Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The trick-or-treat wars

Hello!  I’m still out here.  My blog break is mostly going to continue through November, though, because National Novel Writing Month will help me write the first draft of Book Six in the Tales of Telmaja series.

For those who are interested in my fiction writing but not following the Tales of Telmaja Facebook page (all 1.5 of you), I can report that a) I have finished the first draft of Book Five in the Tales of Telmaja series, b) I have finished the first draft of the as-yet untitled Young Adult mermaid/vampire novel, and c) I am almost finished with the initial editing pass for Book Three in the Tales of Telmaja series (Advance Reader Team: expect an email from me before the end of the week).

Now: why am I posting?  Well, it’s sort of been an And Sometimes Tea tradition to kvetch a bit about Halloween, and while I was going to give it a miss this year, something turned up to raise my redheaded ire (right on schedule).

No, this year it’s not a Catholic Mommy Blogosphere Cat Fight (e.g., “Trick-or-treat!”  “All Saints’ Party!” “Trick-or-treat!”  “All Saints’ Party!”  “Both!”  “Shut up, crazy overachiever!” etc.).  It’s just another exhibit in the Why I Think Halloween Has Gotten Crazy display.

The starting point was this alleged letter allegedly sent to Dear Prudence at Slate, in which the alleged writer allegedly complains about having to give out treats to the poor kids who inundate the rich neighborhood full of one-percenters where he lives every October 31.  I say “alleged” because some of the letters sent to Dear Prudence rather defy reality, and this does seem like one of them.  At the very least it allows Prudence to bristle with righteous indignation and tell the writer to get to Costco (tm) and quit being a cheapskate (she doesn’t actually say “Republican,” but it’s implied).

Now, nobody could possibly complain about dear Prue’s advice in this instance because the deck is clearly stacked against the richy-rich writer who apparently spends Halloween channeling the spirit of the as-yet unreformed Ebenezer Scrooge.  Lost in the narrative, though, is a really good question: wasn’t trick-or-treating always a local, neighborhood, community event?  Wasn’t it always about your kids getting ooohed and ahhhed at by the neighbors while you reciprocated when their sweet little ones showed up at your door looking for candy?

I live in a far-from-rich neighborhood with modest homes that are squeezed rather close together. And the fact that our houses are squeezed close together, along with the fact that we have sidewalks and really short driveways, means that every Halloween we get the phenomenon of “drive and dump” trick-or-treating.

The way “drive and dump” trick-or-treating works is simple: parents drive their kids to our neighborhood, dump the kids at one end of the street, drive, engines idling, to the other end, and pick the kids up in order to drive them to the next street.  Once the kids have raced through our neighborhood with the help of the driving parent, they head to the next neighborhood where the houses are close together, and there are sidewalks and short driveways.  In this way in the three or four hours of trick-or-treating they can hit hundreds of houses and collect huge amounts of candy, presumably so their parents won’t have to purchase lunchbox snacks until the child is in graduate school, or something.

If this were simply about letting poor kids from the nearby apartment complexes get a chance to experience “real” trick or treating, I think most people would smile and buy some extra candy.  But that’s not what this is.  This is trick-or-treating, contact sports style.  This is yet another manifestation of a culture based on materialistic greed.  This is trick-or-treating with an underlying message--coming from parents, not kids--that you haven’t really “won” the game of trick-or-treating unless you gather three or four times the amount of candy and treats that you handed out at your own home.

If you even hand out treats at your own home, that is--because sometimes when one parent is driving the kids, the other leaps out of the car to walk with the kids from house to house, urging them along quickly so they can cover the most ground possible before it gets too late and those “stingy” people start turning off their porch lights.

Truth is, I suspect that it has been this phenomenon, more than anything, that has made more and more people in my neighborhood decide not to turn the porch lights on in the first place.  And then a vicious cycle ensues--because if fewer people are participating in the trick-or-treat thing, then the houses where you can get candy are father and father apart, so your parents will have to drive you someplace, and so on and so forth.

I can’t remember ever being driven someplace to go trick-or-treating.  Then again, I didn’t trick-or-treat any later than the eighth grade (if then), because when I was a child trick-or-treating was for the little kids.  I remember helping to take my younger siblings a couple of times, but those of us who were the guardians didn’t carry bags or pillowcases and certainly didn’t ask for candy--but the increase in the age of trick-or-treaters is a subject for an entirely different rant, so we’ll leave it at that.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How much does a Catholic college cost?

Well, I’m not supposed to be blogging; I’m supposed to be writing fiction.  But things keep turning up.

For instance, I saw the press release for the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College turn up on a lot of blogs and websites.  Now, I’m not opposed to Catholic colleges and universities.  I put choosing a Catholic college in the “do what works best for your family” box.  If your family includes a child who desperately longs to be a combined humanities/theology teacher at a Catholic high school someday, then you’re going to need that Catholic college, because no secular college will be able to tailor the right degree program for that child, just for one example.

But one thing that bugs me about these “best Catholic colleges” lists is that nobody really talks about the cost of a Catholic college or university education.  I was interested enough to try to find out, so I started checking the colleges one at a time.  Initially I intended to make a list of each college’s average costs, but about halfway through the list I realized two things: one, that some of the colleges make it rather hard to get specific data about how much a degree will cost (for instance, one lists a three or four semester option while another only lists costs per credit hour which would take a lot of calculating to come up with an average dollar amount), and two, there was no way I had enough time.

So in the end I only listed the costs of 14 colleges.  And I tried to keep it to “Room/Board/Tuition for a full-time on campus undergraduate,” but even that was a bit tricky, since some colleges bundled various fees into the cost estimates and some did not.  Still: this is roughly what a year at each college will cost for a full-time, on campus student for room, board, and tuition--you may have to add mandatory fees as well as variable costs such as books and expenses (and some colleges helpfully estimate that, too, but I’m a big believer in used textbooks and other ways to keep personal expenses down during one’s college years).

Here’s what I came up with:
Aquinas College (Nashville, TN): $28,700

Ave Maria University (Ave Maria, Fla.) $27,686

Belmont Abbey College (Belmont, NC): $24,500

Benedictine College (Atchison, Kan.) $29,850

The Catholic University of America (Washington, D.C.) $54,244

Christendom College (Front Royal, VA): $32,600

The College of Saint Mary Magdalen (Warner, N.H.) $29,200

DeSales University (Center Valley, Penn): $44,112

Franciscan University of Steubenville (Steubenville, Ohio) $32,070

Thomas Aquinas College (Santa Paula, Calif.) $32,450

The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts (Merrimack, N.H.) $29,800

University of Dallas (Irving, Tex.) $44,000

Walsh University (North Canton, Ohio) 30,000

Wyoming Catholic College (Lander, Wyo.) 28,150
Keep in mind, these are just estimates.  Also I was an English major so my arithmetic might be wrong.  But the average cost of a Catholic college or university, based on these schools, is $33,383 a year.  I highly doubt that adding the other schools in (if I have time later) will lower that number.  So you’re looking at around $120,000 to $130,000 for a four-year degree.

Of course, all of these colleges stress the huge availability of financial aid, which may make a college that seems impossible turn out to work for a particular student.  But since the average college student graduating in 2014 will have to pay back about $33,000 in student loan debt, I think that in general it is best when the Catholic college can offer academic and other scholarships and grants before student loans are discussed.

Are the rising costs of college, not only of Catholic colleges but of public colleges and universities as well, sustainable over the long-term?  A lot of observers think they aren’t, and that the “college bubble” will one day burst like the real estate bubble did.  Given that the medial US household income is just above $51,000 a year and has remained stagnant while the costs of an education continue to skyrocket, I think those observers may be right.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The new strategy

My friends, we need a new strategy to stop same-sex marriage.

In some ways, I think we’ve been making some of the same mistakes that were made when the abortion issue first began.  It’s not surprising.  We Americans like to think of ourselves as a lawful people, and we expect, when a whole state votes a certain way to protect life or defend marriage, that such legislative decisions will be respected by our courts.

It is long-since past time to realize that our courts are staffed, by and large, by power-hungry narcissists anxious to leave their marks on history.  Twisting and turning in the prevailing winds of the zeitgeist, our nation’s judges are nothing but black-robed tyrants bent on destroying the rule of law and replacing it with the rule of judges.  The recent events regarding the sickening fantasy called gay “marriage” are just one example.

But while I don’t advise anyone to give up the legal fight--it is far too early for that--it is time for us to take this fight in a new direction.

My idea is simple.  We need a consensus of people of faith and people of reason to go after one of the biggest and most deadly weapons of marriage destruction.  We need to form a coalition to end no-fault divorce in America.

No-fault divorce got its hooks into the destruction of marriage long before gay couples started insisting that gender difference in marriage was optional instead of being, you know, the whole point.  With no-fault divorce every single marriage license in states which passed such laws went from being contracts with a certain expectation of durability or even permanency to contracts which can be dissolved easier than a business partnership.  Not only that, but most contracts require both parties to be involved in any dissolution; most no-fault statutes permit a marriage to be destroyed by one person for no reason at all, leaving the other person an innocent victim to his or her spouse’s random act of cruelty.

Because of no-fault divorce, most marriage licenses aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.  Marriage has become a sort of “at-will” state, with either party to the contract completely free to walk away at any time for any reason, or no reason.

Here are some of my ideas, in no particular order:

1. Demand legislation to end no-fault divorce in every state where it exists.
2. Require strict criteria for divorce that would include abuse, adultery, and abandonment, but would also require a high level of proof for anything other than abuse.  (I make that exception because it is unfortunately known that even with no-fault divorce, abused spouses find it hard to leave their abusers, and we don’t want to make things worse for them.)
3. Even if a divorce proceeding is allowed to go forward, require a minimum of two years between filing and the decree for a marriage in which there are no children, and a minimum of five years between filing and decree for a marriage in which there are children (again, I would exempt abuse cases, but nobody else).  It should be difficult to end (legally; Catholics don’t believe valid sacramental marriages can end at all) a civil marriage, and especially difficult if there are children of the marriage.  And it should be impossible to enter a “new” marriage right away.  If the state has an interest even in marriages between two adults who can’t possibly generate children, then the state’s interest should include promoting the durability of that marriage.  Anybody who doesn’t agree can just avoid getting married in the first place.
4. During the time lapse between filing for the divorce and receiving the decree, require marital and family counseling.  For those without children, a minimum of one year of counseling that is geared toward reconciliation should be required; for those with children, a minimum of three years of counseling should be required.  The third year of counseling for those with children who have irrevocably decided on divorce should be focused on the couple’s ability to engage with each other in a civil and friendly way for the sake of the children.  The completion of this counseling will be a necessary part of custody arrangements.
5. To minimize divorces in the first place, require a waiting period of three months (or more) between the application for a marriage license and the actual marriage ceremony.  This could be waived in certain circumstances such as unexpected military deployment but would be generally applied.

Some people may complain that this will make marriage harder for people.  My answer to that is: Good!  Marriage shouldn’t be so easy to enter and so much easier to leave.  There should be no quickie Vegas weddings and no quickie divorces, either.  Marriage is already treated like a cultural joke of sorts--it’s just the big wedding party for the two fornicators who have been shacking up for years while they saved up for their Hollywood wedding extravaganza in all too many cases.  Having actual rules that would make it harder for people to leave a marriage might make people realize that marriage is a serious business.

And for those who object that my ideas would make the marriage rate decline--it’s already in a free-fall.  Many people no longer see a reason for “that piece of paper.”  They know in their hearts that that piece of paper--the civil marriage license--is meaningless in the shadow of no-fault divorce.  Those who marry in churches or synagogues or mosques which teach that marriage is permanent are an exception to that rule, but most of them wouldn’t be deterred by the rules I’m proposing anyway.  If anything, the young people whose religions take marriage seriously would be heartened by seeing City Hall stop treating it as a lewd joke.

Would my rules end same-sex “marriage?”  Not by themselves, perhaps.  But when fewer than 2% of all Americans identify as gay and only 600,000 of those are in some sort of domestic partnership that is attempting to look like marriage in the first place, I think ending easy divorce would impact the demand for gay “marriage.” In most states that have passed gay “marriage” laws, an initial rush to the altar has been followed by a whole lot of nothing, illustrating that few gay people even want to pretend that their relationships are anything like marriage.

If we can reform marriage in America to be something that is much harder to break apart, we will be doing a great good thing for most marriages.  And, as a side effect, I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of gay couples would look at the new rules and decide that civil marriage isn’t really what they want--because as it stands right now a vast majority of gay couples have already decided they don’t want marriage itself.  What they want is “marriage rights” to use to beat those of us who believe that gay sex is gravely sinful into silence.  And as long as marriage is a trivial legal state that can be broken more easily than a software agreement, we’re the ones handing them the club.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Light posting ahead

...well, and behind, if you’ve noticed.

I don’t manage to post daily anymore, which is okay, but I still like to post at least a few times a week when I can.  Unfortunately I’m trying really hard right now to make a couple of self-imposed fiction writing deadlines.  So even though I keep seeing things I want to write about (Ebola! Catholic writers on the Internet!  Lesbian IVF customers who were dissatisfied when the sperm they ordered came from a black man instead of their preferred white male donor, leaving them with a mixed race child who they are worried won’t fit in to their stodgy white community which apparently isn’t stodgy enough to mind with the whole “married” lesbians manufacturing a baby thing in the first place, but a mixed-race child--gasp!  Etc. ad infinitum!) I’m trying to be disciplined.

We’ll see how long I can go before I crack.  :)  In the meantime, your patience is, as always, greatly appreciated.