Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Some of you may remember the "Sneaky Ninja Dude" comics our youngest daughter, whose blog name is "Hatchick," writes for fun and sends out to family members.  I wanted to share her great Halloween comic from today:

Disclaimer: Pillsbury (tm) is a registered trademark and no trademark infringement is intended; my daughter just didn't remember to type (tm) after the company name in the comic as drawn.

Happy Halloween!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Eternal rest

Mark Shea is reporting that Barbara Curtis of Mommylife has died of the stroke she recently suffered (I asked for prayers for her here yesterday, too). 

Please join me in praying for the repose of her soul, and for her sorrowful family and grieving friends at this difficult time.

Random thoughts

I know I didn't post a real blog post yesterday, but I'm not going to post a real one today, either.  Frankly, the awful migraines I had twice last week have left me way behind on stuff I need to do before National Novel Writing Month kicks off on November 1 (yay!).  I'm busily editing book two in the Tales of Telmaja series (though I hoped to be ready to send it out to my advance readers long before now), and I'm planning to write the first draft of book four during NaNoWriMo.  Yes, that's right: book four--book three already exists, though I have yet to make even the slightest first editing pass at it. 

Meanwhile, I still want to move this blog, I'm reading a neat manuscript a reader sent me (sorry I haven't finished it yet!), and there's the whole Halloween/All Saint's Day thing this week.  I've given up on trying to find a vigil Mass we can get to without having to drive an hour across town, so we'll be going on the evening of the feast day itself.  Which I hate.  Because it makes it seem as if Mass for the day is the lowest priority instead of the highest, and because if anything happens and we miss Mass we can't get to another one.  And because it makes me start to bristle when all the priest-bloggers (one in particular) start chiding and chastising and scolding people about getting to Mass on the Holy Day; I want to say, "But Father, but Father!  If you cancel all the vigil Masses and have one morning Mass at 8 a.m. and one evening Mass at 6:30 or 7 in parishes that usually have five or six Saturday vigil/Sunday Masses how can you possibly be expecting all of your parishioners, especially the gainfully employed, to get to Mass for the Holy Day???"

But rather than rant about that yet again, I just want to share a few random thoughts about things in general, none of them particularly important:

1. So Disney now owns Star Wars and will be making another movie.  The only thing that could make that concept more terrifying is adding the words: "...On Ice!"

2. The worst thing about the Hurricane Sandy coverage is that we are inevitably being treated to the various ways in which Sandy might impact the election.  And comments from Al Gore.

3. Here in Texas, a pastor was attacked and killed by a man who used an electric guitar as his murder weapon.  This is a bizarre, sad, and tragic story and I don't want to make light of it.  But it did occur to me that nobody ever used an organ as a murder weapon...

4. New Advent linked to this xkcd comic showing Congress over the years.  All I can think is that it sort of looks like the "Don't Tread on Me" snake.

5. Between this story and this one, Joe Biden is responsible for the increase in heavy eye-rolling among Catholic voters today.  Perhaps we ought to ask St. Lucy's intercession on his behalf.  You know, that he converts from a self-described practicing Catholic to an actual one.

6. Rod Dreher's coming home next week.  Those of us who have gained weight just looking at his Paris food posts are rejoicing.  If he ever spends a month in Paris during Lent, reading his food posts will be part of my penance.

7. Is it just me, or has it been awfully quiet around the Catholic blogosphere since the East Coast bloggers lost power?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Just some prayers today...

...for all those in Sandy's path, especially blog friends and readers.

...for Barbara Curtis, who has reportedly suffered a stroke. UPDATE: The situation is serious, and it seems as though Mrs. Curtis is not expected to recover.  Go here for information on a way to help the family if you wish.

...for some sweet relatives who are still battling the kind of virus that wraps its tentacles around you and just won't let go.

...for someone who recently and unexpectedly lost an extended family member.

...for some conversions, especially for those who I prayed for at Mass yesterday.

...and for all of you, and all of your prayer intentions today.

God bless!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Drone wars: the empire strikes children and American citizens

First up, I highly recommend this piece by Jack Hunter at The American Conservative, with the provocative title Pro-Life Means Anti-Drone:
Barack Obama has never claimed to be pro-life. As the Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney writes: “President Obama has killed hundreds of civilians, including women and children, in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia through a drone war aimed at exterminating the suspected terrorists on his unprecedented and ever-expanding ‘kill list.’”

The drone strike program that was controversial during the Bush administration has grown dramatically under President Obama. The logic behind drone strikes is plain—the ability to eliminate terrorist targets with unmanned aircraft means we don’t have to endanger U.S. military personnel. But the grim reality of these strikes drastically undermines any good intentions. The method has quickly become an everyday nightmare for average Pakistanis. In September CNN reported that a recent study showed that drone strikes “are too harmful to civilians, too sloppy, legally questionable and do more harm to U.S. interests than good.”

Indeed. For every terrorist killed, the number of civilians killed continues to mount—and the question of who is actually a “terrorist” has become even more vague.

This week, MSNBC “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough explained that America’s drone policy basically says that: “if you’re between 17 and 30, and within a half-mile of a suspect, we can blow you up … They are focused on killing the bad guys, but it is indiscriminate as to other people who are around them at the same time.” Scarborough continued: “Instead of trying to go in and take the risk and get the terrorists out of hiding in a Karachi suburb, we’re just going to blow up everyone around them.”

When Scarborough brought up how drones have indiscriminately killed many innocent children, Time columnist Joe Klein replied: “The bottom line in the end is—whose 4-year-old get killed? What we’re doing is limiting the possibility that 4-year-olds here will get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror.”
Read the rest here.  And don't forget that there is wide bipartisan support for drone warfare, which would undoubtedly continue under a Romney administration.

And hey: if you're an American citizen, drone warfare can be used against you, too--preemptively, because you might someday become a threat (say, when you're an adult) as Conor Friedersdorf writes:
First, it's vital for the uninitiated to understand how Team Obama misleads when it talks about its drone program. Asked how their kill list can be justified, Gibbs replies that "When there are people who are trying to harm us, and have pledged to bring terror to these shores, we've taken that fight to them." Since the kill list itself is secret, there's no way to offer a specific counterexample. But we do know that U.S. drones are targeting people who've never pledged to carry out attacks in the United States. Take Pakistan, where the CIA kills some people without even knowing their identities. "As Obama nears the end of his term, officials said the kill list in Pakistan has slipped to fewer than 10 al-Qaeda targets, down from as many as two dozen," the Washington Post reports. "The agency now aims many of its Predator strikes at the Haqqani network, which has been blamed for attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan." The vast majority would never make their way to New York or Washington, D.C., and the Obama Administration would never agree to rules that permitted only the killing of threats to "the homeland."

The second notable statement concerns the killing of 16-year-old American citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. [...]

How does Team Obama justify killing him?

The answer Gibbs gave is chilling:
ADAMSON: ...It's an American citizen that is being targeted without due process, without trial. And, he's underage. He's a minor.

GIBBS: I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children. I don't think becoming an al Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business.
Again, note that this kid wasn't killed in the same drone strike as his father. He was hit by a drone strike elsewhere, and by the time he was killed, his father had already been dead for two weeks. Gibbs nevertheless defends the strike, not by arguing that the kid was a threat, or that killing him was an accident, but by saying that his late father irresponsibly joined al Qaeda terrorists. Killing an American citizen without due process on that logic ought to be grounds for impeachment. Is that the real answer? Or would the Obama Administration like to clarify its reasoning? Any Congress that respected its oversight responsibilities would get to the bottom of this.
Oh, but Mr. Friedersdorf forgets that Congress is all for this kind of "enhanced assassination" against people who are related to terrorists, or who might someday be terrorists, or who might be thinking that perhaps America isn't exceptional enough to impose her will on other fact, our Congress, which can rarely agree about anything, is inclined to be enthusiastic about this sort of thing, no matter which administration is in charge.

Not long ago Rod Dreher posted from France about things left behind by Jewish children in Paris rounded up by the Nazis during World War II.  People commented, predictably, about the horror of French Christians turning blind eyes to this sort of thing.  Well, today many of us turn blind eyes, or even write words of excuse or justification, concerning the children of the Middle East who are being killed, maimed, and otherwise harmed by our policies of drone warfare and disproportionate civilian attacks.  That's on us--and future generations may well wonder how American Christians paid so little attention to the atrocities being committed by our leaders, in our names, in our day.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Book thanks

No real post today--the temperatures are dropping like a rock, and I've had a migraine since 7 p.m. last evening.  Which means I can't spell.  Or sit upright for too long, or look at a computer screen for more than ten minutes at a time.

But I did want to take the opportunity to thank those of you who have bought my book, The Telmaj, so far!  I'm getting my first royalty payment in a few days, and it's exciting.  I especially want to thank those who have left reviews and comments at Amazon--as my mother-in-law pointed out, I have the same number of stars for my book as Bill O'Reilly does for his! :)  (And maybe someday I'll sell about 1/10th as many copies, too...

So, thanks to my readers!  If you haven't bought the book for your kids yet, I'd be most appreciative if you'd consider it!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Halloween is for children...

It just wouldn't be October if blogging Catholics didn't take a break from political topics to discuss something innocent and harmless, like Halloween.

Okay, okay, I kid.  But as I see various bloggers of repute addressing the matter, I see that we've reached a sort of Catholic blogger consensus on the important stuff, as follows:

1. Celebrating Halloween by dressing up as secular or even gory/gruesome characters and going out to beg the neighbors for free candy is fine.  It is also not required.

2. Celebrating Halloween by having All Saints' Day parties and dressing up as saintly characters (even gory martyrs) is also fine.  It, too, is not required.

3. Sexy/slutty costumes break the Sixth Commandment and are still not fine.  If parents are dressing children below the age of reason to look like some trashy skin-baring rock or reality star, the parents are the ones who need to examine their consciences, as the child can't be morally culpable until he/she has reached the age of reason.  Also, though dressing children like priest saints and nun saints is fine, dressing children in costumes designed to mock the Church probably ought to be avoided (Fr. Guido Sarducci imitators or those who think "pregnant nun" or female pope costumes are a scream, I'm looking at you).

Now, having said all of that, I have a confession to make: I'm glad my girls are old enough that I no longer have a dog (costumed or not) in this fight.

We did the "trick-or-treat" thing for a while.  It really didn't work for us, for a variety of reasons which I've talked about before.  Then we did awesome All Saints' Day parties with these great relatives.  By last year, as their newest little one had so recently arrived and we'd realized that vigil Masses for Holy Days of Obligation really do work best for us, we were okay with stepping back from that too (though my girls would like to find some other occasion to get together and enjoy Aunt Charlotte's awesome pumpkin cake roll...)

And that's the thing Catholic mommy bloggers agonizing about whether to trick-or-treat or join an All Saints' party (or do both) may not realize: Halloween is for children.  And before you know it, even your youngest will be "too old" for typical Halloween activities, as they move into a new and exiting stage of life, hovering at the brink of adulthood, but not yet there.

Sure, everybody says that Christmas is for children, and certainly some aspects of it are designed to appeal to the youngest members of every family, but it's not really the same, is it?  Even when your children are teens and older, chances are you'll still decorate a tree, bake cookies, wrap presents, visit family, and do all sorts of things centered around the Christmas holiday.  Older kids and young adults still join in the celebrations of things like Thanksgiving, Easter, and Independence Day, too--they may seem to go overnight from enjoying the fireworks to manning the grill for you, but they'll still participate.  Halloween isn't really like that--sure, there are adults who love Halloween so much that they'll throw costume parties and play spooky music, but there's no pressure on the rest of us to join in.  At some point, when your youngest child reaches the age where he or she decides not to participate in Halloween stuff anymore, it's just sort of...over.  At the most, you might have to buy candy to hand out to the neighbor children, but if you live in a neighborhood like mine (small houses close together, sidewalks, parents dumping children by the carload from other parts of town so that you have to spend a small fortune on candy if you want to participate) nobody will fault you if you don't.

So, Catholic mommy bloggers: relax.  Let your kids trick-or-treat if you want; do the All Saints' party thing if you want--heck, do both if you want and it works for your family.  Don't tell people that dressing as devils and witches and going out to get free candy is a sacred holy Catholic tradition on the one hand, or that dressing as saints and playing games and eating sweets is a sacred holy Catholic tradition on the other, because the sacred holy Catholic tradition is to get to Mass sometime between nightfall*** on October 31 and the end of the day on November 1.  And that's the part of this holy day that endures, even when your children are too old for Halloween.

***Timing of vigil Masses varies; I realize it won't technically be "nightfall" if the vigil Mass is, say, at 4 p.m. in a part of the country with later sunsets, etc.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Revisiting my pledge

Some of you may recall last year when I posted this:
Newsflash: Republicans in New York are as much a bunch of cowardly traitors as Republicans everywhere else in America.

Republicans apparently have no problem using the force of the law to define every single Catholic in America as a "bigot," from here on out.

I pledge by my faith that I will never, ever vote for a Republican again, as long as I live. 
I want to revisit that post and my pledge, and discuss my current thinking about it all.  This is very much of a "thinking out loud" post, so please bear with me.

1. I wrote that post sincerely.  I wasn't trying to score political points; I truly believe that the Republicans are completely untrustworthy on the marriage question, and, for the most part, have no real problem defining Catholics as bigots and condemning our religion's ancient teachings on marriage and sexuality as a kind of hate speech, not if it means getting elected.

2. I also wrote that post as a redheaded female in a fit of temper.  There's no denying it.

3. I definitely wrote that post thinking of national elections.  I have this tendency to forget that even when you're voting for sheriffs or county tax assessors or railroad commissioners, there will usually be the letter R or the letter D after each candidate's name.  I think our two-party system is abysmally stupid, but one of the side-effects is that not even local government is free from partisanship and political bickering.

4. It would have been more accurate for me to have pledged never to vote for a Republican in a national election again.  Right now, I have no intention of doing so.  I won't vote for Romney, I remain troubled by Ted Cruz (who will probably win without my vote anyway), and I've never voted for Kay Granger because I honestly don't care if a pro-abortion Republican is defeated by a pro-abortion Democrat.  The RINOs of Fort Worth deserve to lose that seat, even though given Texas cronyism and career politics they probably never will.

5.  Given all of the above, I probably could vote for a Republican in a small local race without violating the spirit of my pledge.  But will I?  I'm not at all sure--that is, after all, how both parties keep the rank and file in line, keep us showing up to vote unthinkingly for the candidate with the right alphabet letter after his or her name.  Maybe if enough of us didn't do it, eventually people with different letters after their names might give things a try.

6. The reality is that where I live, a lot of the little races involve Republicans running either unopposed or running against only a Libertarian candidate (there are a few Green Party candidates on the ballot here and there, as well).  In theory I admire these candidates for attempting to break the two-party stranglehold, but in practice, as a practicing Catholic, I have even less in common with their parties' beliefs than I do with those of the Republicans or Democrats.  But the bottom line is that my vote will not impact these races: these are not hard-fought local races where every vote counts, but completely lopsided races where the Republican will cruise to an easy victory, and will likely think he or she has a mandate regardless of the reality.

7. This is slightly off topic, but a few election cycles ago I decided I was uncomfortable voting for judges, and stopped doing it.  I know that a favorite taunt on the right involves "unelected judges," but honestly, electing ones can be worse.  You are, essentially, asked to go into the voting booth and cast a vote for a judge without being able to find out much of anything about his or her beliefs or philosophies.  Sure, some will campaign as being "tough on crime," but does that mean in favor of appropriate sentences for violent criminals, or of locking up first-time drug offenders?  Or, worse, does it mean the candidate favors the death penalty in a way that is inconsistent with my Catholic values?  Unless you have access to a professional database, it can be difficult if not impossible to unearth a judicial candidate's true views on much of anything.  Essentially the voter is being asked to cast his or her vote for a judge based on the letter after the judge's name, which is exactly the wrong way to go about making a serious election choice.

So: my pledge remains intact at this point.  I don't see any particular reason to vote for national Republicans, unopposed or barely-opposed Republicans, or Republican judges who may be diametrically opposed to most of my philosophical and religious views without my being able to discover that.  I will go vote anyway; I may write some people in, and the school board where I live is electing some trustees (who don't campaign as Democrats or Republicans).  Will I ever change my mind about my pledge?  It doesn't seem likely, at this point.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Totally easy Friday dinners: Pasta bleg!

I'm out of time for the afternoon--actually, it has been a crazy week, and the weekend doesn't look like it's going to be any saner.

So instead of the post I'd planned to write, I have a bleg for readers: do you have any totally easy homemade pasta sauces/recipes/tricks to share?

When pasta night is "easy dinner night" here (Fridays mostly, but since my daughters all love pasta dishes sometimes we eat spaghetti earlier in the week), it usually involves a jarred pasta sauce.  And that's okay, but I have some homemade sauces we really like (there's a broccoli sauce from this cookbook that is terrific!).  Unfortunately, none of my homemade sauces really fall into the "totally easy" category...

So: share your pasta sauce secrets, especially if they're easy!  My pasta lovers will thank you. :)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Don't buy into the crazy

In Jane Austen's masterful work Northanger Abbey (one of my favorites, I must admit) the heroine, Catherine Morland, who is addicted to reading novels, forms such terrible suspicions about the long-ago death of her friend Miss Tilney's mother that she ends up treating the Tilney's home like one of those settings from the Gothic romances which were very popular in Regency England; she seems to think that dark secrets and dreadful mysteries lurk around her, and in the height of her imagination she is caught by Henry Tilney when she has crept off to visit the late Mrs. Tilney's erstwhile room.  That leads to this embarrassing exchange between Catherine and Henry:
"And from these circumstances," he replied (his quick eye fixed on hers), "you infer perhaps the probability of some negligence—some"—(involuntarily she shook her head)—"or it may be—of something still less pardonable." She raised her eyes towards him more fully than she had ever done before. "My mother's illness," he continued, "the seizure which ended in her death, was sudden. The malady itself, one from which she had often suffered, a bilious fever—its cause therefore constitutional. On the third day, in short, as soon as she could be prevailed on, a physician attended her, a very respectable man, and one in whom she had always placed great confidence. Upon his opinion of her danger, two others were called in the next day, and remained in almost constant attendance for four and twenty hours. On the fifth day she died. During the progress of her disorder, Frederick and I (we were both at home) saw her repeatedly; and from our own observation can bear witness to her having received every possible attention which could spring from the affection of those about her, or which her situation in life could command. Poor Eleanor was absent, and at such a distance as to return only to see her mother in her coffin."

"But your father," said Catherine, "was he afflicted?"

"For a time, greatly so. You have erred in supposing him not attached to her. He loved her, I am persuaded, as well as it was possible for him to—we have not all, you know, the same tenderness of disposition—and I will not pretend to say that while she lived, she might not often have had much to bear, but though his temper injured her, his judgment never did. His value of her was sincere; and, if not permanently, he was truly afflicted by her death."

"I am very glad of it," said Catherine; "it would have been very shocking!"

"If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to—Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?"

They had reached the end of the gallery, and with tears of shame she ran off to her own room. 
I was reminded of these paragraphs recently when I thought about some of the things I have seen passing between my fellow Christians and fellow Catholics regarding this 2012 election.  There are those Catholics who claim that if Obama is re-elected we may soon be living in the pages of one of this man's novels, for instance, as the Church is openly persecuted by the agents of the Antichrist.  There are the theories that a second term will give Barack Obama the opportunity to unleash his heretofore super-secret Marxist plot to end capitalism in America and impose communism.  There are those who claim that the HHS mandate is the first step in a plan to make being Catholic illegal; there are those who claim that Obama's open hostility to the Church is because he is really a Muslim--and these are some of the milder, less "out-there" things I've seen in recent days.

Related, but different in degree, to these wild notions are some of the more reasonable things trotted out as reasons why all good Catholics must (not can, or could consider, but MUST) line up and vote for Romney.  I'd like to take a look at two of these below:

1. Obama will impose the HHS mandate and cripple Catholic businesses.  Romney has promised to remove this policy.  Unfortunately, Romney's language on this (as on many things) is vague and does not inspire confidence.  Does that mean that either way, we're doomed?

No--because we have yet to see if the Supreme Court will find the idea of individuals being forced to buy sinful things for other individuals against the first set of individuals' religious beliefs and consciences fine and dandy or a violation of the Bill of Rights.  And we also have Congress, not that that's a very encouraging thought, but the festering career chair-fillers who plague both our houses might be stirred to do a thing or two if actual consequences were at stake.  In other words, thinking that the only or even the best way to address the HHS mandate is to buy into the notion that it's proper for the executive branch to be essentially making laws about this sort of thing in the first place is already a steep step off a cliff hanging over the wrong direction.  What's next: do we let the Department of Education mandate that parents buy crayons, drawing paper, blunted scissors and packs of condoms and emergency BC for their children as a prerequisite for enrolling them in public schools?  If we're willing to let the notion of liberty rise and fall based on which party occupies the White House and thus which agencies of the Executive Branch get to make "policies" that have the force of law, we're already--excuse my unusually blunt language--screwed.

2.  Obama is pro-abortion.  Romney is pro-life and will save babies.  Well, provided you ignore Romney's pro-abortion past, mixed present, and confusing future, you can indeed say that his re-institution of the Mexico City policy could hypothetically save some babies, if he does, in fact, re-institute it as he has promised to do.  And I respect those who will vote for Romney even if this small pro-life nod is the only reason why.  But it's a big stretch to say that Romney is pro-life and is going to save babies, or is committed to saving babies, or even wants to save babies, when it's pretty clear that what he wants is for the abortion issue to stop taking up his time so he can convince everybody he's going to save the economy.  We keep electing Republicans like this, and we keep having legalized abortion on demand in America.

Here's the thing: either we believe that it's very, very important for a president to be a pro-life leader and we try to elect real pro-life leaders to the presidency, or we don't believe that it's all that important for a president to be a pro-life leader and are, in fact, fine with some tepid posturing and political crumbs thrown our way once every four years, in which case we'll keep voting for weak-sauce pro-life pretenders with big portfolios and good hair.  We can't keep saying that this is the issue of primary importance and then relegating it to the back seat.  Or the roof of the car.  Because when we do that, what we're saying to the candidates is: look, we know you can't get elected in America if you actually care about unborn American human beings and the fact that a million or so of them get torn to shreds by bloodthirsty "doctors" every year, so we'll look the other way while you pretend to the right sort of people that this butchery isn't a big deal, so long as you do what we want you to in re: abortion once you're elected, at which point our leverage is totally gone and you've totally used us and you still don't want the people who like abortion to vote against you next time around...

Does that sound like a winning strategy for the pro-life movement to you?  Because it doesn't, to me.

Like I said, though, I can respect people who really think that Romney will end the HHS mandate and do at least a tiny bit of good for the unborn.  I can't respect people who really think that Obama is second cousin to the Antichrist and that we're about to be plunged into the pages of an apocalyptic novel in which forced conversions to Islam somehow share the public spaces with forced secularism and raids on Catholic churches and the confiscation of everybody's second amendment rights and a dizzying level of totalitarianism imposed upon the people of this nation within a mere four-year time span such that a new Age of Martyrs unfolds before our dazzled eyes right before the Three Days of Darkness starts.  Vote for Romney if you believe he will limit evil (even against his will or completely by accident, if you like); but don't vote for Romney because you've bought into the crazy.  Sane, rational, well-formed Catholics shouldn't fall for that stuff.  Remember, Catherine Morland turned out to be right that General Tilney was a deeply unpleasant man, but she committed the sin of rash judgment when she unjustly allowed her imagination to run wild on the possibility that he might be a murderer.

Technical difficulties...

...kept me from posting yesterday or being able to monitor comments until just recently.

No phone, no 'net for more than 24 hours.  I think my girls felt like they were pioneers, or something.

Everything seems to be working now (good Lord willing).  I'll try to post something substantial later, but in the meantime, a certain BANNED commenter should just give up, 'cause I'm not going to let his comments stick around any longer than a Republican president's promise to curtail abortion in America...

(And, as a corollary, if any Republican president over the next decade or so actually does some significant work to end abortion in America, I'll let the banned commenter run riot in my comment boxes from that point onward.  No kidding.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Worst campaign slogan ever

I didn't watch the debate tonight.  Feel free to talk about it in the comment box if you did watch it and want to talk about it.

What I did see tonight was this:
NEW YORK (AP) — Mitt Romney's campaign has released a new TV ad suggesting the Republican hopeful believes abortion "should be an option" in certain cases.

The ad features a woman saying she'd heard Romney's position on abortion and birth control "seemed a bit extreme." She says she'd learned Romney doesn't oppose contraception and believes abortion should be available in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at stake.
Tell me again why a vote for this man is a vote for the sanctity of life.  Tell me again why Mitt Romney is the clear choice for Catholic voters.  Because "Mitt Romney: he only hates some of your pro-life Catholic values!" is the worst campaign slogan ever, as far as I'm concerned.

Zmirak and Price and Shea, oh my...(or: a post with too many links in it)

It all started last Thursday, when I read this blog post by Dr. John Zmirak in which he draws a comparison between failing to vote for Romney on the grounds that Romney isn't pro-life enough to a sort of electoral, really:
How manly it feels, refusing to “compromise.” How satisfying it is to flounce away from the playground with your marbles tight in your whitening hand: “That will show them. I won’t be fooled again by the party that holds out the carrot of Roe v. Wade to make us jackasses pull the cart. I’ll write in Ron Paul. Or Pope Pius IX. Or Eamon de Valera. I won’t compromise—I’m too much of a man for that.”

I felt that way and voted that way in 1996, 2000, and 2004. It helped that I lived in New York State—where any candidate much to the right of Saul Alinsky was already doomed.

But the first year I lived in a “swing state” (New Hampshire) where my vote might actually make a difference to the outcome—to the question of whether the next Supreme Court justice proposed would be a Scalia or a Sotomayor—my fun was over.

It was time to grow up. I actually had to choose between the alternative of doing my (little) best to push back against the gigantic evil that had overwhelmed my country, or toddling off like Onan to spill my vote upon the ground.
It's an odd little post, to be sure.  I usually admire Dr. Zmirak's clear and witty writing, but this time something seemed to be missing.  I left a comment or two along those lines, and then life in the form of an extremely busy weekend that began with unbunking some bunk beds and moving furniture around at home and continued with helping rearrange the choir area at church to accommodate an organ (!) a kind parishioner donated (!!) to us and ending with a cart-full dodger-style trip to the grocery store at the eleventh hour intervened.

So I had no idea Dr. Zmirak had responded to my comments until some commenters at Mark Shea's blog mentioned the matter beneath a post in which Mark linked to Dale Price's thoughtful consideration of how as a Catholic he might be able to vote for Romney.  Here's the thing: I lean more toward Mark's politics when Mark writes:
No.  He is not a good man.  He is a man who would abort his own grandchild–just like Obama.  He is a man who has lied repeatedly on multiple issues, including his own pro-abort record.  He is a man who has sent multiple signals that he has not the slightest intention of doing anything about abortion at all beyond a couple of minor bones to the prolife movement (Mexico city and semidefunding PP) in order to buy the silence and cooperation of dutiful prolifers who will prostitute themselves for war and torture for him as they did for Bush.  The embarrassing spectacle of watching the prolife movement try to get itself into the headspace of trying to say he is not merely the Barely Sucks Less candidate (Dale’s honest and clear-eyed assessment) but is actually a prolife candidate is the single greatest impediment to my voting for him.  Far more than any actual benefits to be derived from this odious man is the profoundly corrupting effect people like he and Scott Brown have had on the prolife movement.  If the salt loses its savor, wherewith shall it be salted?  It is good for nothing but to be trampled underfoot.  That is why I have been so adamant that the main thing to look at in this election has not been the essentially non-existent impact your vote will have on the election, but the immensely important impact it will have on you.
And yet, I have sympathy for Dale's argument when Dale writes:
But/However/Nonetheless Alert: He has promised in no uncertain terms to shred the HHS Mandate. Ditto his Catholic wingman, who made a big deal of it during the Veep debate.

Why do I believe Romney? Because it takes no political courage to shred it--it costs him nothing with any other constituency that's supporting him to do so. But it will needlessly alienate social conservatives if he doesn't. Being that Mitt's not remotely stupid, he'll do what he says on this one.
Not that long ago, in answer to a comment box discussion here at And Sometimes Tea, I wrote this:
In a race where both candidates support some intrinsic evil, it is possible morally to support one of the candidates given a) that one candidate supports less that is evil or will do more to limit the harm of the greater evil supported by the other and b) that there are proportionate reasons to support the candidate you reasonably believe and rationally expect will limit evil.

And here's where we get to Rebecca's question pertaining to individual conscience.  If Rebecca (hypothetically) believes that Romney will not support evil to the degree that Obama does and that Romney will in fact limit the harms possible from the evil Obama supports, AND that it is proportionate to vote for Romney (who supports some evils) to limit harm potentially caused by Obama (who supports other, putatively graver evils) she can vote for Romney in good conscience (given all the usual caveats about the informing of one's conscience, etc.).

Since I (not hypothetically) believe that Romney is not trustworthy about the evils he claims not to support (since he was pro-abortion a decade ago, presided over the gay "marriage" debacle in Mass., etc.), that he supports evils that are potentially every bit as grave as the ones Obama supports, and that if there truly is a proportionate reason to support Romney I have not yet discovered what that may be, I cannot in good conscience vote for Romney at all.
So: if Dale Price thinks that Romney will, in fact, shred the HHS mandate and that this is a proportionate reason to vote for Romney--good!  Since I, however, think that actions should be considered as well as words, and since (then) Governor Romney did force Catholic hospitals to dispense the morning-after pill in Massachusetts, I'm not entirely certain that Romney will so much shred the HHS mandate as withdraw it to cheers and then quietly reimpose it in various ways when nobody's paying attention.  It remains, to me, an open question as to whether there's any reason to trust Mr. Romney on his promise to get rid of the mandate (or on anything else related to pro-life issues, given his extremely mixed record and history on these issues).

Now, Dr. Zmirak, below his post, characterizes my position essentially as that of a single-issue voter for whom the issue of primary importance is something other than Life (that is, I'm not really pro-life if I refuse to vote for Romney).  Let me take a moment here to say how deeply I was moved by those people who came to my defense there and mentioned the matter on Mark Shea's blog (which is how I found out about it all)--really, I'm very much humbled by such kindness, and can't thank you enough.  To the matter at hand, though, I will say that I think it's a terrible idea to base one's pro-life bona fides on the question of the support of presidential candidates--and especially when one of those presidential candidates was pro-abortion until a mere ten years ago, created a state health-care system in Massachusetts which did cover abortion costs at taxpayers' expense, nominated both pro-abortion and pro-gay "marriage" judges to the Massachusetts courts, and otherwise behaved not at all like the social conservative he is running as now.  Is it possible that Mitt Romney has had a deep and spiritual conversion on the issue of abortion such that he now views with horror the idea that he ever thought human beings in the embryonic or fetal development state were disposable?  Sure, and one is at liberty to think so (though one will have to overlook his financial participation in a process which treats human beings in the embryonic state as commodities, as well as his current position that embryonic or fetal humans can be killed if their father was a rapist or a close relative of their mother, or if the mother's health is negatively impacted by pregnancy).  Is it also possible that Mitt Romney does not much care about the abortion issue and plans to ignore it for the most part when he is in office?  Sure, and one is also at liberty to think so (given that this has been the default position of most Republican presidents in the post-Roe era, and given that Romney has said things during the campaign that point this way).  Are these kinds of things the reasons why each individual voter must decide whether or not his conscience permits him to vote for Romney?  Yes.

In other words, it just isn't the case, despite Dr. Zmirak's insistence that it is, that the only people who won't vote for Romney are a) not really pro-life, b) suffering from scrupulosity, c) purists, d) defeatists, or e) electoral onanists who just won't man up and render unto Caesar...wait, now, that's a really unfortunate mixed metaphor.  But you know what I meant to say, right?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Holy cannoli, what are these people smoking? Or: a look at Catholic blog comment boxes

So, yesterday I read a cute post by Simcha Fisher over at the National Catholic Register:
So, are you gonna watch tonight's V.P. debate?  I'll probably listen to it on the radio, if only to remind my radio how lucky it usually is that I usually listen to something better, like John Tesh.
It's hard to care when you not only don't care, but you don't even want to care.  You would punch yourself in the nose for caring.  I mean, I want the extra hideous candidate to lose, and I want the slightly less hideous candidate to win with such a slight margin that he gets a hernia from watching the TV so hard on election night.  But ask me to care about a debate between the people these two paragons of hideousness have chosen to play their professional besties on TV?  Bleah.
I tell you what, arrange me a debate with someone else, anyone else, and I'll listen up.  Here are some ideas:
1.  Padre Pio vs. Gianna Molla.  Oh, sure sure, they're both saints and whatnot, with the stigmata and the martyrdom and so forth.  But mainly what they stood for in their lifetimes (at least, heaven help me, in the circles that I travel in) is that Gianna Molla wore pants -- PANTS! -- when she was skiing; and Padre Pio once set a woman on fire when she went in to his confessional, and he refused to give her a bucket of water until she promised to get rid of her pants.  Or something like that.

Like I said, I thought Simcha's post was cute--amusing to read, chuckle-worthy here and there, and all in all not a bad bit of writing.

And then I ventured into the comment boxes below the post.

And thought, as I so often do when I read comments at the Register: Holy cannoli, what are these people smoking?

You had a commenter chiding Simcha for the sin of making light of holy things/people over the suggested debate between Padre Pio and Gianna Molla--oh, I'm sorry, not "chiding," but giving a "gentle reminder," in the same way that smacking the wrong fork out of someone's hand at a fancy restaurant is a "gentle reminder" re: etiquette.  You had a commenter taking Simcha's tongue-in-cheek suggestion of a debate between Ann Romney and Sarah Palin over their children's unusual names to be a slam against children.  Or children's names.  Or children with interesting names.  I'm not too sure.

You had commenters fuming over Simcha's rough equivalence-that-wasn't between the evil baby-killing monster Barack Obama (said in all charity, of course!) and the wise and saintly men God has raised up to end abortion in America once and for all (despite the fact that neither has promised to do any such thing--that's irrelevant!).  You had a commenter (clearly one who doesn't know Simcha) suggest that the reason Simcha doesn't much care about the election is because Simcha is disgustingly rich and thus doesn't have to worry which man is elected in terms of social policy.

You had a few forays into the pants-debate, but on the whole these were mild compared to the other sorts of comments.  Thank the dear Lord nobody brought up veils; the Register's servers might have experienced a total flaming meltdown.

Seriously: what gives in Catholic comment boxes these days?

Sometimes I think it's all just a huge game of signaling along the lines of what people sometimes did in high school.   Commenters are just trying to sort themselves into the following categories:
  1. I honestly agree with the blogger.
  2. I honestly disagree with the blogger.
  3. I say I agree with the blogger because I am/want to be one of the blogger's Super Secret Inner Circle of Cool Friends.
  4. I say I disagree with the blogger because I am too cool to belong to the blogger's SSICCF, and/or because I belong to some rival blogger's SSICCF, from which I frequently take potshots at other bloggers including this present one whose comment boxes are my plaything.
  5. I am holier than the blogger, and will prove it by my strong charity and abrasive humility and the sheer violence of my kindliness.
  6. I am clearly not as holy as the blogger, by which I mean that I'm perfectly holy enough but the blogger is holier-than-thou and should go to confession immediately for being such a sanctimonious hypocrite (so unlike myself).
  7. I am highly amused that the blogger attacked one of Other People's sacred cows (such as homeschooling, attachment parenting, Republican candidates, or giving children snacks).
  8. I am highly outraged that the blogger attacked one of MY sacred cows (such as homeschooling, attachment parenting, Republican candidates, or giving children snacks).
  9. I'm just here to attack the blogger's grammar/spelling/punctuation.
  10. I'm just here because I love to tell Catholic bloggers I've never read before how disappointed I am in them.  I do the same thing to my children on a daily basis, because I love the word "disappointed" and the power it has to rob sweet little faces of their innocent smiles (mwuahaha)...
Sheesh.  Can't we all just get along?  And by "get along" I mean have vigorous and honest Catholic debates without stooping to kindergarten behavior, of course.

Totally easy Friday dinners: easiest black bean burgers ever

I didn't post anything yesterday because I was dealing with an awful sinus headache that wouldn't let go (and this Blogger template was too hard to look at).  So I'm going to start off today's posting with my Friday recipe sharing, and a little later we're going to have a chat about Catholics and comment box insanity.  Look for that one sometime before 8 p.m., good Lord willing.

Today's recipe is another one of those amazingly versatile and easy recipes that you can alter in lots of ways to suit your family.  In the interests of full disclosure I will note that while I have made this fairly recently, I'm not making it tonight.  The ghost of sinus pressure past is making the box of emergency frozen fish fillets look way too tempting.

But if I change my mind, this really isn't that much more difficult:

Easy Oven-Baked Black Bean Burgers

(See, right there in the title you know these are easy, because instead of attempting to fry the black bean patties in oil as so many recipes mandate, you get to bake these.  What could be simpler?)

Ingredients (makes at least 8 patties, more if you make 'em smaller)

2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
4 T. ketchup
2 T. mustard
1 tsp minced garlic
2 T dried minced onion, or 1/4 to 1/2 diced fresh onion
approx. 1 cup crushed crackers

Preheat oven to 400 and lightly grease two baking trays.  Put beans in mixer and mix until mashed; add remaining ingredients and combine well.  Shape into patties and place on tray.  Bake for 10-12 minutes; flip and bake 10-12 minutes more.  Cool slightly and serve on buns with cheese, lettuce and tomato, pickles, and any other desired burger toppings.

This recipe was the inspiration, but I've changed a few things to make the recipe work better for us.  Other possible changes: substitute salsa for the ketchup and mustard, sneak in a little corn or other veggies, etc.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Unintended consequences

Well, now, who could have predicted this?
In an experiment apparently aimed at keeping down the cost of health-care reform, Orlando-based Darden Restaurants has stopped offering full-time schedules to many hourly workers in at least a few Olive Gardens, Red Lobsters and LongHorn Steakhouses.

Darden said the test is taking place in "a select number" of restaurants in four markets, including Central Florida, but would not give details. The company said there has been no decision made about expanding it. [...]

Analysts say many other companies, including the White Castle hamburger chain, are considering employing fewer full-timers because of key features of the Affordable Care Act scheduled to go into effect in 2014. Under that law, large companies must provide affordable health insurance to employees working an average of at least 30 hours per week.

If they do not, the companies can face fines of up to $3,000 for each employee who then turns to an exchange — an online marketplace — for insurance.

"I think a lot of those employers, especially restaurants, are just going to ensure nobody gets scheduled more than 30 hours a week," said Matthew Snook, partner with human-resources consulting company Mercer.

Darden said its goal at the test restaurants is to keep employees at 28 hours a week.
The article (read it here) goes on to say that this may lead to different problems, such as less-qualified workers and high turnover.  But if the restaurant industry decides they can afford to deal with training and turnover issues more so than with expensive health-care costs, there's nothing anyone can do about it.

It used to be that a part-time job was anything less than 40 hours per week, but because of the miracle of government-mandated health care, "part-time" will now mean less than 30.  Most employers will probably take a leaf from Darden's book and schedule workers for 25 to 28 hours per week to avoid situations where accidental overtime suddenly triggers a federal healthcare mandate for any employee.

Who loses in this situation?  Well, let's see:

1. Employees.  The few full-time workers will be under amazing pressure to keep things running, while the dozens of part-time workers will face dwindling wages, scheduling challenges, and a continued lack of health insurance.  With even less money earned per week, how are they supposed to get medical care?  With odd, random schedules how can they even get a second job?  Is the goal here to get everybody on Medicaid?

2. Customers.  There's nothing like hearing, halfway through your meal, that your server has worked his/her 28 hours for the week and therefore another server will be taking care of you--the one who already has six tables with more people coming in.  The rapid turnover of part-time workers will mean more training time and less experience from the employees, and in an age when dropping $50 or more on dinner out for a family is already not a good economic choice, how many people are going to want to keep doing so when the dining experience isn't going to be worth anywhere near that much money?

3. Businesses.  I know it's popular to cast all business owners as Ebenezer Scrooges with no concern for their employees, but the problem restaurants (chain or other) or other small, service-oriented businesses are going to face is that they simply can't afford to pay for health insurance for every employee who works more than 30 hours per week (and, again, I can't understand why the number of hours was set at 30--does anyone know?).  Cutting hours to the point where only a handful of employees are actually full-time may be the only thing these companies can do, but in the long run, if having fewer well-trained, long-term employees means not being able to do business as well as they could in the past, companies may have even more difficult decisions ahead of them.  And what if the federal government, having started on this path, starts requiring health insurance for any employee regardless of the number of hours worked per week?  Some say that can't happen, but I wouldn't bet on it.

The problem with the unintended consequences of liberal government mandates is that they often hurt the worst the people they were trying to help the most.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

From the "frustrating but funny" files...

Guess what?  My book is now available for sale at Barnes and Noble's online store!

Guess what else? seems to think that I am not this Erin Manning, but that one.  Yep, they've got the "Meet the Author" info of the popular TV celebrity and photographer on my book's listing page.

I've contacted Barnes and Noble through the address you're supposed to use if you're a writer and there's a problem with your book's listing--in fact, I've contacted them three times since last Friday.  I've gotten absolutely zero response: not even a canned email saying they are aware of the problem and will get back to me.  Nothing.  I can only imagine how awful it would be if the problem with the listing was a really serious one--say, a book description that was for the wrong book, or something.

In the meantime, just before I started writing this post, I sent an email to the photographer Erin Manning just to let her know I'm trying to get this fixed--and she has already taken the time to write a friendly note back!  What an amazingly kind thing for her to do.

In any case, if you order my book from Barnes & Noble, just realize that the lovely blond lady pictured under the book description is not me--and if you're like me and could use some serious help in the photography department, you might take a minute to browse her titles too!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Characters at the grocery store

Have you noticed lately that a trip to the grocery store these days can be fraught with peril?

No, not just economic peril (though that is certainly there).  I'm talking about the kind of peril you can only be put in by clueless and/or oblivious people who treat the grocery store as an extension of their personal space, and have no idea what sort of impact they might be having on other shoppers.

This is mainly noticeable on weekends, but I have noticed this sort of thing cropping up during the week, too.  That's why this post is dedicated (in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way) to the following characters I've seen at the store:

1. The Queen Bee of Coupons.  Now, I don't want my frugal mom readers to bristle; there's nothing wrong with coupons, and in these tough economic times when most of us are trying to squeeze out our last bits of savings at the grocery store we're all inclined to want to save $0.20 here and $0.50 here (and that's before we start counting the savings from "buy this, get that free!" offers).  But the Queen Bee of Coupons is a different breed from the average mom who has a handful of coupons to use at the store.

How so?  Well, a couple of Queen Bees I saw once were shopping together to maximize their savings potential.  Each lady had a huge three-ring binder full of coupons; both would stop in each aisle and slowly page through the huge book to see if somewhere on this particular aisle something they could save money on was cleverly shelved just out of eyesight.  Finding such an item led to negotiations (e.g., "I don't need this but you do so I'll trade you my coupon for ten cents off of this item for a coupon for ten cents off of something I need..." etc.)  When the negotiations were complete the duo would proceed to the next aisle and repeat the procedure...

...on a busy weekend day, when the store was just packed.

Another Queen Bee trick is to try to use coupons for things they haven't actually bought. When the poor checker starts to ring the coupons, the coupons will trigger an alert from the computer which indicates the item hasn't been purchased.  But this is when the Queen Bee will start to fight (e.g., "Yes, I did buy that item!  It doesn't say on the coupon that this or that particular item/size/etc. is excluded, and you remember I bought this version...etc.")  After a minute or so of this (with a long and impatient line forming) the checker will often sigh and hit his "override" key on every coupon the Queen Bee has handed him, accepting the coupon whether she has bought the qualifying items or not (usually not).  Proving her wrong would mean reading all the fine print on the dozen or so coupons the Queen Bee hands over plus unbagging all her groceries to show the lack of items...and if there are grocery store checkers actually being paid enough to deal with that, I've never met one.

2. The Cart-full Dodger.  If the Queen Bee has a natural enemy, it is the Cart-full Dodger.  He or she is not in the grocery store to save money; Dodgers just want to get in, grab a week's worth of groceries, and get out again before the green light at the end of the street by the grocery store has time to turn red.  Dodgers are a peril to small children, slow shoppers (Queen Bee or not), elderly patrons, store employees, and pretty much anybody who gets in their way.

The Dodger does not know phrases like "Can I get past you, please?" or "Excuse me!"  His or her stock-in-trade is an extreme eyeroll and a sigh of impatience that stops just short of being an outright snort.  Unlike the rest of us, Dodgers have much, much better things to do with their time then buy groceries, and if you slow them down they'll make sure you know how much you've inconvenienced them.

Dodgers are at their worst in the check-out line, when they can become all but irate and will take out their frustrations on the poor checkout clerks--but they're not as difficult to deal with as the next group...

3. The Line Jumpers.  Now, nobody minds if you are at the end of a line that is moving slowly and you decide to move to the end of another line that is moving more quickly, and that sort of thing.  But the Line Jumpers are those people at the end--or, even more dangerously, in the middle--of long lines who will positively race to a newly opened checkout lane, even if the store clerk is clearly motioning to the person who is next in line (and who has, therefore, waited the longest) while saying "I can help the next person over here!"

To the Line Jumper, beating the person who is really entitled to go next to the newly opened lane is a sport--and, if necessary, a contact sport.  The Line Jumper seems to think that waiting in line to check out is for fools and slow people, and will do anything to avoid getting stuck in line, especially if he ends up behind...

4. The Recycled Bag Maven.  The Mavens are an interesting breed.  Are they strict environmentalists?  Are they just trying to save the $0.05 per bag of groceries the store will credit them for not using paper or plastic?  Are they used to shopping at Aldi (tm) where you bring your own bags--but also bag your own groceries at a separate special counter after you've paid for them?  Whatever the case may be, the Mavens aren't just using recycled shopping bags--they pull into a checkout lane with a cart full of groceries and approximately four dozen bags ranging from the little canvas ones that actually fit groceries well to large tote bags to ragged plastic bags to tiny gift bags.  And that would also be fine--really!--except that the Mavens have very, very specific ideas about which groceries should go into which bags, and will stand in the lane explaining all of that to the harried cashier, and when the bags start to fill up to the point where it is starting to look like the Maven will need one or two paper or plastic bags he or she will start telling the cashier, "No, no.  Move the frozen pizza to that other bag.  No, not the one with the ice cream; the one with the vegetables.  Just shove it in there.  That's fine.  Now put the graham crackers in with the cereal..."

Meanwhile, there's still half a conveyor-belt full of groceries belonging to the Maven waiting to be rung up and packed, but the Maven will not admit defeat; he or she will keep micromanaging the cashier until everybody else in line gives up and moves into a different line or leaves the store without buying anything.

Why did I write this post?  Well, just the other day I was behind a Maven in line at the grocery store.  As the Line-Jumpers fled and the Cart-full Dodger snorted his disgust from three lanes over, I waited for the Maven to finish.  And then she said, "Oh, I have these coupons for you to ring, too.  And even though this one doesn't specifically include this item I bought, I'm sure it was supposed to...and yes, I did buy that other item.  Don't you remember?  We put it in the bag with the purple flowers.  Here, I'll pull it back out..."

And as the cashier started hitting the "override" key, I found myself holding back a Dodger-esque snort and a Line-Jumper resolve to flee to another lane, even if it meant running over the nice family behind me to get there...

Saturday, October 6, 2012

How have I missed this blog?

Jeff Miller, a.k.a. the Curt Jester, shared a link today to what is probably the funniest Catholic blog I've ever seen.  Here's a sample:
Thornwood, NY–Speaking to an assembly of Legionary of Christ seminarians this week, Communications Director for the Legionaries, Jim Fair, expressed outrage over the most recent scandal to hit the fragile religious congregation. Just last month, Legionary priest, Ronald Mckellen, was caught on tape with his hair parted down the middle; a clear violation of the rules and regulations of the congregation. It was just two years ago that the congregation was forced to acknowledge that its founder, Marcial Maciel, had fathered children in spite of his vow of celibacy. “The Maciel thing was one thing,” one seminarian said, with tears in his eyes, “but this…this is too much.”
Go and read all the posts, right now.  And laugh.

Seriously, Eye of the Tiber is like a Catholic version of The Onion, only without the bad language.  Even the blog's tagline: "Breaking Catholic news so you don't have to." is absolute genius.  I've subscribed already!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Totally easy Friday dinners

You would think, over the years, I would have learned not to start "theme" posts where I'm supposed to post something once a week, since this usually lasts about 2.3 weeks before I quit doing it.  But I'm trying again mainly because between weird jobs numbers and awful gas prices and politics as usual, I need a break from the serious stuff.

Besides, Fridays are always a bit difficult in the blog world.  Things are winding down for the weekend, people duck out of work early, and passionate political debates give way to figuring out weekend chores or plans.  It's hard to jump into a discussion of eternal verities or temporary political insanity or both on Friday--at least, for me, it is.

So these posts are especially for my Catholic mom readers, the ones who, like me, sneak a bit of news-reading or politics-watching in between figuring out what's for dinner and actually making it.  And for those of us Catholic moms who follow the Church's old meatless Fridays tradition (not just during Lent, but all year) it can be a challenge to come up with new, interesting, different, etc. Friday fare.  Oh, sure, for the adventurous chef there are blogs and cooking sites just full of vegetarian recipes for the meatless meal--provided you have the ingredients and equipment sitting around to make things like homemade butternut squash and pear ravioli with rosemary sauce (prep time: only an hour and fifteen minutes!).  But even those of you willing to try a recipe like that one may not have time on a busy Friday, so here's a really fun, easy, alternative.

Yes, that's right: you can make frozen ravioli in a slow-cooker.  The "recipe" at the link is both funny and cute (I love the bit about not chipping a nail during the strenuous stirring of jarred pasta sauce into frozen cheese ravioli), but the instructions are essentially: buy frozen ravioli and jarred pasta sauce, place in slow cooker, cook on high for about three hours or low for about double that (all cookers vary, check during cooking, etc.).  I know from experience that if you have a large-size slow cooker you can double the amounts the lady at the link is using, and it still comes out great.  And if you use a slow-cooker liner, there's not really any clean-up, either.  You can sneak fresh peppers, onions etc. in at the beginning or sliced canned olives or fresh sliced mushrooms at the end (before the cheese topping step) and call it "Pizza Ravioli" if you like, but if your kids are going to fish out the veggies anyway it's totally optional.

For those Fridays when some kids have sports or some others have lessons or your husband is working late or he's coming home early and the two of you are sneaking out for a bit and leaving the older kids in charge or you have company coming for the afternoon and they might or might not stay for dinner...etc. this "recipe" is really great.  It's not that merely boiling frozen ravioli and adding sauce is such a big deal, but what's not to like about being able to serve people at different times or have plenty on hand in case the kids playing in your yard don't go home at dinner time and so on?  These are the advantages of the slow cooker, and it's terrific when it works with a meatless Friday pasta dish as well as it does with soups, stews, and the other usual slow-cooker stuff.

Have a favorite insanely easy meatless Friday meal to share?  Feel free to post it in the comment box; or, if you'd like to email it to me, I can add it to next Friday's post!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sesame Street socialism

One of the most cited exchanges from last night's presidential debate was this one:
MR. ROMNEY: Well, good. I’m glad you raised that. And it’s a -- it’s a critical issue. I think it’s not just an economic issue. I think it’s a moral issue. I think it’s, frankly, not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing those burdens are going to be passed on to the next generation. And they’re going to be paying the interest and the principle all their lives. And the amount of debt we’re adding, at a trillion a year, is simply not moral.
So how do we deal with it? Well, mathematically there are -- there are three ways that you can cut a deficit. One, of course, is to raise taxes. Number two is to cut spending. And number three is to grow the economy because if more people work in a growing economy they’re paying taxes and you can get the job done that way.
The presidents would -- president would prefer raising taxes. I understand. The problem with raising taxes is that it slows down the rate of growth and you could never quite get the job done. I want to lower spending and encourage economic growth at the same time.
What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test -- if they don’t pass it: Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I’ll get rid of it. “Obamacare” is on my list. I apologize, Mr. President. I use that term with all respect.
MR. ROMNEY: Good. OK, good. (Laughter.) So I’ll get rid of that. I’m sorry, Jim. I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you too. But I’m not going to -- I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it. That’s number one. [...]
Now, we can talk about whether or not raising taxes is a good idea (and if so, on whom they should be raised and why), and we can talk about the rhetoric of debates and how little the promises made in debates compare to the reality of how a president may govern in office, etc.  But what I want to talk about here is what I perceive as a fundamental difference in philosophy not just between Republicans and Democrats, but between people who are generally conservative and those who are generally liberal, and that is this: just because a program is a good idea, something needed or appreciated by many, important in its own right, and so forth does not mean that the federal government should provide or subsidize it: in fact, it may be highly irresponsible and obnoxious to our founding principles of liberty for the federal government to make any such attempt.

The federal funding of PBS is a case in point.  True, from what I've been able to gather online (and someone can correct me if there's better info out there) PBS only gets about 15 to 17% of its annual budget from federal funds.  Cutting federal funding of PBS would not mean the end of PBS; I have a feeling that some of the celebrities who have appeared on Sesame Street alone over the years could be persuaded to make up that amount from their private fortunes (and get a tax break in the process: a win-win!).  Cutting federal funding of PBS would also not do very much to lower our national debt, but that's where I think this debate can get a little odd: is it not worth doing anything unless that thing in itself will have a huge solo impact on debt reduction?

The larger question is this one: why, in the Internet age, are American taxpayers still footing even a tiny bit of the bill for a public broadcasting service which still includes radio and television as two of its primary broadcasting media?  Do we--that is, does the federal government through confiscatory taxation--really have an important public purpose in doing so?

I haven't studied the Catholic political idea of subsidiarity as much as I'd like, but I do know that a central notion of it is the idea that things should be taken care of as much as possible on the smallest level of government, not the largest one.  It would be inefficient and possibly even unjust to expect small towns or rural areas to plan and pay for the sections of the nearest interstate highway, but isn't it also inefficient and possibly unjust to expect Americans to pay more in federal taxes for various types of projects and services that could be better handled by the local community, by the town or city, or by the state instead of the whole country?

If there's no real, compelling reason for the federal government to raise taxes to support Big Bird, then let the federal government end its relationship with PBS and let either other levels of government or private charities take over the fiscal responsibility.  The impact of doing that not for one tiny bit of federal funding, but anywhere the federal government is paying for what ought to be paid for by states, local governments, individuals, charitable institutions, etc. would be to create a thousand points of flight from the creeping socialism that starts out as a well-intentioned program, and ends up just one more burden on the backs of American taxpayers.

(Again, apologies for the weird paragraph spacing.  In the template the paragraphs look single-spaced, but when I publish they come out double-spaced.  If I try to fix it all the paragraphs get squished together into one long paragraph.)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Not up for debate

Are you planning to watch tonight's presidential debate?  Nah, me neither.

Okay, okay, some of you may be planning to watch.  But I highly doubt the event will live up to the mainstream media's manufactured drama and high-octane hype: 
DENVER (AP) - President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney come face to face for the first time in this presidential campaign Wednesday night for a nationally televised debate that will give millions of Americans a chance to size up two fierce competitors in a moment of high-risk theater.
Romney, trailing in polls in a number of key states and running short on time to reverse his fortunes, is angling for a breakout performance in the three 90-minute presidential debates scheduled over the next three weeks.

Obama, well aware that the remaining five weeks of the race still offer enough time for tectonic shifts in his prospects, is determined to avoid any campaign-altering mistakes as he presses his case for a second term.

A pre-debate skirmish Tuesday over Vice President Joe Biden's passing reference to "a middle class that has been buried the last four years" demonstrated how just a few words can mushroom into something larger during a heated contest for the White House. [...]

In a quadrennial pre-debate ritual, each campaign has worked overtime to raise expectations for the opponent while lowering the bar for its own candidate. The thinking is that it's better to exceed lukewarm expectations than to fail to perform at an anticipated level of great skill.

But both men are seasoned debaters: Obama has been here before, facing off with McCain in 2008. Romney hasn't gone one on one in a presidential debate, but he got plenty of practice thinking on his feet during 19 multicandidate debates held during the Republican primaries.
Were there really 19 of those things?  Well, no wonder we're all a little debate-weary. 

Here are my debate predictions, in no particular order:
  • Neither candidate will do as well as his partisan supporters (including, where applicable, the mainstream media) thinks he has done.
  • Neither candidate will do as poorly as his partisan opponents (including, where applicable, the mainstream media) thinks he has done. 
  • No startling new policy statements, opinions, or philosophical viewpoints will be revealed unless a candidate "misspeaks" (in which case the party defense mechanism will be on display full-force for the first 24 hours after the debate to tell us why the candidate didn't in any way mean what the plain language would suggest he meant)
  • Soundbites will have primacy over substance, but Twitter-friendly bits will trump soundbites
  • Demonstrably untrue things will be said, but the media will not pay much attention to the untruths uttered by their favorite candidate
  • Short of an utter meltdown by President Obama, the debate will be declared a victory for him, whether it actually is or not
  • The debate will have almost no effect on the undecideds, who don't watch debates and may not even bother to vote
  • Bonus prediction: conflict in the Middle East will continue regardless of what happens at the debate
The one thing we know for certain is that we will not see the emergence of a truly pro-life, pro-family Christian hero tonight.  That's the one thing that doesn't even have to be stated as a prediction: it's just not up for debate.

 NOTE: I apologize for the weird spacing in this post.  Blogger's fault.  Still working on the move.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The real enemy of women

Not much time to post today, but I have to share this (hat tip: Alicia de Frietas):
Esther may have been a queen, but she wasn’t the queen of our Western, Disney-influenced imagination. 
Her story takes place in an ancient Near Eastern culture that regarded women as property, a culture in which Jews like Esther were struggling to retain their identity and safety amidst the violence, power, excess, debauchery, and volatility of the Persian Empire.
Like many of Scripture’s most interesting and influential women, Esther has been subjected to glorification, projections, and distortions through the years, but in all my years of studying Esther, I have never encountered a reimagining of her story as bizarre or as harmful as that being put forth by mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll in his new sermon series at Mars Hill. 
In true Driscoll fashion, he turns Esther’s story into a story about sex:
“[Esther] grows up in a very lukewarm religious home as an orphan raised by her uncle. Beautiful, she allows men to tend to her needs and make her decisions. Her behavior is sinful and she spends around a year in the spa getting dolled up to lose her virginity with the pagan king like hundreds of other women. She performs so well that he chooses her as his favorite. Today, her story would be, a beautiful young woman living in a major city allows men to cater to her needs, undergoes lots of beauty treatment to look her best, and lands a really rich guy whom she meets on The Bachelor and wows with an amazing night in bed. She’s simply a person without any character until her own neck is on the line, and then we see her rise up to save the life of her people when she is converted to a real faith in God.” 
To compare forced concubinage to an audition for “The Bachelor,” and to ascribe sexual culpability to a girl who in a patriarchal culture had no ownership over her own body and  no control over her own marriage, is as bizarre as it is disturbing. It’s just as ridiculous as turning Esther into a Disney princess, only Driscoll—being older than 10—has no excuse to project this strange reading onto the text. Esther is not a flawless character (few biblical characters are), but to question her basic morality like this without any support from the text or from traditional interpretations of it seems from my perspective to reveal a troubling agenda.
Is this not how women have been silenced throughout history--by rendering them either helpless princesses or dirty whores? And is this not how victims of patriarchy and male violence are treated around the world—as sexually culpable, as guilty, as “wanting it”?  Will we let our pastors do this to Esther as it has been done to countless women before? [Links and emphases in original--E.M.]

There's more from the author, Rachael Held Evans, here.

Now, there's a lot to say here, about Esther, about Mark Driscoll, about the harmful movements within some branches of Evangelical Christianity to impose a false view of womanhood, femininity, wifely submission, etc. upon the women in their flocks.  But because I'm pressed for time, I just want to say this: how on earth has the Catholic Church come to be viewed as the enemy of women?

The Church, following Christ, does not ordain women to the priesthood.  The Church, sharing a wise and developed view of human sexuality and the sacred and inviolate nature of human life, opposes contraception and abortion--but she also opposes the mistreatment of women, even within marriage, and insists on a dignified vision of chaste marital sexuality that conflicts very, very deeply with the views of men like Mark Driscoll who insist (apparently) that it is sinful for wives to refuse to engage in perverse sex acts with their husbands. (Yes, though it may surprise some of my non-Catholic readers, the Church does not take an "anything goes for married people!" approach to human sexuality, and stands as much against a culture of mindless hedonism as she does against a culture where would-be godly Evangelical men can demand two-dollar-prostitute acts from their wives and then accuse them of sin for not complying.)

I have read blogs from Evangelical and/or fundamentalist Christian women which reflect a deep conflict between their belief that they do, in fact, have worth as human beings that does not rest solely or even mainly on their submissive attitudes toward their husbands on the one hand and the constant rebuke of the men in their faith communities for thinking so on the other--and I've had a bit of a tendency to go on a good Irish Catholic rant when I see that attitude creeping in among Catholic women--or, worse, among Catholic men: not because of my own authority to contradict this notion, but because the Church herself won't stand for it.

The truth is that the real enemy of women is the person who views her as an object to be used.  Whether that person is the john on the street corner, the Persian king gathering a harem, the modern-day Islamic fundamentalist calling for her to be stoned to death, the abortionist killing her before she is twelve weeks old, the college frat boy with a parade of "hook-up" girls to his room, or the Evangelical pastor reinterpreting the Bible to make even the heroines look like whores matters little to the women being rejected, marginalized, oppressed, harmed or even killed.