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

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Great War, Vol 1, Chapter 13-3

It's been three weeks since the last installment: eight days of writing and two weeks of being on vacation and finding myself unable to get the time to put words on the page. Sorry for the long delay.

This installment completes Chapter 13. The next chapter will go back to Jozef, now training for the Austro-Hungarian cavalry. The total novel is now a hair under 180,000 words. Four more full length chapters to go and then three short concluding ones. I'm still hoping to put some serious work in and wrap up by the end of the calendar year.

Kiev, Russian Ukraine. September 30th, 1914. Breakfast in the Luterek household was not subject to genteel pretensions. Doctor Luterek was a believer in a hearty breakfast, as he often did not have time for a midday meal, and he insisted that it be served early so that he could be at the hospital by eight.

On Tuesday, the morning after Konrad’s memorial mass, Natalie has been hesitant to join the family at table, not sure what kind of greeting would await her. Instead she had taken a currant roll and a flask of tea from the kitchen to consume on the way to the hospital. That night it seemed that peace had returned to the household, and so she joined the family for breakfast Wednesday morning in time to see that peace shattered again.

Natalie was at the sideboard loading her plate with kanapki -- little open-faced sandwiches made of buttered toast set with either fresh cheese curds and a slice of tomato or else several paper thin slices of dry sausage -- when Borys entered the dining room.

“I just got news yesterday,” he announced. All eyes were immediately upon him. “I’ve received my temporary commission as a cadet and orders to report for training as an artillery officer.”

For a moment there was silence, then Madame Luterek burst into tears while the doctor and his daughters all began to talk at once.

[continue reading]

Monday, September 28, 2015


"How does a bastard orphan son of a whore
and a Scotman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten
spot in the Caribbean, by providence impoverished, in squalor,
grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

The ten-dollar founding father without a father
got a lot farther
by working a lot harder
by being a self-starter
By fourteen they placed him in charge of a trading charter
and every day while slaves were being slaughtered
and carted away across the waves
he struggled and kept his guard up.
Inside he was longing for something to be a part of
the brother was ready to beg, steal, borrow, or barter.

Then a hurricane came and devastation reigned.
Our man saw his future drip dripping down the drain.
Put a pencil to his temple, connected to his brain,
and wrote his first refrain, a testament to his pain.

Well, the word got around, said, 'This kid is insane, man!'
Took up a collection just to send him to the mainland
Get your education, don't forget from whence you came,
and the world's gonna know your name!
What's your name, man?

Alexander Hamilton..."

Perhaps you haven't heard of Hamilton, the new hip-hopera with a rare spate of unanimously glowing reviews, but like the man himself, it's making some history. The show, sold out before it even transferred to Broadway, is a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton, treasury secretary and famously killed in a duel with Aaron Burr. And in a post-modern casting decision, most of the lead roles are played by decidedly non-white, non-dead men. Hamilton is played by the show's creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, son of Puerto Rican immigrants, and the other founding fathers are played by actors and singers cast for their ability to rap, regardless of ethnicity. (Well, that's debatable, actually: the casting listings for the show, for the most part, specifically call out for actors of every ethnicity except white, which does present the question of whether there's some reverse stereotyping going on.)

Here's the genesis of the show, performed at the White House in 2009:

And now NPR is streaming the whole cast recording. (EDIT: NPR isn't streaming the soundtrack anymore since it's now out on CD, but they link to a Spotify playlist where you can hear it.)

Tickets are getting scarce, but Darwin and I are planning to roll together Christmas, our birthdays, and 15th anniversary into one big event and go to New York next year to see this.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Grace in Action

If there is anything that places me squarely on the introvert side of the spectrum, it is that for eight days I traveled the country (four of them in the car) and ate fast food and consumed ungodly amounts of chips and salsa and guacamole, and pan dulce and breakfast tacos, and had several servings of alcohol for several days in a row, and when I came home I found that I'd lost a pound or two. Sure, you can chalk that up to muscles atrophying in the car, but I have to think that it has something to do with the sheer amount of energy I burn up in being "on" when I am in society. Being "on" isn't performance mode or anything. It's a social awareness, a mental filter which keeps me from running my mouth too much, graciousness as an activity as much as an attitude -- none of which are all that difficult, and most of which are second nature, and yet which consume strange quantities of energy. I recently realized that my preference for doing nothing at all militates against the fact that I am my best self when I have to shake off lethargy and live for other people. It gets me out of the house, it seems to be more effective than diet and exercise for my health, and it keeps me from sloth. But oh, I am so tired when I get home.

While driving, we read the gospel passage about the two men forgiven their respective debts of 500 pounds and 50 pounds. Although neither could pay, the man forgiven more was more grateful, perhaps because the man forgiven the lesser debt figured that his benefactor really hadn't put himself out all that much. It was just 50 pounds, right? No big deal for a rich guy. But every kind of deal to someone who can't pay. I'm that 50-pound debtor. In the grand historical sense, my faults are pretty pedestrian. I can't get organized. I do what I want, to the exclusion of what I ought. I can't be bothered. I find it easier to create interesting fictions in my head than to do the boring grunt work of reality. Minor stuff, maybe, but I can't seem to break free on my own. It doesn't matter if the trap is big or small if you can't get out of it. I have to have grace, or I cannot die to myself. Do you understand how easy it is to be inspired by spiritual reading or scripture, and how hard it is to start dinner on time or to speak mildly to a whiny, provoking child? And yet the fruit of the former is in how I deal with the latter, and it avails me nothing to have deep thoughts if I cannot walk the tedious walk. I must have grace, or I perish, and I drag little souls down with me.

To that end, I've been thinking about the rosary. Again. It's time to dispense with the idea that I can consult my own tastes and simply go with the style of prayer I prefer. Every time I come across a saint talking about the value of simply living the Christian life, it turns out that the saint is already saying the rosary and having a regular prayer time. Heh. I think that the way to approach the rosary, for myself, is as if it and I were in an arranged marriage. Not a sexy arranged marriage, like the kind in books, where, as an outside observer, you already know that the characters are made for one another and that love will blossom around page 300. This is an awkward arranged marriage in which I need to make my peace with this prayer and do my best to treat it with civility and respect because I'm going to have to live with it for a long time whether I find it interesting or not. As I find that more and more of the saints have said the rosary and had a great devotion to it, I begin to suspect that the problem here might be me, and not the prayer.

What helps is to break it up into bite-sized chunks, and lo, it comes in convenient decades. Right now my decade is the second sorrowful mystery, The Scourging. When I find myself assailed by temptation, I pray this one because of Isaiah 53:5, "By his stripes we are healed." Scourging is the kind of visceral brutality I hate to think about, but when I consider that each rent in Jesus's body actually heals a rent in my soul, I find more courage to face it headlong. His body is disfigured so that the scars of my sin can be softened and transformed by the blood dripping onto them. I do take a mild comfort in fact that I too have given life through the literal disfigurement and tearing and scarring of my body. (Still not watching The Passion of the Christ again, though.)

And yet, here's a lot of talk about how great prayer is, but the proof will be if I actually say the rosary tonight when I get into bed. Talk is so stupidly, ridiculously easy -- I could extemporize about praying the mysteries of the rosary all day. But the doing of it is stupidly, ridiculously hard. Lord, help me to act rather than talk. Without your grace, I can, and will, do nothing at all.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Why Is Consumerism a Problem?

At this particular moment in our culture, there seems no difficulty in finding voices, both secular and religious, eager to condemn consumerism. When I did a quick image search on "consumerism" (which Google helpfully defined for me via Wikipedia as "a social and economic order and ideology [that] encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts") to illustrate this post I found pieces of original artwork ranging from a metallic dinosaur covered in corporate logos devouring people and pieces of great artwork to an image of Christ crucified on shopping bags.

However, while many are eager to condemn consumerism, there seems to be less agreement on precisely why it is bad.

One line of thought seems to be simply that consumerism often focuses its acquisitive energies on crass merchandise: too many Mickey Mouse ear hats and not enough reproductions of Renaissance artwork and hand made furniture. It's easy to mock bad taste, at least when sitting with other people who share our own preferences, but this isn't really a critique of the acquisition of goods and services, but a complaint that people aren't choosing the goods and services that we would like them to.

Another accusation is that the focus on buying things means that people spend too much time making money which will allow them to buy the merchandise they covet, and not enough time spent in leisure. However, this too seems a little odd, in that much consumerism, from theme park visits to pay-per-view TV, is focused around leisure time. Even virtuously active leisure activities come with large helpings of consumerism, as I've discovered this year while training for a half marathon. You'd think that running, a sport which involves putting one foot in front of another on a public road, would be a no-frills hobby, but it is indeed heavily accessorized: running shoes, running socks, running clothes, hydration systems (this is the fancy word for a water bottle that clips on a belt), gels, chews, GPS devices... The list goes on. Nor are these strictly vain items. I can attest that having a good running shirt makes all the difference between miserable chafing and feeling comfortable throughout a 10+ mile run, and whatever odd ingredients may go into them (the two I care about are carbs and caffeine, the rest is delivery system) eating a little packet of energy gel during the middle of a long run certainly makes it easier to keep up energy during a run which my iPhone running app (another consumer product) tells me consumes about as many calories as I normally eat in a whole day. And even if we ignore the ways in which leisure time and activities are often tied to consumer products and services, the complaint that we should focus less on goods and services and more on time is really just a claim that we should be allocating our enjoyment differently than we are.

Other times, the assertion is that consumerism eats up valuable resources which could be used to make us better off. But when we boil this down to its basic argument, this amounts to saying that our consumption of stuff keeps us from having more stuff, which is not really all that persuasive. A variation on this is that consumerism focuses too much on variety, and that this variety results in inefficiency, thus making us all poorer. Bernie Sanders recently took this line in arguing, "You don't necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country." However, I don't think that many serious students of the economy believe that reducing the number of brands of deodorant would produce large amounts of excess wealth to redistribute.

You may be wondering by now if I'm coming around to arguing that there's nothing wrong with consumerism, that it's a productive and enjoyable desire. I'm not. No, I think that people are right to react against the excessive focus on acquiring things, whether those things are mass consumer goods or the artisan handcrafted thing-of-the-moment. However, as is often the case, modernity can have a certain instinct for what is wrong without having any clue as to why. Why is "the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts" a problem?

Not because it's bad for us to have things that we want. Not even necessarily because the things we want are bad or crass or chosen instead of some other thing which maybe we should have desired instead.

The problem is moral. Often, feeling a lack of completeness and fulfillment in ourselves, we seek that which we think will fill that lack. If your problem is that your running shoes are falling apart, perhaps buying a new pair will fill that running shoe shaped whole in your life. But often the things we buy are not direct solutions for our problems, but rather a substitution. I'm sure we've all experienced examples of this in strictly material terms, where buying serves as a shortcut to get around our real problem. You wish that you were in better shape, so you shell out money at the New Years sales for that expensive piece of exercise equipment, sure that now you will be able to achieve that buff body in just ten minutes a day and enjoy doing it. Often what you realize come April or May is that you're still not spending even that ten minutes. Spending money was easier than actually doing the daily work to get in shape.

But the turtles go down further than that. Why do you want to get in shape? Because if you have that buff beach body by next summer, you will feel better about yourself and win the love of that person who will complete and perfect your life. Nothing against getting into better shape, but really: will getting more fit really make you more lovable in the eyes of either yourself or others? Getting in shape is worthy in its own right, a way of taking care of the body which you have been given, but although this gives fitness goals a certain veneer of virtue, these too are often in their way a substitute for some deeper problem.

It is said that every sin is, at root, the sin of idolatry. When we follow consumerism down to its root, we find the same basic sin. We substitute one material pleasure for another, but then below that we believe that some material pleasure will give us happiness, give us peace, give us the sense of purpose fulfilled. In the short term it sometimes can. But our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in You. The problem with consumerism is not that we desire the wrong stuff, nor that we desire stuff instead of time, nor that by satisfying our desire for the things we want we somehow sap our overall economy of efficiency and riches. The problem with consumerism is that we constantly tell ourselves that if we could have just the one more thing -- the right piece of clothing, the hot new electronic device, the right organizational system, the perfect vacation -- we would have purpose, peace and happiness. And so we devote ourselves to pursing these intermediate ends, these things which may be good in themselves but are not the ultimate good, while neglecting the one thing which will in fact bring use these things: God. We ignore that thing larger than ourselves, the thing that gives us purpose and promises eternal happiness. We turn in on ourselves in the constant search for that one next thing which will make everything perfect, and we fail to see that happiness is not inside ourselves but outside. We must follow not our latest hunger for novelty but rather understand that true happiness is to be found in union with the ultimate Good: to know, love and serve Him and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Fifty Essential SF Authors

As we head into a busy weekend, here's a meme for you, courtesy of Brandon: Fifty Essential SF Authors. Just for reference, the last SF book we read here was The Martian, but before that it's hard to say because SF is a genre that's mostly dropped off our radar.

%Darwin has read
#MrsDarwin has read
On our shelves

(1) Mary Shelley: FRANKENSTEIN# 
(2) A Square (Edwin Abbott) FLATLAND
(3) Jules Verne:
(4) H.G. Wells:
(5) E.M. Forster ‘The Machine Stops’
(6) David Lindsay VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS.
(7) Olaf Stapledon:
(8) Jorge Luis Borges “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”
(9) George Orwell NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR#%
(10) Aldous Huxley A BRAVE NEW WORLD
(11) A Merritt
(12) Edgar Rice Burroughs

(13) E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith
(14) Stanley G. Weinbaum ‘A Martian Odyssey’
(15) Jack Williamson:
‘With Folded Hands’
‘The Moon Era.’
(16) H.P. Lovecraft:
‘The Call of Cthulhu’#
‘A Whisperer in Darkness’#
‘Shadow Out of Time’#

(17) A.E. van Vogt:
‘The Black Destroyer’
(18) Isaac Asimov:

(19) Robert Heinlein
“The Man Who Sold the Moon”%
“Green Hills of Earth”%


(20) Joe Haldeman FOREVER WAR
(21) C.S. Lewis:

(22) Arthur C Clarke:

‘Against the Fall of Night’ aka CITY AND THE STARS %

(23) Clifford Simak:
(24)Hal Clement MISSION OF GRAVITY %
(25) Poul Anderson:
‘The Man Who Counts’
‘The Queen of Air and Darkness ‘
(26) Alfred Bester
(27) Keith Laumer DINOSAUR BEACH
(28) Fritz Leiber THE BIG TIME .
(29) Robert Silverberg ‘Nightwings’
(30) Philip Jose Farmer:
(31) Tom Godwin ‘The Cold Equations’
(32) Harlan Ellison ‘Repent Harlequin Said the Ticktockman’
(34) Roger Zelazny:
(35) Ray Bradbury

(36) John Brunner STAND ON ZANZIBAR
(37) Michael Moorcock
(38) Daniel Keyes ‘Flowers for Algernon’
(39) Walter M. Miller A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ %
(40) Frank Herbert DUNE #
(41) Cordwainer Smith
‘Scanners Live in Vain’ #
‘The Dead Lady of Clown Town’ #
‘Alpha Ralpha Boulevard.’ #

(42) Ursula K LeGuin:
(43) Jack Vance
‘The Dragon Masters’
‘The Last Castle.’
(44) Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle MOTE IN GOD’S EYE %
(45) Larry Niven
'Neutron Star'
(46) Gene Wolfe:
‘Fifth Head of Cerberus’.
(47) Walter Gibson NEUROMANCER
(48) Neal Stephenson
(49) Dan Simmons HYPERION
(50) Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons THE WATCHMAN

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Book Report 2: The Gift of the Magi, again

Three Paragraphs (on a story I read)
by A nonny mouse

Yesterday I was asked to read a short story about Cristmas, for school. This story was about a charming couple shopping for Cristmas gifts. The story was told from the wife's point of veiw. She fancied a set of combs the porpose of witch was to draw attention to and decorate one's hair. However there is till the problem of her present to her husband.

Shopping is, alltogether, a tedious buissness, espeasealy when one is short of money. Even so the wife cuts and sells her long brown hair for twenty dollars. With her newly earned money she buys, for her husband, a beautiful watch-chain for his treasured watch. Upon returning home, her husband is shocked at his wife's short hair. He has sold his watch to buy her the set of combs.

For some people, morals are hard to spot. So I shall present of of mine. Firstly the answer is neither to  (a) not give preasants or (b) to find out what you are reciving. These are very bad solutions. Nowadays, twenty dollars is a reasonable price for a nice gift. Back then twenty dollars was expensive, but you must remember that a gold watch-chain is a very nice gift. I belive that these two went a little overboard. The meaning of Christmas is not giving preasents. (Here I add that, however expensive, please don't pay for a gift with your own hair. It is not wise.) It is a day for going to mass and honoring our lord.

P.S. I think it would have been better for the wife to give a home-made gift instead.

Are People Obligated to Have As Many Children As Possible?

Apparently there is a philosophical paradox known as the "repugnant conclusion" which goes something like this: If you accept the conclusion that the best world is one with the maximum amount of human happiness (which is one way way in which people try to make secular arguments for "goodness") then a world in which there are more people who are less happy could be better than a world in which there are fewer people who are less happy. So if you had to choose between a world in which 1 billion people are 100% happy and a world in which 20 billion people are only 10% happy, you should choose the world with twenty billion people who are unhappy most of the time because there is more total happiness in that big world than in the smaller, universally happy world.

Now, most people who are inclined to judge morality in terms of the net amount of global happiness are not the sort of people used to advocating a world with huge numbers of mostly unhappy people, so the paradox provides an interesting mental puzzle for them. This bubbled up to my notice a couple weeks ago because a philosophy blog called Leiter Reports got a lot of attention running a post about how the (mostly liberal) explainer site Vox had commissioned a piece by philosopher Torbjörn Tännsjö at Stockholm University advocating the Repugnant Conclusion, a piece which Vox later rejected (among other reasons) because Ezra Klein was worried it would give the impression that birth control and abortion were wrong. You can read the submitted piece here.

Personally, I don't think the submitted article makes a very good case. The author is trying to write in an accessible, easy to understand way, and I think it mostly comes off as a bit sloppy. Here's his opening, which lays out the paradox itself:

You should have kids. Not because it’s fun, or rewarding, or in your evolutionary self-interest. You should have kids because it’s your moral duty to do so.

My argument is simple. Most people live lives that are, on net, happy. For them to never exist, then, would be to deny them that happiness. And because I think we have a moral duty to maximize the amount of happiness in the world, that means that we all have an obligation to make the world as populated as can be.

Of course, we should see to it that we do not overpopulate the planet in a manner that threatens the future existence of mankind. But we’re nowhere near that point yet, at least not if we also see to it that we solve pressing problems such as the one with global warming. In the mean time, we’re ethically obligated to make as many people as possible.

This idea, that having children is a moral obligation, is controversial, so much so that it’s known in philosophy as the “repugnant conclusion.” But I don’t think it’s repugnant at all.

What I thought was the most interesting part was where he's trying to justify the idea that we have obligations to people who do not yet exist:

You might be thinking at this point, “Sure, more happiness sounds good. But morality is about helping people, and creating more people helps ‘people’ who don’t exist, not yet anyway.” This view is known as actualism. Only actual individuals have rights. We have not done anything wrong, unless there is an actual person who has a legitimate complaint to make against our action.

This means that, if I do not create a happy individual, even if I can do so, I do nothing wrong. A merely hypothetical individual has no legitimate complaint to make. This is the great appeal of actualism: it means that people have total freedom in choosing whether to reproduce or not. My view suggests that we have a moral obligation to keep having children; actualism lets people do as they like.

I can’t help finding all this problematic. Imagine for a second that the Genesis story is actually true. Under the actualist view, Adam and Eve could have morally refrained from having children, even if, had they decided differently, billions of billions of happy persons would have been around!

Here is another consequence of the theory. Suppose I have a choice as to whether to have a baby at 15 or at 35. If I have the baby at 15, I’ll earn much less money in my career, the baby will go to worse schools and live in a worse neighborhood, and generally her life will be much tougher. If I have her at 35, I’ll be able to adequately provide for the baby, pay for college, and so forth. If I have the baby at 15, then, did I do anything wrong? I did not, by actualist reasoning. There is no one there to complain about what I did. The baby is, after all, happy to be around. By creating her, I did not violate her rights. And the hypothetical baby I would’ve had at 35 isn’t around to complain. But this cannot be right. If these are the options I have, I ought to wait. The world where I have a baby at 35 is just happier than the one where I have a baby at 15.

Now, I'm not a philosopher, and I don't play one on TV, but part of what interests me here is that there's a similar argument one sometimes hears from devout Catholics about obligations to those not yet existing which goes something like this: "Think how much our world is suffering because people are too selfish to have more children! St. Therese of Lisieux was the fifth of five children. St. Thomas Aquinas was the eighth of eight children. How many people even have five children today, much less eight? By refusing to have all of the children that God wants to give them, people are refusing to give birth to saints!"

This rests on what I think of as the "bubble gum ball theory of the soul" in which there is a sort of spiritual gum ball machine in heaven with lots of babies waiting to be born. If people don't conceive as often as they are "meant to" then they are refusing to give life to some number of those intended people. By this theory, people are somehow failing in their obligations to these future people when they fail to conceive them.

First off, this strikes me as falling afoul of traditional Christian doctrine. The Second Council of Constantinople (5th ecumenical council: 553 A.D.) condemned the doctrine of the pre-existence of souls, so from a Catholic point of view there clearly aren't actual people failing to exist because their parents never conceive them. Now, it's true that if parents overall have fewer children, then all other things being equal this means that there will be fewer saints, but there will also be fewer murderers, fewer insurance salesmen, etc.

It's also problematic to think of us as having an obligation to give life to the person who would be conceived should we go conceive them right now, in that the number of people who could be conceived far exceeds the number that can be or should be. A man produces millions of sperm a day. A woman usually drops one egg per month. So in theory, there are millions of different people who theoretically could exist if I ran out right now and had sex with some passing woman, depending on which sperm and which egg happened to get together. But that doesn't mean that I and some woman I don't even know have an obligation to give those possible people life. Even with my own lovely MrsDarwin, there are millions of different children we might conceive in a given month, and yet clearly, we can't give life to all of them. We don't wrong some child denied existence while giving existence to another depending on what day or hour or minute out of the fertile window in a month we conceived on. And of course, if we conceive one child in a month, that means that all the other children we could have conceived if a different sperm had met the egg, or if we have conceived the month after with a different egg, or the month after -- all of these other people would be denied existence by the existence of the one.

I think that this kind of reasoning would quickly become absurd. It doesn't seem reasonable to try to decide when to try to conceive and how often to try to conceive based on a perceived obligation to the person who would be given life as a result of that conception, when it's clearly impossible to give life to any more than a tiny fraction of the millions of different possible people one could be the parent of.

I'm not completely clear whether Tännsjö pictures the obligation to people who don't exist yet as being to individual people (you have an obligation to give life to some specific person so that that person can experience the happiness of life) or to people in general (you have an obligation to have children because they will experience happiness). His example about deciding what age to have a child at is doubly odd, since he phrases it concretely: "If I have the baby at 15... her life will be much tougher. If I have her at 35..."

Clearly, you can't choose to have the same child either at 15 or at 35, so it's not as if she will be happier if she is born later. If he doesn't have a child at 15, that child will never exist. If he has a child at 35 instead, that will be a different child than he would have had at 15.

Saying that we have responsibilities towards people who do not yet exist in a general sense (as opposed to saying that we have responsibilities to specific people who could exist) seems far less controversial. Clearly, we the current generation of people have a responsibility to produce the next generation of people. To decide that we would be happier in the short term to focus strictly on ourselves and not go through the work and trials (and joys) of having children would in some sense be selfish. I don't know if it makes more sense to look at the wrongness of that selfishness in terms of us failing in our responsibilities to the generation net yet conceived, or if it makes more sense to talk about us as a current generation not living up to our purpose as human beings (though I lean towards this later rationale), but if all those currently alive decided to be "child free" from here on out, I think there's clearly something very wrong about what we'd be doing. Similarly, I think it makes sense to talk about our duty to care for certain resources in terms of making sure that they are still there for the good of future generations.

However, it seems very problematic to me to envision a moral obligation we could have towards some specific person not yet in existence, such as an obligation to conceive that person.

As for the "repugnant conclusion" itself: It seems to me that it serves mostly to underline that "maximizing global happiness" is a bad way to do moral analysis. Fortunately, as Christians, we have other options.

Book Report: The Gift of the Magi

Three paragraphed book report of The Gift of the Magi
by she who must not be named


The "TOPIC" is unclear. Is it: Christmas, or shoping, Giving, or presents. Whatever it is they lose there top most treasured Item's.


The Plot is that the girl is sad because she only has $1.25 to get a present for her love. So she cuts her hair of so she has more money. She Ends up getting her love a chain for his watch but he sold his watch so she will have to work together to save up for the watch, but he bought hair combs for her hair, but she choped it off, but alls well that Ends well just not in this case.


The moral of the story is ask your love what they want for christmas. Simple presents can be the best so she could have given him a kiss instead or something grown up like that.


Saturday, September 05, 2015

The Great War, Vol 1, Chapter 13-2

I've still got to pick up the pace a bit more, but with the three day weekend I hope to have the next installment (the last of this chapter) out a lot more quickly than this one was.


Kiev, Russian Ukraine. September 22nd, 1914. For the next several days a state of dazed paralysis descended on the Luterek household. Madame Luterek seldom left her room where she refused food and was prone to sudden bouts of loud despair. Doctor Luterek divided his time between the hospital -- where he could forget, for a time, the tragedy in his own life while immersing himself in the difficult operations which the influx of wounded required -- and the house, where what little time he did not spend in his wife’s room, he passed in solitude in his library.

After the shock of the first day, the staff made sure that the house was cleaned and meals were put upon the table at the usual intervals, but this background of normality provided only a limited degree of comfort. The young people were left mostly to each other’s care. During hours spent in the nursery, sitting on the faded rug and armchairs which had come from the old nursery back in Warsaw, the scene of many leisure hours spent with Konrad before he had left to become a cadet, Borys, Sara and Lena told stories of their lost brother, and learned to think of him again without the choking ache of grief taking complete hold of their words.

On Sunday, Natalie encouraged Sara and Lena to accompany her and Mrs. Sowka to church. They did so gladly. This, on the third day after the news of Konrad’s death had reached the family, provided a turning point, at least for the young people. On Monday Borys left the house early on business of his own, Natalie returned to her usual schedule at the hospital, and the girls even ventured out to an aid society tea. Only Madame Luterek kept to her room and made no move towards returning to everyday life.

Thus it was that on Tuesday afternoon Madame Luterek was the only member of the family at home when a package was delivered, addressed to the family in Konrad’s handwriting.

Something in her had stirred that day. The house was quiet. The grief which had curled its soft, suffocating self around her chest, making even the smallest action which hinted at normality seem exhausting and futile, seemed to have decreased slightly in its weight. She had got out of bed, dressed, and come downstairs to have a cup of tea.

Natalie returned home at three-thirty, along with Sara and Lena who had spent the last few hours rolling bandages for the new hospital train being funded by Princess Mikhailov. They found Madame Luterek at the table in the sitting room, staring at the package, afraid to open it yet unable to leave it even for a moment.

“It’s from Konrad,” Madame Luterek told them. “He’s not dead.” The words brought a heartbreaking smile to her face.

[Continue Reading]

Thursday, September 03, 2015

The Summer of my Dishcontent

On Saturday we are getting a new dishwasher. It's only been three months since the repairman looked at the old one and shook his head over the numerous costly problems it had. At first it wasn't that bad standing over the steaming sink washing dishes for eight people by hand. The pioneers, right? Solidarity with the poor, hey? And then the glow wore off, and night after sticky night I scrubbed dishes, sweat dripping down my face and my hair plastered to my neck, and the glow of virtue degraded to a stinky flush.

We are the richest people I know, and we wash dishes by hand in an un-air-conditioned house. This isn't a boast or a complaint. It's just how it is. There was no time to go together to look at dishwashers, and the more we researched, the more we bogged down in the minutiae of noise levels and third racks and hard food grinders. Dishwashing by hand became a form of inertia, of inaction being easier than action.

Meanwhile, the rest of the house languishes too. The front bedroom, where the big girls are supposed to sleep, has been primed for a year. I primed it, in a fit of virtue. Perhaps the virtue wore off, or perhaps now I have a twenty-month-old who is not to be trusted, and big kids who are still of the age to think that I have the answer to every question that starts with, "Moooommm?" For whatever reason, the bedroom is still unpainted, and everything seems on hold until that project is completed.

The paint in the princess bedroom bathroom, the one that Darwin and I shower in because the shower in our bathroom has a leak in some yet-to-be-determined location, is peeling so badly that the plaster is exposed in several places. That too has been primed (in places) for a year. One of the pull-chain lights has gone on the fritz, so now it's badly lit too. The place would benefit from a ceiling light, if only we would buy one and schedule an electrician.

Meanwhile, in Europe, refugees are stuck in the Budapest train station (one of the loveliest I saw in my time over there) and children are washing up on the shore of Turkey. An unpainted, unlit, unimproved house is a very small worry in the grand scheme of things, and yet it's the responsibility that I've been given, right now. I cannot stop the war in Syria. I cannot feed the refugees, except indirectly through donations. I can, however, finally hire someone to rewire the lights and the electrical outlets and paint the bedroom and bathroom, and although it doesn't do anything for the children in war-torn parts of the world, it does provide work for my neighbors and allow them to provide food for their families.

I don't know. Would it be better if we lived a life of radical poverty and sent every spare dollar to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless? And yet, how are we to maintain this home for our family without spending money on it? How are we to keep our home safe from the risk of fire without spending money to replace 85-year-old wiring? How are we going to maintain the integrity of the house without doing the maintenance work that requires? Would it be better if this house sunk into even more disrepair, as long as I sent money off to a charity that assures me that of course the overhead is low and the bulk of the money helps those in need? These aren't either/or questions. Of course we have to make a return to the Lord for all he has done for us. It's not a question of should we give, but how much should we give, and how much should we spend on ourselves?

And then there is the matter of beauty. Several months ago I was driving along a road lined with strip malls, and meditating on Psalm 19: "The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands." That means that every element of creation proclaims God in some way. Trees, grass, rocks: all these in some way reflect God's goodness and beauty. And man, when he creates, has an obligation to use his creative powers to reflect God's goodness and beauty too. Some buildings do this better than others. Strip malls are poor reflections of God. They are ugly and utilitarian, bland and interchangeable. My own house is a good, if shabby, reflection of God's beauty. And in owning it, I have a responsibility to ensure that I keep reflecting God's beauty and goodness through the choices I make. Some of these choices are inexpensive, but some require more thought, effort, and money. Should I buy a ceiling light for the bathroom off the Home Depot clearance rack, or should I search for something more beautiful, more in keeping with the design and age of our house, and commensurately more expensive? It would be a moot point if I couldn't afford anything better than the Home Depot special, but I can. Do I have an obligation to buy ugly, cheap fixtures for my house so that others can eat? Put that way it seems a convicting contrast with an obvious answer, and yet one of the Catholic issues du jour is the status and dignity of the craftsman. How will the craftsman be able to keep crafting if no one employs him? How do smaller companies stay in business if no one buys their products?

In a sense, this is a purely intellectual quandary. I already know that I'm not going to buy a cheap light for the bathroom. I grew up in some ugly, cheap houses, and I don't want to live in one as an adult. More to the point, we have the luxury of being able to give to charity and to afford beauty, and a dishwasher too, if not air-conditioned comfort. Something has to give somewhere.

But the widow's mite still haunts me. We give out of our excess, and we're buying a pretty nice dishwasher after all the dithering. We buy beauty, and we get an earthly return in being able to live with beauty. The widow gave all she had, and looked for no return. And Jesus commended her.  I think, "How can this dishwasher, or this light fixture, or this paint job, help me to love and serve God better?" And I'm reminded of the section in The Name of the Rose in which the abbot pontificates on how the beauty of his jewels turn his mind to things divine. And then I remind myself that our house bitter cold in parts of winter and oppressive in parts of the summer, and even some of the poor live a bit more comfortably than we do, climate-wise. And then I remember that other people are at this very moment starving, dying, watching their children die, living in terror, being exploited or abused, and my comfort level seems unbearably luxurious.

Yet God has willed that I live here, in this place and at this time, with the responsibilities and obligations that he's given me right now. There's no virtue in being Mrs. Jellyby, so obsessed with the African missions that her own children lived in squalor and ignorance. Just something else to ponder as I do the dishes next week. Death, taxes, and the dishes, here with us always.