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

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Frankly, My Dear, I Give a Thanks

We are at that stage of Thanksgiving cleaning where everything looks worse before it looks better. I have been scrubbing bathrooms, three yesterday, and one left for today. The fifth bathroom is Darwin's purview. He is taking this holiday week to screw down the plywood to the joists, each of which had to be carefully leveled because the previous round of renovations (ca. 1929) saw so much concrete poured that they didn't bother with whether the joists were level or not. But as of today, we will finally have a bathroom floor again for the first time in at least a year, albeit one made of plywood.

Five bathrooms, and something wrong with each one, and that's the story of our big old house.

I'm scrubbing bathrooms not only because it needs to be done every once in a while, but because we have a goodly cast of Thanksgiving guests. Right now the count stands at: 

1) 21yo College daughter, a senior at FUS, staying in room with 17yo sister.

2) My mom, staying in room with 20yo daughter. (She'll be sleeping in 13yo daughter's bed; 13yo has to go in with her youngest brothers, much to her chagrin.)

3) and maybe 4): Darwin's mother, in her first Thanksgiving since relocating from Los Angeles to live around the block from us; and Darwin's brother, who may attend but can feel uncomfortable in crowds.

5) The religion teacher from our parochial school, a recent FUS grad who's also from a big homeschooling family, whom we've taken under our wing.

6) Not a guest, but a resident: 20yo daughter's boyfriend, who rents the large room up in the attic as a studio apartment. He is a lovable fellow who is a delight to have around the house, and he and 15yo son live the bachelor life up on the third floor. I don't often put my head into the bathroom up there, as the boys are expected to maintain it, but about twice a year I give it a maternal scrub.

Various guests have offered to bring various dishes, and everything is coming together swimmingly for Thursday's meal. We have not yet reached the point of needing to send out The Thanksgiving Letter, but it mandatory holiday reading at our house, preferably performed by the 17yo (the one most akin in managerial spirit to Marney).

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Closing the Tabs

One should not let the perfect become the enemy of the good, and one should not let one's open tabs prevent one from doing other writing. To that end, I (MrsDarwin, posting under Darwin's name in a blast from the past) am clearing out a number of things I've been reading recently (or even not so recently) and chewing on, and wishing I could discuss with others, or, rather, know that others have read so that even if we're not directly discussing them, we share a common mental library.

(Alas for all the many tabs that have been lost, and the discussions that might have been!)

My grandfather died before I was born, and he remains to me a mostly mysterious figure. As is true of many people born poor who are committed to bettering their lot, his hours were taken up with work, family, and church; not much was left for that luxury item we call personality. A big man with paws for hands, in 1926 he got a job with the Consolidated Gas Company as a digger, busting up roadways and digging trenches for the laying of pipe. With his wife he raised six children in a two-bedroom apartment on 145th Street in the South Bronx. During his working life, he went to Mass on Sundays; during his brief retirement, he went to Mass every day. When I asked, people would tell me, “Your grandfather was a very good man,” and leave it at that. He left behind few stories.

But one story about him has stayed with me. He worked six days a week, but on some Sunday afternoons he would take the subway into Manhattan and visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He often went alone, because no one else in the family wanted to go with him. But his most frequent companion was my mother, who as the fifth child and fourth girl was perhaps the least regarded member of the family and wanted attention. After he died, she reflected on those museum afternoons.

“He didn’t say anything,” she said. “He would just walk through the galleries silently. He never pointed out particular paintings or statues, or expressed any particular enthusiasm. I wish I had asked him why he went—but I never found that out. He must have gotten something out of it, because he went over and over again. But he had no words.” My mother was to study at City College and become an elementary school teacher. She would visit museums all over the world, sharing her thoughts about art with anyone who would accompany her. I have her journals; they are about the art she saw. Art became a part of our family life. And behind it all was my mother’s unsatisfied curiosity about what motivated her father, the silent man in the museum.

There is always a residuum of mystery in individual choice. But I now see one obvious reason why my grandfather came to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: He had been invited. A group of wealthy men had built the institution in the hope that men like my grandfather—ditchdiggers, pipe fitters, bricklayers, and others who labored to manufacture, build, and repair—would learn of the glories of men and women who likewise worked with their hands: artists. But the story of the museum begins far away, in Paris, and with Richard Morris Hunt, the man who more than any other brought the fine arts to New York City.

The brothers — Ferruccio, Attilio, Furio, Getulio, Masaniello and Orazio — deftly juggled dual professional identities. While their main business was executing the visions of famous sculptors like Daniel Chester French, whose design for the figure of Abraham Lincoln the Piccirillis carved out of 28 blocks of Georgia marble weighing 150 tons for the Lincoln Memorial, they also sculpted their own original works.

Attilio and Furio were academically trained in Rome, and Mr. French esteemed the two men so highly as artists that he acquired original works by both for the Met while serving as the head of the museum’s board of trustees sculpture committee in the early 20th century.

...Nonetheless, the Piccirillis have been largely forgotten, lost in the shadow cast by renowned American sculptors like Mr. French himself.

Now, Eduardo Montes-Bradley, a 63-year-old filmmaker reared in Buenos Aires, wants to elevate the brothers’ legacy, casting a new spotlight on their work in a documentary he has been working on for two years. The film, “The Italian Factor,” portrays these carvers not as stereotypical unskilled immigrant laborers in “funny paper hats,” as he puts it, but rather as prodigiously talented artisans indispensable to public art in the city and in America at large.

  • Only related thematically: Meet Mr. Mincione, a longform interview at The Pillar with Raffaele Mincione, the "Anglo-Italian investment manager who sold a London building to the Vatican’s Secretariat of State".
Mincione’s name has become synonymous with the scandal of Vatican finances, and linked inextricably to the other nine defendants with whom he is on trial, some he has done business with, and some he’s never met. 

Along the way, Mincione has faced serious questions about his work for the Vatican, and his relationships with the other defendants, none of which he’s been willing to answer at length in public before.

But Mincione is adamant that he is innocent, an honest businessman unfairly caught up in a scandal in which he’s become as much a victim as the Vatican — and potentially standing to lose even more.

After years of declining interview requests, Mincione agreed last month to speak with The Pillar. In the course of several phone calls, he offered to answer any questions about his dealings with the Vatican and, as he put it, “back up everything I say with documents.” 
  • A delightful piece about persistent research, in which an obscure and seemingly useless federal project turns out to have very human origins in the needs of a specific community: The Mystery of the Bloomfield Bridge, by Tyler Vigen.

  • While searching for the price of yarn in Jane Austen's day, I came across references to this new book, which I've just reserved through our interlibrary loan program: Jane Austen's Wardrobe, by Hilary Davidson. 
  • That same search turned up this lovely blog post on Austen's approach to turning one article of clothing into something new and fashionable through retrimming and touching up, and how the world needs more of the same: Jane Austen, Scarcity, and Mawmaw's Quilts, by Jeni Hankins.
  • The best £10/month (the only £10/month) I spend is my Patreon subscription to Victorians Vile Victorians. One does not need to pay to read VVV's delightful daily dose of Victorian flash fiction, inspired by period paintings, but the Blitherer has delighted me enough over the years that I'm happy to subscribe. Patreon is often used, I feel, as a monthly charity, but in this case, there is really a daily return, for which I am pleased to contribute.

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Mrs. Dashwood, 14



A clatter at the door, a bustle in the hall, and Margaret dashed into the kitchen shouting, "He's here! He's come!"

"Who is it, Margaret?" called Mrs. Dashwood, scattering potato peelings from her apron as she rose. But Margaret was already gone, urgent to be underfoot where anything exciting was happening. "He" must surely be Willoughby returned, for Margaret would not have been half so thrilled to see Colonel Brandon riding up to the cottage. Now Marianne's sorrow, at least, would be instantly transmuted to golden joy, and her family might have all the comfort due to them after such a trial of faithfulness. Where grief is great, tears must always be near at hand, and yet one could almost be tempted to think Marianne too prodigal in her methods. It was only natural that the sight of Willoughby's sprawling script on a book's flyleaf, or the sound of the duet which he was no longer there to sing, would move his dear friend to transports of anguish in his absence. But perhaps it was not necessary to play the duet again to provoke tears, if the first time did not suffice? Indeed, Elinor had already tidied the music from the piano and shelved it amongst the exercise books, where Marianne would be unlikely to browse.

Now, apron neatly hung and her dress and hair smoothed, she was once again the gracious matron, ready to receive company. A hand to the knob and a step into the hall -- and there, amidst the flurry of bonnets and the shawls, not Willoughby, but another young familiar face peering anxiously at hers, hat in hand, hoping for welcome. 

"Edward! Oh, dear boy! How long you've been!" she cried, flying to him. "How thin you are! How worn! We'll soon have you well fed. But why have you never written these last months?"


What blissful simplicity, to be nothing more complicated than an omniscient, gracious mother again! It was clear to the meanest understanding that Edward thrived on kindness, and that kindness had been denied him far too often. She delighted to take full advantage of her maternal privileges to give him the warm embraces that his own mother would never deign to bestow. How any mother's heart could be so cold toward her own child, she could not fathom. Or could Mrs. Ferrars's schemings be a blind kind of love that imagined that her offspring could simply be forced into some mode, regardless of his own tastes and inclinations? 

Dear Edward must blossom here. She would make sure of it. He had not often been treated as a person in his own right, poor lad. At Norland she had observed how gratefully he responded to any attempt to draw him out. Now she delighted in charming Edward into conversation, not just for her daughters' sake, but for his, and had the joy of seeing not only him, but also Elinor, become more open and liberal in spirits. 

It was not to be expected, of course, that everyone should be content at the same time.

"It's not fair, Mama," moaned Margaret, maundering into the room and flopping against her mother trying to read in bed. "It was my idea to imagine that someone should give us a large fortune apiece, and Edward speculated on how Elinor and Marianne should spend their money, but he never asked me what I should do with my wealth. Edward only wants to talk to the big girls, not to me."

"I'm sure that's not so," murmured Mrs. Dashwood, her finger keeping a patient mark under the next stanza of verse. "Pray tell, what would you do with your riches?"

"I would take us all away -- yes, Edward too -- to explore some exotic locale. Borneo, perhaps, and we could hunt tigers. Or to Antigua, where we could succor Our Brother the Slave in his Anguish, as the pamphlets urge. Or Pittsburgh."

"Does Edward want to go to Pittsburgh?"

"Oh, certainly. He maintains that he has no taste for the picturesque."

Mrs. Dashwood permitted herself a brief glance at her page. "Tomorrow you must tell Edward of your plans. I have no doubt that he will enter into them as fully as you could wish."

"But Elinor will pass remarks on anything I say, and be satirical, and Marianne will either tell me I am too conventional and staid in my language, or cry over Willoughby."

"My dear, if you are to be deterred from conversation by the mere anticipation of your sisters' loving reception, you will seldom have the opportunity to speak at all."

"But it isn't fair!"

"No," sighed Mrs. Dashwood. "It is not fair. Console yourself with the reflection that not all unfairness is deprivation. It may happen one day that you receive beyond your merit. Will you complain then, and demand the strictest justice?"

Margaret pondered.

"No," she said at last. "But then I would also be kind to those who want to take part in conversation, and not always be hushing them or talking on about my own interests."

"That is something you could do even now, without needing a large fortune to improve your manners."

"I suppose." Margaret slid off the bed, but idled by her mother's side. "Mama, have you noticed Edward's ring?"

"I have."

"Have you noticed the plait of hair in it?'

"I have."

"Have you noticed that it is exactly the shade of Elinor's hair?"

"I have noticed," said Mrs. Dashwood, giving her daughter a loving push toward the door, "that it is often the course of wisdom not to mention everything one notices."

Thursday, November 02, 2023

Evil is in the Act

The Hamas pogrom on October 7th was the largest mass killing of Jews since the Holocaust, and yet the slaughter and Israel's military response to it are playing out against a background of long-term conflict in the Holy Land in which many people have strong loyalties towards one side or the other. Loyalties have a way of clouding moral thinking, and modern society is not particularly good at moral thinking the first place.

Shadi Hamid (whose work at Wisdom of Crowds, particularly its podcast, I often find interesting) had a piece in the Washington Post which seemed to throw some of those modern confusions into clear visibility. (I've attempted to share a non-paywalled link, we'll see if that worked.)

While condemning the actions of Hamas, Shadi (who is Muslim and the son of Egyptian immigrants to the US) seeks to draw people's attention to the cause which motivates Hamas and those Palestinians who support them. But then he attempts to tie this to the question of whether Hamas's act was evil:
This is not to say that Hamas wouldn’t have committed its gruesome killings had political circumstances turned out differently. There is no way of knowing. But it would also be a mistake to dismiss Hamas’s terrorism as mere “evil.” As the philosopher John Gray notes, “A campaign of mass murder is never simply an expression of psychopathic aggression.” To describe the things we can’t comprehend as evil is a cop-out. It allows us to believe something is wrong with “them” but not with us. And, paradoxically, it exposes an unwillingness to take terrorists seriously, reducing them to “crazy” or “irrational” adversaries. They usually aren’t.
This draws on a common modern assumption that "evil" is a nihilistic action which is embraced because it is evil. But of course, this means that anything which sympathetic people do isn't really evil. This mode of thinking leads to a view in which there are bestial, almost literally "inhuman" evil people (often, rhetorically, Nazis) and then there are "basically good people" whose actions are at worst regrettable, but never evil.

But such thinking makes moral judgement almost impossible, nor is it in line with traditional Christian thinking.  Aquinas taught than any action is taken with some good in mind. We may be putting a lesser good above a greater one, or we may be using an evil means to achieve some good that we desire, but even when someone is literally damning himself through his actions he is motivated in some sense by good.

That isn't to say that there is no evil. When we sin we do evil. But to say that we are going evil does not mean that we do not have some good in mind when we act.

With that in mind, saying that the actions of the killers in Hamas were evil does not mean saying that they were incomprehensible. Wanting to have political control of what you think of as your homeland and wanting to bring glory and honor to your people are not in and of themselves incomprehensible or wrong. However, intentionally killing the innocent as a means to any end is always evil. And expansively defining your "homeland" as an area which would need to be cleansed of many of its existing inhabitants (as those who state their political goal as "from the river to the sea" do) is defining control of your homeland in a way which can only be achieved by depriving others of theirs.

So are Hamas and their sympathizers necessarily "crazy" or "irrational"?  No.  But they have very much committed acts of hideous evil and they should be condemned for it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Home Again, Jiggety Jog

Friends, we are home.

I am so grateful to all the excellent staff at our parochial school who build a warm, supportive environment, and all the wonderful parents who shared so much wisdom with me. At the same time, it became increasingly clear to me that we are homeschoolers down to our bones, and that it is traumatic to uproot almost two decades' worth of routine and expertise, even for a good cause. 

Indeed, it turns out that necessity is more crucial than idealism in making a huge life change. My desire to help our parish school transition to a liberal arts models was good, and must have had some purpose because it seemed to be the prompting of the Spirit. But (and this realization was the fruit of many sleepless hours pondering) when a woman of my age makes a major life change, it's often because there's some underlying dissatisfaction prompting it. Your husband doesn't talk to you anymore; you go to grad school. Your kids blame you for screwing up their lives; time to move and get a puppy. However, I didn't have an underlying dissatisfaction. I loved my happy home and homeschooling life, and wanted to share those benefits with my parish as it moves the school in that direction. 

Yet when I gave up those benefits myself, I was bereft. I moved through my day like the Little Mermaid, walking on knives of grief. God did not give me eight extra hours of energy to compensate for the time I was out of the house. Everyone was tired all the time, and at nights I barely saw my older children because I was so exhausted. I mourned our morning readalouds and Bible time. We all resented homework at night, remembering that we used to do the same kind of tutoring work during the day, when we were fresh. I didn't know when to grocery shop, and the house fell apart.

Lesser considerations, perhaps, if school was a necessity due to job and family considerations. But we knew it was not, and we knew that there was another way to live.

I had already told our gracious principal that we intended to go back to homeschooling in December, when the tonsil situation became acute. My 13yo daughter had chronic strep and had already missed a week of school (a stressful situation in itself when you are a working parent having to make attendance decisions for the day at 6 AM), and I was hoping we could put off having her tonsils out until January. No, said the doctor, she's too old to wait. It doesn't get any easier the older you are, something I can attest to as having had my tonsils out at 11. 

And so, after consultation with the principal, I stepped down as music teacher and we withdrew from school at the end of the quarter. Today we see the ENT to consult on the next tonsil steps.

Part of the radio silence here has been due to the feeling that it was impossible to write about this transition as it was ongoing, because we never seemed to hit a stable point where I could get enough of a handle on our situation and feelings to document it publicly. Now we've found our feet again, we hope we will find our words as well. Perhaps we will slip as easily into writing again as we have into being at home.

Here, have some pix of the youth in their Halloween finery.

No. 1 being mysterious

No. 2 and boyfriend as Barbenheimer

No. 5 as Unspecified Literary Character, No. 6 as Boy Eaten By Dino, and No. 7 as a Panda

No. 3 as Wednesday Addams

No. 4 as The Joker