Monday, October 31, 2011

Zombies and humans and souls, oh my!

We will be celebrating All Hallow's Eve tonight not by engaging in the sacred and deeply spiritual mystical practice of dressing up like cartoon characters and getting free candy, but by attending an All Saint's Day vigil Mass. I know, I know: spoilsports! But the vigil Mass time works best for us this year, we have three teens who stopped being young enough to trick-or-treat ages ago, and for once we are foregoing the great gift of Aunt Charlotte's pumpkin cake roll and rocking All Saint's Eve party. :) (And the fact that she was still willing to have us over with a tiny newborn to care for and a baptism party just over a week ago shows how utterly amazing she is.)

So my blogging time is limited today, but I wouldn't have wanted you to miss this amazing blog post by David Meyer, who takes the zombie football I threw and runs it into the end zone:
Here is my take: Like all good sci-fi, horror movies have the ability to distill the meaning of life into precious small spaces. What do you take from your giant house when you flee it from attacking zombies? Family pictures and guns to protect your loved ones, of course. What do you do when a little girl is alone in the woods with zombies? Risk everything to find her, of course. What these human instinctual responses in the viewer tell us is that we are human, and being human is more than eating and breathing. Being human is about what you love, and what you were created to do. And unfortunately, many people seem to think they were created to pursue personal peace and affluence instead of walk toward their creator. Zombie movies make these choices clear. The Walking Dead even makes a point of having a scientist show a film of the brain activity of someone dying and coming back as a zombie. We see that only the "instinct" part of the brain stem is active. There is never any doubt by anyone in the show that these people are not human. They are dispatched with bloody abandon and indifference by the dozens. There is more pity taken on animals in the show than the zombies.

The message is loud and clear.

So loud in fact that my guess is that many fans of the show never notice it because it is plain obvious to them, although in their daily lives they might easily deny it. The message is that human beings are a special creation of a loving creator, and that we are made in His image and likeness. We are not the sum of our parts, or merely a central nervous system to be pleasured. One human life is worth every single zombie life even though they are made of the exact same physical material. So lets think about it: if they are made of the same material and one can be slaughtered with less care than a pig, while the other is a precious life worth risking everything to save... what is the difference other than an eternal soul? And what does modern man scream to fulfill in all his depraved abuses of himself more than his soul? In this way, zombie movies are some of the most "christian" themed movies around. What other movie will the viewer always find himself making the correct choice with the characters-- to do the human thing. If only we all could pretend we lived in a zombie Apocalypse in our day to day lives, perhaps we would live the gospel each day.
David has grasped a breathtakingly essential point about zombie fiction: if human beings really were merely animated meat suits, then there would be no moral difference between killing zombies and killing human beings--and, as a corollary, we could kill human beings without remorse or pity simply because they were in the way. The history of the atheistic regimes of the twentieth century shows us what that looks like--what it looks like when a society arises to whom human beings are merely interchangeable animated future corpses, and which treats people as if they have no intrinsic human worth.

But if humans have intrinsic worth--if they are not mere walking bodies, if they are more than merely well-evolved animals--where does that worth come from? If the people we once loved who have died are not merely decomposing flesh, if they, the essential selves, still exist, then where and what are they, and why are they still alive? For Christians who believe in the soul, these questions can be pondered with placidity, gratitude, even joy. For anyone who does not believe in an immaterial and immortal human soul which makes us look like our Creator, though, these questions can only be rather grim to think about.

At Mass tonight I will be happy to be in the company of those who have fought the good fight, finished the course, and won the race. Those friends of God who now live in His presence, especially the ones the Church has declared to be in Heaven, celebrate with us here as we ourselves move toward the inevitable day when we will see God face to face. It is a good and glorious thing that we are not merely well-organized clumps of organic matter heading swiftly toward eternal oblivion, after all.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A very brief music-related post

On his blog, my husband Thad shared this video from German music group anstatt blumen. Fair warning: I don't know what the German lyrics actually mean. :) But the video is, as Thad says, a really neat example of how to shoot a music video of a live performance:

What do you think?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Some atheists

It seems to happen every time I mistakenly scroll down to the comments below a certain type of news story. True, it would be better never to look at comments below a news article in the first place, as news article commenters tend to be...interesting sorts...but there's a certain type of article that seems to set up a rather bizarre chain reaction, as follows:

First, the article itself will tell about some fairly sad or tragic news event (which covers just about everything except weight loss articles, something new everyone should be worried about dying from articles, political articles, and economic and/or science news the reporter obviously didn't understand but wrote a provocative, hard-hitting piece about anyway articles). Then, in the comments, some person will employ prayerful and/or Christian language directed at the person or people impacted by the tragedy, of the "Prayers going out to the Smith family," or "God bless the people of Rabid Squirrel Junction as they dig out from underneath the volcano" variety, or something like that.

The next chain in our reaction is equally predictable: some disciple of New Atheism will show up to trash the person who prayed, prayers in general, tragedies in general (often handing out "Darwin Awards" to the deceased), and any human being who actually tries to find any transcendent meaning in life whatsoever.

Fortunately, these sorts of comments resemble Hobbes' description of the life of man, in that most of them are solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and (thankfully) short. Unfortunately, they tend to act upon the assembled virtual crowd like a catalyst, and the commenters will turn from pretending to comment on the article to their own pet faith-related subjects; they all have their own axes to grind, their own agendas to push, their own views of God and man to propound--and all of this delights the sort of self-avowed atheist who shows up in these sorts of comment threads, because he can now engage in the sort of argument where sooner or later he can showcase his brilliance and high-minded intellectualism by a copious use of the phrases "sky-daddy" and "flying spaghetti monster."

Now, just as the typical Christian ought not be lumped in with the most extreme stereotypes, so ought not the sky-daddy-dude who delights in irrelevant comment and Christian-trolling be mistaken for a typical atheist. It would be unfair and counter-productive to ask an intelligent, thoughtful, rational, civil atheist to explain all these atheists who show up not just in comment boxes below news stories, but in comment boxes below all sorts of Christian writings, theological debates, etc. to make essentially the same snotty sky-daddy remarks. It is not at all polite to assume that just because someone is an atheist, he must also be rude to people of faith, unwilling to engage in philosophical discussions, or uninterested in questions about virtue. It is unkind to suppose that all atheists believe in the same thing; they only agree that they don't believe in God--and not all of them are united as to which God they don't believe in, so to speak. It behooves Christians who enter discussions, online or in real life, with atheists to remember all of this.

Of course, it is true that many atheists have no problem lumping all Christians, or "Christianists" as some of them may sometimes say, together. They may think all Christians are sola scriptura types, that all Christians shun the theory of evolution, that all Christians dislike science generally, that all Christians would like to impose a theocracy on the United States, and so on. They may even assume all of these things, and when told otherwise by a specific Christian, they may demand answers for those Christians who do believe any of these things, just as if a Christian were to ask them to defend the overuse of the flying spaghetti monster even if they think it's stupid, too, and have never brought it up in an argument.

But that doesn't mean we should turn around and treat them the same way. "Do unto others," and all that, you know.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

There may not be zombies

As you probably guessed from yesterday's post, I'm rather fond of science fiction--of most imaginative fiction, honestly. I like alternate universes and interesting timelines and sci-fi tech stuff; I enjoy some fantasy settings and stories (but not all), and have a sneaking fondness for the quirky, the campy, and the fun in all those things.

I have not, however, had a similar fondness for the horror genre. Some early horror, like Dracula and Frankenstein, sure, but the modern iterations in which people go off into the woods on the slightest pretext and are then chased around by axe-wielding psychopaths, flesh-eating aliens, or axe-wielding flesh-eating alien psychopaths who are secretly also werewolves or something have not, by and large, appealed to me. The gore, the blood, the violence, the inherent stupidity that always makes some idiot go off completely alone after being warned by his friends, the creepy old dude who shows up and gives that sort of warning, and an entire film industry not to do anything so blatantly foolish--none of that is really entertaining, as far as I'm concerned.

Which is why it's puzzling to me that I'm so much enjoying AMC's zombie drama, The Walking Dead.

Of course, The Walking Dead is not typical horror-movie/horror-TV fare. It is extremely well-written Southern Gothic horror, so much so that I told Thad yesterday that my question before as to who on earth would publish Flannery O'Connor today had an answer: AMC would. If "publish" is still the right word; "produce" works better, of course.

And when I say that I'm "enjoying" The Walking Dead, I have to qualify that statement just slightly. I'm not enjoying it in the same way that I recently enjoyed this quirky, fun British sci-fi show (no, it's not the one you think it is). The Walking Dead is much darker, much heavier, much more serious than the sort of TV I usually watch, primarily because I think of TV as mind candy and a chance to shut off the part of my brain that wants to analyze everything to death, not as something to stimulate that part to the point where I lie awake until nearly 5 a.m. drawing parallels in my brain between what I've just seen on the one hand, and dozens of unrelated bits of literature on the other. Which is what happened to me last night, after I'd finished watching the first two episodes of season 2 of TWD.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to give Thad credit for getting me interested in TWD in the first place, and for being willing to "preview" each episode for me so that I can be warned in time not to view the most graphically violent or gory scenes. I don't have an extremely high tolerance for on-screen bludgeoning or beheading, for instance, and as there's quite a lot of that in a zombie show I appreciate Thad's willingness to tell me when to shut my eyes for a minute. To be honest, I doubt very much that I could watch the show without that.

But what, then, makes The Walking Dead worth watching? If the violence is too much for me personally, why watch it at all?

I think that the story that is being told shows signs of being ultimately positive and hopeful. It's hard to be sure at this point, but I'll just share a couple of unrelated moments from the first two episodes of this season to back up the notion--spoiler alert, though I don't plan to spend a lot of time covering plot points:

The unlikely group of survivors from the first season, already down several members after last season, exhausted, hopeless, and out of options, are fleeing Atlanta in the wake of the destruction of the CDC, where they had hoped for answers, or at least for safety. They come upon a "traffic jam" of abandoned cars, many of them still holding dead and decaying bodies which have gone past the "zombie" point, if they ever were zombies. But there are no signs of life, or of "walkers" (the "z" word isn't really used in this series). While trying to figure out a way through the cars, the group begins to salvage usable goods from the cars. One character expresses discomfort at the prospect. "This is a graveyard," she says--and the words are jarring, because were it not for the unnatural stillness and silence of the cars on the road, we could be looking at any urban highway in the midst of any ordinary traffic jam.

A "herd" (as one character tags them) of "walkers" approaches, and the terrified group hides, most of them under cars. Just as you think the worst is over, one of the two children in the group, a little girl, is seen by the zombies and ends up fleeing from the highway into that perennial horror-story set scene, the woods. Things don't then proceed in normal horror-story fashion; the girl is saved from the pursuing zombies, but she herself goes missing, and must be searched for the next day.

So daylight finds most of the group searching in the walker-infested woods for the little girl. Standard, right? Except that the girl's name is Sophia--wisdom--and the search takes the group to a Baptist church (which inexplicably has an absolutely lovely crucifix in it). Interesting, I think. A handful of "walkers" are in the church, but when they have been dispatched two separate characters address the figure of Christ on the cross--the missing girl's mother, who begs for mercy for her child, and the main character, Rick, who admits that he's not much of a believer but asks for a sign. Moments later his only child, a little boy, is shot by a hunter who is trying to bring down a deer--but the hunter comes from a group hiding in a farmhouse, and the farmhouse's owner seems to be a doctor, and despite various perils which many characters are still in the boy is clinging to life as the second episode ends--but the little girl is still lost.

The undercurrents of faith, of family, of the impact of our decisions, of the need for guidance and direction and the ability to take leaps of faith--these are the things I find interesting and intriguing about this show so far. And while I never underestimate the ability of television producers to start out with something with incredible potential and end up with something laughable and trite, there seems to be something more than the usual fare being offered here.

One thing Thad and I talked about yesterday was the reason why post-apocalyptic scenarios like the aftermath of a zombie virus remain such compelling settings for these kinds of stories. I pointed out that we in the comfortable first world forget how for so many of the seven billion people on this planet, a daily struggle for basic survival is simply the way of life. Sure, there may not be zombies, but there are wars (including those which steal children to serve as soldiers), famines, oppression, unimaginably excruciating daily toil, shortages of basic necessities like water or medicine--deprivations and hardships and suffering and loss beyond most of our experiences, and beyond even most of our imaginations.

It's almost as though in order for us even to begin to touch base with the reality of life for so many, with such a universal human experience of the uncertainty of existence and the constant presence of things like fear and pain, we have to wipe away all the material clutter we've accumulated; we have to envision a world so destroyed that our pretenses at safety and stability no longer mean anything; we have to recognize our glorified caves and technological voodoo for what it all really is, and what it's all really worth, against the brevity and coldness and harshness of life at its most basic level. In such a fictional setting, we can see and value the mere works of human hands for what they are--and when we place them in the balance scale against the certainty of death, we can finally know them for their true worth.

And yet, the characters in The Walking Dead have not quite stopped hoping. Like the third-world farmer who is barely managing to feed his family, like the child soldier who hides behind a granite countenance the memories of better days and the hope of freedom, these fictional characters illustrate how powerful a quality is the hope that rises in the human spirit, when the man himself no longer cherishes the illusion that he himself is powerful. This O'Connorian paradox is the sort of thing that draws me to the show, and I hope that, by the time The Walking Dead reaches an eventual conclusion as all human endeavors do (though as of this writing it has been renewed for a third season already), this and other elements of meaning will have received the exploration and treatment within the story that they deserve.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

20 Things I Learned from Sci-Fi TV and Movies

Yesterday's blog post was serious. Today's won't be. Fair warning for those who dislike humor and frivolity. :)

Last week, I followed this link from New Advent to a really funny list titled "50 Things I Learned from the Movies." Some of the gems include:

9. The more a man and a woman hate each other, the more likely they will fall in love.

10. All bombs are fitted with electronic timing devices with large red readouts so you know exactly when they’re going to go off.

11. Cars that crash will almost always burst into flames.

12. A cup of black coffee or a splash of cold water in the face is enough to render the most inebriated person stone cold sober.

13. If you try hard enough, you can outrun an explosion.

That last had me in tears, because I always have something to say about people who can outrun flaming fireballs and not even be the tiniest bit crispy afterward--or, rather, about people who film that particular absurdity.

There were one or two science fiction related items on that list, but it occurred to me that the strange, interesting, fun, campy world of television and movie science fiction could really use its own list. I've been working on it, and here are my not-particularly-original observations in no special order:
20 Things I Learned from Sci-Fi TV and Movies

1. The internal clocks of every spaceship in any given galaxy/universe are always perfectly synchronized, such that you will never contact some other ship millions of miles away and inadvertently awaken the ship's captain in the middle of the night.

2. It is always possible for one ship to contact another that is millions of miles away; it is, however, frequently impossible for a ship to contact members of its own crew who are on the planet below them.

3. It is ordinarily acceptable for spaceships either never to need refueling or to run out of fuel at dramatically appropriate moments; it is not ordinarily acceptable for spaceships to need boring, routine refueling.

4. A spaceship the size of a small city will somehow carry enough water on board, or generate enough water, for all tens of thousands of crew members to shower daily. If waterless showers are ever brought up in conversation, nobody will like the idea.

5. Despite traveling many times the speed of light, spaceships will rarely arrive at their home port before they left it.

6. All time-travelers speak, read, and write modern English.

7. If one of a group of people is a time-traveler from the future sent back to prevent a catastrophe, this person will tell anybody else other than the person ultimately responsible for the catastrophe what they are doing there, until it is too late. There is never a good reason for this reticence.

8. By the time that time travel is possible, evolution has removed anybody who would think it would be fun or amusing to go back in time and mess things up just for the hell of it.

9. In any give group of people from the next century, it is more likely that one of them will secretly be a humanoid alien or robot than that one of them will--secretly or openly--be a Christian.

10. Futuristic energy weapons rarely if ever need recharging. The one exception will be when the hero or heroes are being pursued by villains and must hide because they can't fight.

11. Futuristic and/or space traveling heroes often have to hide from villains in places that shun technology or have not yet made contact with space and/or time travelers.

12. At least one person in the hiding place will turn out to be both extremely attractive and surprisingly good with technology, leading to and existential and/or romantic crisis.

13. Future science labs are staffed by two types of people: men who are geeky, nerdy, socially inept, yet somehow oddly charming, and women who could have (even if they didn't) supported their various doctoral careers while modeling, but who subdue their glamor under white lab coats, intimidatingly brilliant minds, and (frequently) unattractive glasses.

14. If one of those women is accidentally locked in the science lab with one of the nerds during a major crisis, her glasses will get broken, her lab coat will have to be used to block the toxic fumes or something from coming in under the door, and the oddly charming geek who is trapped with her will suddenly realize that she is a total babe.

15. Oddly charming science nerds have magical abilities when it comes to technology. They can overcome all issues of computer compatibility, password protection or data security, damage to the system including structural damage to the mainframe or servers, viruses and malicious attacks, insufficient power, and so on in a matter of seconds. They can also integrate a piece of unknown alien technology with their present operating systems in remarkably short lapses of time.

16. Despite their magical abilities, geeky computer guys will complain vociferously about being asked to do any of the above, leading viewers to wonder what their actual job involves other than hanging around accident prone labs with science babes.

17. No matter how brilliant the science nerds are, there will always be at least one instance where an ordinary person, possibly a military man, will know more than they do about some point of basic science--because people capable of dramatic feats of higher physics frequently forget everything they know about gravity, or thermodynamics, or simple chemical reactions.

18. In the future, the military teams that accompany science teams to fantastic planets will welcome having the chain of command repeatedly violated either by the scientists or by their civilian leaders--at least, they never seem to have a problem with it.

19. In a universe in which it is possible for artificial planets to be built, it is also still possible for weapons to jam or for spaceships' engines to overheat.

20. Despite the vacuum of space, dramatic visual fireworks, clouds of smoke, etc. are not only possible, but likely, during any major starship battle.
Those are just a few simple observations. Feel free to add your own list in the comment box or on your blog!

Monday, October 24, 2011

It's time for it to stop

You may have already seen Kevin O'Brien's fantastic piece on the Bishop Finn situation; if not, I highly recommend reading the whole thing. After detailing the independent report commissioned by the diocese itself of what happened, Kevin says:
Now, Bishop Naumann makes a passioned defense of his brother bishop, and points out that many in the Kansas City media are viciously pro-abortion and will stop at nothing to destroy the Catholic Church. Bishop Naumann, I'm sure this is true.

And many lay folk have pointed out to me that Bishop Finn is orthodox in his teaching and has boldly attacked pornography, for example. I'm sure that this is true as well.

But have we come to a stage where we are so desperate for orthodox bishops that we turn a blind eye to their other shortcomings? Are we so defensive against our own sins that we refuse to acknowledge where we fall shy of virtue, simply because other sinners are pointing our failures out to us?

And how do we expect to turn the hearts of the pro-abortion zealots in the Kansas City media if we don't even have the gumption to protect a two-year-old girl who's being victimized while asleep by one of our priests? Why on earth would they listen to us about the evils of killing unborn babies when we won't even do anything to protect a sleeping two-year-old from a predator?

Because, my friends, it comes down to this.

Bishop Finn and his Vicar General knew that children under their care had been exploited and abused. Bishop Finn and his Vicar General did nothing to identify or protect those children. Instead, and incredibly, when the story finally broke, Bishop Finn and his Vicar General instructed that the parish of St. Patrick's hold listening sessions at which parents were asked to write down one "hurt" and one "hope". [...]

What would you say to these parents? Or better yet, if Fr. Ratigan had taken pictures of your sleeping two-year-old girl and removed her diapers to take a spy-pen snapshot of her vagina and her bare butt for use on his computer, and perhaps molested her and the diocese never bothered to tell you this, and never bothered to warn you not to let this man back in your house, or reach out to make sure you and your daughter got the help you needed (all the while the beg letters for the annual diocesan appeal kept coming in the mail) ... what would you put down on the "hurt" card? What would you "share" as your "hope" during the listening session while somewhere a man we call father masturbates to a picture of your sleeping two-year-old?

Powerful questions, those.

I saw a ringing defense of Bishop Finn and kudos to Bishop Naumann on another blog (which I won't link to) and, frankly, I was sickened by it. Like most lay Catholics, I have no more patience for the excuses made on behalf of bishops who were so derelict in their duty while children were being put at risk. I've heard people say such incredible things this time around as the following:
  • there were only pictures, so it's not as though actual children were being hurt.
  • Bishop Finn is only being targeted because he is orthodox.
  • The real villain, if there is one, is Msgr. Murphy who never told the bishop that more than one picture, and that one fairly innocent, existed (which is not true, but some believe it).
  • it's not the diocese's fault that their decision to give Fr. Ratigan's computer to Fr. Ratigan's brother led to the computer's being destroyed--how would the diocese ever have guessed that anyone would do that?
  • if there were any real evidence of wrongdoing on the bishop's part, he'd be charged with more than a misdemeanor.
  • (my personal favorite) the evil liberal media is gunning for the Church, and will stop at nothing in the pursuit of this diabolical agenda.
No. No, and no, and no.

It is 2011, not 1998. Every single bishop in every single diocese in America knows how terrible the Scandal has been, how hurt by it lay Catholics, good priests and religious, and entire dioceses have been--to say nothing of the actual victims of abuse. Yet when Bishop Finn was informed of the situation involving Fr. Ratigan it is clear by his actions that his overwhelming concern was to protect Fr. Ratigan. If you read the independent report (.pdf) you will see that, as Kevin O'Brien highlights, the diocese failed to turn over the evidence of child pornography to the police (describing only one picture to one off-duty police officer), failed to inform or protect children or families, failed to correct the impression that the whole situation involving Fr. Ratigan's removal was due to the dislike and hostility of the school principal, failed to inform the retreat house where he was sent why he was being sent there or warning them to keep him away from children--this, despite the fact that school retreats were held there!--and failed in dozens of other ways to do what was their clear duty in light of the existence of the photos. And I firmly believe that Bishop Finn is morally responsible for that failure, even if he refused to look at the photos or to hear more accurate descriptions of them, as some people have suggested.

That is why I don't share the opinion held by, apparently, so many Catholics that this is nothing more than an attack on the Church. Whether Bishop Finn is found guilty of the charge against him or not, there is nothing at all unjust about the indictment. Our clergy are not above the law, and we can't, on the one hand, insist on bishops' primacy over their dioceses and then, on the other, insist that it's not their fault if they fail to take obvious and minimal actions to protect children from predatory priests. The laity, especially children, deserve that protection--but too often, and yet again in Kansas City, we have seen that the whole machinery of a bishop and his chancery springs into defense of the predatory priest, leaving the children and their parents to fend for themselves.

It is wrong. It is unjust. It is the antithesis of true Christian behavior. And it's time for it to stop.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Women and weight loss

I've been having an interesting conversation with Sam McDonald over at Rod Dreher's blog on the issue of weight loss. I think, for now, I've given up. :)

Sam is a firm believer in the notion that weight gain or loss is totally explained by the "calories in minus calories burned equals either weight or loss" formula. People get fat by overeating and not exercising, and people lose weight by cutting calories (drastically, if necessary; Sam has written before about existing on an 800 calorie per day regimen) and increasing exercise.

I am not a disbeliever in thermodynamics, of course. But I think that the "weight loss formula" is a handy shortcut in our understanding, in sort of the same way that "water is H20" formula is a handy shortcut in our understanding, or that "a-e-i-o-u are the vowels" is a handy shortcut in our understanding (should we talk about "sometimes 'y' and 'w,' or shouldn't we?).

As I told Sam, I gained weight not by scarfing whole cakes and buckets of fried chicken, but by three rather close-together pregnancies. Over a decade later I'm still carrying about 20 extra pounds. Sometimes I will gain a few more pounds, sometimes I will lose a few, but sustainable long-term significant weight loss still eludes me. To Sam, this is just proof that I haven't figured out the perfect amount of exercise I need daily and the perfect amount of calories to cut. Once I do that, the pound a week drop I'd like to have will happen as if by magic; the fact that I have done that sort of thing many times in the last decade just proves that I haven't done enough.

I brought up the metabolism issue and the fact that many women will put on ten or fifteen pounds in their forties even if their diets and exercise regimens remain exactly the same, but somehow I get the impression that Sam may believe that women's bodies work exactly like men's when it comes to weight gain or loss--and that all men's bodies work like clockwork: eat more than you burn and you gain, eat less than you burn and you lose.

I've recently started to lose a little weight, but that's where things get mysterious to me. When I try really hard to ramp up the exercise and eat less, I tend to...maintain my present weight. When, as this week, I have multiple migraines, quit worrying, eat what I want when I want, skip exercise because I'm already in pain and even drink a few Cokes (tm) because as cheap yet effective migraine medicine goes it's hard to beat a combo of sugar and caffeine, I should either barely cling to maintenance or gain weight, right?

Well, that's where it gets weird, because I weighed myself today and found out I've lost a little over two pounds this week.

How did that happen? Where did they go? And, more importantly, how can I keep them from finding me again? :)

I'm not convinced that thermodynamics explains it all. I think that hormones including female hormones and stress hormones etc. play a role. I think that the effect on metabolism of drastic calorie reduction is going to vary widely based on the person's original metabolism. I think that many of the things we mistakenly do to try to lose weight, such as stress about it, fuss about it, fixate on it, weigh and measure every calorie, and so on actually end up being detrimental to the process. And I think that the science of the human body is still developing, and that one day we'll understand the role of genetics, metabolism, and individual health in a way we don't now.

And, yes, the thermodynamic equation still matters; you can't exceed your body's daily caloric requirements every day for years and not gain weight; and if you figure out a safe and sustainable way to lower calorie intake and increase calorie burn you may see modest results, such as the loss of ten or fifteen percent of your body weight. But that's a far cry from believing that the only reason we can't all achieve some ideal weight is that we're all too gluttonous and lazy to try.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A very short blog post

Considering the Republican presidential candidate field, I can only say one thing: never were so many so uninspired by so few.

Exhibit A: Herman Cain and Rick Santorum in a slap fight over abortion.

Exhibit B: Romney, who seems still to remain a heartbeat away from the candidacy, defending himself from controversy about...his religion. Though he doesn't actually like to talk about it.

Exhibit C: Romney and Perry display mature, rational, united conservatism by...palpably not liking each other.

Has there ever been such an uninspiring Republican field? Oh, wait; yes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Before offering Sister the tweezers

Blog posts about children misbehaving at Mass seem to be a perennial favorite in the Catholic blogosphere. This one will probably be no exception:
About halfway through the Eucharistic prayer, the priest simply stopped and stared in the direction of the screaming for what felt like an hour but was probably about 15 seconds. It was pretty clear to those of us in the front that he was being pushed to his limit. This priest (who is not the pastor) is a peaceful, kind, loving, compassionate guy, a really good priest. Anyway, the parents of this baby did not take the hint, so the screaming continued right along with the rest of the Eucharistic prayer and into the Our Father. At that point the priest grimaced and stood by silently as the rest of us continued to pray.

I leaned over to my husband and said, "I think father is going to lose it." And that was just about when he did. As we approached the Sign of Peace, he stopped again and pleaded with them amid the screaming: "Will you please take the baby out of the church? Please?" Talk about an awkward moment. I couldn't see what was going on behind me but I felt myself holding my breath as I waited to see what happened next. I guess the family finally got the message and headed out to the Gathering Space, or, more likely, out of the church. Perhaps for good.
The blogger goes on to take a reasonably balanced view of this sort of thing, pointing out that while, on the one hand, babies will be babies, on the other, we need adults to be adults and to recognize when their children have passed the line into becoming a full-blown disruption. She is also clear that what was going on was a full-throated screaming meltdown that persisted through the Eucharistic Prayer, not a normal sort of whimpering or fussing that you might expect.

Still, as can be expected, the commenters took varying views of the situation, ranging from the calls to be as charitable as possible to parents wrestling with little ones, to discussions of how the ushers/pastor/etc. deal with similar things at their parish. One poster, a religious sister, made a rather nice comment coming from a non-parent; that is, she advised a sense of humor, a reminder that Jesus was used to crowds, and a call for everybody to be willing to "power through" such situations when they arise.

And for her pains, Sister got this comment:
Thank you for the post. Your mind is a perfect example of the Smoke of Satan that has entered the Sanctuary; in short it's selfishness. It's a selfishness led by priests who during the Mass have turned their backs on the Lord Crucified. Priests and nuns are blinded not by some spiritual act of the Devil, but by their own choice to turn their gaze away from the Lord's Sacrifice. All who turn away from His Sacrifice eventually fall in love with themselves, their gaze merely points to the objects of desire.

Your, "I mean, come on. No one could hear me or the program", when compared to how you see a child screaming during the Mass can not make this more clear.

Your "I felt this is what a crowd around Jesus would have been like" is not at all relevant and is filled with ignorance. The reverence, honor, and love of the Mass by the Early Church is clearly documented by Church and secular history. This is especially so for the Eucharistic prayer of the Mass. In the early Church the Eucharistic prayer was known as "the Secret", and attendance was allowed by only those who believed. {I am not saying the Church should return to such a rule}. The Early Church held the Mass as Sacred, Solemn, and Holy. The Mass is the Prayer of the Church. It was held by the Christian's of the Early Church as such, and never has the Church taught or accepted the Mass as a "crowd" event for chattel.

You are correct that "peace and quiet" is not part of the liturgical norms. But neither is cacophony. Your questions shows your grave ignorance and selfishness regarding your concern for the Mass. The Rubric's and GRIM are filled with language that makes such distinctions; so much so it is hard to believe your ignorance is not really willful selfishness for your own spiritual desires and happiness.

So Sister, "I mean, come on", "power through", stop focusing on your selfish desires that make you happy for a while. Start focusing on the Lord whom you devoted yourself to and stop "laughing a little" when the world turns the Sacrifice to your husband into a meal at a buffet restaurant.
Momento mori, Christ took a bull-whip to those who sat in the temple as if it was a place for crowds.
This sort of thing is the reason that I find rad-tradism totally poisonous. And let me just say, for the record, that I know more than one regular E.F. Mass attendee who would completely agree.

The conversation at the blog, note, was about children, their tendency to melt down, the proper way to handle such things at Mass, and the occasional need for a priest, deacon, team of ushers etc. to have an action plan by which the sometimes-clueless parents of a banshee-impersonating toddler will gently and kindly be asked if, perhaps, Snookums mightn't be soothed in the crying room, vestibule, or secret soundproof nuclear bunker (kidding, kidding). It was not about how Christ would have driven the parents and screaming toddler out of His Holy Mass with a bull-whip if necessary so that the sensibilities of people who most emphatically don't need people (especially in Church!!!!) can be preserved in acrylic facsimiles of amber (because real amber is sort of oozing and full of icky impurities).

To such a person, a nun who counsels lighthearted smiles of understanding in these situations is the walking embodiment of the Smoke of Satan for failing to understand how terribly offended God is by the presence of less-than-perfect people at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

None of this is to say that parents whose children could serve as tornado warning systems shouldn't be reminded that there are options, should the small human tornado siren go off during Mass. But the sort of person who sits in judgment on the soul of a professed religious and feels competent to declare that she is willfully selfish and ignorant might just want to check his own eye for the jutting plank before offering Sister the tweezers for that little mote.

UPDATE: The commenter removed his comment castigating Sister, and, apparently, all of his comments. Interesting.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A two-way street

I sometimes think that the gravest danger to the Christian duty to treat people afflicted with same-sex desires with the respect and dignity owed to them as children of God is going to come, not from traditional--and true--Church teachings about the grave moral evil of every homosexual sex act, but from the repeated and coercive attempts to force society to view homosexual acts as morally benign.

Case in point:
A Connecticut high school musical causes a public walkout after two men in the cast kissed during the performance.

It happened during the “Zanna Don’t!” musical at Hartford Public High School last Friday.

“There are always circumstances (in organizing these programs) under which the values of the student or their family come into play,” said Adam Johnson, principal of the Government and Law Academy at the high school, told CBS Connecticut.

He added that many students expressed a desire to skip the show due to the subject matter.

“It’s a balancing act of individual values and the expectations of the school … (and) it was interesting, actually, seeing the apprehension,” Johnson explained. [...]

During the show, two men in the cast share a brief kiss — a lip lock that became a great point of contention.

“There was a public walkout by a bunch of students (when the kiss happened) … mostly male,” Johnson said. “It was visually evident (due to the jerseys the team was wearing) that a lot of football players got up and walked out. It was almost a symbolic kind of thing.”

Reportedly, the school began receiving a great number of phone calls. The dean of students was even allegedly paid a visit by a Bible-wielding parent that spoke about homosexuals in an unflattering manner.

Oh, heavens. A Bible-wielding parent! Who dared to speak of homosexuals in an unflattering manner! In Connecticut! You can almost sense the hysteria.

The tone-deaf school officials go on to display their complete ignorance over the reason for the push-back by some students and parents to yet-another attempt to force acceptance of homosexual activity as normal:

And with Spirit Day – a holiday during which celebrants promote awareness and widespread acceptance of the LGBTQ community – coming up on Oct. 20, the timing seemed perfect.

“Through humor … and music, we’re able to address uncomfortable topics and very serious issues for many,” Provenzano said.

“Most change that comes about does require a certain amount of movement through the uncomfortable – the change process can be a bit messy and disruptive,” Ted Carroll, president of Leadership Greater Hartford, told CBS Connecticut.

After the performance, a talk back session was held to promote a dialog between students, administrators and moderators, and materials were handed out for those seeking more information about issues that affect the LGBTQ community.

Here's a hint: when students start walking out of school plays that promote same-sex sexual activity, maybe students haven't bought into this whole "change process" thing. Maybe, just maybe, they're even getting a bit tired of being told on a near-constant basis that while it's just fine to make fun of "Bible-wielders," it's never okay to point out that, quite likely, more than 95% of the student body is heterosexual and doesn't really find same-sex kissing all that entertaining.

I think that the efforts of educators to force school kids from elementary grades on up to ponder their sexuality, question their orientation, eradicate heteronormativity, support gay "marriage" and other idiocies, and wallow in the notion that every bad thing that has ever happened to any same-sex attracted person has been the fault of insensitive bigots who just won't accept him/her for who he/she really is may quite likely backfire. After all, some critics of the DARE program say that this effort to reduce drug abuse has led to greater drug use; and anybody who has ever been around actual children knows how often a program to get them to stop doing something (bullying, drug use, etc.) will actually make them want to do more of it.

And that would be a bad thing, because even if someone is severely tempted to commit gravely evil homosexual sex acts, he or she is still a child of God and deserves to be treated like one. That doesn't mean that we lie to the same-sex attracted members of our society and tell them that there's nothing at all wrong with perversion; if we really care about them, we won't spread such a damaging lie that will not only kill their souls, but will also quite likely damage their bodies and shorten their lifespans. But it does mean that we avoid actual bullying and dehumanizing acts and speech, and teach our children to do the same.

It is, however, a two-way street. If same-sex attracted people can't understand that a play shown to children as young as 13 or so which features a same-sex kissing scene is dehumanizing to the heterosexual majority who doesn't need to have such conduct shoved in their faces at every opportunity, then the chance we all have to learn to respect each other seems to be fading.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dereliction of duty

If you haven't been reading Rod Dreher's posts on the ugly situation involving Bishop Finn, Fr. Shawn Ratigan, and the diocese's mishandling of child porn found on Fr. Ratigan's computer, you really should be. Here are some of the posts so far:

Why Bishop Finn deserves indictment

Forgiveness as enabling behavior

What I wish every bishop would get

I left a lengthy comment beneath the first post. It had to do with this situation. Essentially, I learned a long time ago that many pastors (to say nothing of bishops) have an "us vs. them" mentality when it comes to the laity, and that even when the laity are completely right about something, some in the clergy--some, not all--will batten down the hatches and build a wall of resentment that their judgment was ever challenged. Failing to understand the clergy sex-abuse scandal in the light of that truth will make many scratch their heads and wonder how any human being could fail to react with outrage over child-porn photos on a priest's computer; but for far too long, bishops, pastors, and others went into "us vs. them" mode in these situations and saw their primary duty as the duty to protect the accused priest, not to protect the laity or the innocent children.

I can't say whether that was Bishop Finn's motive or mentality here, of course. But what I can say is that there is something deeply, drastically, horrifically wrong when in this day and age a diocese finds pornographic pictures of young girls on a priest's computer in December and doesn't get around to making any official notification of same to the police until May. Yes, others saw the pictures, and there are questions about why some of them didn't also notify police, and why they're not mentioned in the indictment. Fair questions, all of them. But either bishops are in charge of their priests and have the ultimate responsibility for them, or they don't. If the first is true, then we need to stop making excuses when bishops fail to act against clergy sex abusers. If the second is true, then there's no real need for a hierarchy at all.

I, of course, think the first is true. I think these situations involve, especially in the present age when the past realities about not knowing much about pedophilia, etc., no longer apply, a serious and grave dereliction of duty on the part of bishops. Christ appointed them to be the spiritual fathers of their dioceses, not enablers and protectors of those handful of priests who get up to criminal activities including the sexual abuse of children. By focusing on the latter, bishops are abandoning not only the laity, but every good and faithful priest as well, to the status of spiritual orphans.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The mind-bending self-absorption of adults

Don't miss this, from The Deacon's Bench: the Detacho dollhouse so preschoolers can play with divorced parent-dolls who go from happy to sad, from kissing to unable to kiss (due to the amazing power of magnets which can be turned to repel the dolls when Mommy and Daddy are frowning at each other!), and from an intact family unit to new groups of non-related adults and step-children who have to get along together in the newly arranged divorce-houses. Isn't that special?

No word on when the gay "marriage" option with same-sex partners will be available, but I imagine it's coming soon. At present, the biggest issue with the same-sex houses is probably whether there's a separate little apartment for the two daddies to entertain their extra boyfriends or not.

And, of course, there will have to be the "single-parent-by-choice" model, with a group of rotating partners all of whom want to kiss mommy or daddy, but only for a little while, and who don't split up the house when they leave; they just take their own baggage and/or electronics with them when they go.

I'm pretty sick of a culture in which the mind-bending self-absorption of adults who should know better wreaks havoc and suffering on the lives of children. The "Detacho" dollhouse ought to be called "Children's Hell-on-Earth," but then self-indulgent ex-spouses wouldn't buy it in their sick belief that the children will cope just fine with the shattering of the family, would they?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Marriage in the modern world

There are two great posts out there today about love, marriage, and the alternatives thereto (which is how one English lit. professor of mine once described, with unerring accuracy, the plots of most British novels). The first comes from Rod Dreher:
I wish I could say I finished Kate Bolick’s superlong Atlantic article on reaching middle age as an uneasily unmarried woman, but I didn’t. It was way, way too rambly. Nevertheless, I highly recommend diving in and sticking with it as long as you can, because it raises a number of challenging questions about the way we live today. [...]

She made a hash of her own marriage prospects because she believed in the emotivist, consumerist idea that maintaining autonomy and maximal choice was critical to the good life. It is inconceivable to many Americans today that true freedom comes through limiting your freedom by committing to a worthwhile discipline, which entails self-giving and self-denial. It is a paradox of life, one recognized by Christianity, that by giving up your life, you gain it — but only, of course, if you give it up for something worth the sacrifice. In a way, Bolick is a more sophisticated version of JD Samson, the lesbian punk rocker I wrote about the other day who penned the HuffPo essay howling against the unfairness of life because she took advantage of her liberty to live exactly as she wanted to, and failed to get rich by so doing. Have cake and eat too juvenilia. [Link in original--E.M.]
In other words, women have been sold a big lie about having it all--but when they wake up and realize as they approach 40 that their prospects are shrinking and the idea of eventual wedded bliss on the horizon is looking like a mirage, they end up blaming not the culture's big push toward the triumph of individual autonomy over every other way of living, but something external, such as economics, the shortage of men with M.B.A's and six-figure incomes who actually want to marry 39-year-0lds, or some other such thing that has nothing to do with the sad, even tragic, choices they themselves have made during the course of their lives.

Continuing on this topic, Jennifer Fulwiler writes about how silly some marriage customs have become in a world full of cohabitating couples:

All this week I’ve been thinking about weddings. My husband and I recently celebrated our anniversary, and then Hallie Lord is hosting a little online party where bloggers are writing about their honeymoons. Reading through the stories of all these Catholic weddings and the ensuing celebrations reminded me of something I haven’t thought about much since my own nuptials: Many of our cherished wedding traditions make no sense with the new, secular understanding of marriage.

I was an atheist when I got married, and I held a common secular view of marriage: It’s simply a public statement that two people are going to stay together for the long term. That’s it. Quite a few of my friends got married around the same time I did, and we all shared this view. I don’t think any of us thought that our understanding of the institution of marriage was that much of a departure from that of the millenia-old Judeo-Christian tradition. Sure, some of us were atheists, but it was basically the same old thing, just without the God stuff. However, when we actually sat down to plan our big days, and started asking ourselves why we were doing all of this stuff, we were startled by what we found: Almost none of the time-honored traditions, practiced for generations by our forebearers, made sense anymore.

Jennifer goes on to list five specific customs that no longer make sense: honeymoons (because the couple is already living together and thus doesn't need time to adjust to life together), bachelor/bachelorette parties (because the couple is continuing their relationship, not beginning it), wedding registries (because the couple already has all of the stuff they need), dad walking daughter down the aisle, and "till death do us part," because neither of those really means anything in a postmodern world. In fact, there's really no need to have a wedding at all; the couple isn't changing anything, they don't promise anything they can't get out of later, and the only people who benefit are the Wedding Industrial Complex and the divorce lawyers.

Again, the glorification of the autonomous individual is at the root of what is wrong with marriage in the modern world. Without the concept of sacrificial love that subjugates the self to the beloved other, marriage means little. Selfish hedonism may be good for some things, but it's hardly the best basis on which to begin a family. And the modern people who forgot this would rather blame anything else but the exaltation of the Self for the failure of marriage.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Catholic writing rant

I really liked this post today from Catholic Phoenix:

In the non-fiction writings of Flannery O’Connor, who could probably be said to have “advanced American literature,” whatever that means, Cardinal Spellman’s Foundling seems to serve as a watchword for all that she found defective in mid-century American Catholic letters: dreary prose, implausible characters, a sentimental plot built upon moral pieties about what ought to happen, all derived from an underlying mistake: the confusion of subjective intentions, however noble, with artistic skill, which is the only thing that can justify a work of art.

Spellman’s Foundling was by no means unique in its day as an example of Catholic kitsch. And in our own age of mass-produced culture, in which Catholics have half a dozen reliably orthodox publishers and distributors trying to sell us Catholic books, films, and music, O’Connor’s warnings about bad art hiding behind orthodoxy are as needful now as fifty years ago. There is more Catholic kitsch for sale than ever before, and one-click internet ordering renders us especially vulnerable to it.

There are perhaps Catholic readers and critics who would say that an earnest attempt to write fiction by a robustly orthodox archbishop like Cardinal Spellman should be respectfully welcomed, that aesthetic or literary criticism of such a book would be out of place; he has, after all, furnished his readers with a story that has a positive message about the Faith, and that is a rare thing in the modern age.

This would not be Flannery’s view.

It's true, isn't it, that far too many Catholic fiction publishers these days seem to want exactly what the blogger here excoriates: "...dreary prose, implausible characters, a sentimental plot built upon moral pieties about what ought to happen..." People who are willing to be ruthless in discussing what's wrong with Thomas Kinkade's works will preserve a discreet silence when talking about the works of various contemporary Catholic fiction writers, especially the ones whose works are published by the handful of Catholic publishers who still take the risk of publishing fiction at all; there's a sense that, sure, perhaps the books are lacking, but we wouldn't want them to be evil like so much contemporary fiction, so it's fine if they're a bit weak or even totally lame, so long as they are safe and well-intentioned.

About that, from the same post above:

In this same speech O’Connor tells of an “old lady in California” who wrote her in a scolding letter “that when the tired reader comes home at night he wishes to read something that will ‘lift up his heart.’” O’Connor’s response: “I wrote her back that if her heart had been in the right place, it would have been lifted up…one old lady who wants her heart lifted up wouldn’t be so bad, but you multiply her 250,000 times and what you get is a book club.” [...]

Both the old lady in California who wants to be uplifted and the Catholic critic who wants novels to be “positive”—the Scylla and Charybdis of the Catholic public, demanding sentiment or utility, but blind to art—, are confused about what a work of literature is in its essence: they expect it to DO something specific for them and are from the beginning uninterested in its representation of any unpleasant realities, which is to be uninterested in at least half of reality. To want only simplistic sentimental stories is really to want to be lied to, and while there is no shortage in our age of those willing to lie to make a buck, the Christian artist, bound by his theology to see the world as it is, and sanctioned by his morality against deceiving anyone, cannot in good conscience join in.

Do read the whole post, if you can.

I really could not agree more with the ideas expressed above--and this, even though my fiction aspirations are to write children's fiction, not adult fiction. The writer of children's fiction has, in my view, a special task: to tell the truth, to tell a good story, to create a realistic world in which good and evil both struggle--but to do so in a way that respects the veil of childhood and that does not unduly breach the trust of parents who allow their children to read the work, to show some restraint in scenes of violence, and to practice reticence most especially of all in terms of sexual content. Some writers for children, especially in this day and age, disagree with those principles and most of all with the last one. But the world of a child is not the world of an adult. The dawning awareness a child ought to have about certain types of evil and some kinds of sin on the one hand, and of certain greatly good gifts which properly belong to marriage on the other, must, I most firmly believe, be treated with a great deal of respect by the writer who aims his or her work to audiences as young as age eight or so (as I do in my writing).

But I can't, and don't, write the kind of children's fiction that most Catholic fiction publishers today would be at all willing to publish or sell. I don't proselytize, I don't preach, and my characters are not wells of unadulterated goodness. My main character is, in the beginning of the book, a thief (though not a very good one). Some of the other characters struggle with selfishness, laziness, guilt and fear, and the character who is in many ways the most morally admirable has a serious fault, which leads to considerable trouble in the not-yet-finished second book. And, as I mentioned in an earlier post, the book is not overtly Catholic. The only way to bring religion into the fictional galaxy where the story takes place would be to drag it in, kicking and screaming, and then to club it into submission--and that's just to make some quiet little mention of Christianity; to have the characters attending Masses or praying the rosary together etc. would be to reduce the story to the lowest sort of pandering.

I feel sorry for those Catholic writers I know who write fiction for adults. Their Catholic worldview shapes everything about the way they approach their art, and yet they are far less likely to be published by a Catholic publishing company, no matter how talented they are, than a secular one (and we all know how hard it can be to get a secular publisher even to look at a manuscript) unless they are willing to write a Kinkade-esque fantasy about a sweet Catholic family in a little roseate cottage whose main conflicts involve being nice to the neighbors who let their daughters wear jeans. Okay, okay, I'm exaggerating--but not by all that much.

Which major Catholic publisher today would publish O'Connor? Or Walker Percy? Or Graham Green? Would any of them?

I've heard Catholic publishers say, in essence, "Look, we have to publish safe fiction that our readers like, because nobody buys Catholic fiction anymore except for the 'old lady in California' or the reader looking for a positive, affirming tale." But maybe nobody buys Catholic fiction anymore because there's so darned little of it being published.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Like angelic voices

The high school where this heartwarming story takes place is just up the road from us--in fact, it's in the same town as the Catholic church we attend:

Mariah Slick is the first Azle High School homecoming queen with Down syndrome.

The high school senior, according to KVUE, never expected that her classmates would crown her the queen of their homecoming.

She is known for her warm personality, but even her parents were surprised by the nomination. "I never dreamed she would be nominated homecoming queen, especially since she has special needs," her mother, Susan Slick, told CBS DFW.

The 18-year-old high school student is one of the school's biggest fans, and according to ABC, hardly misses a game. It seems everyone has something nice to say about her as well.

There is a video at the link, and also here.

Nearly 90% of babies diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome will be aborted here in America. Some people argue, unconscious of the eugenics aspects of their argument, that parents who find out that a child will have Down syndrome have a moral obligation to have their children executed before birth, to spare them "suffering."

The students at Azle High School would quite likely disagree, some of them strongly, with that kind of thinking. I'm so proud to live near these great kids, to know a couple of graduates from this school, and to see such a cloud of witnesses to the intrinsic value and dignity of every human life coming from them in a message that was so loud and clear it got picked up by the international media. Above all of the cacophony and clamor of our culture of death's propaganda, deeds like these lift like angelic voices proclaiming the truth that life is worth protecting and valuing in all human beings, from conception to natural death.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Technology needs grace

I found this, from Bishop Vann's blog, rather beautiful:
What Steve Jobs did was link science and art. He took the empirical and made it beautiful. He did what even our fallen human natures can do. With concupiscence and all, and perhaps unawares of it, Jobs valued the natural and intuitive potential of technology. He knew that technology was the art of expressing what is already embedded within us. For the Christian however, we must ask, What is embedded within? What do we find in the human heart, in the human mind and ultimately in human nature? Well, this question is already answered, sort of. Christian anthropology tells us that as creatures, we are made in the image and likeness of God, but through the Fall, lost our original innocence. And so if technology is only an expression of our choosing, then as amazed as we are by our tinkering, we must know that the direction in which technology leads us, isn't going to be a surprise. It will lead us where we chose.

Like human nature then, technology needs grace.
Technology needs grace--because it is a product of man, and man is fallen and needs grace. Our age would do well to remember this.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Anger in America

From Megan McArdle at the Atlantic:
I spent quite a lot of time on the "We are the 99%" website last night and this morning. There's been a considerable amount of carping about it from the conservative side, and to be sure, some of the stories strain plausibility (the percentage of people in the sample who have either taken up prostitution, or claim to have seriously considered doing so, seems rather high, for instance, and as far as I could tell, not a single person on the site had been fired for cause). Many of the people complaining made all sorts of bad decisions about having children, getting very expensive "fun" degrees, and so forth. [Emphasis added--E.M.]
I had to highlight that, because it comes up when you're talking to lots of people, even ostensible Catholics--the idea that one should really only have a child if one's own life plan is fully worked out, one has sufficient savings in the bank, one has enough to pay to raise the child to 18 and send him/her to a good college, etc. It's a subtle anti-child proposition, and it's also a damning indictment of our age, because in previous eras having a child was not the sole privilege of the rich, nor did one have to have a tidy portfolio or a 401K as a prerequisite for procreation. I think of my various ancestors, the ones who farmed and the ones who worked outside of agriculture, and I think: thank heavens none of them ever bought into the pernicious nonsense that is on display here. Sure, there are times when economic concerns may be a perfectly valid reason for a married couple to use NFP, but the notion that many Americans are out of work and hurting right now because of rampant and haphazard fecundity is beyond laughable.

But there's more:
I think it's hard to read through this list of woes without feeling both sympathy, and a healthy dose of fear. Take all the pot shots you want at people who thought that a $100,000 BFA was supposed to guarantee them a great job--beneath the occasionally grating entitlement is the visceral terror of someone in a bad place who doesn't know what to do. Having found myself in the same place ten years ago, I can't bring myself to sneer. No matter how inflated your expectations may have been, it is no joke to have your confidence that you can support yourself ripped away, and replaced with the horrifying realization that you don't really understand what the rules are. Yes, even if you have a nose ring.
Because we all know that most if not all of the people out of work are the olfactory organ adorned recently-graduated creative fine arts or liberal arts types.


I had to stop reading some of the heartbreaking prayer request on a Catholic homeschool board (I still pray; I just couldn't read) about families where suddenly the father was out of work. These were men from all walks of life, working in jobs ranging from construction to education to corporate careers to science and technical fields. Many of them were not young, and many were the sole providers of good-sized families. The economic downturn has not spared any group of people except that group called the 1%--the wealthiest Americans.

And sometimes, in taking any job that came along, these men sealed their career fates. Nobody will call them back or talk to them now, now that they've been underemployed and barely hanging on for months or even years. Their former employers can outsource their jobs or hire H1-B visa workers at a fraction of the cost, and the new healthcare mandates won't affect overseas employees. For the employers, this sort of thing is a win-win. For a man in his forties or fifties who has been scraping by on an insufficient income for far too long, it is heartbreaking.

Some of our elites keep trying to push the idea that the only disgruntled, unemployed or underemployed people are people who really did this sort of thing to themselves. No. Our Ruling Class decided that American workers are just too costly, and that if they want to keep raking in huge stock market increases and massive CEO salaries and the other perks they're entitled to as members of the Ruling Class they had to kick the rungs out of the ladder to success on which far too many of hoi polloi were threatening to stand. Somehow the Average Joes out there were supposed to discern five or ten years ago that owning a home was no longer a good idea, that getting into debt for college was no longer a critical "investment" in one's future but a sucker's shell game, and that the phrase "...doing the jobs Americans won't do..." was referring to any job for which an American can't financially accept slave wages, a 24/7 work schedule, and frequent relocations on the employee's own dime.

The Wall Street protests may be just so much street theater, as many suspect they are. But the anger in America is real.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Put that in your pipe

I want to preface this post by saying that I really like Kevin O'Brien. I think he's a tremendously talented person who is deeply Catholic and who writes sincerely and well. The remainder of this post should not, therefore, be construed as a general invitation to beat up on Mr. O'Brien in any way.

But I find myself disagreeing with some of this. Particularly this:
It was the party after the conference (the party is the "end" and the conference is the "means"). I sat with perhaps fifteen other men in Lou Horvath's screened-in patio as the rain fell hard on a chilly October night, the darkness surrounding us, cigar smoke filling the room, whiskey, good wine and good beer flowing, the ChesterBelloc Drinking and Debating Club in full swing. [...]

These sorts of insights only come by way of cigar smoke, bourbon, a chilly night, the pouring rain, and true Christian fellowship.

This is because there's something dangerous in men of like mind smoking and drinking together, united in a love of Christ.

There's nothing dangerous about Kumbaya, about "the sign of peace", about sitting in a circle and sharing. The one is living and has gonads; the other is the emasculated product of the same society that's trying its best to re-bury G. K. Chesterton. [Links in original: E.M.]
It should be said that I do agree with the main point of the post, which is that if we're going to impact the world as Christian artists, we have to write things that human beings would want to read, or draw things that human beings would want to view, or film things...but you get the idea.

In fact, I overwhelmingly agree with this. My in-progress children's fiction book is intermediate children's science fiction, and it is not--not--a work of "Christian fiction" or of "Catholic fiction." Yet my characters are moral, and operate in a moral system that comes from my own beliefs.

I once made the mistake of sending the manuscript to a small Catholic fiction publisher. She wrote back very kindly, encouraging me to submit the work to a secular publisher, but telling me that my being a Catholic and a writer did not make my book Catholic fiction. Only having my characters attend Mass, pray the rosary, have deep theological discussions, venerate the saints etc. could make my book "Catholic fiction." The fact that some of my characters, the human ones, have only the most tenuous of connections to the people of Earth and that the rest aren't human at all does not, apparently, mitigate this burning need for Catholic fiction to contain plenty of overt Catholic stuff with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Whether actual human beings will read a book in which characters break out into theological discussions the way musicals break out into song is another question.

So what's my problem with Kevin's blog post?

I dislike the glorification of smoking as some kind of male-bonding, chest-thumping, manly-man activity.

I lost my grandfather to tobacco use. This manly, outdoors type, this man who had panned for gold in Alaska in the 30's, this man who built his own house, this man who without any higher education worked as an inventor for Brach's Candy Company and designed and built a machine to make boxes to keep chocolate-covered cherries from getting damaged in shipping (among many other similar inventions) essentially choked to death from emphysema in his mid-seventies--and he came from a family in which dying at 90 was dying "young."

Some Catholic men appear to be trying to rediscover both pipe-smoking and cigar-smoking as if both were some kind of deeply Catholic, essentially masculine, spiritually good activity. They will claim that pipe-smoking and cigar-smoking are not cigarette-smoking and thus will not lead to emphysema; they will claim that both may be enjoyed in moderation as truly harmless male bonding activities. They scoff at the statistics showing high rates of increase of things like oral cancer and pancreatic cancer among cigar and pipe smokers, and will deny that the addictive properties of nicotine will cause them to crave the "occasional" cigar or pipe with greater and greater frequency. They will point to the way our world discourages male fellowship and suggest that if not for some manly tobacco use, men would never get the chance for some exclusive male company.

I'm actually sympathetic to that last complaint; women have chances for fellowship with other women exclusively, but men have suffered from the decline of opportunities for male fellowship and friendship to such a degree that many men complain of being lonely in this regard, even if they are happily married and gainfully employed. Men do need the chance to sit together, to talk, to laugh, and to do so without having to be worried that they will unwittingly offend someone (and that someone would usually be female).

But they shouldn't have to smoke to get that fellowship. That's just confusing accidents with substance, or something.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Passionate intensity

Did you follow the Amanda Knox appeal trial?

I didn't. I had heard of the situation after the first guilty verdict, and had wondered a little bit at the lack of concrete evidence linking Knox or her boyfriend to the crime, but other than that it wasn't a case I paid any attention to.

I'm often interested in high profile crime cases, an interest that comes from many places: my love of mystery fiction, my concern that too often people are convicted of crimes on rather flimsy evidence, my general, if deplorable, fascination with "celebrity" crime cases, and so on. But this one just didn't capture my interest, though I felt sorry both for the family of the victim and for anyone actually innocent caught up in the accusations (unless three people really did conspire to kill the victim, which never did seem all that likely to me), I just didn't follow the case all that much.

Which is why when yesterday's verdict of "not guilty" for Knox was announced, I had the opportunity to read various comments under the multiplicity of news articles without, for once, having formed strong opinions of my own; and from that perspective I was rather astonished by the fury with which people expressed their opinions about the case, the verdict, and Knox herself. One commenter would insist that Knox was an innocent girl caught up in a horrible nightmare; the next would insist with equal fervor that she was a monster who deserved to be jailed for life; and the conversation would quickly swirl out of control.

Had I followed the case and formed my own strong opinions, I'm sure I'd be just as swift to add them to the cacophony. But that realization made me pause--what, exactly, is with our level of passionate intensity about things we often know very little about, in reality?

The easy answer here is to blame the media. We're so conditioned to media messages, to advertising and marketing, to the fully-legal manipulation of our tastes, ideas, conclusions, etc. that we come to a story like the Knox case with preconceived notions; and whether we're going to see her as the injured innocent or the "she-devil" of a lurid murder case might, some would say, be a predetermined thing.

But I'm not sure that's the whole story. Couldn't it also be true that our tendency to form swift, somewhat illogical/irrational opinions on these sorts of things goes beyond such notions as media manipulation or confirmation bias, and says something deeper about our culture? Have we become, in effect, a culture that is easily subject to this new sort of "viral" experience, that turns seemingly ordinary people into a mob (not necessarily a flash mob, but a mob) at the slightest provocation?

I hope not, because that would probably have consequences reaching far beyond an unpleasant tendency to express loud and combative opinions about celebrity trials. But what do you think?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Changes ahead

This is one of those blog posts that I dislike having to write, because I'd much rather bloviate about politics, culture, or religion than talk about anything even remotely personal.

But I've come up, lately, against a few unpleasant realities that I can't deny, and the responsible thing to do is to deal with them.

Reality number one: our school days are getting longer. With two in high school and one in the eighth grade, homeschooling is, shall we say, a greater adventure than ever. It's certainly a more demanding sort of adventure, of the "finding oneself on a quest for survival after falling through a hole in the fabric of space/time and ending up in the middle of the Battle of Hastings" variety (meaning, we'll be fine as long as we recall the superiority of the combined arms attack). But the increase in length of our school days means a decrease in the amount of my grotesquely misnamed "free" time (as every mother knows, "free" time is really "time I have stolen away from the mountain of chores and responsibilities awaiting me because this sort of time theft is cheaper than therapy"), which is leading to some unforeseen difficulties, which leads us to:

Reality number two: this blog takes a lot of time. Sure, it looks like I slap these posts together in a twenty-minute caffeine-fueled frenzy, but sadly I do spend quite a bit of time reading the news and other blogs, contemplating the topics I plan to write about, doing the actual writing, and then proofreading (not always well, alas) before hitting the "publish post" button. When I'm being efficient about it all, I probably spend about an hour a day on the blog (and most of that time is writing). When I'm uninspired, tired, or less than sure what I really think about the issue (which means I start writing frantically and erase huge swaths of text when I actually nail down my opinion), it can take double that amount. In previous years I have managed to find those hours in bits and pieces throughout the day, but this year seems to be different so far. And one reason for the difference, beside the longer school days, is:

Reality number three: I am way behind schedule in my attempt to self-publish my first children's fiction book; I'm even way behind schedule in my attempt to blog about the process, because frankly the process has turned into me feeling stressed about not having enough time in my day to work on my fiction, let alone to blog about it, let alone to maintain this blog and the sadly neglected C4C blog. And I need to get the whole fiction-publishing thing going. I've wanted to publish a book of children's fiction since I wrote my first (terrible) one back when I was fifteen years old. At present I have, not counting that one, at least six manuscripts of children's fiction (there may be more, because I'm really bad at keeping track) most of which are either finished or nearly finished and two of which are part of the series I'm presently working on self-publishing. I like writing fiction--it energizes and inspires me in ways that no amount of non-fiction writing can do. I'm going to keep on doing it whether my books sell to anyone other than friends and family or not; I'd do it even if self-publishing weren't the possibility it is these days; I'll do it even if it turns out that I'm totally awful at it, because I love doing it, and find it absolutely necessary, somehow.

And, yes, I do like writing this blog, too. But if I'm ever going to give the fiction writing a decent chance, something has to give.

I'd like to keep posting here, and I'd like to keep posting daily on weekdays, as I've been doing (but we'll see). The posts are going to have to be shorter, though, and if I don't respond to you in the comment boxes as frequently it doesn't mean I'm not paying attention. Because the fourth reality is that even my little comment boxes require more of my attention than I can realistically give if I'm also preparing my first book in my planned series for publication, finishing the final chapter of the second book and beginning the editing process for that one, and preparing to write the first draft of the third book during this November's National Novel Writing Month. It is just, alas, becoming too much.

Eventually things will settle down (I hope!). I really do want to do both, to write and publish fiction and keep this blog going. Right now, though, I really need to give the fiction a fighting chance, and that means putting this blog just slightly on the back burner.

As always, your patience is greatly appreciated.