grounds that they couldn’t possibly have anything to add to the conversation.

In my experience, what’s the first thing anyone says about a woman who disagrees with them on an issue? “She’s such an idiot.” I’ll be honest and say I’ve caught myself doing it. Yes, undoubtedly some of them are idiots. But it seems statistically unlikely that all the women on the other side are idiots, and your side happened to get all the good ones. Men get accused of a wide range of sins, from deliberate mendacity to wanting to maintain their privilege, but almost all of the women are foolish and should shut their mouths. Their hysterical mouths.

To see what I mean, consider this. I frequently see lists of “writers I like” or “bloggers I like” or what have you, and there’s usually a spot for “Folks on the other side who I enjoy.” Sometimes that’s a whole post or article of its own. These are staples of blogging.

And in the decade-plus I’ve been writing on the Internet, I have almost never seen a woman in those slots. Not never-never: I think I made Kevin Drum’s list once, and I am sure I am not the only one who has crossed the aisle in that way. But it’s really rare, either in proportion to the number of women writers, or the number of other women on these lists. Though it’s true that political writing and blogging trend heavily male, these lists usually do contain women -- just very rarely in that slot. I think the same holds true for minority writers, though I am less sure of that. And what are the odds of this happening by chance?
It strikes me that there's some sense of social hierarchy going on here. It's one thing to be opposed by someone who one subconsciously thinks of as an equal or superior opponent in terms of social status. But as soon as the opponent is identified as belonging to some group it's possible to look down on, it not only becomes possible to sneer at the opponent more easily, but necessary to do so less you be seen as being dominated by that sort of person.

The Pleasure of Complaining

Like a lot of people, I spent my share of time complaining about the weather earlier this week. On Monday, I got a text from work as I woke up saying that they were delaying the start of work for two hours due to weather. At that point it was 5F outside. The temperature dropped all day. By the time I got in (taking advantage of the two hour delay to extend my paternity leave for a couple hours) it was 0F and by the time I left that night it was -8F. For central Ohio, that's pretty cold. (I tried picking up a bottle of bubble solution the next day to see if I could blow frozen bubbles, but it turns out that 5F is not cold enough to instantly freeze bubbles into ice spheres. Sigh.)

Of course, most of us doing the complaining were not spending much actual time out in the cold. I'd bundle up in my warm jacket, hat, scarf and gloves, then walk the fifty yards from the door to my car, start it up and five minutes into my commute the heater was putting out a pretty warm current of air. Other bold experiences included taking the trash cans out to the curb that night. It's not as if I were in a house without heating, or had to work outside for living.

I think this actually is some of the attraction of a hardship only slightly felt. Something like dealing with sub-zero temperatures adds a bit of variation to what it otherwise routine. It presents a few colorful difficulties, but it's not really something I suffer from. As such, it's the sort of hardship I almost like to have: a bit of hardship, a sense of shared predicament with others, but no lasting damage or difficulty.

There's nothing really wrong with this, so long as I don't confuse my experience of these kind of minor difficulties with people undergoing real hardships. But it's important to keep in mind that my experience of these kind of mini hardships is entirely formed by the fact that after a few minutes of feeling the moisture in my nose freeze up, I can come in to where it's comparatively warm, start a fire in the fireplace, and make myself a warm cup of coffee.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A Pictoral Life of William

It's been a dispiriting day here, as I realize exactly how much fell apart while I was pregnant and on bed rest, so here's a reminder that something worthwhile has emerged from all of this chaos:

Woolly hat and singlet courtesy of Otepoti at Reading for Believers
And though I feel like I'm doing everything wrong at the moment, here at least is something well done:

I would not in future knowingly schedule a baptism four days after birth (though nine days after the due date didn't seem that unreasonable at the time), but I'm glad we went ahead. The spiritual relief is worth the physical discomfort, and we spent the rest of the day recovering:

When we're not sleeping, I like to read and he likes to eat.

William needs a good deal of protecting from his loving siblings, but sometimes everyone can be peaceful and decorous at the same time. Sometimes it even happens in church...

...not often at home, though. But we're working on it, every day.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Marking the Centuries

David Brin, who apparently is now described not only as a science fiction author but a "futurist", has a piece from New Years Eve in which he speculates as to what it would mean for the new century to start in 2014. He's not suggesting an adjustment to how we number years, but rather talking about the ways in which people have sought to define when a century or decade begins and ends by its signal events, not its dates.

For instance, some historians talk about the "long nineteenth century" which is defined as running from the French Revolution in 1789 through the start of World War One in 1914, a 125 year "century".

Brin, however, has his own breakdown:
The last two centuries (and possibly more) didn’t “start” at their official point, the turning of a calendar from 00 to 01. That wasn’t when they began in essence, nor when they first bent the arc of history.

No. Each century effectively began in its 14th year.

Think about it. The first decade of the 20th century was filled with hope and a kind of can-do optimism that was never seen again -- not after the horrific events of 1914 shattered any vision that a new and better age would arrive without pain. Yet until almost the start of World War I, 19th-century progress seemed unstoppable and ever-accelerating.

Consider the world of 1913, when regular middle-class folks in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and so on were acquiring unexpected wonders: clothes-washing machines, gas stoves, gas and then electric lighting, indoor plumbing, refrigeration, vaccinations, telephones, radios, motor cars. Stepping outside you would see and hear human beings flying through the sky -- with a looming confidence that soon you would get a chance to join them.
Yes, all of those techno-advances continued after World War I. Social changes such as women getting the vote were harbingers of more to come. But after 1914, the naivete was gone. People realized that the 20th century would be one of harsh struggle accompanying every step of advancement. And along the way to hard-won better times, the age would spiral downward first, into the deepest pit that humanity ever knew, before our parents (or grandparents) clawed their way out of the nadir of 1944 -- the focal year of a century that truly began in 1914.

All right, that’s just one data point. Is there another? Well, look at 1814, the beginning of the Congress of Vienna and the so-called Concert of Europe that made possible the continent’s longest extended period of overall peace, as the great powers turned from fighting bloody wars to perfecting their colonial empires. Those two years -- 1814 and 1914 –- each marked a dramatic shift in tone and theme (in the West, that is), so much so that they represented the real beginnings of the 19th and 20th centuries.
I think this is rather off. The peace of 1814 to 1914 was an uneasy one, the same technological and cultural developments that Brin cites as causing such optimism in 1913 also caused incredible uncertainty and upheaval.

This is why I think it makes a lot more sense to see the 19th century, thematically, as beginning with the French Revolution in 1789, and the advent of mass war in the 25 years from 1789 to 1814. The following decades of the 19th century saw some attempts to roll back the political revolution of 1789, but political, cultural and technological revolution continued as theme throughout the century. Industrialization proceeded rapidly throughout Europe during the 19th century. In 1848, revolution swept Europe. Nationalism was increasingly stirring. The revolutions were mostly put down, but they had made gains and the order restored was more precarious. In the 1860s and 70s, the European continent was shocked by a series of short, sharp wars: The wars of Italian unification. The Franco-Prussian War and the Austro-Prussian war, which between them resulted in the formation of a unified German empire and its emergence as arguably the strongest power in continental Europe.

Meanwhile, industrialization was continuing apace. Socialist and labor political movements were becoming increasingly powerful. Turkey was coming apart as a great power, the Balkan countries were breaking off via a series of bloody wars of national liberation, and these Balkan powers (backed by Russia was was quickly becoming a major power as it industrialized) were putting pressure on the Hapsburg empire, which was also suffering from its own internal divisions.

In other words, while the 19th century was indeed a period of rapid development, it was also a period of uncertainty and unrest. Technology was moving forward by leaps and bounds. What would one day be called the "developed world" was developing, and in the process new fortunes made old poverty increasingly politically unacceptable.

I'd make the case for 1789 to 1914 as the "long 19th century" as a period of technological advancement, political and cultural revolution, and the emergence of a number of increasingly nationalistic great powers on the European scene, as countries came to be identified with the people (in the sense of race or cultural group) they represented rather than merely a set of elites ruling a given piece of territory.

The 20th century which emerged with sudden violence in 1914, I would characterize as being a period during which the great powers and major political ideologies struggled for dominance, with the eventual emergence during the second half of the 20th century of two superpowers: the USA and USSR.

Given that, I'd provisionally put the beginning of the "21st Century" in 1991, with the fall of the USSR and the emergence of the monopolar world with the USA as the lone superpower. If I'm right, the 21st century thus far seems to be characterized by a single major power maintaining a large enough monopoly on military force, while technological innovation has gone through another spurt of rapid development, and the global economy has become increasingly integrated.

Of course, even by that measure we're only 23 years into something like 100, so who's to say what the theme of the 21st century will look like in another 80 years.

Germany Started It

This year marks the 100th anniversary of something no one looks back on fondly: the First World War.

Even a hundred years later the question of who started the war is able to stir a fair amount of controversy, and we can doubtless expect to hear an increasing amount of punditry about it this year. Josiah Neeley has a good post over at The Federalist on the topic today.

The new year has barely begun, and already there has been an upsurge in World War I-related punditry. Among those itching for a fight over the origins of the First World War is Slate’s Matt Yglesias. On New Year’s Eve, Yglesias offered his own somewhat Slatepitchy take on World War I, claiming that the Great War was “primarily about Russo-Serbian desire to destroy Austria and France’s desire to reclaim Alsace and Lorraine.”

This is, to say the least, a rather curious way to describe the outbreak of the First World War. Sure, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by pro-Serb Bosnians may have set the spark for the Great War. But the actual outbreak of hostilities began with an Austrian declaration of war on Serbia, German declarations of war on France and Russia, and a German invasion of Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. So what gives?
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Thursday, January 02, 2014

My 2013 in Books

I made it through an unusually large number of books this year, the increase driven both by heavy audiobook usage and trying to get through a lot of research. I've included the reviews that I wrote on Goodreads (this whole post is basically a Goodreads export) so forgive the length.

I read a number of these via audiobook, these have their titles in blue text.

The list is sufficiently long that I've put it all after the break to save space for those not interested.