Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy Birthday, Kitten!

Today is my lovely and talented daughter Kitten's fourteenth birthday. I know--14!! I told a clerk in the checkout counter the other day that my daughter was turning 14 (since I was buying some obviously teen-girlish gift items) and when I said it out loud, I felt amazed. Where have the years gone? How did she get to be such a grown-up and responsible young lady so very fast?

We're looking forward to a great celebration today, despite the gloomy weather here. Kitten decided last year that she'd much rather go to Mass at the vigil Mass at our tiny mission parish (the only Mass we have for the feast day, as Father has to say two other Masses at the main parish) instead of going to a different church on the actual feast. So now we have a new tradition: we go to Mass in the early evening, and she and I sing the responsorial psalm together, as part of our celebration of her birthday and Mary's lovely feast.

And, since she is turning fourteen, her main request for the day was to go shoe shopping for her first pair of high heels! Mom hasn't had such great luck with those shoes, but hopefully Kitten will have a bit more grace and balance than I ever did.

Since we began the tradition of letting her blog for herself on her birthday last year, I will now turn the blog over to my nearly-grown-up girl, who will share her thoughts in her favorite color:

Hi, this is Kitten! I'm very excited to get to talk you on my birthday! I can't wait to enjoy my fun day with my great family! I've had a lot of fun this past year especially when we adopted our awesome cat Emmett! I love cats ( thus the name Kitten ^^) so having Emmett has been a ton of fun!

I also enjoyed doing "National Novel Writing Month" this year with my sisters and some friends of ours. I wrote my first book that was more than a short story. Doing that was SO much fun especially with the friendly competition we had with our friends and with each other.

I hope all of you have a great New Year and that this year at fourteen will be as fun for me as last year was. I also hope that this year brings as much happiness to you and your families as last year gave me and my family.

God bless!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

He** freezes over

It has finally happened: Maureen Dowd has written a column that I actually sorta almost completely like.

I know, I know. I won't let it happen again.

But for now, here's an example of what I found rather good:

If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?

We are headed toward the moment when screeners will watch watch-listers sashay through while we have to come to the airport in hospital gowns, flapping open in the back.

Do read the whole thing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My response to Ian at Aquinas and More

[Note: this is the comment I've posted over at Aquinas and More's blog. Since his comments are moderated, it may take a while for my comment to show up (and as it's long, it may have to be trimmed to fit). I'm therefore taking the liberty of posting it here, too.]

Hi, Ian!

I'm sorry I wasn't able to respond yesterday, but I wanted to take a moment to address your response to my blog post. You're right that I haven't ordered from your store; in all honesty I must admit that your rather complicated return policy is one of the main reasons I haven't. I know it seems simple and straightforward to you, but to a shopper just wandering virtually around your site it seems confusing--cash refunds, but only in a certain time period, and not on some items including gold jewelry; store credit after that 30 day period, which is described variously as 30 days after the customer receives the items or 30 days after the item has shipped; defective CDs or DVDs will be replaced, but only if Aquinas and More plays them first, and if they work at your store you'll tell the customer to clean his equipment (which, you may not realize, comes off as rather insulting to the customer). And I only know this because I clicked on the link for "help" and then the one for "return policy;" how many of your customers place orders without realizing that they have ordered an item in your "non-returnable" category?

Like I said, this probably seems straightforward to you, and your many customers obviously don't have a problem with it. But put yourself in my place a moment: pretend you have a small budget to buy someone a gift (let's say a CD of Christmas music), you can order it from a store which will play the disk to "prove" it's defective if you say it is--or you can order the exact same disk from Barnes and Noble for pretty much the same price, knowing that they'll replace it immediately and without question if the item arrives and is defective. Which would you do? Or suppose you have enough money to buy your goddaughter a gold medal--do you order it online from a store where there's no possibility of returning it, even if you dislike the quality or workmanship once you see it, or do you go to Sears and physically look at their selection of gold medals? Considering how much money the customer is about to spend, here, I think it's only prudent to choose the second option.

I know you say the difference between big retailers and online Catholic ones is partly the "made in (fill in the totalitarian regime)" aspect that can be true of big stores. The thing is, it's also true of online Catholic ones. A lot of items I've ordered have turned out to be made in those same countries. Your store does pride itself on staying away from such items--but these days, books, CDs, DVDs and a host of similar items may be printed or manufactured (or have some components manufactured--CD cases, etc.) in those countries; even a simple item like printed wrapping paper often is. The question as to whether we ought to boycott those items or whether, as Pope John Paul II suggested, boycotts principally hurt the desperately poor is one on which Catholics might disagree; suffice it to say that the sort of thing I'm talking about isn't the kind of situation where the item I buy from the Catholic retailer will be made in a different country than the one I buy from a major secular retailer. In other words, if I want the new Susan Boyle CD, it's going to be the same CD whether it comes from Aquinas and More or Barnes and Noble.

And that is also true about your other objection which is that shoppers at big secular stores can't be sure of the orthodoxy of the items they are purchasing. Again, if I want to buy the latest book by a Catholic apologist, the book will be the same if I buy it at Amazon! With all due respect, if I'm shopping online, then I have plenty of ways to see if the item I'm buying meets my standards for orthodoxy or not, simply by doing a few online searches. I'm not really at the mercy of the big retailer just because the big retailer is only carrying Catholic goods at Christmas and Easter, for instance.

What the relatively small Catholic Internet stores, what even a big Catholic Internet store like Aquinas and More can do to earn my loyal business, is to treat me to an overwhelmingly positive customer service experience that goes above and beyond what I'd ever expect--because this is something the big secular retailers can't always do. I'm sure that this is how loyal customers of Aquinas and More feel about your store; I myself have been burned so many times by other Catholic Internet stores that I'm hesitant to take the chance again only to find myself, yet again, without a gift item I've ordered well in advance as the date of the occasion looms closer and closer.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Odd Google Searches of the Week

It's been a busy day, and I haven't had a chance to respond to Ian at Aquinas and More yet; will hope to do so tomorrow.

In the meantime, here are this week's Odd Google Searches, in no order, with random comments:

1. "Dark wanderer wives." Ummm....okay. I hope this was a role-playing game search. Is all I'm saying.

2. "Marriage obedient skirt." Oh, no. We've had that sort of conversation here before. I'm not getting into it again--except to wonder, for a moment, just why this seems to be a big issue for some men, this notion that their wives ought to wear skirts out of obedience and...what, exactly?

3. "Science can remove sleep." I hope not! I've been doing my level best all through Christmas to test the hypothesis that good coffee can remove sleep, but now I'm paying for it by having to wean myself back off of all that caffeine.

4. "Frying pan that has nothing in it." Got to be an image search gone awry; I can't imagine the phrase coming up otherwise.

5. "Is it worse to miss Mass or go and not participate." Ordinarily worse to miss it, from a sin standpoint, unless you go planning to shut your eyes and stick your fingers in your ears and sing "La La La I can't heeeere yooouuuu!" the whole time (in which case you'll still sound better than anything Marty Haugen ever came up with). Of course, this assumes a few things--that you are perfectly healthy and not excused from Mass for some legitimate reason and not seriously hampered physically or mentally from participating in the Mass (and remember, active participation simply means that you're paying attention, not that you're speaking all the words or singing all the parts, etc.). If you're afraid that chasing your hyperactive one-year-old will cause you to miss Mass, rest assured--the care of young children is a legitimate reason to miss Mass anyway. I'd go, get what you can, and if a good bit of the time you're in the vestibule walking with Baby at least you are near Jesus and can receive Him when it's time. If you're afraid based on persistent symptoms that unmentionable digestive trouble is going to keep you in the restroom in the back the whole Mass--that's illness, and illness is a legitimate reason to miss Mass anyway. If you are suffering from a serious mental incapacity that might cause you to wander absentmindedly out into the parking lot halfway through Mass, hot-wire someone else's car, and hold up a nearby doughnut shop using a rolled-up church bulletin as a weapon--illness again, but do speak to your pastor (or arrange for your ordinary care assistant to speak to him) about receiving visits from him for the sacraments as well as, perhaps, some visits from Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion when Father can't come personally. But if you're just tired, and zoning out, and too sleepy to pay attention through no fault of your own--go, offer what you can, offer God your tiredness and your physical presence, and prepare to receive grace beyond all measure.

6. "Creative wrapping of spiritual objects." Oh, boy. I'm not sure I'm far enough along in my grasp of metaphysics to know how to wrap, creatively, something which has no physical existence. Unless, of course, the intrepid searcher meant religious objects, like, say, a rosary, a statue, a pack of holy cards...

7. "Cats sneezing artificial Christmas tree." Sir or madam, my sympathies. One of three things is probably happening: a) cat is allergic to tree materials; b) tree was dusty from storage, or c) cat is cleverly plotting to have you replace a tree he can't climb up and knock over with one that he can. If "c" is the real situation, the only thing I can suggest is that you take him to the vet, so that he will learn that feigning illness has extremely unpleasant consequences...


Follow up to Catholic Store post

The proprietor of the small Catholic Internet store Aquinas and More has put up a post on his blog responding to my post about ordering from small Catholic Internet stores.

I'm pressed for time today, but will try to leave Ian a comment later on; he is thoughtfully addressing some of the things we talked about here, and I think that these things are worth discussing.

Since I'm going to be away for a little while this afternoon, though, perhaps some of my readers might like to visit Ian's blog and leave a comment. If you've ever ordered from Aquinas and More (I haven't) I encourage you to share your experiences either here or there (or at both places if you like).

Back later! Thanks!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Crunchy Con Posting

Rod Dreher is very kindly allowing me to co-blog at his Crunchy Cons blog with him this last week of 2009. I've put up a post there this evening, and will probably do a few more throughout the week.

So things may be quiet around here--but do come over and read, if you'd like!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

I probably won't be posting much between now and New Year's, so I wanted to wish all my readers a most Merry Christmas and a blessed and holy New Year. Thanks so much for reading here! I appreciate it more than I can say.

God bless, and Merry Christmas!

The world crowds in

As the Advent season draws to a close tonight, I'm left with the somewhat melancholy reflection that it hasn't been my most spiritually productive Advent. Sure, the Jesse tree readings and other prayers and reflections were accomplished--but I can't shake the realization that these things became, instead of a gentle way to ground myself in the true meaning of Christmas, merely more items on a seemingly endless to-do list, which began even before Thanksgiving and will not end until Christmas dinner is in the oven tomorrow afternoon.

I can only blame myself for this--but how often it seems, especially at Christmas, that the very solemnity and holiness of the season are gradually dimmed by the sense that there is So Much to Do, by the cultural obligations of gifts and parties that extend even to one's or one's husband's work relationships, by the increasing demands on our time that often leave us, by Christmas Eve, metaphorically gasping for breath as we head out the door to Mass. The world crowds in, and obscures the Word.

But it has been this way since He first came among us. Mary and Joseph did not travel to Bethlehem to be near relatives or seek an excellent doctor, but to satisfy the demands of politics--a census, taken to measure the size of a finite kingdom, that because of this moment of grace became caught up in the story of an infinite one. They did not remain in Bethlehem, either, not because of a natural desire to return home, but because of a command to flee to Egypt to save the Child from the hands of those who sought, already, to destroy Him. The darkness of the world cannot comprehend the Light, and will always try to act as an extinguisher; the world crowds in, because the world cannot bear that He should be known, and worshiped, and glorified.

And the world still turns away, immersing itself in the age-old questions like "What price are a man's principles?" and "How can we use religion to our best advantages?" instead of turning to look, firmly and clearly, at the silent Word of God in the manger, born to die to rise to save us from our sins. The world crowds in upon itself, in a tired loop of cynicism and anger and doubt.

But He is there. The world may crowd in--but it cannot crowd Him out. He is there, Emmanuel, God With Us, present among us, so close we can taste Him, literally. He is there, rebuking gently our failures, the tendency we have to let the world crowd in and get in the way. He is there, reminding us of the world without end, the world we were born for, the world that is our inheritance--and it is not this world, and it does not crowd in, but transcends and transforms our hearts and words and deeds.

He is here. Emmanuel. And the darkness of the world will never know Him.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Cuteness alert

I don't know if it's just because Christmas is about to get here, but I've noticed an absolute explosion of cuteness on the part of the children or grandchildren of some of my favorite bloggers.

First, there was my own nephew and godson, who is featured in this sweet story about what makes a wonderful wife.

Then, Matthew Archbold's four-year-old poses a great Christmas dilemma--what if Santa actually does bring that lion? And there's no whip?

Finally, not to be ignored, the Dark Lord of Catholic Blogging puts up One Post to Out-do them All, featuring his insanely, unbelievable cute granddaughter Lucy:

UPDATE: My s-i-l sends along this great one from The Wine-Dark Sea blog!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Small Catholic Internet stores, revisited

Two years ago, I wrote this post addressing small Catholic Internet businesses. I outlined some of the problems I've had (and others have had, too) with ordering gifts, especially at Christmas, from small Catholic companies, religious goods stores, and other online Catholic retailers. Reading over it made me a little sad--because nothing has changed, not even with the bigger stores I routinely do business with, and it's led me to make a decision I'd rather not make concerning the purchasing of religious items.

In my gift wrap post below, I mentioned putting one box aside because only two of three items were inside, and then spending time on the phone with an employee of the company. The items in question were religious items, and the company is a well-established religious goods catalog business; unfortunately, this is not the first time I've had an order go awry from this company.

It turned out that one of my items was back-ordered. Nobody told me. Nobody sent an email, or called, even though the store asks for all that contact information when you order online. I didn't find out until I opened the box today.

The woman on the other end seemed mildly amused by my call. Oh, yes, it happens. Oh, it looks like the item came in, and was shipped--today. Oh, they expedited the shipping, so it should arrive this week. Surely by Thursday at the latest, though of course she had no idea how late it was sent out today, in which case...

I was nice to her; it wasn't her fault. I hung up the phone, and shrugged. It's important to me to give my children a religious gift at Christmas, but the third item will arrive long before Epiphany, so I can always give the girls this gift later. But like I said above, this is not the first time this has happened--and this is a fairly big, well-known sort of company.

I've had even worse times on occasion with smaller ones. There's only one Catholic store I can order from with supreme confidence, and that's a physical store in another state, where my youngest sister happens to work. If I know pretty much exactly what I want, or can figure it out in a reasonable time, I can call my sister; but during the busy Christmas season I wouldn't want to tie up her time with a call that says, "I need something religious for the girls for Christmas, in X price range, but not a small statue because that's what I got them last year, and I already ordered some books, and they have tons of rosaries, so what would you suggest?" and then goes on from there. (Don't get me wrong; she'd put up with that, because she's a thoroughly nice person and a terrific aunt; but I wouldn't take such advantage of her good nature at a time when there are plenty of flesh-and-blood customers needing to be helped in the store.)

To be honest, I'm rather tired of this. If I need a gift for a religious occasion, like my nephew's recent baptism, I need to know that ordering it three or four weeks in advance is plenty of lead-time for the store to get the item to me--or that they will, immediately, unhesitatingly, call me and let me know if for some reason the item can't be obtained in that time so I can at least have time to purchase something else. If an item says "In Stock" on a store's website, I need to know that this means they either have the item physically in a warehouse or can get it from the supplier in a week or less--it can't mean that, well, usually this particular manufacturer manages to bring the items in within a six-month time period, except for that one time when the factory workers in the Guangdong province had that industrial accident, but that wasn't Ye Olde Catholic Hobby Shoppe's fault. If I order a popular book from a well-known Catholic author to give to a friend, I don't expect the book to show up looking like the store owner and half a dozen customers read it in the store before it was packed up and sent to me. If I order a blue crystal rosary, I don't want to open the box to find a black wooden one.

Two years ago, I was all for giving small Catholic stores the most possible chances. But I'm at a point now where I can't afford to buy double gifts for religious occasions: one that I order, and one that I rush out to buy at the last minute because my order was delayed, wrong, or arrived in poor condition. Return the second? Oh, wait; that would require that the small Catholic store actually takes returns, something that seems to happen more in theory than in practice.

Here's the thing: when I needed that gift for my nephew, I saw a nice item in a religious catalog--and, just for the heck of it, searched for it on Amazon. And they had it. And so did I, in ample time before the baptism. When I needed a gift for a young acquaintance making her Confirmation, I remembered that a local department store had a nice silver necklace engraved with the words "Faith, Hope, Love," for a very reasonable price--and I bought that, instead of ordering something similar for double the price and then having to worry that it wouldn't show up.

There was a time when I might have felt guilty about this, about spending my money with a large corporation who is probably rather cynical about the sale of religious items instead of with some small noble Catholic company being run by a family or religious order who shares my faith and just wants to make a living in this small way. But I've put that guilt aside in most of these cases, because when given the opportunity to earn my repeat business just by doing the minimum--by sending my order out, complete and intact, and within the time frame stated on the website--so many of these companies have failed, and have failed on multiple occasions. And the biggest problem--the lack of communication--persists; I've wondered, not altogether facetiously, if the reason these companies don't tell you until it's much too late to do anything about it that there's a problem with your order is because they don't want to give you the opportunity to cancel it.

So from here on out, my religious gifts are going to come from big department stores (who are carrying more and more religious items, at least in our area of the country), from big online retailers (who try to have everything, and very nearly succeed) and from the place where my youngest sister works--provided I can get her on the store phone on a slow day. :)

Odd Google Searches of the Week

It's time once again for our present intermittent feature, where I post the odd searches people have done that have, for whatever reason, led them to this blog. Since it's late and I've got tired-gift-wrap fingers, here they are, without further ado, and in no particular order:

1. "Sample of vote of thanks." I've gotten this one at least twice now, from a Catholic blog search engine. So now I'm curious: what is meant here by a vote of thanks? Why does someone need a sample of it? And why are Catholics looking for this particular thing?

2. "I agree to torture terrorist." Good grief. Should I tell somebody? Does Mark Shea know about this? Or is this Larry D of Acts of the Apostasy in his attempt to make this list?

3. "Tea and Catholic Church." If you're wondering, the Church does not forbid tea. Or coffee. Or caffeine generally. Or alcohol, used in moderation. There might have been a breakaway sect of disgruntled Catholics who wanted to declare wine coolers a harbinger of the Apocalypse, though. Or I might have just made that up.

4. "Choir members complain song is 'too high.'" Sorry, intrepid searcher; I'm a first soprano with a practice range that can sometimes reach the F sharp above high C (C6), though in any public singing I'm not terribly comfortable above the C. I've never yet had any choir piece that required me to sing a note higher than the B before high C (and there was only one of those) in church, though, probably for the excellent reason that notes like those are rather piercing and thus unsuited to most ordinary liturgical music. So if your choir members are complaining that a whole song is too high, I can't imagine what it would be.

5. "Decorating with red tea lights." Hmmm. I can't really comment on decorating, as my style tends to be "Late Nonexistent." But I wonder if the searcher really meant "votive lights" or some other candle--wouldn't tea lights melt rather quickly? My limited experience of them is that they don't last long.

6. "Sunday Mass obligation poem." This might be fun to find! It's not here on this blog, though.

7. "Modern Church Mass songs." I wonder if the searcher is looking for hymns, or for the sung parts of the Mass? It's not surprising, given the "show tunes" style of so many unfortunate and misguided Mass settings written since the Second Vatican Council, that people might confuse the two.

8. "Laundry racks wives love." Oh, my. A week before Christmas, too. Again, unless this is Larry D having a bit of a prank, I really wish I could find that searcher and tell him: NO. Don't. Period. Unless your wife has actually specifically and repeatedly told you that what she really really wants for Christmas is a laundry rack, do NOT follow this impulse. Get her something feminine and frivolous instead; if you must take action on the laundry rack thing, a gift certificate to the kind of store that sells storage and organization items would be much, much better. Let her pick out the laundry rack. Or let her pick out some other useful thing she's been coveting for a long time, and do so thinking all the time that you understand her--you really do! Trust me on this one.

That's all for this week's edition!

It's a wrap!

Guess what I've been doing pretty much all day today?

If you guessed, "Meditating silently and deeply upon the mystery of the Incarnation while sipping green chai tea topped off with a generous dollop of light whipped cream," you are--wrong. But boy, does that sound good.

No, today I've been experiencing that exquisite horror called wrapping the Christmas presents. Why do I call it a horror? Let me explain:

There are some women who delight in the art of gift-wrapping. These talented creatures design and manufacture their own bows, and some of them even make their own gift wrap, using rolls of butcher paper, their personal dried flower collection, and some hand-cut stencil patterns of the Eiffel Tower drawn to scale which they made in their spare time. Their packages are a joy to behold, every corner neatly folded; if you handed them a basketball and asked them to wrap it they would create a clever design that made the ball look, when wrapped, like the balloon portion of a hot air balloon, and would fill the basket beneath it with cute sports-themed adhesive bandages to go along with the gift.

There are, further, women for whom gift-wrapping isn't so much an art, but merely a chore. It's not an unpleasant one, necessarily; it just doesn't call forth the heights of their creative powers. They're perfectly happy to use store-bought paper and bows, and would put an odd-shaped gift like a basketball into a gift bag. Their packages are neat and tidy, appealing to the eye without being masterpieces of homemade creativity; they approach a gift-wrapping session with calm confidence and an awareness of the need to get the job done, which they then proceed to do as matter-of-factly as possible.

And then there are women like me.

If you asked me to explain mathematically how a two dimensional sheet of paper can be turned into a three-dimensional object, I'd probably do all right (provided we're talking about simple shapes, and not, say, a truncated dodecahedron). In theory, I understand that a flat piece of paper can, indeed, wrap neatly and cleanly around many three-dimensional objects, and that some objects (such as books, say) should pose absolutely no difficulty whatsoever to the process of wrapping a flat piece of paper around them.

That's theory. When it comes to practice, I'm all--well, I'd say all thumbs, but multiple thumbs could only improve my sad attempts at wrapping gifts.

As I told a choir friend yesterday, if you sat one hundred drunk monkeys in front of a hundred gift tables with a hundred gifts to be wrapped on each of them, ninety-nine of the monkeys would do a better job than I do. The hundredth would, of course, be passed out on the floor, where at least he wouldn't be doing as much damage as I would be.

The person who created gift bags is my hero. But unfortunately, especially at Christmas, it's not really possible to use gift bags for everything. And so each year I put off the gift-wrapping as long as possible.

Two things have worked to my advantage in years past: one, the girls were little enough not to notice packaging flaws, and two, Thad always helps. Thad is a master of gift wrap; the first time I saw him wrap a gift I was awestruck at the precision and artistry of his finished product, and even today if we have to give a gift to some adult non-relative and I can't find a gift bag, I ask him to do the wrapping.

But the girls are older now, and do a pretty darned good job of wrapping gifts already (they'll take after their dad in this area, thank goodness!). The other thing that was different this year is that I decided to do the whole thing myself. Thad has had to work long hours lately, and he worked a full day plus today--with no guarantee that he won't be on the phone with work or even have to go in over the course of the next couple of days. The last thing he needed was to be greeted with the news that a marathon gift-wrapping session awaited his help.

So at about three this afternoon, I began moving all the gifts, most of them purchased online, from the closet to the bed in my room. I spent nearly an hour (between normal interruptions) just opening all the boxes and breaking them down for recycling, disposing of the excess packaging, and putting all the receipts into a folder I swiped from the school supply box for that purpose. I then spent another hour organizing the gifts into piles, stashing Thad's back into the closet to be wrapped later (because I'm still waiting for an item to show up), and calling one company which sent me two of the three items I ordered (more on that later). Finally, I started wrapping the gifts.

If I tell you how long it took me, you'll think I went crazy and bought my children dozens of gifts each, when actually we're having a fairly small Christmas this year, especially compared to the years when they were little and the fun of opening things was half the fun of Christmas. And I know that part of the reason it took so long were all those normal interruptions involving dinner and phone calls and Thad getting home from work and things of that nature. But the reality is that when you're not very good at wrapping gifts, it can take a long time to get through the process, because you're never quite sure if you've cut enough paper until the moment you realize you haven't, and you keep misplacing your scissors for the excellent reason that you keep setting them down by the gift tags and not realizing this until you start to try to wrap the next gift, and so on.

But eventually I finished, and without either (a) nicking myself with the scissors or (b) discovering that a gift was poking its way out of its package already. Yay!

What's that? Thad's gifts are still unwrapped in the closet? Oh, there are a few more days. Maybe I'll go pick up some gift bags...


Friday, December 18, 2009

Random YouTube Coolness, part B

Okay, this one has an article attached:

Here's a fairy tale that could only happen in the movies. Man makes YouTube video. Goes to Hollywood. Gets pots of money and a movie deal. Except this story is true.

An unknown producer from Uruguay, Fede Alvarez, shelled out about $300 to create a cool video of a robot invasion in Montevideo, the capitol of Uruguay. The four-minute short, "Ataque de Panico!" (Panic Attack) features ginormous (but slow-moving) weapon-wielding robots that blow stuff up.

We have to admit, it has pretty amazing production values. The Playlist gushed that the director may be the next Neill Blomkamp, who made the South African-based alien flick "District 9." With the blog abuzz, the South American short went viral, and has already been viewed on YouTube 1.5 million times.

Well, apparently nothing gets by Hollywood these days. The lucky duck told the BBC, "I uploaded 'Ataque de Panico!' on a Thursday and on Monday my inbox was totally full of emails from Hollywood studios." Long story short, a bidding war ensued. The offer he pocketed: A $30 million deal with Sam "Spiderman" Raimi's Ghost House Pictures. That's a nice return on investment.

And here's the YouTube coolness:

Random YouTube Coolness, part A

I was writing a health care post. Really.

But my brain is offline today--and the closer we get to Christmas, the worse it gets.

So, instead, I'm sharing some coolness from YouTube. First up: an animation of what Earth would look like if we had rings like Saturn:


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What Christmas song drives you crazy?

Let's suppose you're out for the afternoon; you're driving and listening to the radio, perhaps, or you are shopping in stores where Christmas music is playing in an endless loop as it has been since the "Back to School" sales signs came down in September (I kid, but not by much, alas).

Then it comes on. That song. That one that makes you grit your teeth in a way that delights your dentist but wreaks havoc on your ability to enjoy Christmas candy. The one that causes you to mutter and look enviously at senior citizen shoppers who have only to turn down their hearing aids to escape the horror. The one that makes you wish that Eris would arise and sow all the discord she can muster upon that minx Euterpe. That horrible, horrible Christmas song.

Okay. What is it?

For me, Paul McCartney's drivelish drooling display of dulcet dreadfulness titled Wonderful Christmastime is that song, though it narrowly edged out Band-Aid's jarring Do They Know It's Christmas, which at least has the excuse of being a fundraiser.

My girls' unanimous choice, though, was Taylor Swift's Last Christmas, which they dislike for the overall sappiness as well as the fact that the thing has been played incessantly and is fast becoming a Christmas earworm.

Thad dislikes most Christmas music, on the excellent grounds that he gets sick of it in early October and then has two more months of increasing Christmas-music air time before radios go back to playing back-to-back commercials with the occasional song thrown in. Two older songs he doesn't much like to hear are Little Drummer Boy and Do You Hear What I Hear? But the songs he really dislikes most are what he calls the sad Christmas songs, and he mentioned Karen Carpenter's Merry Christmas Darling as a prime example of this type.

Okay: your turn! What Christmas song drives you crazy by December 25 each year?

UPDATE: AAAAGH! How could I ever forget the All Time Worst Song Ever to be Played on the Radio at Christmastime???

Intermittent Blogging Ahead

Christmas is getting closer by the minute! And, as school winds down and cookie-baking/gift buying/decorating and so on heat up, I'm probably going to find it harder and harder to put up any sort of sober political analysis or worthwhile commentary.

But I know that you're too busy to read much sober political analysis or worthwhile commentary, either, so it all works out. :)

I'm not saying there won't be any political-type posts. Probably will be, especially with the health care situation and the typical behavior of our political elites toward the little people and the Democrats' Blue Christmas and things of this nature. It's just that on some days, like today, I find myself out of time to write anything even remotely coherent about such topics, and by next week I may have a few days wherein it won't be possible to put up a post at all.

My thanks, as always, to all of you who read this blog on a regular basis! And if you do happen to see am interesting political comment-begging headline or two out there that I might have missed in my desperate search for things like "Homemade last-minute easy Christmas cards for the craft-impaired," please feel free to send them to me at the email address in my sidebar.

And thanks, also, for tolerating the occasionally-silly Christmas-themed post. I can't really help it. ;)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A green light?

From the laws of unintended consequences department:

MILWAUKEE — Cities around the country that have installed energy-efficient traffic lights are discovering a hazardous downside: The bulbs don't burn hot enough to melt snow and can become crusted over in a storm — a problem blamed for dozens of accidents and at least one death.

"I've never had to put up with this in the past," said Duane Kassens, a driver from West Bend who got into a fender-bender recently because he couldn't see the lights. "The police officer told me the new lights weren't melting the snow. How is that safe?"

Many communities have switched to LED bulbs in their traffic lights because they use 90 percent less energy than the old incandescent variety, last far longer and save money. Their great advantage is also their drawback: They do not waste energy by producing heat.

Authorities in several states are testing possible solutions, including installing weather shields, adding heating elements like those used in airport runway lights, or coating the lights with water-repellent substances.

Short of some kind of technological fix, "as far as I'm aware, all that can be done is to have crews clean off the snow by hand," said Green Bay, Wis., police Lt. Jim Runge. "It's a bit labor-intensive."

In St. Paul, Minn., for example, city crews use air compressors to blow snow and ice off blocked lights.

Now, I understand that we want to save energy, and that using energy-efficient lights in situations where lights are burning nearly all the time makes sense. But does it make sense to put lights in cold climates which then have to be painstakingly cleaned by hand? How much energy does that use?

And if a technological fix is adopted, will the energy spent by the fix plus the lights be similar to the energy used by the old incandescents? What will the fix cost, and how does that compare to the cost of the old bulbs?

While it's praiseworthy to want to conserve energy, that doesn't always mean rushing to adopt some new change just because it's more energy efficient. Only when we've considered the full impact of the new technology should we proceed. I find it amazing that in some places these LED traffic lights have been used for more than a decade--and, presumably, for more than a decade road crews have painstakingly gone out after each blanketing snow or ice storm to clear the lights so that traffic can proceed safely.

We don't want to rush to give a green light to all new, presumptively "green" technology, until we've considered all the consequences. When energy savings can be found without risking public safety or increasing costs to an unbearable level, adopting them makes sense--but we need to make sure we're not increasing risks or costs too much before we hail these new inventions as "solutions" to the older, less efficient technologies they're replacing.

Outrage in Massachusetts

You've probably already seen this today, but it's too outrageous not to talk about:
TAUNTON, Mass. (AP) - An 8-year-old boy was sent home from school and ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation after he was asked to make a Christmas drawing and came up with what appeared to be a stick figure of Jesus on a cross, the child's father said Tuesday.

Chester Johnson told WBZ-TV that his son made the drawing on Dec. 2 after his second-grade teacher asked children to sketch something that reminded them of the holiday. [...]

The boy was cleared to return to school on Dec. 7 after the evaluation found nothing to indicate that he posed a threat to himself or others. But his father said the boy was traumatized by the incident and the school district has approved the family's request to have the child transferred to another school.

"They owe my family an apology and the kid an apology and they need to work with my son (to) the best of their ability to get him back to where he was before all this happened," Johnson told New England Cable News.

The father said in the days before the incident the family had gone to the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro, where there are crucifixion statues.

"That was fresh on his mind," he told NECN. "And that was a good thing that he saw."

Bear in mind, if you please, that this is Massachusetts we're talking about. The state where it's legal to read fairy tales about a king falling in love with and marrying another king (because he doesn't like princesses) to children in second grade. The state where it's legal for an eighth-grade teacher to talk about her female partner to students and insist that lesbians do have "intercourse," complete with discussions of how this is possible.

But, apparently, it's frowned upon for a child in school in Massachusetts to draw an image of Christ on a crucifix--because that is "violent."

So destroying children's innocence and purity is not violence, but creating a well-known Christian image is.

Will the last Christian in Massachusetts please extinguish the last sanctuary lamp before leaving this forsaken wasteland of a state?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Odd Google Searches of the Week

I'm introducing a new Monday feature today; it will probably be intermittent, like any feature I attempt to introduce. But Mondays are often days when I find it difficult to do much in the way of writing, and I thought it would be fun to try something a little different.

Like most people who use Site Meter or some other tracking program, I will sometimes check in to see not just how many people have read my blog, but how they found me. There are lots of "unknowns," of course, and a few who come in here because someone has linked to something I wrote (and many thanks to all who have done this!), and so forth. But the ones I find most fun are the ones who were doing a search on a string of words or a phrase, and who stumble across this blog that way.

So each week on Monday I'll share some of the ones I've seen in the previous week, especially the interesting or strange.

This Week's Odd Google Searches:

1. "Example of speech choir." I don't know exactly what a "speech choir" is or why people are hoping to find examples of it, but this one has cropped up on several recent occasions.

2. "Essay on Is it okay to lie sometimes." Okay, a homework help search, but I can't help but wonder what teacher assigned that sort of essay topic, and what parameters were set (e.g., is teacher looking for "no" answers--or for "yes"?

3. "Why pro-life people are crazy." Hmmm. Surprised I didn't get a drive-by comment from that searcher.

4. "FLDS Crafts." Wow. Two strikes. I'm not FLDS, and I'm not crafty at all.

5. "3 reasons why you shouldnt buy an artificial christmas tree." Sorry, intrepid searcher; I gave three reasons why I like the durned things.

6. "mark shea torture definition." I'm proud of that one, even though on my computer I don't come up until page 15 of that search on Google. Somebody had to have a lot of patience to go through all those pages of results to find this blog!

That's all for this week's odd searches!

Reproductive prostitutes

From the Brave New World files: the definition of "parent" gets even more confusing with this story from the New York Times:

Bridget and Ethan are now in the custody of the surrogate who gave birth to them, Laschell Baker of Ypsilanti, Mich. Ms. Baker had obtained a court order to retrieve them after learning that Ms. Kehoe was being treated for mental illness.

“I couldn’t see living the rest of my life worrying and wondering what had happened, or what if she hadn’t taken her medicine, or what if she relapsed,” said Ms. Baker, who has four children of her own.

Now, she and her husband, Paul, plan to raise the twins.

The creation of Ethan and Bridget tested the boundaries of the field known as third-party reproduction, in which more than two people collaborate to have a baby. Five parties were involved: the egg donor, the sperm donor, Ms. Baker and the Kehoes. And two separate middlemen brokered the egg and sperm.

You'll have to read the whole thing; there's no way this isn't complicated. The Kehoes were the infertile couple who wanted the children; they found their own egg donor and sperm donor, and Ms. Baker was the one who carried the children--but she's no more biologically linked to them than the Kehoes are. Yet she has custody of them. Their actual parents were simply people paid to be reproductive prostitutes, in effect.

I don't use a loaded term like that lightly. But what else should we call people who sell their genetic material to the highest bidders, knowing full well that the intention of the buyers is to fabricate children and grow them in a human incubator? The "egg broker" who sold the Kehoes the eggs that became Bridget and Ethan shows some facile remorse:

“When they go bad, it’s so sad,” said Mitzi Heineman, the Michigan broker who supplied Ms. Kehoe’s donor eggs. “You feel sorry for the baby. Who are the baby’s parents?”

Maybe the broker, or "egg pimp" as I'm now going to call such people, would be better off if she asked the hard questions ahead of time--or, better still, got out of such a demeaning and foul and utterly evil industry in the first place.

Changing the definition of "parent"

A gay man has been given the legal right to remain in contact with his son--who was born to a lesbian friend and her partner:

DUBLIN — The Irish Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a gay man who donated his sperm to a lesbian couple should be permitted to see his 3-year-old son regularly — in part because Ireland's constitution doesn't recognize the lesbians as a valid family unit.

The ruling was a legal first in Ireland, where homosexuality was outlawed until 1993 and gay couples are denied many rights given to married couples. Critics contend the case highlights how Ireland's conservative Catholic 1937 constitution conflicts with contemporary European norms and fails to address the reality that hundreds of gay couples in Ireland have children.

In their unanimous decision, the five judges of Ireland's ultimate constitutional authority said a lower court erred by trying to apply the European Convention on Human Rights in favor of the lesbian couple. The Supreme Court concluded that when the two are in conflict, the Irish constitution is superior to European human rights law.

In her written judgment, Supreme Court Justice Susan Denham said the lesbian couple provide a loving, stable home for their son — but that the constitution defines parents as a married man and woman, and gays are not permitted to marry in Ireland.

She said Irish law does identify the sperm donor as the father, and he therefore had a right to have a relationship with his son.

"There is benefit to a child, in general, to have the society of his father," Denham wrote. "I am satisfied that the learned High Court judge gave insufficient weight to this factor."

What had the High Court ruled? Read on:

In April 2008, High Court Justice John Hedigan ruled in favor of the lesbian couple and rejected the man's application to have visitation or guardianship rights. The man immediately appealed.

In his ruling, Hedigan said Irish law contained nothing explicit to suggest that two women and a child possessed "any lesser right to be recognized as a de-facto family than a family composed of a man and woman unmarried to each other and a child."

Hedigan said the European rights charter's Article 8 did not discriminate between heterosexuals and gays in enshrining their right to a private family life.

So even though the gay man was clearly the child's biological father, Justice Hedigan had ruled that the two woman and the child were a "de-facto" family and that the father therefore had no more right to his own son than a stranger, in effect.

What is a "de-facto family," you ask? More to the point, what's a "de facto" parent? It's a concept that the United States Supreme Court let stand back in a ruling in 2006:

The case the Supreme Court let stand was that of a lesbian couple who shared a child and eventually split. The child was carried via artificial insemination by one woman but shared no blood connection to the other. However, both women acted as parents for the full seven years of this child's life. Did one parent have more rights over the child than the other simply because of shared genes? The court said no. Both parents share parental rights and therefore have equal right to pursue shared parental rights upon their split. Although one parent was biologically linked to the child, the other acted as a 'de facto' parent for the entirety of the child's life.

As a threat, then, to the biological family and to parental rights, the concept of the "de facto" parent has been around for a few years. But with the growing push for gay marriage and the reality that many gay couples are raising children together to which only one may be biologically linked, this situation has the potential to weaken the connection between a child and his or her own biological parents, and to strengthen the notion that a "family" is whatever we decide it is, whenever we make the decision.

The Irish Supreme Court should be recognized for its defense of the notion that a child's parents are not whomever we say they are, but the people who are biologically connected to him (except in the case of adoption, where the biological parents have relinquished their rights). But I think that it won't be long before gay couples, not only in Ireland but everywhere, insist on the "de facto" parenthood definition being accepted as the meaning of the word "parent," and the dropping of the definition of parent as a person who is biologically a child's father or mother. In other words, the definition of "marriage" isn't the only definition they're bent on changing.

Friday, December 11, 2009

You'd better not pout, you'd better not GRR...UPDATED

There are only fourteen days left until Christmas! Or, more properly, for us Catholics, there are fourteen days left until the beginning of the Christmas season. Those of us who have yet even to think about Christmas cards are taking comfort in knowing that Christmas is a season, after all.

Back around Mother's Day I wrote a post about women and gifts. Some of that was specific to Mother's Day or other occasions where only one person is receiving gifts, but some of it applies to holidays like Christmas as well, so I thought it would be a good idea to repeat some of it here.

Essentially I was talking about a phenomenon I like to call Gift Resenting Recipient syndrome, or GRR. GRR occurs when a person (and it's usually a woman) gets ideas about how she'd like a day to go, or what sort of gift or gifts she might expect, and then her expectations aren't met. A person suffering from GRR may storm around loudly or drift in icy, glacial silence until the person who caused the GRR takes notice and feels guilty; the GRR victim doesn't really want things "fixed" because, of course, it's much too late for that.

Two of the three principles I wrote about GRR occurring at times like Mother's Day or one's birthday apply to Christmas, as well. They are:
  1. A gift is not something we can or should try to control. There's nothing wrong with giving one's husband suggestions or hints, or even a list if he's that sort of man and finds it much, much easier to shop with a few written ideas in hand. But there's everything wrong with insisting that every gift we ever get from anybody (but especially our husbands) be somehow a reflection of our deepest and innermost realities, tastes, ideas, and desires. If you tell your dearest one that you'd really like some kitchen towels to match your kitchen which you've decorated to look a bit like Provence, and he buys towels with Tweety Bird on them because he thinks that's sort of the right color to match the tile behind the stove, you should smile at his willingness to think about the color, and appreciate the whimsy; you should not use this as an opportunity to be grumpy about how he doesn't get your decorating tastes.
  2. It really is the thought that counts. Men don't always "get" women's tastes, and vice versa; I recall a funny piece by Patrick McManus in which the writer explained that women see pretty candles and think of romance; men see pretty candles and think of inefficient illumination. So the fact that one's husband is even willing to venture into parts of a store that don't sell tools, hardware, or electronics is a pretty big thoughtful gesture right from the get-go; analyzing the gift down to the studs, so to speak, to find out what is wrong with this person you've married is a pretty bad approach to take.
To these, I would add a third one, specifically for Christmas, and specifically for women:
3. Someone's reaction to a gift is not in any way a sign of their love for you--or lack thereof. Let's face it--women, generally speaking, do most of the Christmas shopping. Sometimes in our efforts we're not going to "guess" right about what our children or our husbands would really like to receive--and this is just as true for those simple one-gift Christmases as for the more lavish sort. We can build up expectations and whole narratives about how delighted someone's going to be with our gift, and then feel let down and depressed when that delight doesn't manifest itself. In those cases, GRR becomes GGRR, or Gift-Giver Resenting the Recipient. Just as we can be tempted to think that a really "wrong" gift proves the giver doesn't love us, so can we be tempted to think our own mistakes prove, deep down, that our love is somehow deficient--or that the recipient doesn't truly love us enough to at least pretend to be thrilled with our gift attempts.

I know it's important at Christmas to remind ourselves how little the material things matter when it comes to our celebrations. That said, though, I think the best defense against GRR or GGRR is simply to be aware that they do happen. With the best will in the world to focus on the spiritual aspects of Christmas and its graces and joys, we can still end up muttering to ourselves if a gift completely misses the mark, whether it's one bought for us or one we bought for someone else. Our tendency to invest gifts with meaning and purpose is not a bad thing--it is, after all, an important aspect of understanding the true Gift of Christmas, the Child born to save us all. But the risk of hurt feelings and unkind reactions is a part of this tendency, too, and it's one that tends to put a damper on any joyful celebration of the birth of Our Lord.

UPDATE: I've been discussing matters with a commenter named "Kitty" below, and suffice it to say that Kitty and I have some points of disagreement. But in the interests of clarification, I'd just like to point out that I'm not excusing what Kitty calls, "thoughtless oaf" behavior on the part of husbands.

If a man truly ignores his wife, never asks her or cares about her interests, and can't be bothered to figure out what she might like to receive or to shop for her anywhere but his favorite store (ten minutes before closing on December 24), she may have some legitimate grievances. I still don't think GRR is the way to deal with them. A man who can't pick up on his wife's interests or needs probably will ignore the emotional manipulation just as easily, which is only going to escalate the situation. What is needed is honest communication about the problem.

But what I'm talking about is something a little different. Do I give men a total pass for not being able to think of their wives' needs or interests? Not at all. Do I recognize that men are men, and thus often different from women? Absolutely.

It is not uncommon for a woman to be out shopping, to see a pretty set of stationery or some adorable measuring spoons in the shape of geese or a recently-published book on the history of church architecture, and to think, "I'll bet my sister/cousin/friend/mother/mother-in-law etc. would just love this!" even if it's months to the next gift-giving occasion.

It is not giving men a pass to recognize that most of them do not tend to experience this impulse. While some of them are better than others at buying gifts, few of them tend to think about gifts a whole lot before a gift-giving occasion approaches. Of course, I am speaking generally--there are men who excel at the art of gift-giving and women who rush out at the last minute in a blind panic. But it has been my experience that women generally do better than men at connecting the dots and buying each other thoughtful, personal gifts.

Which is not to say that men shouldn't try, or can't achieve a reasonable level of gift success. But where I think GRR so often comes in is when a woman drops what she thinks are clear, positive, direct hints about what she wants--and she doesn't realize that owing to the difference in communication between men and women, her hints haven't registered, so to speak.

In the comments I use an example of a woman saying in September "I'd like to make this same cake with bigger layers, but the ten-inch layer pans in this brand I really like are so expensive!" and thinking this is a clear hint as to what she wants for Christmas. That's not a farfetched example--I've witnessed some similar examples of hints and hinting in my life, and have been guilty of some, too.

Or take my example above, when a woman says she'd like some towels to match the new kitchen decor. In her mind, the colors she has selected for her kitchen absolutely scream Provence, and she's expecting some delicate towels with grape vines and a wine motif--but she hasn't actually shared with her husband that the look she's going for in the kitchen is provincial, or explained what that means to a man whose idea of decorating is the cork board in the garage on which his socket wrench and hammer collection hang.

Perhaps a woman might hint that she is cold at night when they are watching television. What she really needs a new bathrobe, and in her mind's eye she has picked out a creamy ivory spa-style waffle weave robe with matching slippers, and perhaps some bath salts to add to the relaxation--but all she's actually said is, "Brr! It's cold in here at night. My robe just isn't warm enough." So her husband, with the best will in the world, hears her complaining about being so cold at night and buys, perhaps, a space heater for the family room, or a blanket-with-sleeves, or something of the sort.

So, with all of that in mind, let me add a point number 4 to my list above:

4. Few men are good at picking up on gift-hints. There will be exceptions, and if your husband is one of them you will know this, probably even before you get married. But many men are not good at picking up on even rather broad hints about what their wives would like to receive as a gift, let alone the subtle, mysterious variety. If you want something specific for Christmas (or your birthday, Mother's Day, etc.) then you have to tell him. Depending on how important it is that you receive a particular brand, style, size, etc., you may need to fill in those details.
Some women don't like to do the above, because it's not "romantic" to give their husbands a list of sorts. Why, he should be able to figure out exactly what you like and want and secretly wish for! etc. But turn it around for a moment. To use a personal example, I know that what my husband would really like this year for Christmas is a ham radio, now that he's got his license (he's been borrowing one from a church acquaintance so far). I, however, know very little about ham radios, especially at the less-expensive end which is what we can afford just now. I don't know if it would be better to buy a slightly used better model or a brand new lesser model; heck, I don't even know what makes a model "better" or "lesser." So I have two choices: a) have Thad do all the research and then tell me exactly what model he wants within the price range we have figured out, or b) let him buy the radio and give him a couple of small thoughtful things on Christmas Day. I'm going for "b" because--gasp!--we have actually talked about it, and this is what he'd prefer for me to do.

Not every gift a woman wants falls into the "ham radio" level of difficulty, of course. For most gifts a simple request is good enough, e.g. "I'd really like a new bathrobe, but I'm not picky about the type or color," (but only if you actually aren't). It's not a proof of failure of love for a husband not to notice automatically that his wife could use a new robe, though, just as it's not proof of failure of love for me not to immerse myself in the technical details about ham radios and hope that I choose something sort of similar to what Thad actually wants.

O (artificial) Christmas Tree

This coming Sunday is Gaudete Sunday, which in our house is nicknamed "The Sunday we get to put up the Christmas Tree."

This is the first thing we do that annoys some die-hards who insist that the tree should never, ever, ever go up before Christmas Eve (and preferably not until after Midnight Mass). The second thing is that we use an artificial tree.

I've never been all that great, from an allergy perspective, with live trees in the house. For me, it's not so much the tree itself as the various molds and pollens they collect when they're growing. We also found out that Bookgirl can't be around live pine without sneezing, watery eyes, and general misery, so we're pretty much destined to have fake trees at Christmas.

I know this is heresy, but--actually, I prefer them to live ones. I know, I know! How non-crunchy non-authentic Made-in-whoknowswhattyrannicalregime plasticky overly-commercial can you get?

It gets worse. I like them for three main reasons: one, you don't have to water them (and have all that fun involving both water and electric lights). Two, you don't have to practically bolt them to the floor to keep them from falling over. And three, even though the plastic ones shed a bit of plastic here and there, it's nothing compared to the mess of showers of tiny un-vacuumable pine needles scattering mysteriously all over the house.

How shallow is that? I like artificial Christmas trees because they're easier and less messy. Cheaper, too, in the long run. Don't anybody tell Rod Dreher, though, or he'll revoke my unofficial "Crunchy Con" membership. ;-)

We may have to shell out a little money this year. The fake tree we have now is the second we've owned (it wasn't worth moving the first one from North Carolina to Texas, and buying a pre-lit tree cut down on a lot of pre-Christmas cussing). We bought it at Montgomery Ward. Which then closed (the physical store, not the present online retailer) in 2001, which gives you an idea of how many years that tree has been stored in a Texas garage through the heat of three-quarters of the year.

When we used it last year, it was looking a little--bent. And scraggly, from being set up and put away so many times. And just a little rickety, which wasn't a problem since the girls are long past the toddler let's-all-pull-on-the-tree phase.

And this year, we have a cat, for the first time ever, so our thinking is that we need something a little smaller, a little thinner, a little easier to control once Emmett discovers the excellent scratching-post/climbing toy we've put up just for him (because when you're a cat, all celebrations are always all about you).

Naturally, having reached this conclusion we promptly forgot all about it until this week, when we realized that this Sunday was Gaudete Sunday and thus our traditional day to put up the tree and decorate it in preparation for Christmas. Luckily, our procrastination will likely pay off, as there are lots of fake trees left in our local stores and frightened retailers are slashing prices on them because they certainly don't want to be stuck with them come December 26th. So in that sense we're doing all right.

We've also decided to decorate a little more sparsely this year, to keep the china and glass ornaments off of the tree and go for a lot of paper mache or other unbreakable ornaments, instead. But I'd really like to ask all the cat owners who read this blog--what do you do with the Christmas tree? Are there any tips or hints that some novice cat owners ought to take to heart, lest they find their cat dangling by his hind legs from a tangle of lights and glittery paper snowballs?

I'm open to any suggestions you experienced cat owners might have--unless they involve buying a live tree, of course. :)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

An awfully convenient myth

A thanks to Bedlam or Parnassus for the link to this outrageous editorial in a Canadian newspaper on the subject of global warming and population control:

The fix is simple. It's dramatic. And yet the world's leaders don't even have this on their agenda in Copenhagen. Instead there will be photo ops, posturing, optics, blah-blah-blah about climate science and climate fraud, announcements of giant wind farms, then cap-and-trade subsidies.

None will work unless a China one-child policy is imposed. Unfortunately, there are powerful opponents. Leaders of the world's big fundamentalist religions preach in favor of procreation and fiercely oppose birth control. And most political leaders in emerging economies perpetuate a disastrous Catch-22: Many children (i. e. sons) stave off hardship in the absence of a social safety net or economic development, which, in turn, prevents protections or development.

China has proven that birth restriction is smart policy. Its middle class grows, all its citizens have housing, health care, education and food, and the one out of five human beings who live there are not overpopulating the planet.

For those who balk at the notion that governments should control family sizes, just wait until the growing human population turns twice as much pastureland into desert as is now the case, or when the Amazon is gone, the elephants disappear for good and wars erupt over water, scarce resources and spatial needs.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: scratch a typical climate change activist, and find a kinsman of Margaret Sanger, who referred to human beings as "weeds."

I've been skeptical of the claims of "global warming" activists, now rebranded as "climate change" activists, from the beginning. Is the planet warmer than it used to be? Possibly. Is this a bad thing? Perhaps. Is man, through his various activities, the undeniable and overwhelming and only major cause of any warming that has been observed--provided the observations were based on sound data and not collected with a view toward proving something researchers had a vested interest in proving?

I highly doubt it.

The reasons for my skepticism are many, and beyond the scope of a typical blog post. They touch on such matters as the observed warming on other planets in our solar system during this same period, the lack of hard data from past centuries, complaints from some researchers about the location of temperature gauges used to collect important data (e.g., one gauge which showed a dramatic "rise" in temperature was located in an area that was once rural and is now a paved city block, if I recall my reading correctly), the reliance on computer models some of which failed to calculate the effects of such things as cloud cover and rain on temperatures, and a host of other problems, long before the Climategate emails showed up to add another facet to my tendency to doubt the whole anthropogenic global warming theory.

But one of the main reasons I've been skeptical about AGW is that it's an awfully convenient myth for the forces of destruction that have been unleashed against the family. If man and man's activities make him a pollutant, a threat to the very existence of life on our planet--why, then, governments can curtail man's activities in order to control him, and eventually coerce him into giving up his right to a family. If having children is classified as an environmentally harmful activity, there's no limit to the potential governmental ability to keep people from doing that--from imposing, as the author of that outrageous editorial suggests, China's forced-abortion, forced-sterilization, one-child policy on anyone whom it chooses.

The ability to control human beings and their ability to procreate has been a major desire of many elements for at least a century, now. From the glory days of the Eugenics Movement to its embarrassment and downfall over the whole Hitler mess to its phoenix-like resurrection as the Birth Control Movement to the present day when liberals are pleading with teary eyes for the right to force people to pay for the abortions of their fellow citizens, this mad desire has run unchecked through our recent history, and continues to gain followers.

But it has suffered its setbacks, too. The forced sterilization of the "unfit" lost support after World War II, when the inevitable connections with Hitler's ideas made such practices indefensible among the set who had previously agitated for them. The organization Zero Population Growth renamed itself "Population Connection," to try to attract more support. And the attention being paid to the abortion-funding provisions of the proposed heath care reform may end up derailing reform altogether.

In this reality, where people are beginning to fight against the idea that human beings are some kind of blight upon the planet or that the solution to the earth's problems would be to enact a kind of preemptive genocide upon billions of our neighbors, it is, as I said above, awfully convenient to be able to convince people that the seas are going to rise and kill us all unless we start adopting parenting licenses and one-child limits upon every person on the planet. And if there's one thing I'm always going to be suspicious about, it's this kind of convenient story told to advance an anti-human agenda that has, in some ways, been brewing since the serpent crawled out of Eden on his belly, plotting his revenge against the creatures made in the image and likeness of God.

UPDATE: China says we have to control population to reduce global warming.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Catholic abortion shills on parade

Proving yet again how irrelevant and silly the members of the Kennedy family have become, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend trades on her average writing skills and her famous family name to spew forth a couple of pages of unbearably trendy dreck on the topic of the United States bishops, abortion, and health care. I'll spare you most of it, but here's a sample:

Similarly, Catholic organizations like Catholic Charities receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for nonreligious services as long as those funds are separated from religious work. If this solution is good enough for Catholic organizations, then it is certainly good enough for health care reform. And it reflects well on the tolerant and pluralistic society we have created.

If Nelson’s amendment is a Senate version of the Stupak amendment, as expected, it will ban abortion not only in the public option but, effectively, throughout the exchange created by health care reform. Health insurance experts agree: Even if a woman used her own money to pay the premium for her health care plan in the exchange, she would not be able to access a plan that covered abortion care.

There are millions of pro-abortion rights Catholics who understand that women faced with unintended pregnancies or complications in wanted pregnancies have to make difficult, complex decisions for themselves and their families. They do not make the decision to have an abortion lightly and without weighing all of their options. They must retain the ability to make this decision and the ability to access the care they need, whatever their choice may be. That means they must have access to health insurance that covers abortion care — just as millions of Americans must have access to affordable health insurance and health care.

The U.S. Senate recently took an important vote toward improving women’s access to preventive health care under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The women’s health amendment would guarantee health insurance coverage, at no cost sharing, for women’s preventive care, including lifesaving screenings, well-woman exams and contraception to prevent unintended pregnancy.

Kathleen, dear, you may have missed a lesson or two from catechism class days, but as to that last even you should know that no Catholic worthy of the name supports "...contraception to prevent unintended pregnancy." In fact, the false belief that contraception allows men and women to fornicate and adulterate and otherwise act like animals without any consequences whatsoever is one of the things responsible for "unintended pregnancies" in the first place. Used to be, both men and women knew that slutting around often led to pregnancy. Now, the loose of morals act surprised and blame the birth control manufacturer for their "predicament"--and dial the local Planned Parenthood Human Extermination Facility.

And you want the federal government to pay for the exterminations. How progressive!

Ms. Townsend's example of Catholic Charities accepting federal dollars for "nonreligious work" is an odd one. Ignoring the fact that some of us think the day is coming when no Catholic agency will be able to accept federal monies while remaining Catholic in a much-more-than-Kennedy sense of the word, there is still the little question of the dismissal of abortion as merely "non-religious work." I suppose by that definition the architects of the Holocaust were merely providing a "non-religious" service as well; while I suppose you can say that killing unborn babies is "non-religious," it's the same sort of egregious understatement one might use if one said that Stalin were a "bit unpleasant" to those folks in the Katyn Forest.

Of course, anyone who can refer to pregnancy as a "health problem" and use the phrase "abortion care" with a straight face is already a master of the euphemism. Abortion doesn't "care" for anybody; it rips a tiny living unborn human to dead shreds of blood and bone, and sends her mother away empty--literally. Faithful Catholics understand what a terrible evil it would be to make "abortion care" just another option in a smorgasbord of federally-funded health insurance. But who has ever mistaken the vast majority of the Kennedy clan for faithful Catholics, anyway?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Prayers for Sister Quinn

Sister Donna Quinn, the pro-abortion Dominican nun who was recently ordered to stop acting as a clinic escort, apparently can't keep her mouth shut about abortion. Yesterday, she apparently referred to the date of the defeat of the Nelson pro-life Senate amendment as "providential" and said that Our Lady was one of the first to " Choice..." Creative Minority Report has the story; please go and read it all.

At the CMR link above you will find the email addresses of Sr. Quinn's superior and of Francis Cardinal George, to whom you can express your thoughts about the idea of a nun calling herself "pro-choice" (which we all know is a euphemism for "pro-abortion") and of denigrating the Blessed Mother by suggesting in any way that she would have supported this diabolical evil called abortion. I don't know what Sr. Quinn's personal issues may be, but she is clearly not fit to speak publicly as a Catholic about any matter relating to abortion. I have sent a letter to Cardinal George asking that Sr. Quinn be forbidden to speak about abortion, and I encourage others to do the same.

I pray that Our Lady may help Sister Quinn see the value of every human life from conception to natural death, and that Sister Quinn's soul will not be in mortal peril for her misguided and disgusting support of abortion. If everyone who reads this post will join me and offer one prayer or act of sacrifice for this intention I am sure our prayers will be heard.

Boiling sauce

When Thad came home from work tonight, he asked what was for dinner, and I told him that I'd used up some leftover chicken in a creamed chicken-over-rice sort of dish. Jokingly, he asked if I was sure the leftover chicken was heated to a good temperature (a joke that would make sense if you'd known me when I was a newlywed and a pretty lousy cook). "Of course!" I said. "The chicken was reheated in the boiling sauce..."

Without missing a beat, he said ominously, " are all who oppose you..."

Does he know me, or what? ;-)

What I want to know

The United States Senate has made one thing clear: they love abortion. They love it so much they won't vote to restrict it even if the price is a healthcare bill that the House and Senate can agree on:

The Senate on Tuesday night rejected an amendment that would have sharply curtailed insurance coverage for abortion, as efforts to finalise a healthcare reform bill turns into a numbers game.

With a 54-45 margin, the Senate voted down a proposal by Ben Nelson, a moderate Democrat from Nebraska, and Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, banning any insurer that offered abortion coverage from receiving any federal subsidies.

Abortion funding is one of the most divisive issues in American politics and one that has inflamed the debate as the Democratic-led Congress seeks to push through healthcare reforms championed by US president Barack Obama.

The current bill before the Senate, drafted by Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the upper chamber, says insurers can provide coverage for abortions but says no public money can be used to fund the procedure.

“Current law already forbids federal funds from paying for abortions, and our bill doesn’t weaken that rule one bit,” Mr Reid said on the Senate floor on Tuesday, reminding his colleagues that the issue of abortion should not stand in the way of a broader healthcare bill aimed at improving access for all.

Mr Nelson and Mr Hatch wanted stronger restrictions, similar to those already passed in the House of Representatives bill, and were backed by the Roman Catholic church.

Americans United for Life Action, an anti-abortion lobby group, said that senators had “effectively endorsed the abortion lobby’s goal of mainstreaming abortion as healthcare”.

Women’s rights activists had complained that the amendment, a similar version of which was already passed in the House of Representatives bill, amounted to a de facto ban on abortion.

Right--because refusing to force taxpayers to pay for abortions is the same thing as banning abortion. Sure.

Here's what I want to know: how many United States Senators receive campaign contributions from pro-abortion lobby groups? How many take donations from Planned Parenthood's PAC, from NARAL, from other groups whose sole purpose of existence is to protect the big business of killing babies and make sure that it continues to be extremely profitable to work in the human extermination industry?

How many of these Senators were bought and paid for with blood money?

Americans deserve to know that, before any further action on health care is taken by people who might be in the back pocket of an industry we find abhorrent, immoral, and voraciously, rapaciously evil.

Frying pan and fire

Well, I never did make it back here last night--mainly because after Mass we had to practice for next Sunday because our usual Thursday practice has been preempted by a penance service--which is a good thing, don't get me wrong, but we got home rather late last night.

Today, of course, is the actual Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is a major feast day in the Catholic Church, and has been celebrated (though not under the title Immaculate Conception) for many centuries, even before the doctrine was infallibly defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. Most of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics celebrate this feast day as a holy day of obligation, and it is a public holiday in more than twenty countries. For Catholics in the United States this feast is--or ought to be--especially important, since it is under the title of the Immaculate Conception that our nation honors the Blessed Virgin as our patroness.

So, naturally, today's Google logo celebrates--the birthday of the creator of the Popeye cartoon.

Okay, I've written about Google's strange logos before, and I'm not going to go back there today. But the logo prompted me to reflect on the difficulty of living a Catholic life in a secular nation; for most people, today is a Tuesday in the month before Christmas, just another workday/shopping day/school day. In those Catholic nations where today is a holiday, how much easier is it for families to gather to celebrate Our Lady's feast and treat today with the same dignity and respect with which we try to treat Sunday! But here in America, it's getting harder and harder to keep Sunday as a day set apart, let alone a Tuesday in the second week of December. Either we or our spouses or both of us have to go to work; our children have to go to school, Mass is "fit in" somewhere in the schedule between last evening and tonight, if we are lucky enough to have understanding employers and healthy children (not always a given, this time of year), and recognizing the special character of the day becomes something we have to work harder to maintain, instead of the recognition of this character flowing quite naturally from some public acknowledgment of the feast.

Over time, a feast like this one can become, in a secular nation, disconnected from any idea of celebration. The Mass obligation becomes a duty, then a burden, then ignored; the idea that there ought to be a special character for days like these becomes something quaint and outmoded, not something natural and expected. Instead of honoring our Mother with prayer and feasting, we slide toward doing the minimum on our way to doing nothing at all. I myself am guilty of this attitude; I failed to plan today as a day off from school, and because we started so late this year and I'm feeling the pressure of needing to accomplish a certain amount of work before we begin our Christmas holiday I didn't even really consider doing so--which I now regret, because nothing would have said "Feast Day" more to my children than a day free from their schoolwork.

As bad as all of this is, though, it might be worse. Instead of the frying pan of minimal celebration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we could find ourselves in the fire of having more of our holy days turned into secular parties which have nothing to do with the religious feast. Such has been the fate of St. Patrick's Day, St. Valentine's Day, and even, more and more, Christmas. The fact that this could even have been discussed is an illustration of how eager some cultural forces are to turn what we call Christmas into a kind of bland Winter Fest sort of thing, a holiday where we put up trees and lights and decorations and buy each other lots and lots of expensive economically-stimulating gifts--for no reason at all.

The only thing worse than having December 8th's significance ignored by our secular American society would be to have the Feast of the Immaculate Conception turned into another mushy-meaningless day to a) get drunk, b) buy gifts, or c) both. It may be hard to keep today as a day of celebration amidst a culture that ignores our faith (when it isn't being hostile to it), but it most definitely beats the alternative.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Heavenly music

Late posting alert: I'm headed out this evening for the Vigil Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Lots of good music on the schedule, including Immaculate Mary, Hail, Holy Queen, and O Sanctissima (one of my favorites). If there is time after Communion, our choir director (violinist) and our pianist will play a duet of the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria--heavenly!

I hope to get back here later tonight to post, but in the meantime here's a lovely rendition of the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria with harp and violin, which sounds very much like what we will hear at Mass tonight:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Saint Nicholas Day memory

Happy St. Nicholas' Day! Oh, if you want to be technical, happy Second Sunday of Advent. But since December 6 is the traditional feast day of St. Nicholas, I'm sure we do no harm by remembering this great saint today.

As a small child, I always put one shoe outside my bedroom door on the evening of December 5, knowing that during the night St. Nicholas was going to fill my shoe with some candy or small treats, pointing ahead to the joys of Christmas. It was always so exciting to wake up early and peek outside the bedroom door to see what was inside the shoes we all lined up.

But while I don't remember much about those little treats, I do remember one St. Nicholas' Day very well. That year, there were four little shoes outside the door--if the youngest child's shoe was out there, which I don't remember (though he can probably tell us). In the early morning, much too early to wake up in time for school, my sister and I opened the door--and saw a slip of paper in each of our shoes.

What could it be? I was old enough to read, and so I picked up the little slip, which had one oddly-constructed, typewritten sentence on it. It read, "Instead of candy, a baby brother has been born today."

It was the most exciting thing! I couldn't wait to get to school and show my teacher--which I did, and she let me read the little note from Saint Nicholas out loud to our class. I don't know if any of my other siblings was disappointed about the candy, but I wasn't. Imagine having St. Nicholas take the time out of his busy night to let each of us children know that we had a new baby brother!

When I was old enough to understand, of course, that little note meant even more. :-)

So on this December 6, please join me in wishing that "baby brother," the child who became the middle child--number five of nine--a very happy birthday! He, his wife, and their two lovely children (the youngest of whom was just baptized over Thanksgiving weekend) are a great blessing to our extended family.

Happy birthday, "little" brother!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday fun post

And now, because the last two posts were so dark for a Friday afternoon, here's something just fun. Thad made this little video of our cat, Emmett, playing a game of catch--he chases and catches the foam disks which shoot from a disk-shooter. Enjoy!

Cat-ch from Thad Manning on Vimeo.

The vanguard

A few weeks ago it was Alyssa Bustamante, who allegedly killed her nine-year-old neighbor because she wanted to see what it was like to kill someone.

Now it's Andrew Conley, who is alleged to have killed his ten-year-old brother to satisfy a craving to kill.

Alyssa is fifteen. Andrew is seventeen.

There will be a host of psychological theories to explain these two cases. But the one that makes sense to me is this one, from the prosecutor in the Conley case:

"Sometimes people are just evil," Dearborn-Ohio County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard said. "This is an evil child."
We surround our children with evil. There are evil books for them to read, evil music for them to listen to, evil movies and television programs for them to watch. Andrew Conley says he identified with the serial killer "Dexter" on this program. It's a mark of our society's debasement that a serial killer could ever be shown as a sympathetic character in the first place, but then again, Dexter is not the first time that's been done.

In addition to surrounding our children with evil, we negate or neuter any idea of good. We fill our children's heads with moral relativism, we tell them to do what feels good (as if mere feelings have ever been an adequate guide to morality); we sneer at virtue and tear down innocence as if it were something only worthy of destruction. We laugh at the practice of religion as something unenlightened and superstitious; our children beg for bread, for the Eucharist of salvation, and we give them stones, the hardness of unrepentant mortality.

And in the void we have created, they turn blindly away from the light that hurts their eyes and wounds their self-esteem--for they have been taught that all is good, that every impulse which satisfies their own sense of self is righteous and noble--and toward the darkness, which does not challenge them, which affirms them in their okayness, and which holds up models of evil for them to emulate and admire.

And so they choose. They choose darkness. They choose evil. They choose death.

And we stand back, and wring our hands, and say, "How can this be?" But we know. For all the psychobabble and sensationalized news coverage and analysis which substitutes for its morally deeper cousin, reflection, we know. They choose evil, because we have never permitted them to choose good.

If we are bent on tearing down every moral law, if we are so set upon our own destruction that we think in a purely secular society everyone will continue to do what is righteous, if we think that the dark and savage impulses to murder and terror and violence and the infliction of pain upon our fellow men have been "cured" by a godless Enlightenment that sets men up as gods and worships them in the smallness of their flawed and fallen nature, then we should expect to see many more children like Alyssa and Andrew, children who kill for the thrill of it, because they want to know for themselves what murder is like. They are the vanguard of the coming darkness.