Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lights, Camera, Script Frenzy!

I must be really out of it lately.

I've been getting emails from the Script Frenzy people, and I was shrugging, and thinking they must be fundraising letters. Script Frenzy, the fun venture where people who have no business scriptwriting write a hundred page script in thirty days, is in June, after all, just like the companion venture, my favorite, National Novel Writing Month, is in November.

Except Script Frenzy's not in June anymore. It starts tomorrow.

Somewhere in the back of my brain I must have noted the change, but I honestly don't remember. When I realized, a few days ago, that the Script Frenzy challenge began April 1 instead of June 1, I thought, "Oh, well." April is busy. Easter's not until the 12th, and there's just no way...

Except that the first time I did NaNoWriMo, I started November 9. And the book I wrote then is still the one my nephew thinks should be published; books I've spend much longer on just don't have that YA moral hopeful science-fiction pull (with series potential, publishers!), like that one does. The thing sort of wrote itself.

And I have no illusions about scripts. I only write them for fun; I just don't have the knack. But it was fun, last year, to script a campy space adventure involving a giant space squid. No, don't ask--really. It amused my children, which is reward enough; it also seems to help get me out of any writing doldrums I might be in, and start the creative processes flowing again.

I am Red Cardigan over there, too; NaNoWriMo is where my blog nickname comes from, in fact. So if you happen to be participating, I could use some new "writing buddies;" my friend from college who got me started on this whole thing hasn't had time in recent years.

Now, here are a few people (totally randomly and gratuitously) who I think should participate this year:

Larry D, at Acts of the Apostasy (in fact, that would be a great script title)
Either or both of the Archbold Brothers
Waltzing Matilda, or her husband, or both of them
Maclin Horton, who would probably write something really, really good
and MommaLlama or Daddio (or both)

and, of course, anybody else who feels a screenplay, script, TV show pilot, or other hundred-page "Lights, Camera, Action!" experience bubbling up.

Now, maybe some of the people I mentioned aren't interested, wouldn't want to try, etc. But I'm telling you--it's very fun to do what the NaNoWriMo/Script Frenzy people call "stifling your inner editor" and just writing, with a caution to the winds, devil may care, add additional cliches attitude. But don't take my word for it--give it a try!

And if you do--let me know! :)

P.S. Don't worry if you don't have a plot. I don't. That's part of the fun!

Twenty Minutes

I battled a migraine all day yesterday, and when this storm finally blew through and took my headache with it, it was rather late.

And, having taken medicine that contained caffeine, I was wide awake.

I promised Thad that I wouldn't stay up too late--it was only midnight or so, not late at all for me even without the caffeine--and settled down to read a few blogs in the peaceful silence of the abandoned living room.

I was absorbed in other peoples' ideas and the thought-tangents these ideas led me toward, quite happy. And then I noticed something on my desk: the pile of tests I hadn't graded last week, because I kept finding myself short of time to do it.

If it weren't Lent, I might have been able to ignore them and go back to my reading. But during Lent my guardian angel's wings have a bit of sting to them, and so, reluctantly, I turned off the computer, picked up the tests, glanced dourly at the clock, and sat down at the kitchen table to grade them.

I'm terrible about grading things. I let tests and papers pile up, and put off the actual moment of red-pen truth as long as possible. Even though the girls are good students and rarely have a total test meltdown, I hate the drudgery of reading through each line, unraveling essay question answers, and the like. Back in college, I found teachers who let tests go to be frustrating; I wanted instant results, or as close to instant as possible! Now, with only three students, I have a pang of sympathy and pity for those instructors of hundreds; I'd rather do almost any chore than face a pile of tests, even in a silent house well after midnight with no distractions.

But I figured that as I was awake anyway, as my brain was whirring with activity, as my head felt clear for the first time all day, I might as well do this one little thing for my children who are also my students. I read through the tests, marked answers, smiled at the good ones, deducted a few points for some off-mark solutions, and put each completed test on each child's desk so she'd see her graded tests in the morning.

And when I finished, I looked at the clock again.

And discovered that all of twenty minutes had passed.

Twenty minutes, to do a job I'd been putting off for days. Twenty minutes, to give my girls the feedback they need, to see for myself how they're doing, to get one set of tests closer to glorious summer freedom. Twenty minutes, to get rid of a pile that was starting to make me feel guilty every time I glanced at it.

Twenty minutes.

This, naturally, made me think of other things I frequently put off or avoid, that could be done, or at least well underway, in a twenty minute time period:
  • vacuuming, at least the two main living areas and the hall;
  • cleaning the kitchen, or at least cleaning it better than it is at any given moment;
  • planning meals, instead of ransacking the cabinets and fridge at the last second;
  • tackling a "clutter spot" and making at least some progress;
and so on.

And there are other things, too. I can usually manage to exercise for at least twenty minutes a day, but how often do I skip it because there "just isn't time?"

I say a rosary daily, but how often do I end up finishing it in bed because "I just didn't get to it?"

I owe a sister a phone call (yes, Ohio girl, I mean you!) but how many days now have I missed the window of opportunity (especially given the hour time difference; I always look at the clock when I'm about to call and realize she's probably in the middle of dinner, or headed to bed, etc. by the time I think of picking up the phone)?

I still have clothing buckets in my living room--okay, part of that's because the weather got cold again right when we were packing up all the warm things--but some of it is because I didn't think there would be time before tonight's extra Easter choir practice to get to it, no?

So often these jobs look disconcertingly large, or the perfectionist inside of us doesn't want us to start something we can't finish, and finish well, once we've started doing it. But as I discovered with those tests last night, sometimes twenty minutes is plenty; and even if it's not, it's better to be twenty minutes closer to finishing than never to begin at all.

This has been a Lent full of little obvious realizations for me, but I'm very grateful for them. Just think--most of us are awake for at least sixteen hours a day, and each hour is made of three twenty minute sets, which means that we have forty-eight opportunities a day to get to one of those nagging little chores we've been putting off, because there "just isn't time."

And when I realize how easy it is to fritter away those same twenty minutes on less necessary occupations (not that all leisure is bad, mind, but balance is key), I realize that I only need to commandeer one or two of those twenty minute intervals a day to make a difference to my husband or children or house or vocation generally or even to the community outside.

What can you do in twenty minutes today?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Pastor as Soloist

An interesting quote from CNS about remarks the Pope made recently in Africa:
ROME (CNS) -- In a world that does not seem interested in hearing about God, effective communication of the faith requires a group effort, Pope Benedict XVI said.

When many people seem unable or unwilling to recognize the presence of God, "it is important that a pastor not be a 'soloist,' but be surrounded by believers who, along with him, are bearers of the seed of the word (of God) and help it live and grow," the pope said during a visit March 29 to a Rome parish. [...]

The pope told parish leaders, "The council is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and the pastor -- and even more a pope -- needs advice, needs help in making decisions. And so these (parish) councils are also a work of the Holy Spirit and a witness to the Spirit's presence in the church."
This is interesting to me, because I recently found out more about my mission parish's former pastor. He was, by all accounts, rather autocratic. Even when the parish council would research an idea and be clear on the details, Father would decide to do something completely different (and not always advisable) simply because he was the pastor, and his word ought to be law. The final straw came when the parish raised money for an addition--and Father reportedly refused to accept advice from the lay people who had raised the money, hired some substandard contractors, and permitted the laying of a floor in the addition that had to be removed almost immediately because it was being destroyed with normal use.

Now, none of this is to point fingers at a priest I've never met; these are stories I've heard, and I would certainly ask Father's side of the story if he hadn't retired to another state. But it does illustrate the need to balance the authority of the pastor, which should be respected, with the role of the laity, who should also be respected in their proper spheres.

Far too often in parishes the situation exists where the parish council or other lay members think they are, or ought to be, in charge of the liturgy. From youth group leaders or DRE's demanding unrealistic roles for children at "special" Masses to out-of-control music ministers to segments of the congregation insisting that their particular culture ought to be featured prominently on holy days or other major occasions, lay parishioners seem quite happy, in many parishes, running to Father with a list of liturgical demands and expecting him to do whatever is asked, or to approve whatever is wanted, without a consideration for the integrity of the liturgy, the sacred or solemn, or the overall liturgical character intrinsic to the Mass. Granted, sometimes Father is part of the problem, having been educated to think that the Mass is something over which he has power and in which he may ignore the Church's liturgical will, but even when Father would like to have his Masses be reverent affairs he may be "overruled" by various lay people and their demands.

But the other side of the problem, the pastor who thinks, as the Pope so aptly put it, that he's a "soloist," is a frustrating reality, too. Sometimes a pastor who is very sound liturgically will be this type of pastor, the one who micromanages not the matters of liturgy, religious instruction, etc. which are very much his concern, but also such matters as construction and repairs, fundraising, parish outreach programs etc. involving areas where Father may not only not be an expert, but where he may be ignoring the advice and experience of parishioners who actually are expert in these areas. A priest who has never had to raise money, for instance, will turn away from the sound advice of the head of a local small nonprofit group at his peril; he will overrule people who have great experience in the construction industry to his sorrow; he will end up discouraging such groups as the Altar Society by a demand for the detailed minutes of their every meeting, and the right to overrule at the last minute the plans they've made for the purchase of altar flowers for a major feast day.

There needs to be a good balance between those areas that are the pastor's total concern, and those areas where he ought to welcome and even encourage the advice of the laity.

This may seem like common sense. However, just like the head of a family, a priest can go from dispensing his rightful authority for the good of the parish family to thinking that his authority means that nobody else can ever have a good suggestion or some sound wisdom, that it would diminish his authority to let a lay person help him figure out what kind of new furnace to buy for the church building, or how to go about raising funds for a new baptismal font to replace the "1970s Immersion Pool" that is now leaking a mixture of water and lime-green paint all over the main aisle where it is most unfortunately located.

An authority figure who seeks such advice will never find his authority diminished; he will only find respect for his lawful authority increased, especially among those whose opinions he honors and experience he values. Our priests need our prayers and our support always; but sometimes, even if they don't know it, they need our help, too.

Have It Your Way?

Does fast food cause fast tempers? One has to wonder:

A McDonald's drive-through was shot up early Sunday after a customer was angered that the restaurant had shifted from the lunch menu to the breakfast menu, police said.

The driver of a white Dodge Intrepid pulled into the drive-through at about 2 a.m. at McDonald's at 210 W. 500 South in Salt Lake City and ordered food from the lunch and dinner menu, police said.

When a clerk told her the restaurant was serving only items from the breakfast menu, the woman drove to the second window, police said. Two men got out of the car, and one pulled a sawed-off shotgun out of the trunk, police said. He fired once or twice into the drive-though window before the two men and the woman left on 500 South and turned north on 300 West, police said.

Luckily, no one was injured; police are, naturally, looking for the shooter.

It's a good thing these hot-tempered customers didn't try this at a Burger King:

On Tuesday, Jean-Baptiste was out on bond awaiting trial for the carjacking charge when he walked into a Burger King at 5398 Biscayne Blvd. around 4 p.m.

Wearing a ski mask and black gloves, say police, the teen pointed a semiautomatic Bryco .380 at the people behind the counter.

Customer John Landers, armed with a 9 mm Glock and a concealed weapons permit, saw the teen and confronted him, telling him to put down the gun.

Jean-Baptiste refused and fired his weapon.

Landers, 45, fired back.

Within moments, Jean-Baptiste lay dead on the floor of the fast-food restaurant, while Landers had bullet wounds to his chest, shoulder and arm.

No one else inside the store -- which is usually crowded with children leaving a nearby school and adults getting off work -- was injured.

Granted, the two stories aren't similar. The first involves people acting in a wholly illogical, irrational manner; the thug in the second story may have been a thug--and a bad one--from his earliest days, but his actions, however nefarious and deplorable, had some semblance of reason behind them. Crime may not pay, but at least it's a motive that explains a shooting. Shooting through a drive-thru window because you're mad that you can only get an Egg McMuffin (tm) instead of a Double Cholesterol Burger with Cheese is not a motive; it's an emotion, and it's not a good sign in a rapidly deteriorating culture that more and more people seem to be willing to act on such deadly emotions with no forethought whatsoever.

In a sense, the fast-food restaurant is a symbol for everything that is wrong with America (and I say that as someone who doesn't altogether avoid them). Indulgence, excess, a meal tailored to one's specifications and prepared with dizzying rapidity; the illusion of choices, when the same bland ingredients are merely arranged in different ways and prepared ahead of time to be reheated quickly; factory farms, branding and labeling to convince the consumer that what is offered is better than it really is, and above all the subtle message that you are entitled to whatever you want, that your consumer preferences (instead of marketing you're barely even aware of) is driving the whole enterprise, that you, the customer (instead of the rapacious stockholders) are the most important person in the world to the supposedly-smiling, often surly faces behind the counter.

I sometimes thing the whole fast-food "mantra," the illusion of having things our way (as the old Burger King slogan used to say) has become a national delusion, an American mental illness. We've started to think we ought to be able to order up our whole existence as we like it, with no traffic, no annoyances, no delays, no thwarting of our immediate tastes or desires for gratification. And we react to the word "No," like spoiled children--spoiled children with guns, all too often.

Even our president's campaign slogan appealed to that national illusion of swift accomplishment of all our most material desires and needs; we were told, over and over, that "Yes, we can!" have free healthcare and good jobs for everybody and lots of free services to take over raising our children for us and caring for our aging parents or grandparents for us and cleaning up our neighborhoods for us and solving poverty and crime for us and so on, forever. It was the fast-food vision of politics, the "Would you like fries with that?" tacked on to the usual airy unrealistic political promises, and we bought it, far too many of us, hook, line, and sinker.

What's going to happen, I wonder, when people who ordered up Hope, with a side of Change, find out that we're still stuck on the breakfast menu? We'd better hope that there won't be too many disappointed temper tantrums thrown--especially by people who happen to carry sawed-off shotguns around.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Pop-Tart (tm) Temptation

We have just observed the Fifth Sunday of Lent. Next week is Palm Sunday, and then comes Easter.

These last two weeks of Lent are rife with what I sometimes think of as the Pop-Tart (tm) temptation. For me this temptation starts when we've given up desserts and sweets for Lent, but still crave sugar. On Sunday or the two big feasts we've just enjoyed (St. Joseph's day and the Annunciation feast) we may have indulged in a little bit of dessert-eating; but now we find ourselves facing the two final, holy, solemn weeks of our six-week journey.

The Lenten sacrifices and practices we adopted at the beginning, full of enthusiasm, have begun to grow wearisome. We may have found it necessary given our circumstances in life to curtail some of them (e.g., the mom of many who could not fulfill her vocation while still keeping her promise to read the entire Bible and pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary daily during Lent); we may have taken upon ourselves more than we could ever hope to fulfill.

So in those final two weeks, that Pop-Tart (tm) temptation looms large; those sacrifices and prayers that remain to us are still feeling like too much, and we're getting tired as we journey toward Golgatha.

What is the Pop-Tart (tm) Temptation?

As I said above, imagine you gave up desserts for Lent. During weeks one through four you've been pretty good about it, but now you find yourself really craving that sugar.

And that's when you notice the box of Pop-Tarts (tm) in the cabinet.

You told the kids they were allowed to have these with their breakfasts, even though they're quite sweet--cereal is getting pricey, and even when you cook them some eggs or oatmeal and toast they're still hungry, because unlike their mother they are not wholly allergic to mornings and have been known to warm up leftovers for breakfast (and not just pizza; Hatchick wondered the other day if it was okay to have fish for breakfast).

You haven't, however, handed out Pop-Tarts (tm) as an afternoon snack, because at that point they're clearly a cookie substitute. You may have slipped up once or twice and eaten one before bed without thinking, but now you're really trying to be good, and to live according to both the letter and the spirit of your Lenten resolutions.

But maybe your husband is working really, really late. And maybe you've had a frustrating sort of day. And maybe you start rooting around in the cabinets looking for a snack, since you weren't in the mood to eat dinner at dinnertime. And maybe you see the Pop-Tarts (tm) and start to create lists of rationalizations in your head:
  • Pop-Tarts (tm) aren't dessert; they're breakfast.
  • I never have them for breakfast anyway, so I could have one now.
  • I really need the sugar to stay awake until my husband gets home.
  • I could use the energy; then I could get the laundry folded and clean the kitchen while I'm waiting for him to get here.
  • I didn't really eat any dinner, anyway.
  • I don't like them all that much, so they're not really a "treat" for me.
  • There's nothing else to snack on; the kids have gone through the chips and pretzels like locusts through a prairie state again, and I don't feel like washing an apple or cooking vegetables at this hour.
  • God won't really mind; it's not like I'm having pie.
By the time you get to that point, chances are the Pop-Tart (tm) is already in the toaster, filling the air with cinnamon scent and reducing your capacity to care whether or not you're violating the spirit, if not the law, of your intention to avoid dessert.

You see how this works for other sacrifices, too: the person who gave up golf may start thinking a trip to the putting range doesn't really count; the person who gave up going to the movies may think a dollar theater on a weeknight isn't really included in his intentional sacrifices; the person who gave up manicures may argue that her high-level meeting really demands the kind of "professionalism" that has to be reflected in one's nail polish; the person who gave up watching broadcast television may go on a Netflix frenzy and be glued to the screen even more than usual.

So much of Our Lord's Gospel message is about perseverance. It isn't that a little slip here and there in our voluntary sacrifices makes us terrible people; it's that we have to strengthen ourselves for our own hour of suffering, for that hour when we will turn away from what is right because what is right is terrible and grim, and what is wrong seems easy and pleasant. Jesus wasn't unreasonable; He didn't fuss at the apostles for falling asleep in Gethsemane because He didn't know what it was like to eat a really full meal and then be overtaken by drowsiness; but He knew that they needed to be stronger to endure the hour that was about to come upon them, His hour, the hour for which He came into the world. As it was, they weren't strong enough. One of them betrayed Him, ten of them scattered, and only St. John was able to endure the sight of the suffering and dying Lord.

When we stay focused these last two weeks, when we renew our commitments and prayers, when we put the Pop-Tarts (tm) back in the cabinet and wash the danged apple, we're not only pleasing Him. We're becoming spiritually stronger, deepening our faith, opening ourselves up to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so that in our own hours of pain, suffering, temptation, when we feel lost, abandoned, adrift in a sea of doubt--we will be able to accompany St. John to the Cross, gaze upon His broken Body, and whisper, "Yes, Lord. I believe!"

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Lights Are On--And We'd Better Be Home

I've been enjoying the blogs at the UK Telegraph lately; not only does MEP Gordon Hannan of this viral video fame blog there, but they have several other interesting writers as well.

I especially liked this post today, from Milo Yiannopoulos, titled "Earth Hour is stupid and pointless. Leave the blasted lights on":

Tomorrow night, between 8.30pm and 9.30pm local time all over the world, the lights will go out. The Empire State Building will go dark. The Coca-Cola Co. will switch off its signs all over the world. Why? Climate change, of course.

"Switch off your lights for 60 minutes... and stop global warming," says the WWF. Brilliant! Done! Planet saved! Why didn't anyone think of this before?

Let me get this straight: we're being told that, in order to raise awareness about rising global temperatures, we ought to... fumble around in the dark for a bit.

"See your world in a whole new light," say the posters. Only you won't see anything with the lights off, will you? Yeah, I know it's about energy conservation, but seriously: my eyesight is dodgy even in well-lit areas. How does my blind, hopeless careering around the living room, bashing my head against the light fittings as I go, really help the planet?

It doesn't, of course. And the same people who were telling us that "energy-saving lightbulbs aren't going to cut it now" and that we need "urgent action to avert climate change disaster" are now saying "turn the lights off for 60 minutes". What am I missing here?

Read the rest; clearly, Yiannopoulos has no patience for "If it feels good, pretend it saves the planet" nonsense.

I sympathize. While I believe, as a Catholic, that we are stewards of the earth, that we need to use the world's resources responsibly and equitably, and that we have to respect the natural order, I'm not sold on the anthropogenic global warming idea. But even if I were, the "Earth Hour" concept really is stupid and pointless, as Yiannopoulos puts it. It's one of those adolescent ideas I mention in the post below this one, where the feel-good motivations of the group are supposed to offset the reality that there will be very little actual good done by this symbolic event.

But then, I think the real purpose of such things is to raise, not awareness, but alarm, to drive home the endless message that our climate and our planet are on the brink of disaster--and then to give the world's governments unprecedented power over us all.

Consider this, from Fox News today:

A United Nations document on "climate change" that will be distributed to a major environmental conclave next week envisions a huge reordering of the world economy, likely involving trillions of dollars in wealth transfer, millions of job losses and gains, new taxes, industrial relocations, new tariffs and subsidies, and complicated payments for greenhouse gas abatement schemes and carbon taxes — all under the supervision of the world body.

Those and other results are blandly discussed in a discretely worded United Nations "information note" on potential consequences of the measures that industrialized countries will likely have to take to implement the Copenhagen Accord, the successor to the Kyoto Treaty, after it is negotiated and signed by December 2009. The Obama administration has said it supports the treaty process if, in the words of a U.S. State Department spokesman, it can come up with an "effective framework" for dealing with global warming.

The 16-page note, obtained by FOX News, will be distributed to participants at a mammoth negotiating session that starts on March 29 in Bonn, Germany, the first of three sessions intended to hammer out the actual commitments involved in the new deal.

In the stultifying language that is normal for important U.N. conclaves, the negotiators are known as the "Ad Hoc Working Group On Further Commitments For Annex I Parties Under the Kyoto Protocol." Yet the consequences of their negotiations, if enacted, would be nothing short of world-changing. [...]

Among the tools that are considered are the cap-and-trade system for controlling carbon emissions that has been espoused by the Obama administration; "carbon taxes" on imported fuels and energy-intensive goods and industries, including airline transportation; and lower subsidies for those same goods, as well as new or higher subsidies for goods that are considered "environmentally sound."

Other tools are referred to only vaguely, including "energy policy reform," which the report indicates could affect "large-scale transportation infrastructure such as roads, rail and airports." When it comes to the results of such reform, the note says only that it could have "positive consequences for alternative transportation providers and producers of alternative fuels."

In the same bland manner, the note informs negotiators without going into details that cap-and-trade schemes "may induce some industrial relocation" to "less regulated host countries." Cap-and-trade functions by creating decreasing numbers of pollution-emission permits to be traded by industrial users, and thus pay more for each unit of carbon-based pollution, a market-driven system that aims to drive manufacturers toward less polluting technologies.

The note adds only that industrial relocation "would involve negative consequences for the implementing country, which loses employment and investment." But at the same time it "would involve indeterminate consequences for the countries that would host the relocated industries."

There are also entirely new kinds of tariffs and trade protectionist barriers such as those termed in the note as "border carbon adjustment"— which, the note says, can impose "a levy on imported goods equal to that which would have been imposed had they been produced domestically" under more strict environmental regimes.

Another form of "adjustment" would require exporters to "buy [carbon] offsets at the border equal to that which the producer would have been forced to purchase had the good been produced domestically."

The impact of both schemes, the note says, "would be functionally equivalent to an increased tariff: decreased market share for covered foreign producers." (There is no definition in the report of who, exactly, is "foreign.") The note adds that "If they were implemented fairly, such schemes would leave trade and investment patterns unchanged." Nothing is said about the consequences if such fairness was not achieved.

This is a serious threat to the sovereignty of the United States (and other nations, of course) under the guise of protecting the environment. And sadly, the man in charge in the White House is unlikely to oppose any of it, since he shares many of the goals outlined here.

So while environmentally minded people enthusiastically plunge themselves into darkness tomorrow night, we're preparing to exchange self-government for some carbon offsets, which we'll then use quickly considering the limits likely to be placed on American industry--all of this at a time when our country's economy is in tatters and layoffs are already widespread. We need to quit playing in the dark--the lights need to be on, and we need to be prepared to defend our national home from would-be conquerors who come not with swords or guns, but U.N. treaties governing us without our consent.

Time To Grow Up, America

Writer Larry D. at Acts of the Apostasy has seen the future, and it isn't pretty:
This morning I had to renew my driver's license and registration - I was dreading it because this was the first time I've had to do that since all the new regulations were put into effect last year. So I got all my papers together, made sure I had enough money in the checking account to cover the vehicle registration ($732 for local fees, state fees, federal fees, UN Zone fees, climate impact fee, evaporated gasoline recovery fee, road rage education fee, multiple passenger fee[I have a minivan], 10K+ miles/year fee, English-only forms fee and natural born citizen fee), and went down to the neighborhood United Nations General Secretary of State office.

Five f****** hours later, I finally made it to the front of the line. I thought I was going to go crazy, listening to all the stinkin' propaganda coming from the televisions - Obama this and Obama that; "Yes we can" crap over and over, Chris Matthews plugging the latest bailout (another one for the newspapers!). Needless to say, I wasn't all that happy once I got to the counter.

So then the fat whale-in-a-standard-issue UN-blue muumuu bureautard looks over my papers, pulls up my file on the screen, looks at me with those beady eyes, behind her stupid square glasses beneath the stupid UN-blue tri-cornered cap and gives a little 'tsk tsk' and shake of her head. Uh oh.

"What?" I asked.

"Well, Citizen 135-222LD, it says here you're noncompliant in your Generations Invigorating Volunteerism hours. You're 32.5 hours short of the requirement."
Do go and read the whole thing!

I've been mulling it over, and I've come to the conclusion that there's only one way to avoid Larry's vision becoming a reality: America needs to grow up.

We thought we were grown-ups once before, back around the forties and fifties. We looked and dressed and acted the part. But the real injustices of racism and similar things kept it from being real. We were like children playing with Mother's high heels and Daddy's hat, but underneath it all we were stubbornly clinging to aspects of our nation's long childhood that weren't good for us, or for anybody.

Since the late 1960s we've been on an extended adolescent bender, tearing down authority as much for the sake of destruction as for any concern about injustice; and the ugly hedonism of the Sexual Revolution took our nation's adolescent rebellion down a dark and dangerous path. We've replaced serious thoughts and philosophies with the kind of relativism that always does appeal to teenagers; "You just don't understand!" has been our constant refrain, when asked to respect traditional laws, traditional morality, or, simply, tradition at all.

Everything about us reflects our national juvenalia. We eat too much junk food, watch too much television, are fascinated with toys of the digital variety. We sleep in and skip church, shop a lot, talk a lot more. We act out on our emotions in ways that are harmful and even destructive. We dress like slobs--like sloppy toddlers, in fact; adult clothing looks more and more like the stretchy elastic-waist pants and washable, colorful tops you can find in the infant and toddler department of any major store, and on those few occasions when we really need to dress like a grown-up (nice suit or jacket for men, skirt suit or nice dress for women) we find that the clothes are surprisingly expensive, and surprisingly hard to find.

We've been easy prey for leaders who promised to fix things without filling in any of the "boring" details; we've selected style over substance as our head of state so many times in the last few decades that this time around we eschewed substance altogether, and went for style only--a fact illustrated by the reality that our president appears to believe he's still running a campaign, not a country.

We've gone from the Woodstock-era slogan "If it feels good, do it!" to the Nike 1980s slogan "Just Do It!" to the present-era's Twitter slogan: "What are you doing?" which looks almost like a progression from hedonism to stoicism to voyerism, in a manner of speaking. Can the world-weary "Why do anything?" be far behind?

It's time to put all of that aside. It's time to grow up. It's time to be able to recognize the difference between adults and children not only by their clothing and public behavior, but also by the depth of their ideas and the seriousness with which they approach the world and its problems. It's time for us to reject as unbecomingly adolescent the view of the world that thinks there are no issues that can't be solved by free government money, free government condoms, or some combination of the two. It's time for us to quit thinking that the secret to staying young is to be our children's best friends, to copy their styles and music and attitudes, and to refuse to progress beyond the age of "I want" and "Gimme" for our whole lives.

The generation that came ahead of our own can't do this, for the most part (though isolated members of it rejected the Boomer philosophy a long time ago, and are already on board). They refused to grow up, and will be the trendiest, hippest, coolest people in the nursing homes--at least in their own minds. But the rest of us have a choice: we can keep acting like they did, or we can rebel in our own way, by going to church every week, believing in right and wrong, fighting the injustice of abortion with all the passion--but none of the drugs--they used when they fought against civil rights injustices, being polite in public, teaching our children to say "Mr." or "Mrs." or "sir" or "ma'am" to adults unless invited to do otherwise, and so on.

And if we really want to drive them crazy, we'll start downloading Perry Como or Bing Crosby tunes to use as our cell phone ringtones.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

It Was Never About Choice

Imagine that the President of the United States created a program whereby doctors would be randomly chosen from within their communities to assist in the execution of prisoners. In cooperation with state governors who added similar plans, the nation would require all doctors and nurses to register to participate in these executions either by administering the lethal injection, monitoring the death, signing the death certificate, or otherwise facilitating in the process of ending the life of a convicted criminal. If a doctor or nurse were to be selected to help kill a prisoner, he/she would have no recourse--he/she would have to help, or face being fired, fined, and having his/her medical license terminated.

Imagine, further, a public sentiment that was overwhelmingly in favor of prisoner execution, so much so that these killings took place on a daily basis. At any time, any person who practiced medicine in any capacity might be summoned, and it was just too bad if he/she conscientiously objected to the death penalty. De facto approval of the death penalty would be a requirement for being a doctor or a nurse, and anyone who disapproved would be held to be unworthy to practice medicine in the first place.

That is exactly the situation that is about to happen--exactly, except that it is the unborn who are being killed. And doctors and nurses who object to these killings and refuse to participate in them are bracing to face the consequences:

The Obama administration will soon face a decision, bound to be controversial, on how to balance two important principles: freedom of conscience for healthcare workers versus unfettered access to healthcare, especially reproductive services.

Should physicians, for instance, be able to decline to provide birth control services, without referring patients to other providers? Can an emergency-room doctor who believes that emergency contraception is morally wrong refuse to tell a rape victim that it is available?

In its 11th hour, the Bush administration last December issued a "conscience rule" to protect healthcare providers who decline to participate in services they find morally objectionable, such as abortion. That regulation would cut off federal funding to state and local governments, hospitals, clinics, and other entities that fail to accommodate workers' beliefs.

The Obama administration announced its intent to rescind the rule, but it is seeking public comment by April 9 before making a final decision. President Obama has pledged to seek common ground on contentious "life" issues.

Several federal laws have been passed since the 1970s to protect conscientious objection in healthcare, but women's health advocates and other groups say the new rule goes beyond the laws in ways that could limit access to services and endanger women's health. The attorneys general of seven states also filed suit to block its implementation.

Religious conservatives, in turn, insist the rule is essential because healthcare workers, they say, are increasingly pressured, penalized, or fired for exercising their conscience right.

The Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA) highlights examples on its website, including doctors who say they were forced out or had to resign from jobs because they refused to give contraceptives to unmarried women, or to refer patients to others for abortions.

More information and videos are here, at the USCCB website.

We're seeing increasing hostility in America toward anyone who lives according to traditional religious values. Catholics make an easy target: everyone knows what Catholics are supposed to believe, and despite the numbers of "I'm Catholic, But..."s out there there are still a lot of us who take our Church's teachings on the sanctity of life very seriously. But in addition to Catholics, sincere Christians with traditional understandings of morality from many different denominations are under fire as well; the degree to which a Christian is likely to find himself or herself at odds with the culture--and maybe, for those in healthcare, soon, the law--is directly proportional to the degree to which his or her own deeply held beliefs reflect the moral understandings of two thousand years of Christian history.

But this is an unprecedented attempt by the government to interfere with religion. And it matches a growing refrain I've heard in conversations about abortion, gay marriage, and the like, especially those held at Crunchy Cons where many of the commenters do not adhere to traditional Christian morality. It is this: "Sure, you should be free to practice your religion. And you are. You can go to church every Sunday (or synagogue every Saturday, or mosque every Friday, etc.). Nobody will tell you what you can or can't do in your church or place of worship. But when you leave the church building, you have to live according to the law--and the law says abortion is legal, morning after pills are legal, gay marriage (in two states anyway) is legal--so if you don't want to have anything to do with these, don't work in health care, don't work in the wedding industry, don't work for a corporation, etc. If you do, though, then you have to park your religion at the door, and do whatever the law allows; your religious freedom doesn't trump everybody else's freedom to go to Hell in the manner of their choice. You say your religion refuses to allow you to help other people commit serious sins? Too bad--find another job."

This is, of course, diametrically opposed to every sane understanding of religious liberty. The idea that freedom of religion means only the freedom to worship, but then requires the believer to violate his conscience in favor of any or all of the evil laws of the body politic, is noxious to anyone who believes in the concept of religious freedom.

Increasingly, though, in America, freedom of religion means freedom from religion. There is a notion that the unbeliever's freedom to remain un-bothered by religious behavior on the part of believers trumps any right the believer has to avoid committing sin and strive to follow God, to love Him with his whole heart, his whole mind, his whole soul, and his whole strength, and to love his neighbor as himself.

But if we love our neighbor, we cannot, must not, help him to sin. If we do so accidentally or inadvertently it is not a sin for us, though we might mourn it sincerely--but if we deliberately and freely choose to help our neighbor to sin we have sinned, and have, if the matter is serious, jeopardized our own soul as well as his.

For the medical professional, the dilemma is very real: they are not free to refuse to help the person sin, but are being coerced with threats of fines, punishments, firing--even losing their ability to practice medicine, and thus to earn their livelihoods, altogether. Yet against these dire temporal consequences they have to weigh God's law, their horror at abortion and especially at being asked to help procure one in some way, and their awareness of the deep injustice of their situation, in which people who have no business asking them to violate their consciences are actually demanding that they do so.

That this could happen in America betrays the pro-abortion lie, that abortion is all about "the right to choose." The right of religious people to choose not to kill the innocent unborn must be trampled underfoot so that the false and wicked "right" to "choose" to murder babies via abortion can prevail. Any true freedom that interferes with this diabolical "right" must be abrogated or eradicated; abortion becomes a kind of "super-right" while the ordinary right to act according to the dictates of one's own conscience is stripped away.

The "right to choose" is about to become the duty to kill. And God help those who will stand up and refuse; God help us all.

Taxation With Representation--An Idea that Has Outlived Its Usefulness

Oh, the mean-spiritedness of partisan politics. Barack Obama, our brave young hope 'n change president, proposes his brave new hope 'n change budget, and people start fussing. Cut this, trim that, can't have this...can't the Republicans give this guy a break?

Except it's not the Republicans who are complaining:
It's not exactly the can-do, uplifting message that President Barack Obama or congressional Democrats want to deliver to the voting public. But in the face of soaring deficit projections and growing Republican and moderate Democratic opposition to the Administration's $3.6 trillion budget plan, it may be the best they can do. And so, when the President journeyed to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to rally his party's support for his agenda, he sought to make a counterargument to the rising chorus that wants him to scale back his ambitious plans to reform health care, energy and education even as he tries to save the economy and cut the deficit.

"The real question is, Are we going to have a huge deficit with investment or a huge deficit without investment?" said Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, emerging from the meeting. "Those are my words, not [Obama's], but I'm kind of summarizing what the argument is here. If you eliminated his investments, you'd find the deficit would still be 80% or 90% of what it would be otherwise with his investment." In other words, since Washington is going to rack up massive deficits, it may as well go all in and get some long-term bang for its buck. [...]

Still, even small differences can cause major rifts in families, and the competing budgets suggest the challenges Obama's agenda faces. Both the House and Senate, after all, removed Obama's $250 billion–$750 billion placeholder request for more bank bailout funds. And they both slashed the Administration's proposed 10% increase in nondefense discretionary spending (for education, environment and health initiatives, among other things), to 7% in the Senate and 7%–9% in the House. The Senate stripped the President's signature middle-class tax cuts, known as "Making Work to Pay," of $400 for individuals and $800 for families. The Senate plan, crafted by Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota, also notably does not include any targeted funding to bankroll health-care reform, as Obama's does with $634 billion over 10 years. "When you lose $2.3 trillion, you have to cut things," said Conrad, whose plan includes $160 billion less in discretionary spending over five years than the President's, with a target deficit of $508 billion in 2014.

Do you ever read things like this and just shake your head about that whole "taxation without representation" thing? It's not like taxation with alleged representation is working out all that well for us now.

We're in a time of great economic concern. Families are cutting back, tightening budgets, learning thrift, saving more, spending less. But one of the first things the Democrat-controlled Congress slashes from the president's budget is the tiny pittance in the way of tax cuts, a mere $800 (it should be many times that much) which however small would be a great boon for working families; it would really help people who are struggling financially to make a few payments or pay down the credit card.

But no--we can afford to spend 39 billion dollars in energy programs, give NASA $20 billion, increase the budget of the Environmental Protection agency by 34%--but we can't afford to let people keep $800 of their own money; that would be frivolous and wasteful.

Of course, one can't really blame the Democrats in Congress for opposing tax breaks for the common people; for some of them, it's the closest thing to a religion they have. And given that Michelle Obama thought a $600 stimulus check would barely cover a decent pair of earrings, maybe the Democrats agree with her, and figure there's no need to send people money that they're just going to go splash around at Zale's or Best Buy; the Democrats will spend it ever so much more carefully, studying frog habitations or designing more cool brochures for the Department That Makes Useless Information Available to the Clueless for Free.

But as maddening as that is, it's not as bad as this, from the same Time article above:

The House bill includes a controversial provision for so-called reconciliation — which would leave the door open to piggyback massive programs on the budget like universal health care in case they fail to make it through the regular legislative process. House Democrats and the Administration support such a move specifically for health care — though, theoretically, the provision would allow for anything, including energy, to be pushed through the Senate with just a simple majority rather than a filibuster-proof 60 votes. Several moderate Democratic Senators, including Ben Nelson of Nebraska, have said that inclusion of reconciliation instructions in the final bill would be a deal breaker for them. "Reconciliation is not where we'd like to start, but we are not willing to take it off the table," Orszag said.

Things like that make me wonder why we even have a Congress any more. They cost us a lot of money, and they don't seem to do much when the other two branches threaten to take over their power. We have become quite accustomed to having the judicial branch make laws for us, and now it seems that the executive branch wants the authority to spend money without going through the "regular legislative process." If Congress isn't even going to slow down the rate of free-fall spending, but is going to let the White House insert back-door spending provisions into regular budgets that will take Congress' authority to regulate such monies away, then why are we feeding them, paying them really nice salaries, paying for their transportation to and from nice beaches on "fact-finding" missions, paying for their health care, and so on? They've been amusing pets, but perhaps now, in these tough economic times, we could find them a decent home elsewhere; they're getting expensive at the same time they've apparently decided they no longer need to earn their keep.

And once we've put Congress out to pasture, we can start reigning in the White House and the judiciary, reminding them that they're not our overlords, but that they serve at our sufferance, and are playing about with our money and our freedom. Maybe when that lesson has sunk in we can add back in the third branch of government on a trial basis, but they'd have to promise to behave, and quit spending billions and billions of dollars we don't have on things we don't want, don't need, and shouldn't be the federal government's job in the first place.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hyperbole Loves Company

From Politico:
At the White House’s celebration of Greek Independence Day Wednesday afternoon, President Obama got a little unexpected flattery from Archbishop Demetrios, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States

Listing a series of challenges Obama will need to deal with as president, Demetrios predicted: Demetrios to Obama: "Following the brilliant example of Alexander the Great...you will be able to cut the Gordian knot of these unresolved issues."

Obama responded by making a face to the crowd, prompting laughter. And when he took the mic, he speculated on what the compliment could do for him at home.
Oh, well, it could have been worse; at least the Archbishop didn't compare him to...well, you know. And Alexander didn't have a particularly good relationship with his father, either, so maybe there are some possible points of comparison.

One could have wished that we were done with all the grandiose comparisons of Obama to the historic great ones of the past. But get a little bit of historical hyperbole going, and it's hard to stop. So far Obama has been compared to Jesus, Alexander the Great, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln; that's a lot to live up to for one man.

One thing is certain--were Obama to speak to a group of Muslim-Americans, there's no chance they'd let their emotions get the better of them, and compare him to their major religious leader, no matter how flattered and pleased they were to be in the presence of The One. Some things just aren't done, you know.

What Happens When You Don't Coordinate the Spin

US News & World Report's Daniel Gilgoff has an interesting observation about the Obama/Notre Dame situation and the response by progressive Catholics, particularly Catholics United:

The White House and liberal Catholic groups appear to have been caught off guard by the furor over President Obama's forthcoming appearance at Notre Dame. Catholics United, a progressive Catholic group with close ties to the White House, has just released a defense of Notre Dame and Obama's appearance there.

What took so long? The controversy erupted shortly after the White House announced Obama's spring commencement schedule last Friday. That was 120 hours ago.

Compare this response to Catholic United's performance around the White House rollout of Kathleen Sebelius as the nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services a few weeks back. Tipped off by the White House—which knew Sebelius, a Catholic supporter of abortion rights, would irk conservative Catholics—Catholics United was up and running with its Catholics for Sebelius website on the Saturday night the Sebelius news broke. The group's tardy response on Notre Dame suggests that the White House skipped the pregame strategizing this time around.

Something else surprised me about Catholic United's press release today. It attacks leading critics of Notre Dame's invitation to Obama as "partisan operatives who routinely use a single-issue analysis to divorce the Catholic faith from its longstanding commitment to social justice and the sanctity of all human life."

Does that include the Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who has blasted Notre Dame for hosting Obama?

Gilgoff goes on to point out that progressive Catholics usually take more care so as not to appear that they're not on the same page with Church leaders. All in all, an interesting insight.

What we've seen so far from those defending Notre Dame has been a pretty mixed bag; my paraphrases follow:

1. The Garnett repsonse: Obama shouldn't have been invited, especially considering his recent actions in re: ESCR. But Notre Dame is a School that Matters, and shouldn't be subject to all the harsh criticism it's receiving for the decision to invite Obama (let alone to give him an honorary degree).

2. The Catholics United response: Abortion is a single issue, Catholics are bigger than that, Obama is historic and his policies support the common good (no, really, they said that), and all those Catholics who are partisan and support the GOP keep their mouths shut when people who Hate the Poor and Trample on the Oppressed are invited to speak, so...so there.

3. The Fr. Reese response: As a Jesuit, he reserves the right to make no sense whatsoever. That said, Obama's really pro-life, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. And inviting people to speak at the Al Smith dinner which by its nature invites both major party candidates to speak is exactly the same as Notre Dame's decision to invite Obama and freely give him an honorary degree, for reasons which are beyond the comprehension of those not educated by Jesuits. And academic freedom requires us to invite people who challenge our ideas to speak to us in a forum where we won't be engaging in any discussion, asking any questions, or even forbidding the ubiquitous teleprompter, even if we know that the person in question has nothing but contempt for the Catholic views on the value of human life from conception to natural death, and has called babies a "punishment" and thinks questions about human life are beyond his pay grade, which suggests that he doesn't really have any challenging new ideas--or even ideas--to offer on this subject anyway.

It probably doesn't surprise anyone that I don't find any of these responses particularly compelling. But now, in light of Daniel Gilgoff's observation, I'm wondering if the wildly varied responses from Notre Dame's defenders aren't coming from people who didn't find out that Obama had accepted Notre Dame's invitation any sooner than the critics of the decision did.

In the presence of a wrongheaded decision, it's not all that difficult to articulate why the decision was wrong. Bishop D'Arcy did it best, I think, but others have been eloquent and clear as well. It's a lot harder to spin a bad decision as if it were really a good one, or at least as if it, or the institution making it, were above criticism--and it's especially hard to do this if there was no opportunity to coordinate the spin in advance.

Which could have been done, if Obama had shared with his "Catholic support" team the news that he planned to accept Notre Dame's invitation ahead of time. That he didn't is just another indication of how much for granted Obama takes his liberal Catholic supporters, and how little they are getting from him despite how much they've been willing to set aside in order to get anything at all.

Happy Feast of the Annunciation!

Good morning! Happy Feast of the Annunciation, everyone!

In the comments under the post below this one, Irenaeus asks about prayers for this feast day. I can think of no better one than the beautiful ancient prayer, the Angelus:

The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary:
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done unto me according to Thy word.

Hail Mary . . .

And the Word was made Flesh: And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary . . .

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray:

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.

Traditionally this prayer is said at six a.m., noon, and midnight, but I think it would be appropriate to pray any time of day especially on this beautiful feast day. While, as this site says, the history of the prayer is hard to trace, the custom of praying a triple repetition of Hail Marys at at least two of these hours is at least seven hundred years old.

There is a society devoted to the Angelus, made up of Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and other Christians who have a devotion to this prayer. And no mention of this lovely devotion would be complete without a look at Jean-Francois Millet's famous painting of it being prayed, from 1859:

God bless you all as we celebrate this beautiful feast!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Six Quick Signs of Spring

Just for a minute, I have an urge to be a regular mommy-blogger. Here goes:

1. For dinner: a light dish of cubed chicken, gumbo vegetables, salsa, with a little shredded cheese melted on at the last minute. Served with rice and a quick fruit salad (apples, bananas, crushed pineapple and golden raisins). Oh, and tortillas for the kids to build soft tacos out of it all.

2. I am wearing: (shh, don't tell) shorts. They're knee-length, denim, and I won't wear them outdoors (promise. It would be seriously uncharitable for me to appear in public in these, though I doubt I'd be tempting anyone's virtue). I've been doing some rather warm chores this afternoon, and the shorts let me keep the a/c set at 80 degrees.

3. The air conditioning (speaking of that): is actually running. I know, in March. Pushed all the way up to 80, even. But it kicked on for a little while.

4. In my house: There are buckets of clothes in the living room. Today we began the annual shifting of seasonal attire: we tackled closets, sorted clothes into piles, made plans to give away what doesn't fit, and packed up winter clothes to go out to the garage. Tomorrow we go through drawers, and sort out the summer clothes which we brought in from the garage this afternoon. I sometimes joke that my idea of wealth beyond my wildest dreams would be to be able to fit both season's clothes in the house. That's right--both seasons. In Texas, it's summer or winter. The brief season of "fixin' to be" either one lasts a couple of weeks, and isn't worth buying clothing for. It only took me a few years of living here (and a few "nice lightweight jackets" I never actually wore) to figure that out.

5. Outside: It was in the upper 70s today, and is still hovering near 70 at 7 p.m. Windy. Covered with this stuff, making everybody sneeze (and apparently bringing out my brother's frequent bouts of mirthful poetry).

6. An unmistakable sign of spring in my house: Corn on the cob. Granted, it's the frozen kind, and it's still in the freezer; Hatchick gave up butter for Lent, so I'm not making it until tomorrow's feast day so she can slather it with buttery goodness and enjoy it with the rest of us. I'm not sure why I think of corn on the cob as a spring food--maybe because around here it's so darned hot in the actual summer that nobody wants to cook it!

Okay, your turn. What are six quick signs of spring where you are today?

We now return to our regularly scheduled political commentary and ranting. :)

Why Richard Garnett is Wrong

A hat tip to CMR for the link to this, by Richard Garnett, in defense of Notre Dame:
As I made clear in my initial contribution to this NRO symposium, I believe that the University of Notre Dame should not, at this time, honor President Obama with a ceremonial degree and the commencement-speaker role. To say this is not to deny that there are things about his election and achievements that a meaningfully Catholic university — and, to be clear, Notre Dame is such a university — could and should celebrate. Under the circumstances, though — so soon after the president's insultingly bad statement regarding embryo-destructive research (in which he reduced moral critique to "politics") — it seems to me that there is no way to avoid the impression that Notre Dame is un-bothered (even though we are) by his deeply unjust actions. And, unfortunately, there are reasons to worry that the controversy surrounding the president's presentation and presence will distract attention from, and celebration of, the conferring of the (richly conserved) Laetare Medal on Prof. Mary Ann Glendon.

All that said, this is not the time for the tiresome anti-Notre Dame screeds that too often clutter the Catholic and conservative corners of the Internet. Some who are outraged, gathering signatures, demanding changes, and pointing fingers have long since given up — mistakenly — on Notre Dame. For them, Notre Dame's purpose is simply to serve as a convenient target. For many of Notre Dame's cyber-critics, her many achievements and successes are invisible; her mission is unappreciated or not-understood; her failures are cause for celebration, not constructive criticism.

These critics are wrong. This should not be an occasion for fundraising, grandstanding, or attention-grabbing by self-interested activists. Again, Notre Dame matters, and it is precisely because it still is meaningfully Catholic that its mistakes are disappointing. It's easy for [insert name here] Completely Pure Catholic College (or blogger) to avoid dilemmas (and mistakes) like Notre Dame's, because no one cares about that College (or blogger). Notre Dame's challenge is more difficult. We should want, and be willing to help, her to succeed.

Let's unpack this a bit, shall we?

First, I can't quite agree that a meaningfully Catholic university ought to be celebrating "certain things about Barack Obama's election and achievements" so soon after that election, and before those achievements have really started to happen. I know, I'm ignoring the "historic first biracial President" context in stating that, but I can't quite balance the historicity of that aspect against the "historic first pro-infanticide openly pro-abortion President" aspect. Moreover, while I hate to be hyper critical, Garnett seems to be giving the impression that it is the timing of this invitation, not the mere fact of it, which is problematic here--that inviting Obama so soon after the ESCR debacle is going to give the appearance that Notre Dame doesn't care about the injustice of using unwanted IVF children as spare parts for research. I'm glad Garnett speaks for the University when he says that "we are" bothered by Obama's actions--but I'm not completely sure who he means by "we," when all is said and done.

The second paragraph lunges into "methinks the gentleman doth protest too much" territory. One would think, reading that paragraph, that conservative Catholic bloggers use Notre Dame as the punch line of every scheduled Tuesday screed (honestly; hasn't Garnett noticed that it's the Jesuits, not Notre Dame, who have this dubious honor)? And while I'll cheerfully admit to having long since given up on Notre Dame, which is second only to Georgetown in my mind in the category of "Universities which remember they are Catholic when it is convenient, and suffer an equally convenient form of religious amnesia when it's not," I'll also admit that Notre Dame has very little to do with me, personally, as I come from a long line of Catholics who a) couldn't afford it and b) didn't much care for college football. It's not as though I sit, with poisoned pixels dripping in anticipation, just waiting for Notre Dame to make some slight mistake so I can gleefully tear it down; Notre Dame is doing a pretty good job of tearing itself down, and on occasion I'm going to note that fact, the way I note other examples of cultural decline. And I'm pretty sure that other conservative Catholic bloggers feel the same, more or less.

It's the third paragraph where Garnett gets down to what for him is probably the crux of the matter. Notre Dame, he insists for the second or third time, really truly is still Catholic, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. Moreover, Notre Dame really matters, not like those third-rate academically hidebound "pure" Catholic colleges with their faculty Fidelity Pledges and their open, stated commitments to orthodoxy and their embarrassingly large turnouts for the March for Life in DC every January. Those tiny colleges could be making mistakes or encountering dilemmas at every turn, but who would care? They don't get into trouble, no matter how many pro-abort presidents or congresspeople they invite and honor and give honorary degrees to and...


...well, but Notre Dame has to invite and honor those kinds of people, because Notre Dame matters, you see. The tiny Catholic colleges are free to be "pure" because it's still possible for them to put their Catholic faith and their Catholic identity ahead of everything else, but Notre Dame doesn't have that luxury, because Notre Dame has to succeed, in order to attract the attention of people who ordinarily wouldn't give a Catholic institution the time of day but who are drawn in by Notre Dame's prestige, but the price of that prestige is that sometimes you have to honor Presidents who think killing really small people is a terrific idea and is willing to put the whole force of the federal government behind that idea, and....


...but anyway, forget all that, Catholics should still support Notre Dame. Even small Catholic bloggers. Because...because it's Notre Dame!

This Catholic blogger would be happy to support Notre Dame, if Notre Dame were happy to live up to its Catholic identity. Otherwise...well, I reserve the right to get all screed-y and tiresome. The eventual collapse of a once-great university brought on by its abandonment to its core identity and its moral principles would be a tragedy--but the tragedy is not the fault of those who commented on its tendency to stray from this identity and these principles when there was still time for the university to change.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Nation of Moral Midgets

In my post below this one, I write about parents making decisions on behalf of their minor children.

A federal judge in New York thinks otherwise:
A federal judge on Monday ordered the Food and Drug Administration to make the Plan B morning-after birth control pill available without prescription to women as young as 17. The judge ruled the agency had improperly bowed to political pressure from the Bush Administration when it set 18 as the age limit in 2006.

The F.D.A. has 30 days to comply with the order, in which the judge also urged the agency to consider removing all restrictions on over-the-counter sales of Plan B. The drug consists of two pills that prevent conception if taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse.

Some women’s health advocates hailed the decision.

“It is a complete vindication of the argument that reproductive rights advocates have been making for years, that in the Bush administration it was politics, not science, driving decisions around women’s health,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a non-profit group that was one of the plaintiffs in the case against the F.D.A.

But some conservative groups voiced concern that the ruling could promote sexual promiscuity. “Now some minor girls will be able to obtain this drug without any guidance from a doctor and without any parental supervision,” the Family Research Council said in a released statement.
I will now preemptively apologize for using a few colorful phrases in this post; my feelings on the subject are quite strong, as you can probably imagine.

This is absolute insanity. This is an attack on the family, at the highest levels of government.

Parents are responsible for their minor children. If your 17-year-old is truant from school, in states that require compulsory education through the age of 18, you can be arrested along with your erring teen under some circumstances. If your 17-year-old destroys someone's property you can be held liable. If your 17-year-old drinks alcohol from your house and is later involved in a drunk-driving accident you will likely be sued by the victims and may end up in jail.

But if your 17-year-old is having sex with her thirty-year-old high school basketball coach, the law wants to make sure she can get her Plan B over the counter without having to get a prescription from a doctor, without any parental involvement, and without anyone finding out that her predatory and evil teacher is committing statutory rape.

And consider the judge's advice to the F.D.A.: remove all restrictions on Plan B. Heck, why not put it in the same aisle with the Flintstones Vitamins (tm), musical toothbrushes and cartoon character headbands; we wouldn't want the tramp-pill manufacturers to miss out on the newly-pubescent market, would we?

This isn't a battle between politics and science (however ironic it is to have a shrill vocalist from a political pro-abort agitgroup trying to frame the issue that way). This is a battle between politics and parents, between condomaniacs and common sense. This is a battle between the insane sex-saturated goons running this culture into the ground, who think that any girl over the age of eleven who isn't making herself regularly available to the fifth-grade wrestling team is missing out, and those of us who still think it's a hideously bad idea for little kids to play house in the kind of way that leads to one of them thinking some Plan B might be a good addition to her school-supply box, alongside the markers, the glue-stick, and the blunted scissors (because, you know, we can't let kids have sharp scissors in school; they might get into trashy daytime talk-show reenactments in the halls, and somebody might get hurt, whereas encouraging minors to have sex is perfectly safe and a really good idea, especially if you work for Planned Parenthood, or the Center for Reproductive Rights--making sure that middle-schoolers are sexually active is job security, baby, and we can't have too much of that).

And what happens when your child, age eleven or thirteen or fifteen or seventeen, comes to you complaining of a severe headache--and you don't know that she took Plan B, and that this is a warning sign of a serious side effect that should receive medical attention immediately, but treat it like any other headache a child might have? What happens when your diabetic child takes Plan B, ignoring the information on the package insert that this pill isn't recommended for diabetics who should be closely monitored if they take it? What if your child is one of those who develops an ectopic pregnancy after taking Plan B, but you rush her to the hospital assuming appendicitis, and the diagnosis is delayed because she doesn't want to say anything about having taken Plan B?

In the real world, parents are the ones who deal with the consequences of their children's actions, up until the child reaches adulthood. There's a reason why we don't expect young girls to make healthy food choices without help and guidance, to brush their teeth regularly without being reminded, to help themselves from the medicine cabinet when they have a headache or a cold, to wear appropriate safety gear when they play sports unless we teach them about it, and buy it for them. But our expectations that parents have an important role to play in teaching our children about health, safety, moral values, and good choices goes right out the window when it comes to sex; we're assured by the toxic and degrading culture that our children will be sexually active just as soon as the urges start to strike them, that there's nothing we can or should do about it, that making Plan B available to girls who can't legally purchase their own cold or allergy medicine (which will only be sold to people over 18) is a perfectly sane and rational thing to do.

I think that from now on, any parent who is charged with any crime or sued for any reason stemming from the behavior of any of his minor children ought to instruct his legal counsel to pull up this ruling from Judge Edward R. Korman as proof that American parents are no longer to be held responsible for their children's actions. If our children are free to have sex and to buy Plan B with no parental input whatsoever, then no parent anywhere ought to pay for a broken window that fell victim to his child's baseball skills, or to be held accountable for his child's failure to attend school, or to take responsibility for his child's decision to hold a keg party on his parents' lawn. Since Judge Korman believes that not only 17-year-old girls, but girls of any age whatsoever should be able to purchase Plan B at the local pharmacy with no parental guidance, no prescription, and no adult oversight, he has effectively declared the end of the responsibility parents have to protect their children--because the judge apparently thinks that "protection" is something made of latex or of progestin, which kids only need once the little tykes have decided it's high time to act on those sexual urges that their public school teachers have been telling them about, with detailed instructions, since kindergarten.

We've become a nation of moral midgets, pimping our children to the Culture of Death. People like Judge Korman are proof of the annihilation of common sense, dignity, virtue, decency, and respect for parental authority that are the hallmarks of this degenerate age.

Social Networking and Teens

So, is this reason number infinity plus or minus the square root of pi to homeschool? Or reason number six (give or take) to be wary about letting one's teens use the Internet's social networking sites? Or, perhaps, a bit of both? Details:
A 14-year-old Fort Worth middle school student was stabbed in the chest with a pair of scissors today as she fought with a classmate over comments posted on a MySpace page, police said.

The girl was stabbed at repeatedly during the fight at Handley Middle School, 2801 Patino Road.

Barbara Griffith, a Fort Worth school district spokeswoman, said the MySpace argument was about a posting during spring break. She did not know where the fight took place at the school or where the scissors came from.

The injured girl suffered two shallow, non-life threatening puncture wounds, Fort Worth police said. The other girl was taken to the Tarrant County juvenile detention facility.

One would-be wit below the story comments, "This is why I use Facebook. Myspace (sic) is full of hoodlums."

In all honesty, one of the reasons I haven't jumped on the social networking bandwagon is because I have three daughters, one just barely a teen, the other two teetering on the brink of adolescence. They see everything I do on the computer (my computer is in the living room/school room, very visible) and enjoy the fact that we can use it together to enhance our homeschooling, to turn a discussion about refracting and reflecting telescopes into visits to places like this one or this one, to play clever games and explore faraway places, to communicate with family and friends via emails, and even to write blog posts and invite conversation.

And they want to do all of those things. Soon they will want to do them by themselves.

They're allowed a little (supervised) use of email. They're allowed some access to games--again, with strict supervision. If they need to use a search engine to investigate something, though, they have to ask me to do it; I've told them why, and that it's easy to click on a link thinking you're going somewhere safe when you're actually being directed to something immodest or scary. We've talked a little about the dangers of the Internet, and of talking to strangers, but those talks will get more pointed and more specific when they know a little more of the world than they do now. As for blogging: I think it's a great way for young people to learn to write, after they've learned the basics of grammar and composition, and taken a typing class or two. And they'd have to have a private blog, and invite family members only to view it.

But social networking is something that looks "cool" and "fun" to my girls, even though they've never used any of these sites. It's not that surprising, really. Teenage girls are quick adopters of communications technology, like cell phones and text devices, so they're equally eager to try out websites that promise instant access to their friends. And this is true even if their friends tend to be cousins, other homeschooled kids, and the like whom they can easily communicate with via that old-fashioned thing called the telephone.

Sure, some of the dangers of social networking sites can be minimized for teens and children, using methods such as supervision, setting strict rules about who can or who can't have access to one's page or deck or account, and setting even stricter time limits about how often they can be on the site to check for messages from friends and leave new ones. But the slightly-greater addictive properties of these sites compared to other types of computer use, the pressure to respond to anybody and everybody else's messages no matter how much time that takes, the chance that an inadvertent click will let others read what was supposed to be private, and the fact that your friends' friends' friends may end up being able to read what you're posting even if you don't know them and have no idea who they are make me shiver a little, as a watchful parent--it doesn't take very long for someone to be put at risk in situations like these, and children often lack the awareness to realize that they've inadvertently made themselves vulnerable.

And then there's the situation like the one in the story above. Imagine if, when you were a teenager, it had been possible in a fit of pique to make sure that not only the target of your anger, but also her closest friends, family members, etc., could see just how angry and upset you were--and that the comment you wrote in a fit of momentary teen anger had been left to fester over all of spring break. Well, we don't have to imagine--what happened next made the news.

Sure, teens can fight and argue and even become violent without the help of social networking sites, and did so before anybody even dreamed of them; MySpace didn't make the girl in the story attack the other girl. But maybe if a comment-type of "flame war" hadn't gotten so far out of hand, things might not have reached this point without the adults in these girls' lives realizing that the two of them were having a problem with each other, and offering advice and help.

We parents have the duty to make all sorts of decisions on behalf of our kids. But I think we have to be aware that what our parents used to tell us, that actions speak louder than words, is true, too. Our children see what we're doing online, and it's only natural for them to want to do those things, too, as soon as possible, as soon as they're old enough. My current way of thinking is that children should be near adulthood before they can have access to social networking--old enough for the "coolness" and the hype to have worn off, old enough to make their own decisions about how much free information they want to give to marketers, old enough to shrug and "un-friend" anyone whose behavior or comments get out of control without feeling hurt or damaged by the experience, and old enough to evaluate social networking as they evaluate all other Internet tools, to decide whether these sites are really useful to their lives or a drain on their time and productivity.

It's our job as parents to prepare our children for the world, not to let the world make them over in its image. Social networks may be one new thing we have to ponder carefully before letting our kids have access to these places on the web. But making those decisions on their behalf, until they're old enough to make the decisions on their own, is an important part of our job.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Big Lie

I've been watching a newish TV show lately; I thought the concept was interesting, and liked the conflict being set up among some characters. I won't mention the name of the show, though, because it looks like its ratio of OSS to quality broadcast moments is becoming unacceptable, as so often happens with even those shows that have some artistic or literary merit.

OSS? Oh, I'm sorry: Obligatory Sex Scenes.

When Flannery O'Connor gives advice to writers in her various essays, she spends some time talking about how, as art is universal and must be true, it has to reflect the world as it is, not the world as we'd like it to be. Nice though it would be sometimes to read books, see movies, or watch TV shows during which the characters actually seem to have heard of the Sixth Commandment and even consider it relevant to their lives, the sad reality is that this is not our world. A friend of mine once commented, with a little dark humor, that when he was younger he thought that the OSS were just like the Obligatory Car Chase Scenes, or the Obligatory Gun Battle Scenes, and that in the real world people would not only not hop into bed with random barely-known others, but also wouldn't drive like maniacs through residential traffic or be shot on a regular basis without ever being seriously hurt. Sadly, he learned that the OSS really do reflect more of the world's reality; people may know better than to drive wildly or shoot randomly, but they don't seem to know better than to engage in what ought to be called the marriage act with anybody who comes along.

So I know that the OSS reflect our culture's reality for an awful lot of people. But O'Connor still wouldn't approve, because the OSS also don't reflect the whole of reality, just a carefully chosen, artificially glamorous part that reflects fantasy much more than it does reality.

Because, just like those car-chase scenes and gun battle scenes, the obligatory sex scenes don't ever have any consequences for the unrealistically attractive actors taking part in them. Venereal disease, unexpected pregnancy, emotional issues, and other things that in the real world go hand-in-hand with casual promiscuity never seem to crop up on TV; if a character does announce a pregnancy it's not a real crisis, but a ratings hook designed to keep people watching to see if she and the baby daddy are going to make a go of a long-term relationship or not. In the slick make-believe world of television, a man can spend an evening with a woman and then go back to being friends, acquaintances, co-workers, or even strangers--no strings attached, no expectation of more than a solitary physical encounter, though the bedroom door is always open to more of the same, equally without any consequence for the--well, it's presumptuous to call them a "couple," isn't it?

In the real world, though, things happen when two single people decide to engage in reproductive activity. Casual sex hurts people, physically, mentally, morally, emotionally and spiritually. Many women from high school on up have discovered that the man who swore he'd always be around loses interest once she crosses that line and becomes physically available. There was a lot of wisdom in the old saw our grandmothers knew and repeated, about not buying a cow if the milk is free; men don't, generally speaking, seek commitment and responsibility in a context where nobody's asking for either one.

The Church gets attacked a lot for trying to tell the truth about sex. The Pope came under fire in Africa for doing this, for reminding people that condoms aren't the solution to a culture where sex is treated as the encounter between two physical bodies, nothing more. What the Church knows and teaches is that sex is a physical iteration of a statement of a reality: the two people involved are "saying" to each other We are one, we are united body and soul, we have become one flesh, forever. And part of that statement is the couple's desire to bring forth "one flesh" from their two selves, in the living symbol and witness of their love called a child.

The casual sex shown on television reflects a dark and ugly reality in our culture. This dark and ugly reality is that many people engage in the physical aspects of this union under false pretenses. They are not one; they are not united in soul and are merely using each other's bodies; they can think of few horrors greater than the creation of a child with this person they've chosen to use as a vehicle for their own temporary pleasure.

And even people who like to think of themselves as "above" this sort of behavior, who would argue that their sexual encounters are more "moral" because they don't engage in casual sex with people they barely know, are telling the same lie to the person they think of as a long-term committed partner. The only commitment that means anything is the commitment called marriage; those other "committed relationships" aren't committed at all, and can be dissolved at any time by either person for any reason, despite the fact that the physical language of unity speaks of a oneness that can't be dissolved, that transcends the physical unity and involves the whole person.

Our culture is pretty attached to this particular lie. There's a reason for that; our culture has become a culture of secular materialism, a culture based on materialism's lies that there is no soul, there is no eternity, there is no reality beyond what can be empirically proved. Man is just a highly evolved animal, and his urges toward reproduction are fully animal; but since man has figured out how to enjoy the urges without having to deal with the reproductive consequences then he ought to do so whenever, wherever, and in whatever manner he personally finds pleasing. The only bars to his pleasure involve social ideas about consent, but even those are artificial--society itself is artificial, though, and the price for living in society is putting up with these minor irksome restraints on man's pursuit of what our founding fathers quaintly called "happiness." Aside from that though, men--and of course I mean both males and females, here--are perfectly free to mimic their favorite TV shows' ideas, and engage in soulless and exploitative sex with anybody who agrees to join them in this empty and meaningless activity.

Those of us who know that sex involves the soul as well as the body, who understand the meaning of the wordless speech between husbands and wives, who welcome and love the children God sends us as His highest and most precious blessing, who reject wholeheartedly the deficient and animalistic view of sex promoted by our dying culture as one of its most self-destructive lies, find ourselves turning our backs on more and more of our culture's expressions which enshrine this lie as some sort of great and higher truth. Whether we turn off the TV, stop reading the magazines, quit listening to the music, avoid the best-selling novels, or take other similar actions, we're always being challenged to be aware of how much cultural poison in the form of this particular lie is seeping into our homes, and to reject its ugly dehumanizing triviality, its attempt to turn something holy and sacred into something shallow, self-serving, ugly, empty and vain.