the minor premise

the minor premise

Monday, January 29, 2007

mi, mi, meme

MrsDarwin of DarwinCatholic recently tagged us on the following meme. It was begun by Scott Carson of An Examined Life, who seems to post some very interesting articles if I could only figure out how to get his text to display:

Who are the five Catholic (or Christian) bloggers whom you would most like to meet in person, but have not (yet)?

My list:
1. The Darwins, of course
2. The Ironic Catholic & Spouse
3. Sister Mary Martha (and I won't mind if she does turn out to be a middle-aged guy in a wifebeater t-shirt posing as a sister)
4. Father Stephanos of Me Monk, Me Meander
5. One from the Coptic Orthodox Church, Neferteeti

Tagging The Rambling Speech Therapist, whom we have met, and any of the above who wish to participate.


Saturday, January 27, 2007


I get the impression that Virginia Senator James Webb's performance rebutting (if you can call it that) the SOTU address has made him this week's Democratic party rock star (maybe I'd better run him through the Newsranker, just to be sure.) Jonathan Alter of Newsweek described him as exhibiting "muscular liberalism--with personal touches" and having a "military bearing and nonelitist tone that is appealing." Other members of the press have, I gather, weighed in similarly.

Now, pardon me for seeming peevish, but did we watch the same speech? I don't know where the press is getting these rhapsodies from--the romance of the moment must have clouded their eyes. To me, the guy looked stuffed. I've seen Charlie McCarthy look more natural, and animated. My mind kept wandering to a description I'd read of him as "a man who does not seem comfortable in his own skin;" the phrase captured what I saw perfectly. He mouthed the usual platitudes about the wage gap without noticeably seeming to give a genuine whoop-de-do about the working class; in fact, I could hardly get the feeling from his body language that anything about which he spoke affected him emotionally. That includes the Iraq war, in which (as we all know because he made a campaign issue of it) his son is serving as a Marine.

In short, I found Webb's performance ghastly. Were he and I of the same political inclination, I would feel the same way. I wouldn't want someone who comes off like an embittered idealogue purporting to speak for me.

It was oft remarked about erstwhile Republican presidential candidate Thomas Dewey (and misattributed to Alice Roosevelt Longworth:) "How can the Republican Party nominate a man who looks like the bridegroom on a wedding cake?" Similarly I wonder, and give thanks it's at least not my problem: how can the Democratic party rally behind a man with the vivacity and warmth of bronze statuary?


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Today's Read

A student newspaper at UCLA sent a student reporter undercover into the school's Health Services. The reporter posed as a pregnant student seeking resources that would help her stay in school and carry her "baby" to term. Whaddya think the response was? The story here.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Our Lady of the Wal-Mart

The Man With the Black Hat reports on a North Carolina artist who, "... intrigued by the public obsession with celebrity has found herself feeding that obsession with a painting of actress Angelina Jolie as the Virgin Mary hovering over a Wal-Mart check-out line."

"You really," he adds, "have to see it to believe it." He kids us not. Ay, ay ay.

Having acknowledged a special reverence for Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mr. Hat draws a comparison between that image and this one of decidedly non-miraculous origin. While he has a point to make in taking this tack and it is well-taken, I don't think that the apparition of Tepeyac served as inspiration for this particular bit of artistry. It looks to me a bit more like Sistine Chapel wannabee, right down to the intricately draped fabric of Angie's gown and her two adopted toddlers standing in as winged cherubim. My first thought on viewing this work was that the ideal medium for it really would have been black velvet. It's tempting to suspect that had the artist been twenty-five years older she would have specialized in heroic Elvises.

Okay, I'm not that dense. I realize that artist Kate Kretz's purpose probably isn't to glorify Ms. Jolie, but to satirize, if not in the most original fashion, our celeb-crazed society's glorification of her. I can't say for sure whether anti-Catholicism factored into her work. Mr. Hat, who has probably spent more time reading the lady's websites than I have, thinks she was likely "driven more by militant naivete than pure malevolence...It never occurs to [some people] that there may be more to that phenomenon than a mere collection of venerated images, a plaything for their vain attempt at kitsch." I'm inclined to think that he's correct. Certainly there is nothing about this painting remotely comparable with the infamous Virgin in elephant dung: it's kitschy, irreverent, and not in the best taste, but in my opinion it falls far short of blasphemy. A pious Catholic artist seeking to make the same point would have chosen other (hopefully less confrontational) imagery; I have to assume that Ms. Kretz is not one and didn't understand what C. S. Lewis referred to as "the peculiar and chivalrous sensibility" of the devout when they perceive an insult to our Blessed Mother. (Mere Christianity)

I am under the impression that Ms. Kretz's sensitivity faux pas has led to assaults on her blog comboxes, as her latest post indicates that she has closed them. Mild annoyance, I can understand, but orchestrating a campaign of howlers over something this trival seems to me a pointless waste of righteous indignation. Go out and march for Life, write the whole darn Security Council about the Darfur genocide, or just take two rosaries and call me in the morning, but for Pete's sake spare us the kinder, gentler version of the Mohammed Cartoon Outrage. If the lady has exhibited offensive ignorance, be too polite to notice. You don't have to buy her paintings.

Thus I would discourage protests, the sending of nasty emails, or any other expressions of excessive outrage. Such reactions are un-Christian, they make the rest of us who weren't carrying on look bad, and they tend to make the neutral and mildly anti-Catholic into hardened Roundheads. They also tend to be counterproductive in that rather than calling down censure upon the offender, they frequently draw attention to and increase that person's popularity.

When The Last Temptation of Christ first came out in theaters, my hip, charismatic (liturgically speaking) then-pastor felt it his duty to view and then review it for the benefit of the flock. The film itself he panned, not merely on its theology but on its cinematic points (or lack thereof.) But in reference to the cries of outrage that were echoing among some Catholic groups--and being magnified to our collective detriment by the offenders and their apologists --he offered this bit of philosophy: "God has gotten over bigger offenses than this."

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Monday, January 22, 2007

Oh, never mind

Class postponed a month; will probably be back later this week.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Little Light Reading

I will be taking about two weeks off from blogging and general internet activity for a training course that will be taking up quite a bit of my free time, and hopefully to catch up on some reading during what remains of that. D will continue to post as his time allows; perhaps he'll be inspired to turn us out a ditty or two in my absence.

As I will not be on, I thought I should leave some useful and edifying links for the benefit of any stoppers-by, so that reading material will not be lacking. As the 23rd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision is approaching, I submit the following from two organizations dedicated to promoting respect for life from a feminist perspective, Feminists for Life, and the Susan B. Anthony list.

FFL's topics page.
FFL's news page.
FFL's History of our Feminist Foremothers index page. Read biographies of feminist movers and shakers past and present, all resolutely pro-life. This list includes the founding mothers of the American female suffrage movement.
FFL's page dedicated to the memory of women lost to legal abortions.
FFL's page of personal accounts by aborted women
Backissues of FFL's quarterly The American Feminist.

The Susan B. Anthony List fundraises for pro-life political candidates, women in particular. The organization also provides news and legislative alerts, and posts some interesting aritcles on its website.

It is my hope that these links will introduce others to two excellent organizations doing noble work, offer some insights on the abortion issue that are often overlooked, and possibly even help someone to rethink this issue.

Zenit has an article up today on the Morning-After Pill's implementation in several different countries. The following observations are included in the article:

Another report, published Jan. 8, confirmed the failure of the morning-after pill to reduce abortion. A Spanish Web site, Forum Libertas, analyzed what had happened in the country since the pill's introduction. In 2000, the year before the pill was introduced, there were 60,000 abortions, a rate of 7.5 abortions for every 1,000 women under 20.

By 2005, fewer than 506,000 morning-after pills were distributed. At the same time, however, the number of abortions that year had risen to 91,000, and the rate of abortion for women under 20 rose to 11.5 abortions for every 1,000 women.

Similar findings were reported in Britain last year. The Sept. 15 issue of the British Medical Journal published an editorial authored by Anna Glasier, director of a National Health Service unit in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Glasier wrote: "Emergency contraception has been heralded as the solution to rising abortion rates." "Some authors have suggested that almost a million abortions could be prevented in the United States annually if every woman used emergency contraception every time she needed it."

"Yet, despite the clear increase in the use of emergency contraception, abortion rates have not fallen in the United Kingdom," the article continued. In fact, wrote Glasier, they have risen from 11 per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 1984 (136,388 abortions) to 17.8 per 1,000 in 2004 (185,400 abortions). She added that increased use of emergency contraception in Sweden has not been associated with a reduction in abortion rates.

So, rather than leading to a "reduction" in other kinds of abortions, morning-after
pills either made no difference or have actually been associated with a rise in the abortion rate. Potential health effects of the drug are also discussed:

The report also observed the lack of adequate and in-depth research on the short- and long-term safety implications of the morning-after pill. This is particularly of concern when it comes to women who repeatedly use the pill.

...Tracking health problems due to frequent use of the morning-after pill will also be problematic due to the nature of programs implemented by some governments, which include free distribution without a need for medical prescriptions.

Williams also argued that diminishing the fear of pregnancy through recourse to the morning-after pill may bring about a casual approach to entering a sexual relationship, with little excuse for a young woman to refuse. Greater sexual activity could well contribute to higher levels of sexually transmitted diseases.

Concern over the health effects of the pills were also raised by Susan Wills, associate director for education at the pro-life office of the U.S. bishops' conference. Plan B, one brand of the morning-after pill, and other methods of "emergency contraception" are the equivalent of taking from four to 40 times the daily dose of various oral contraceptive pills in a 12-hour period, she noted in an article published Aug. 15 on the Web site National Review Online.

Negative effects of the morning-after pill include severe disruption to the menstrual cycle, convulsions, and an increased risk of ectopic pregnancies. In spite of these dangers, last year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, eased rules on Plan B, allowing women to buy it without a prescription.

Well worth the reading, I thought.


Friday, January 19, 2007

For Art's Sake

I cannot let the passing of humor columnist Art Buchwald go unmarked. Buchwald was probably the first humor columnist I ever read, and even as an adult I contined to enjoy his submissions. His wonderful books and columns came despite his battles with bipolar disorder. Yet he could turn his own personal struggles into humor. David Von Drehle remarked in The Washington Post. "For most people, dying is a milestone. For Buchwald, it was fresh material." Buchwald was a true original.


When I was at work today, in the breakroom I happened across what appeared to be a discarded story printed on computer paper. Being the nosy type, I decided to read it. To my delight, it had the name of one of my former English students at the top. The piece was entitled something like "How I Ended Up on the Cover of a Romance Novel," and was an amusing send-up of both the "literary" genre and the cover art that graces those volumes. I was quite impressed with how far he had come since I had last read his work.

Then I turned to the last page. I have to at least give credit for honesty. In a note in type half the size of the rest of the work, my former student noted that he had actually not written the work, but had only "revised" a story from the humor site "The Onion," inserting his name in strategic places and removing the non-PG parts of the piece. I had fallen victim to the cut-and-paste/sampling culture: Why turn out original work, when you can borrow someone else's? For my money, I'll take the genuine article.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Nazanin is exonerated...sort of

Last week I posted an update on this case, with links to additional information. I checked Save Nazanin today and found the following:

January 14:
Nazanin Afshin-Jam and Mina Ahadi spoke with Nazanin Fatehi's lawyers today regarding her retrial that took place on January 10th 2007.

They have received verbal confirmation from the court that she will be exonerated from the charge of murder. The incident that took place in March 2005 has been recognized as an act of self-defense, however the court has ruled that disproportionate force was used by Nazanin while trying to defend herself and her 15-year old niece. Accordingly, they have asked Nazanin to pay “dieh ” (blood money) to receive a pardon from the family of the deceased. Once this amount is paid, Nazanin can be released from prison.

Shadi Sadr and Mr. Mostafaei, Nazanin Fatehi's laywers, are appealing this blood money because they believe that Nazanin is innocent for acting in self-defense and therefore she should not have to pay any money. Unfortunately, this appeal may take several months, so in the meantime arrangements may be made to have Nazanin released from prison by paying “bail” money into court.

Formal documentation should be available within days, including further details and specifics like the cost of bail and the cost of blood money.

So she's sorta been found not guilty, but she's still gotta pay off her attacker's next of kin before she can go free. Or at least post bail while the blood money is under appeal. Not a small order for a girl from a poor family, but perhaps Save Nazanin will pass a hat. I'll keep checking the site until the case is resolved.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Alley Oop! and some other things

Some months ago, having read The Neandertal Enigma, I spent far too much time musing about prehistoric behavior. As I think I mentioned, the general view at time of the book's publication was that Neandertals and Modern humans (what they used to call Cro-Magnons, back when,) despite 10,000 years or so of living pretty much side-by-side and being members of the same species, apparently did not interbreed. Well, let's qualify that: either they did not interbreed or the Neandertal DNA was lost somewhere along the family tree.

This Reuters story reports on a recently-discovered skull in Romania that seems to exhibit both Modern and Neandertal traits. Notwithstanding the ads covering some of the text that I couldn't figure out how to get around despite my modern cranium, it was an informative story. Check it out, if paleo is your cup of tea.

(I always thought Ooola looked awfully patrician to be
hanging around with a Neandertal like Alley.
I guess gals dug the caveman type back then, too.)
I'm adding a note to the Magic Flute review below.
Desmond, if you drop by and read this: I noted a news item suggesting there were some rough protests going on in your corner of the globe--I hope you're all right.
Finished & sent cap for bro; still plodding along on D's vest. It's just as well it's been a mild winter down here, because I've got my sights set on next winter as a deadline for this one. Actually, it's not just as well about the mild weather; the mild weather means I'll be trapping mice out of my kitchen all summer. I normally use live traps, but if things get out of hand I may have to get nasty.

One would think I'd have learned my lesson about multiple handicraft projects at once, but I couldn't resist when I found Bernat Matrix, a very pretty knittable nylon/poly braid, at $1 a ball. So naturally I had to start on a shawl for myself. I'm finding the medium is troublesome to handle, and has an irritating tendency to slip off the spool when not constrained. As a result, I am now working out a tangle that is something to behold. This one is going to require a whooole lotta prayer just to keep me from using some Neandertal words.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Review: Ingmar Bergman's production of The Magic Flute

Well, Amazon wanted to know. I ordered the DVD from them several months ago and just got a "send us a customer review on this item" request. I figure if I'm going to take the time to do a writeup, I might as well post it here as well and get some extra mileage out of my work!

I'm posting this on Amazon under the heading "Excellent Opera Intro for Kids," mainly because that was my purpose in buying it and because I really do think it serves that purpose. But it's not just a "kids'" show; I think it's worth seeing by any adult not openly hostile to light opera as well.

My review (ahem):

I first saw Ingmar Bergman's Magic Flute years ago when it came out in theaters, and I was enchanted by it. Far from the heavy, angst-laden psychological drama typically associated with Bergman, this production is a beautiful, colorful musical fantasy filled with magic, song, and the saving power of True Love. In other words, it's a Mozart light opera. The heroic characters are noble and beautiful, the comic characters funny and appealing, and the evil characters creepy and obviously the bad guys (although the Queen of the Night's seductive beauty and charm conceal her evil nature until she reveals it in the second act.) The heroes must undergo frightening perils before they can be together, but although we worry about them we know that all will work out for good, good will triumph over evil, and happiness will reign at the end.

Bergman uses the clever device in his production of setting the piece as if it were a "little theater" production (using shots of a gorgeous 18th-C Swedish opera house set in equally gorgeous woods.) He begins the overture with the camera zooming in on members of a multiethnic (but heavily Swedish--well, it was thirty years ago) audience, coming back to focus repeatedly on a redheaded girl about ten years of age whose facial expressions are subsequently employed throughout the piece to set the mood for each scene. He begins and ends the performance on the small stage and occasionally returns to it (as at the intermission) but the action very quickly expands beyond this small set to a beautiful and sometimes scary "wider world" through which it proceeds. Light, color, and costuming are all brought into play to enhance and explain each scene and song. While the story is not a complex one (it's a Mozart light opera, for Pete's sake!) the dramatic treatment makes it engaging and the music is beautifully rendered. The performers are well-chosen for their roles: the comic characters Papageno and Papagena are especially delightful and the Queen's transformation from an "aggrieved" mother of goddesslike beauty to an almost witchy embodiment of vengeful evil is effective. A trio of too-cute boy sopranos in 1900 dress, piloting an "old-timey" hot air balloon assist the protagonists at critical moments and give the piece a very 1970's (remember when Turn-of-the-Century was in?) touch.

I ordered this DVD mainly for an eleven-year-old who was starting on a piano piece from the opera (and who has never cared for opera.) Although I don't think we'll ever make an opera lover out of her, she did decide that this one was "all right" and even gave it a second viewing with no prompting on my part. Thus I think that if you are interested in introducing opera to children of preteen or young teen age it is a good choice. A few caveats, however:

First, it is performed in Swedish with an English subtitle option. Unless you are prepared to read the whole thing to your children while the action is going on, or preview it and give the children a rundown before starting the show, much of it will probably be lost on children not old enough to read with confidence. Something more in a Gilbert and Sullivan vein might be preferable for the prereading set if Swedish is not a native tongue.

Second, some characters and scenes are dark and really frightening and may be too much for sensitive younger children. I was in in my teens at my first viewing and, having been a really wussy kid, I know I couldn't have sat through it as a young child. Parents should use their judgement and consider previewing if they are concerned about this.

Third, one of the later scenes, in which the heroes have to pass through Hell (or something similar) features bodystockinged dancers of uncertain gender gyrating weirdly in pairs and threesomes in the background. To me it looks a bit like a Heironymus Bosch painting come to life, but some folks might find the effect salacious and prefer not to show it to their kids. There are also two near-suicides in the piece, both defused by the cherubs ex machina in the balloon. The first is when the romantic heroine Pamina, convinced that her prince doesn't love her and pressured by her mother to murder her father, contemplates stabbing herself instead. The second is an absurd parody of the first: Papageno, despairing of ever reuniting with his Papagena, attempts haphazardly to hang himself from a tree. It is obvious to anyone that he will not be successful as he is incompetent to even tie up the rope properly; the whole scene is played for laughs and resolved happily with the return of the beloved. But again, parents may wish to use discretion with young or sensitive children or those who have had to deal with the reality of sucide close to them.

I've been over to Amazon's page for this film since posting this, and thought I'd add some observations on the reviews already posted. While they are largely positive (it seems I wasn't the only one who fell in love with this film when it came out) there were a few objections that potential viewers may want to consider.

At least one commenter complained vehemently about the film's video and sound quality. It didn't bother me much (which I guess is either because I was too much transported by the story to notice or because our TV/player setup is of such low quality we don't even notice anymore!) But if you're a stickler for this sort of thing, then I suppose you may be annoyed by it. The commenter who lodged this complaint mentioned reflecting on his foolhardy purchase every time his kids played the DVD, however; so it seems somebody in the household was enjoying it!

Another commenter was a diehard Bergman fan who was apparently expecting angst, deep thought, and big metaphysical questions from this film. As I pointed out before, it's a Mozart light opera!!! If quintessential Bergman is what you're looking for, this isn't the place to find it. But hey, you didn't expect the guy to be morose all the time, did you?


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

If you have not signed this petition, please do now.

Nazanin is a 19-year old Iranian girl who has spent the last year and a half in prison for accidently killing a man who was trying to rape her. She had been facing a death sentence, but that sentence was commuted and the case sent back to a lower court for further investigation. Now she is about to be retried, and could be in danger of her life again. At least she now has a few things going for her: her case has garnered international attention and some pressure from human rights organizations and the U.N. (Iran is a signatory to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of the Child, yet allows capital punishment for boys as young as 15 and girls as young as 9 and frequently executes juveniles.) Perhaps if the world community keeps up the pressure, the court will be prevailed upon to set the poor girl free. I was going to say, "give her justice," but they've already given her plenty of injustice. Given the choice, I think I'd prefer a few years in a gulag to a trip through Iran's criminal justice system. Nobody pretends a gulag is fair.

Here and here
(bottom of page) are my previous posts on this story.

Here, more importantly, is the Save Nazanin Site, which contains information on the case, regular updates, and a petition link. (I am adding the petition link here.) I recommend reading some of the news articles here; comparing the trial report published in Etemaad to some of the other articles is edifying if you have no idea what being on trial in an Iranian court is like. I'd describe some of what I read but if I got started, I'd be here for a few hours and have several pages. The articles will serve; do read them.

And please, if you haven't signed the petition yet, do so promptly. And pray we may be able to save a life.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Edmund Burke, attr.

UPDATE 1/11/07 This from Wikipedia's page on the case today:
Nazanin's re-trial on January 10 resulted in unanimous decision by the four judges that the murder was not

Nazanin's re-trial on January 10 resulted in unanimous decision by the four judges that the murder was not intentional. The final result will be announced in few days. The court was the continuation of retrial in August of 2006. The session started with 2 hours delay. There were many observers in this court. Nazanin's two defense attorneys proceeded with their defense. After much discussions, the four judges unanimously determined that the lower court decision in January of 2006 was wrong and the murder was not intentional.

The defense attorneys are hopeful that the final decision on the fate of Nazanin will be announced in the next few days. The unanimous decision is great news and the defense attorneys are now hopeful that the previous death penalty verdict will be reversed and Nazanin could be freed.

I pray that the judges will make the just and merciful decision in this case. I will try to post further updates as I find them.


Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Cowbelle of the Hill

From the parody department, we have a submission regarding our new Speaker of the House, to the tune of "Don't Fear the Reaper." Apologies to Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser and Blue Oyster Cult.

She's the Speaker
by Dminor

G O P had come
Here but now they're gone
'Frisco now has the speaker
And it will never be the same again
Democrats in power

Now it's Nancy . . . yeah she's the Speaker
Does she have a plan? . . .yeah she's the Speaker
She will give it a try . . .yeah she's the Speaker
Gavel in her hand . . . ..

Won the election
Now she'll have some fun
Harry Reid and Hillary
Have to settle in supporting roles
Harry Reid and Hillary

Gonna pass a budget that's liberal . . . .Like Harry Reid and Hillary
Raise the entry wage; hey that's liberal. . .We could buy happiness
Unemployment rises --it's liberal . . . Democrats in power

Now it's Nancy . . . yeah she's the Speaker
Does she have a plan?. . . will we be weaker?
She will give it a try . . . yeah she's the Speaker
Gavel in her hand . . . .

Campaigned on the war
Can't campaign no more
Came the start of the session
The night before, we'd partied till dawn
The floor was open and the bills appeared
The members spoke and then disappeared
The taxes rose when she appeared
Paying more every day

Here comes Nancy . . . and she had no fear
Of Republicans. . . .when she started to speak
Iraq victory we waved goodbye
The Democrats are in power
She had taken control
The Democrats are in power

Here comes Nancy . . . oh she's the Speaker

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Prayer and Petitions

Darwin of DarwinCatholic has posted on a recent flap at ScienceBlogs. It seems that Richard Dawkins (tagged by Darwin in terms I wish I'd come up with as "the posterboy of trying to turn scientific conclusions into sweeping philosophical ones") had signed (then repudiated after unsurprising general outrage erupted) a petition to outlaw the religious indoctrination or identification of children under the age of sixteen in Britain. In other words, no teaching religion to children, and no identifying them as members of a given sect, until they are legally adults (most kids in Britain are heading into the workforce or job training at sixteen, unless they are getting ready for college.) This, assert the petitioners, will encourage "free thought," which sounds like a noble concept unless you've heard enough atheist dogma to recognize it as a euphemism for atheism.

I would be very much surprised if this petition got very far; most sensible people, to include probably the vast majority of the nonreligious among us, can spot the problems inherent right away. I know my Logic Early Warning System was going off like the neighbors' singularly irritating car alarm. As guardians of their children, parents have the right within reason to make decisions regarding their upbringing; take this away from one subset of the population and nobody's rights are safe. One nonreligious opponent aptly put it thus:
Indeed, I would argue that the absolute last thing that any atheist wants to do is to encourage government to take such authority, because believe me, it's a hell of a lot more likely that you're gonna find it illegal to teach your beliefs than it is to make it illegal to teach someone else's beliefs.
Besides, as D reminded me, England has an established church and retains an official Defender of the Faith in the person of its monarch; unless Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth is prepared to shrug off that aspect of her position and go over completely to the other side it doesn't seem that such a ruling could legitimately be passed. But the petitioners weren't dissuaded from trying, even if one of the more high-profile ones did cut and run as soon as things got uncomfortable. And the thought that they might have concluded they had a shot at success, or at least at launching the idea as one worthy of serious discussion, is a bit disconcerting.

Assuming that the petitioners, or at least some among them, were absolutely serious about their proposal and actually did look to a time when every child would be shielded from religious influence, I proceeded to indulge in some idle musing on the eventual result of such a proposal's being enacted. It worked out something like this:

Problem 1: Define "religious teaching/indoctrination." If you tell your child there's a God, presumably that's religious indoctrination. What if you tell your child there is no God? You can't "prove" either viewpoint scientifiically, so what but a religious teaching could the latter be? Furthermore, is Santa Claus religious? How about the Tooth Fairy? Would she be Wiccan, or maybe Theosophist? What if it's a Tooth Mouse instead? Where does the Easter Bunny fit in? He's kinda between pagan and religious--there's the fertility rite aspect of the character, but then there's that unsettling rebirth and new life after the winter thing, too. If you read your kid the Narnia Chronicles, is that religious "indoctrination"? How about if you keep a Bible for your own reading but fail to keep it away from the kiddies? Are you required to lock it up or put it on a high shelf like girlie magazines or the bourbon? Is a crucifix on the wall or a concrete Madonna in the garden "indoctrination?" Will high school students be cleared to read Chaucer's "Miller's Tale," while the Prioress and Second Nun are kept off limits? What to do with the Nun's Priest,who is nominally a "religious" figure but whose lifestyle and tale are not? Will works of literature with Christ figures be banned from the classroom, or read but not discussed in those terms? Will high school students only be exposed to John Donne's dirty poems, skipping Death Be Not Proud and the like entirely?

Carried to its logical extreme, is it "religious indoctrination" to tell your four-year-old that it's wrong to hit his little sister and take the blocks away from her? That it's not nice to pull the dog's tail? If not, where are these constructs of right and wrong, nice and not nice, coming from? Who sets the standard? Why is that standard better than yours or mine? How exactly does this encourage free thinking?

Problem 2: Does a ban on religious "definition" of children mean that parents can't baptize their infants, that children old enough to know what's going on can't be baptized, or that nobody can be baptized before they are 16? Does it make any difference if the kid requests baptism? Can a terminally ill child request sacraments or prayer? Can he or she be told of belief in an afterlife? Is the government going to intervene if parents baptize or hold a religious service for a miscarried or deceased infant? Here I've spent pretty much my entire adult life being told the government has no standing to intrude in people's bedrooms (whether or not the bedroom is actually involved at the time,) and what comes around the bend but some of those same people proposing that the government intrude in my church and nursery?

Problem 3: Does this apply to citizens only, or is everybody on British soil going to be held to this standard? How will it be enforced? What will the penalties be for violations? Are parents going to get off with a fine, or get their kids taken away, or do jail time, for reading them some Bible stories? Will Wiccans be subject to the same penalties if they teach their beliefs to their children? How about Muslims? Going back to what I said under Prob. 1, will reading your kid Atlas Shrugged or the letters of Bertrand Russell also incur a penalty?

A bit rambling and downright silly in spots, I know, but since we've decided to entertain discussion on the subject I'd like to see some answers. Petitioners, think of it as warm-up for the rest of what you'll get thrown at you. If you're determined to launch a major social engineering project, you'd best be prepared to explain to the rest of us just how it's going to improve all our lives.

In pondering the mentality that leads to this sort of thinking, I idly mused my way into the thought that some of it might be influenced by current events. I don't know this to be the case, and I could well be barking up the wrong tree, but the thought occurred and I figured I'd float it. As I understand it, Christian churches in England right now suffer from pretty sparse attendance. While Christians are neither on the verge of extinction nor particularly given to going away quietly, and they could experience a resurgence, it seems odd that all these prominent antitheists could find a minority so threatening. On the other hand, mosques are multiplying. Given the "homegrown" terrorist incidents in Britain in recent years, might some of the signatories to this petition be concerned with the overrun of the country by radical Islamism, and the loss of English culture? If so, perhaps they feel the only fair way to address the problem is a blanket ban on all religion. This throws the baby out with the bathwater as far as I'm concerned as it assumes that the problem is religious belief and not a toxic ideology incorporating religious, political and cultural elements that are accepted by few others even within the same faith tradition.
Of course, all the good and noble aspects of religious belief--reverence, charity, piety, selflessness, and so on--get tossed out along with the source of the problem. I'm not betting on them being replaced by religion-free versions of same.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Toys in the Attic, Revisited

I was glancing over D's recent post on the HuffPo's Newsranker and noticed a quirk I hadn't thought about before. I had assumed that the bar graphs were ordinary images depicting a statistical set from a given time and set of sources, but this isn't the case. They are constantly linked to the Ranker and consequently fluctuate with changes in the feeder news sources. For example, while at the time of D's post Pope Benedict XVI was out-newsing Britney Spears by nearly double, today Britney outranks the Holy Father 980-576 (musta been the no-panties incident.) By tomorrow she may have doubled his stats, dropped back to half again, or fallen into statistical insignificance (fat chance.)

This introduces a monkey wrench for anybody trying to use the Ranker to "prove" a point. (This isn't just an idle worry. A quick overview of others linking to the story left us with the impression that most of them intended to do just that.) By way of explanation, let's imagine you are trying to show that Barak is a more promising presidential candidate than Hillary, or that Christina Aguilera is hotter than Gwen Stefani. While your nifty bar graph may bear you out splendidly at time of posting, someone checking your stats a mere few weeks later may well find the numbers don't bear out your claims at all. There you'll be with your impressive assertions, and the pretty pictures that only recently backed you up so bravely may well be screaming otherwise for all to read.

This doesn't factor in other problems with the Ranker, as that measuring volume of news mentions only measures notoriety, and is a poor predictor of future performance. If your purpose is to prove anything but that the object of your ranking is the flavor of the week--say, that he or she is more qualified, talented, smarter, or more personable than opponents-- it's utterly useless. As D pointed out before, use this one with caution, and for amusement purposes only.

If, on the other hand you feel you must use it in debate, just remember that wrecked henfruit makes an excellent facial.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

No Other Gods Before Me . . . .

I found this comment on in the
comment section of Brent Bozell's blog from a poster called mattm:

The statement "there are no absolutes" is itself an absolute, and therefore, the phrase is an oxymoron.
If an Atheist says he/she believes there is no god, that's fine. That's a belief and is therefore just as religious as Theism. Therefore, Atheists have no right to mock anyone for being "religious", since they, too, are religious.
If, on the other hand, they claim to know there is no God, then they are claiming omniscience, because the only way to know of the non-existence of God is to know everything, which is to be God. Therefore, Atheists (who claim to know there is no God) are, in fact, claiming an attribute that only a god could have, thereby making themselves their own god, thus rendering Atheism absurd.
This is the meaning of Psalm 14:1 "The fool hath said in his heart 'there is no God'"

I wish I had written that!