the minor premise

the minor premise

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

lenten meditation

No time to write today; will try to get back to my next homeschooling post later in the week. Meanwhile, here is Thomas Merton's well-known prayer from Thoughts in Solitude. It can be found, with translations in Spanish, Portuguese, French and Swahili, at the Merton Institute site.

I like this prayer, because it reminds us that we do not have all the answers (something we could all stand to remember!) but that through our striving to do God's will we serve him. And always, He is with us.

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

- Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"
© Abbey of Gethsemani


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Of Fish and Blogs

Two short points to bring into the first full week of Lent:

Sr. Mary Martha, one of C's favorite reads, gives a nice explanation of how McDonald's came to have the "Filet 'o Fish" sandwich, and what horrors we might have faced in an alternative product aimed at the Lenten Catholic market.

Also, I would like to officially mark the second year of the minor premise. C made her first post at the beginning of February 2006 (a book review), and the blog has gone great guns ever since. And, while the blog was actually opened in November of 2005, the substance of the premise did not get going until C put cursor to screen.

Aside from C to Foxfier/Sailorette, whose comment on the above post was just noted:
Actually, Barnes and Noble got the money. But I figure I'll get my dollar's worth in the long run by being able to cite text to back up my assertions that it's not a very good book, and maybe by lending it to a few folks who might otherwise go off and buy their own copy. With caveats, of course.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

something new here?

Okay, this just popped up on the news page when I signed on. I'm frankly perplexed on several counts:

--First off, the "rhythm method" never had anything to do with temperature.
--Second, the basal body temperature method has been in common use (and studied) for I can't recall how long but I think it's been a good half century. Its method effectiveness is pretty high.
--Third, the sympto-thermal method, which combines BBT and other observations, has also been around for decades, and its method effectiveness is pretty high.

So unless Dr. Frank-Hermann has come up with something really far-out and different that wasn't mentioned in the news item, one would have to assume that this is basically the same dog and that the science media have only just noticed the fact that the Temperature method works as a method of natural fertility regulation. I'm sure Dr. Vollmann, whose BBT observations led to some practical applications sometime before WWII, would be pleased.

A new rhythm method developed by German gynecologist Petra Frank-Hermann claims to be as reliable as birth control pills. The Sun newspaper of London reports the technique is 99.6 percent effective provided a couple follows the instructions exactly. The rhythm method--both the old one and this new one--require that a couple abstain from sex with [sic] the woman's menstrual cycle would allow her to become pregnant.

Figuring out exactly when these days occur each month is why the rhythm method has traditionally failed. But Frank-Hermann says in a study of 900 women using her technique correctly, just one in 250 had an unplanned pregnancy per year. Her secret involves a thermometer. Women must frequently take their temperature and measure other body signs.

The downside is that it can take three months to master the technique. "You need a book to learn or have proper teaching. But it's like riding a bike--once you've learnt it you won't forget," she said. Her research was published in the journal Human Reproduction.

Thought I could slack off, darn it, but now I'm gonna have to go try to track down the original article and see what it actually says.

UPDATE: No luck finding the article yet, but a search did turn up a reference to a Frank-Hermann paper title on the sympto-thermal method. Still doesn't look like anything new, though I guess we should all be thankful the natural methods seem to be finally getting a little respect. Did anybody happen to notice the Four Horsemen going by?


Nazanin update

I have previously posted on this case here, here, and here.

According to Save Nazanin, Nazanin Al-Fatehi's blood money has been paid and she has been released. The requirement that she pay is still under appeal, but putting up the money now made her release possible. Nazanin Afshin-Jam, an Iranian-born Canadian popular singer has, with aid from some Canadian M. P.'s, set up a trust fund for this purpose. They continue to take donations, which will help to defray her legal costs and those of other minors under the death sentence in Iran.

Iran is a signatory to the U.N. International Declaration of the Rights of the Child. It is one of the tenets of this document that children are not to be subjected to capital punishment. Yet Iran does this regularly, often getting under the wire by holding the accused in prison until he or she has reached majority age. The page above from Save Nazanin includes a list of twenty-three juveniles currently facing the death penalty--the youngest for whom the age is known is only fifteen. One young woman, sentenced for her involvement in a murder at seventeen, recently attempted suicide and may be executed at any time.

If U.N. documents are to be anything but a formality, Iran, as well as other governments who cheerfully sign onto human rights declarations by which they have no intention of abiding must be pressured to cease this hypocricy and live up to the statements they have endorsed.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

my life as a homeschooler, part I

Mrs. Darwin posted a question about Charlotte Mason and her education philosophy on DarwinCatholic yesterday, so I sent her some of what info I had on the subject. As she was curious to know about my own homeschooling process, I decided it might be a good time to do some posts on this subject. I have homeschooled each of three children into middle-school age, with one going into a traditional school setting around sixth grade and two more going in eighth, and I have one left at home in the sixth grade. As I have some definite ideas about what constitutes good schooling, and am not shy about imparting them to others, I'm going to take a few posts to share them.

I'm going to start from one of MrsD's comments, as it gives me a very nice springboard for some of my own educational philosophy (and a few household hints:)
I know (in person, I mean) very few homeschoolers with a "philosophy" of homeschooling other than items such as "I won't let those awful public schools corrupt the minds of my children" or "really, we're homeschooling for religious reasons, because what's more important that getting your kids to heaven?" I mean to post on this sometime soon, but the difficulty is in meeting local homeschoolers for whom education is more than just ticking off the list of subjects from a packaged curriculum.
So here goes.

Yeah, I guess I know what you mean about homeschooling philosophies--it's been an interesting evolutionary process. Fifteen years ago when I was still thinking about homeschooling, my mentors were mostly the wild and wooly unschoolers that still predominated in the movement and with few exceptions even the canned curricula strove to avoid the too school-y model. Lately on the few occasions I hang out with local homeschoolers (I'm not trying to be antisocial, but we've really got too much else going on) it seems everybody's on workbook packages and video courses. There's something about the idea of sitting your kid in front of the tube all day--even for educational lectures--that just grates on me. Even if you're schooling primarily for religious reasons, it seems to me there are better alternatives to "school at home" with an electronic tutor, yet!

It looks like you've got quite a few suggestions for readings on educational theory in your combox. As one who managed to acquire several books on ed theory on which she would just as soon not have spent the bucks, I do recommend using the library as much as possible unless you find something you're really sure you want to keep and use. Interlibrary loans are a wonderful thing, too. I also recommend nagging your library staff about things you want to read but can't find--if you're persistent maybe they'll cave and buy it, especially if it's a classic. Also, as you've mentioned having both homeschooling parents and in-laws, I'd suggest asking them what they found helpful as well. Who knows, if they're anything like me they might even have some books in the attic!

One thing to keep in mind is that there are ed theories and then there are ed methods. If you pick up one of Maria Montessori's books, or one of Charlotte Mason's, or John Holt's, or Raymond Moore's, or Rudolf Steiner's, you're probably not going to have a cut-and-dried set of outlines for each age level; you're going to have a theory. Figuring out what to do every day is still up to you unless you contract it out. (Actually, Montessori did have a step-by-step early education plan, but it wasn't all she wrote about.) Implementation in the form of lesson plans is another thing entirely. I noted yesterday that Mason (as I recall her--it's been a while) was more of a theorist whose books consisted of good advice rather than syllabi; I think somebody else in the combox mentioned that Karen Andreola of CBD had published what I presume to be an implementation of Mason's ideas.

But, I'm supposed to be describing my homeschooling process. I'm going to stick with early childhood stuff today, since it's what concerns you right now and since I'm in danger of going on way too long if I try to cover everything.

Like Lord Rochester, I have children but no theories. I probably tend to lean in a relaxed homeschool direction without actually going to the point of unschooling (does anybody actually have kids that self-directed?) I've got definite perennialist tendencies, but I'm not a purist about it. I think the basic ed philosophies (the others are essentialism, progressivism, and existentialism--but that's another post) all have their good points and certain parts of them may apply to certain kids at certain times.

I use workbooks and at the current level (middle school) some texts, but I'd rather work with what Mason called "living books". I think games or labs are a good way to learn some things. A lot depends on who I'm working with, and on what.

At pre- and early school levels, I tended to avoid formal lessons and school-y materials. I did try to keep an area of the house where school materials were handy (and more importantly, the Hot Wheels and dolls were not.) Lessons were brief, simple, and developmentally appropriate. With the younger kids, I was usually doing somewhat more structured things with their older siblings anyway, and keeping a preschooler at a desk or table "doing stuff" would have been frazzling.

Things I've used at this level that I really liked include:
--Teaching Montesorri in the Home by Elizabeth Hainstock. While I haven't ever been a strict Montessorist, I like the developmental approach and many of the learning activities and ideas.
--Counters (you can use marbles, beans or buttons if your child can be trusted to keep them out of orifices, or you can splurge on the cute little animal ones from the school supply. Or you can use the Legos if you have them anyway; these come in handy later as well when you're doing base 10 stuff. Some color variety is a good thing to have for sorting purposes)
--A hundred chart (you can make your own)
--A blank calendar
--A Saxon K math book I got secondhand. While I thought most of it was a bit slow for your average kindergartener, it did have some really good activities for preschoolers. I came into it when my third was a toddler, and the handiest thing about it was that I had, at my fingertips and without having to do much, a set of fun, developmentally appropriate math activities we could do together in about fifteen minutes a day. Activities included forward and backward counting, some skip counting, sequencing, and comparing shapes and sizes.
--Cardboard shapes in different sizes
--Letter or number puzzles or magnets or, if you're really adventuresome, those cool homemade sandpaper Montessori letters. My sister-in-law should inherit mine if I ever figure out where I stashed them.
--The Bob books (I like these for introducing prereaders to the idea of reading. They are simple, phonics-based, and funny. They can be a little pricey in stores but sometimes public libraries have them.)
--Good books in simple language on a variety of subjects for the parent to read to the child. Most of our family have a visual streak and gravitated mainly to books with really artistic or creative illustrations. A variety of topics can be covered in addition to literature and folktales: most of the kids' book publishers (i.e. Scholastic, Usborne, Dorling-Kindersley, and Eyewitness) have science, history, and geography titles at various reading levels. I've found that public libraries are generally pretty good about keeping a supply on hand.

For K-1st I added:
--A set of three small books by Ruth Beechick that I think can still be had relatively inexpensively from some homeschool suppliers: An Easy Start in Arithmetic, A Strong Start in Language, and A Home Start in Reading. These are actually for the parent, but they provide good activity ideas and are a fast read.
--The E. D. Hirsch Core Knowledge Series books for these grades. Not a curriculum by themselves, but they're good for keeping track of things you want to teach at each level and they have some pretty good readings and math activities for "school time." These were quite a fad for a while and the chances of finding some used copies should be good. They're usually in libraries as well.
There is also a paperback edition.
--Miquon Math and a set of Cuisenaire rods. This series introduces a variety of math concepts that the student can work out using the rods. The rods are graduated in length from 1cm-10cm and can be used to represent whole numbers from 1-10 or fractions (white is half of red and one-fourth of purple, etc.) Some pretty tricky math skills can be learned in this way, although I found that as we moved into the later books the kids tended to want to dispense with the rods whenever possible and just do the problems. I've heard of some other math programs that are visual and tactile, such as Math-U-See, but I don't have any experience with them.
--A writing pad or workbook as needed. I like italic myself (it's done wonders for my penmanship!) but everyone has their preference. As pathologically bad fine motor skills run in D's genome, we had variable results, but I think it was easier to go from printing to cursive with italic than with the standard school ball-and-stick-to-D'Nealian-to-Looped Cursive.
--Easy spelling lists. At this level you could practially make your own, but various spellers and programs are out there as well. I like phonics lists, but my oldest turned out to be LD and couldn't make any sense of them so we had to come up with other ideas. Which brings me to...
--Scrabble tiles (or magnets, or any kind of letters.) Good spelling aid for kinesthetics. For distractible kinesthetics (which I think is most of them) it may be necessary to limit the letters to the word they are trying to spell plus three or four extras unless you want to be spelling all day.

One of the advantages to homeschooling (that tends to go out the window when you go straight for the packaged curriculum) is that school can be tailored to the needs of each child. While some kids can learn math out of workbooks, visual and especially kinesthetic learners develop more unerstanding when they can work out problems with manipulatives or draw pictures representing what they are about. A slow reader can still work at his level in other subjects; likewise a kid with difficulties in math can still read at an advanced level. Literature can be selected based on interest. Material that hasn't been mastered can be gone over again until it is.

I noted in your post that you've resisted the temptation to put your five-year-old down to do a lot of "sit-down" work; I think your instincts are sound. At that age in particular, much more is learned by doing than by doing worksheets. Baking, a walk through the park, and a trip to the store all have learning potential. I don't think it's a bad idea to introduce the three-year-old to the idea of reading or to provide her with simple books, but I would caution against pushing the issue if she doesn't seem to be into it. I don't think there's a link between early or late reading and later appreciation of good literature, so there's time enough to develop that taste. The reading issue does happen to be one where I think I can shed some light, however. I'll address it further in a day or two. Probably two; I'm considering doing a little muckraking tomorrow.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

some things I really would like to have seen on the nightly news, but didn't

Suzanne Fields
(Washington Times) has written a column on Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The Somali-born Ali collaborated with filmmaker Theo Van Gogh on Submission, the film which led to his brutal murder by an Islamist. Ali is the author of a new autobiography, Infidel, in which she explains her transformation from submissive Muslim girl to human rights activist at frequent odds with the ideology in which she was raised.
I let myself get behind reading Nat Hentoff's column, alas, and thus missed this one from December 5. Hentoff discusses Supreme Court arguments (which he saw thanks to C-SPAN) on Partial-Birth Abortion. Of particular interest to him are the verbal gymnastics required to defend late-term abortion. Whoops, did I hear somebody let slip a reference to the "baby"?
The Mercury News had a column which I encountered courtesy of Rebecca of Mary Meets Dolly. Rebecca, a Catholic molecular biologist, posts information and analysis on topics in genetics, stem cell research, and reproductive tech and is an invaluable resource for anyone trying to sort out what is really going on in those areas from what drivel actually makes it through the wire service reports. She quotes, on her Feb. 12, '07 post:
All of the guidelines to date focus on bench research. But Menlo Park biotech company Geron has already announced that it intends to start clinical trials using differentiated embryonic stem cells for patients with acute spinal cord injury. Yet we have almost no guidance on how oversight committees should evaluate these trials or what should go into informed consent forms. Astonishingly, neither the NAS nor ISSCR has said anything about the right of subjects who may oppose stem-cell research to know that the cells placed in their bodies for research come from embryonic stem cells.
Get out your dilapidated pulp copies of those '70s futuristic dystopia novels and somebody call up Jeremy Rifkin, folks: You, too, could become the "beneficiary" of ESCR without your knowledge or consent. Sooner than you think.
This organization seeks to aid an American convicted of a murder in Nicaragua. The evidence against him, if the site is accurate in depicting it, appears to be extremely flimsy and it is difficult to accept that justice was served. Some thoughtful analysis of the case, and perhaps a little national media attention, might just lead to that happening.
But of course, they couldn't possibly make room for any of this fluff in their lineup. There wouldn't be room for every last detail of Britney's new 'do, the paternity lineup for Anna Nicole's wretched orphaned daughter, Lust in Space, or all the Congressional bloviating re the Non-binding Resolution Boondoggle.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

then there are days I think I must be living on the fringes of a Flannery O'Connor short story

The following items are from the police blotter in the current issue of our local arts and entertainment weekly tabloid:

An officer found the man they call Christ and his Disciple along the road. Christ carried a burden: a large bag of aluminum cans he’d taken from a man’s yard. (Also, the sins of all mankind.) And the Disciple said: Judge not, for Christ had permission to take these cans. But He did not. Verily, He returned the cans.

The man by the highway with the still-warm shotgun didn’t understand what the problem was. He was only trying to shoot his own dog. It’s a free country. And so what if he’d had a couple drinks?

I swear, I did not make these up. I could not have thought them up if I'd sat up all night trying. In fact, as the paper does have a prohibition on using their material without permission in their fine print, I fully expect the deputies to come around tomorrow morning to talk to me about this post.

This is all too surreal for me. I think I'll go find an abandoned roadside mattress and have a little lie-down.


Friday, February 16, 2007

my personal green revolution

I am not a lawn person. Striving for perfect turf and weighing the relative merits of Bermuda versus zoysia are not activities that interest me. I do not believe in devoting hours to uprooting every dandelion in the yard. In fact, I kinda like dandelions. I reserve the potent chemicals for the likes of fire ants (a nasty invader, anyway) and poison ivy (which isn't an invader even if it is invasive, but will make you itch. Besides, my neighbors have never really gotten the hang of identifying it, so I just do their yard too and save us both a lot of trouble.)

It therefore took about half a dozen years of living here (not counting the drought years, when trying to grow anything new would have been a waste of time anyway) for me to come to the conclusion that it was really time to try to grow some grass. Having a yard comprised mainly of a dozen different varieties of weeds didn't bother me, but having sizeable bare patches and erosion did. So did the proliferation, after a few wet years, of an annoying woody-stemmed weed I couldn't identify that threatened to take over the entire back yard and couldn't be controlled with the lawnmower. Having occasion to call a local tree surgery outfit over some unavoidable pruning, I gritted my teeth and made an appointment with their turf guy as well.

When the turf guy arrived, he surveyed the backyard.
"This'll take us a year of treatments. You've got poleanna," he announced. I was intrigued. Being an occasional listener to a Saturday morning gardening radio show, I'd heard quite a bit about poleanna. The impression I had was that almost everybody seemed to have some, and everybody was anxious to get rid of it. Other than that, I was in the dark.

When we arrived in Geawgia, it was quite a novelty to be in charge of our very own yard. The novelty wore off a bit after the numerous oaks and hickories dropped several tons of leaves on that yard over the winter, but we were determined to make a good go of landholding, even if the plantation was a mere third of an acre. So we listened to the gardening show for helpful hints. Poleanna was a topic that seemed to come up quite often. The show wasn't a whole lot of help to us in figuring out what exactly it was, although it offered plenty of remedies for it. I think Diazinon was the standard recommendation. At least, I know it got about as many mentions as poleanna. Still ignorant, we soon came to use the name for any weed we couldn't identify:
"What's this?"
"Dunno. Must be poleanna."

It wasn't until recently that I acquired some idea what the mysterious herb might be: our county Extension Service agent published a column on it on the newspaper's garden page. Poleanna, it turns out, is actually Poa annua, or annual bluegrass. Not that I would have figured that out from the standard pronunciation down here. Everybody, to include the folks with graduate degrees in horticulture and botany, seems to call it "poleanna." (I've observed that it's risky to assume too much about folks here in the South based on their diction. That guy you're talking to who sounds like he just fell off a melon truck might be a lawyer, surgeon, or college dean. Phi Beta Kappa to boot.)

"Really? Which one is it?" I asked, scanning the weeds around my feet. Finally, I was up close and personal with real poleanna! Turf Guy pointed at a vividly green clump on the ground between us. One of those that I had previously classified as "what the heck, it's grass."

I examined it. Then I stood up and eyeballed the backyard. From the looks of things, the greater part of what constituted grass in it was poleanna. I still wasn't sure why we didn't want it in the yard, since it was green and mowable. I figured if it looked like grass, I wasn't too concerned what shade it was. But he was the expert. Maybe an annual grass, even one of a genus popular with Kentucky-bred horses, wasn't the best thing to have holding down the soil in a yard prone to erosion. And there was still the matter of those darn woody weeds. Turf Guy pointed out the other delights of the yard:
"You've got dandelion," (say it ain't so!) "chickweed, nutweed..." he rattled off several others familiar and unfamiliar.
"What's this?" I queried, pointing out the dried stems of my woody-stemmed bete noire alongside the fence.
"I'm not sure, but it's real common."

The tree guy arrived, but didn't know, either. Darn, I thought. If I can't get rid of it, I'd at least have some satisfaction in being able to call it something.

We've since been pruned, Diazinoned (or some such,) and limed, so hopefully our scraggly tufts of centipede or whatever the original ground cover was will soon spread out into an attractive green lawn. I'm gonna miss the dandelions, chickweed and sorrel (but not some of the more annoying weeds,) but I have confidence that they will be back in force next spring. Whether my woody nemeses will be controlled this year remains to be seen, as it is too early for them yet. In the meantime, I suppose I should hit the field guides at the library and try to I.D. the darn things. In the worst case, I'm advised to take a sprig to the Extension Service office, where they will surely be able to satisfy my curiosity. They'll come in handy as a resource when I start on my new book idea. I'm thinking of calling it The Field Guide to Extremely Common Weeds No One Knows.

YARD ECO: While much of the country digs out from under drifted snow, I strolled out this morning and found the car lightly dusted with pollen. Ain't the South grand!

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

a really quick book review

Book: Pope Fiction by Patrick Madrid. 1999 Basilica Press.

Subject Matter: Especially handy if it's your dumb luck to be frequently hit up with anti-Catholic arguments from your acquaintances. Perhaps a bit too smart for your average anti-Catholic, but definitely useful against the moderatedly well-schooled variety. Topics covered include assorted papal primacy issues, reportedly heretical popes from the Middle Ages, what Pius XII was really doing during the Holocaust, and sedevacantism. Thus Madrid pretty much covers all the bases and arms the reader against assault from both the anti-Catholic flank and the More-Papist-Than-the-Pope flank.

Style: Thorough, if a little more than it needs to be in spots. Pretty readable, although a few sections and some of the longer quotes left me glazed over after a while. A little trimming in places would probably have been a good thing, but it's probably better to saturate the reader than to leave out something vital.

Tone: Generally positive. Just a wee tad snide in a few spots. Madrid seems to have long experience debating people who make the arguments covered in this book, and I'm sure the temptation of a tart one-liner is sometimes too much to resist, but it does stand out in an otherwise "just the facts, ma'am" treatement of the subject.

Recommendations: Good for those who often find themselves in debates with anti-Catholics, if the discussion ever makes it to papacy issues. Also informative if (like me) you were raised woefully ignorant of Church history and doctrine.

And since a holiday item is de rigeur for this blog:
[UPDATE: Oh, it looks like D got one up already. What the heck!]
Here Kathleen Parker offers astute (and darn funny, if you enjoy a good double entendre) commentary on the Vagina Monologues. Must-read for anyone who, like myself, has wondered what this--for lack of a better analogy--apparent exercise in navel contemplation has to do with either good drama or fighting violence against women. An excerpt:
Ensler's V-Day, unlike the lowly valentine, isn't a small gesture. It is an institution on many college campuses, a global movement and a multimillion-dollar industry aimed, at least initially, at stopping violence against women and girls.

No one can argue against such a noble cause, even if it does mean pretending that talking publicly about one's privates is a sign of intellectual vigor. But let's be honest as long as we're being open: The subtext of the monologues is implicitly anti-male -- misandrist messages pimped as high art.

For anyone left on the planet who doesn't know what the monologues are, they're a series of soliloquies in which characters wax indelicately about their delicates...

One can read Ensler's book in about two cups of coffee -- or two stiff drinks, if women rhapsodizing about their inner sanctum isn't your cuppa tea.

On a more somber note, we here in Georgia lost one of our own yesterday: Congressman Charlie Norwood, to cancer. Congressman Norwood represented his district with quiet efficiency, and a minimum of showboating. He was reliably conservative, and stood up for the needs of his district. Best of all, I always got a response from his office whenever I contacted him, and periodically received updates on issues even if I hadn't petitioned him. Now, that's what I call representation.

May he rest in the Lord.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Take Heart

Even though St. Valentine's day may not be a historical Saint's day, I thought I'd list a few quotations in the spirit of the day:

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
-- Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese, XLIII

I love you like a fat kid loves cake
-- Curtis James Jackson III

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
-- William Shakespeare, "Sonnet 116"

Walk my way
And a thousand violins begin to play
Or it might be the sound of your "hello"
-- Erroll Garner/Johnny Burke, "Misty"

I am a prisoner here in the name of the King;
they can take my life, but not the love that I feel for you.
-- Voltaire to Olympe Dunover

“You know you're in love when you can't fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”
-- Theodor Seuss Geisel

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Monday, February 12, 2007


I try to read George Will regularly--this column is an example of why. Great contrast of Emersonian versus Madisonian view of democracy; really makes you think.

Presidential candidate/erstwhile North Carolina Senator John Edward's bonehead play, namely the hiring of a couple of ill-natured leftist bloggers whose CVs to that point apparently consisted largely of profane rants against anyone and everyone who didn't fall in with them politically, has been a great source of amusement for the conservative blogosphere lately. I've heard, however, that some Catholic bloggers have not been at all amused. It seems that the Edwards Erinyes' electron trail has included some singularly vicious anti-Catholic screeds.

Should anyone reading this post be concerned about this state of affairs, I highly recommend this post, and this one from Iowahawk. Either of these literary endeavors ought to completely alter any righteously outraged net junkie's perspective on Edwards and his electioneering. Or at least keep him laughing too hard to fuss. (H/T MrsDarwin)

ALERT: The language in these posts is, for the very obvious reason that it mimics the chosen blogging vernacular of the Erinyes themselves, strictly rated R, if not NC-17. I'm talking Scarface caliber. CONSIDER YOURSELVES WARNED.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

oh, for some dancing angels

DarwinCatholic recently had an excellent (and discussion-provoking) post on anti-evolution arguments (specifically those in Ann Coulter's book Godless.) The whole is worth reading, but one reference in particular got me mulling over some things I'd recently read. We Catholics are notable hair-splitters (which is fine mental exercise,) but I'm beginning to think the reason Sister used to answer so many questions with "It's a mystery!" was that she knew what was coming if she got into specifics. Staunch defense of the faith is admirable, but it's important to make sure it's actually a point of faith that is being defended. It's also important not to run roughshod over the beatitudes while defending the faith; that tends to negate any good that may be accomplished.

Monogenism--the idea that all humanity stems from one pair of ancestors--seems to lead to more fisticuffs among the bretheren and sisteren in Catholic blog comboxes than any other, excepting maybe sex and liturgical music. Oh, it can get nasty in there. I've actually gotten to a point very close to yelling at the screen, "YOU ARE BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST! YOU ARE PROBABLY IN PERFECT AGREEMENT ON 90% OR BETTER OF ALL POINTS OF DOCTRINE! YOU ARE HAVING A MINOR DISAGREEMENT ON A VERY ESOTERIC THEOLOGICAL POINT! STOP CALLING EACH OTHER NAMES! AND GO TO YOUR ROOMS! NOW!!!" You wouldn't think it would be the sort of topic that would result in the throwing of virtual crockery among Catholics as the Church never objected to the theory of evolution (on the other hand, I guess you wouldn't have expected the question of whether Christ had one will or two to result in the throwing of actual crockery in the 7th century--but it did.)

That idea, regardless of whether it's approached biblically or biologically, tends to end up all tied up in an absolutely literal reading of the first several chapters of Genesis. A literal reading of Genesis leaves some unanswered questions. While initially only one couple (and subsequently their offspring) are mentioned, somewhere about the time Cain reduces the human population by one by murdering his brother Abel we start getting some hints that he and his parents are not alone in the world:
...anyone may kill me at sight. (Gen. 4:15) NAB
I don't know about you, but I think if he had been thinking of his father Adam the words would have come out differently. Then, out of the blue, Cain acquires a wife and fathers Enoch.

It is at this point that the tizzies start. If there are no other people in the world, then Cain must be (horrors) marrying his sister! On the other hand, maybe there were other humanoids who were not ensouled, and the children of Adam and Eve interbred with them--but that would be icky, too, because they wouldn't really be humans. Add in the reference to humans interbreeding with the Nephilim in Gen. 6, and you've got a regular soap opera (or maybe a primetime medical drama.) We modern humans are understandably uncomfortable with either option. Sibling incest taboos have been pretty widespread, if not absolutely universal, throughout history (although Genesis later indicates that they were not in effect at this time: Abram and Sarai are half-siblings through their father Terah.) Likewise, humans interbreeding with something not quite human is a pretty creepy concept. But while the criterion for humanness with regard to the Creation is ensoulment, the presence or absence of a human soul doesn't necessarily have to have anything to do with species genetics. You could (in theory anyway) have souled humans and unsouled humans with identical DNA and the capacity to reproduce. For some reason the recent report of skeletal finds that suggested interbreeding might have taken place between Neandertals and Sapiens hominids came to mind, although I think that's probably an apples-and-oranges comparison.

One commenter on Darwin's post raised the objection that unsouled humans didn't fit with the concept of a merciful and loving God; I think that's a valid point. Which is why I'm less concerned with how God ensouled humanity than with the belief that He did. Likewise I'm less concerned with whether there is some sort of genetic basis for original sin than I am with the readily observable fact that we all bear its stain to some degree or another.

Jesus may well have explained all these matters to the apostles, but if He did, it didn't make it into any of the Gospels. Mebbe those were the things that the evangelists had to leave out because there just wasn't room--that which fell under "if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books..." (Jn. 21:25. NAB.) I'm inclined to think that the reason it wasn't written down is that, unlike that business about loving God and your neighbor, being like a child before God, feeding the hungry, etc., it wasn't critical to our development as Christians. I can see the Evangelist on Patmos now: "What to leave out...the prophecy of John?...the miracles?...that business about keeping His commandments? Or the skinny on where Cain got his wife?"

An odd analogy crept into my mind while I was mulling all this over, and refused to leave. I figure I'll conclude with it, even if it is silly, because it has stubbornly lingered between my ears. It might be problematic as it requires that a mythical (folkloric?) being stand in for God, whom I don't believe to be a mythical being. What the heck, so did Narnia. It sums up pretty well, though, where I've been trying to go with this:

There's an old CTW television special called Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. (It about figures I'd come around to a childrens' programming analogy eventually. Heck, I've spent the last twenty years raising kids; what did you expect?) One of the story lines of the program involves Big Bird's quest to solve the mystery of how Santa gets down chimneys. This is more dramatic than one would think as Bird is convinced (oh, that nasty Oscar!) that unless he can figure this out, no one will get any presents. He eventually dozes off on the roof while awaiting Santa's arrival. By the time his friends find him and bring him down to the warmth of his neighbors' apartment, Bird is in despair: he's missed Santa and will never solve the mystery! Neighbor Gordon brings him back down to earth simply by pointing out the filled stockings on the hearth, the gifts under the tree. "Does it look to you," he queries Bird, "like nobody's having Christmas around here?" Everything suddenly falls into place for Big Bird: Christmas comes, and Santa gets down that chimney, regardless of whether we understand all the details.

God is with us, who have both immortal souls and a sinful nature, regardless of whether we ever figure out all the details of our earthly origins.

Beloved, let us love one another,because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.

1Jn 4:7 NAB

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Friday, February 09, 2007

how we got from Beethoven to Our Lady Peace in thirty minutes

Baby and I went downtown this morning for a young people's symphony and dramatic performance of Beethoven Lives Upstairs. When it was over, we wound our way a couple of blocks and across the green to the back lot where we had left the car.

Noting it was about top of the hour, I switched from the FM side of the dial to the AM news/talk station. The news was followed by a talk show, and I left the intro on to hear the day's topics.

The show's announcer was interested in discussing potential presidential candidates. Not so the first caller. He wanted to talk about Anna Nicole Smith. He was already full steam ahead into conspiracy theory waters, and damn the torpedoes, when I hit the FM button.

The hard-hitting rhythm of Eric Clapton's Cocaine filled the car.
"Do you think," Baby casually remarked, "that the song has anything to do with...?"
"Probably," I shot back.

At the end of the song, the DJ came on. Would he play another tune? Try to sell us something? No, he wanted to talk. It seems the song had reminded him of something. Guess what?

Baby was quicker on the draw this time. Mr. DJ wasn't able to get in a full sentence before she hit the pre-set for her favorite alternative rock station. The one with no DJ's.

I made no effort to stop her.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Sense of Direction

Whenever C post some good, serious stuff, I feel like I have to balance out the blog a little. While I am not much of a television-watcher anymore -- sports and news mostly -- my older kids have gotten hooked on a TV show that has more flashbacks than your average Haight-Asbury Summer of Love attendee at a Grateful Dead tribute band concert, and which is as addictive as the substances in which those attendees imbibed. So, with apologies to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, the parody department brings you:

Watching Lost (to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound")
by Dminor

I'm sitting in my easy chair and
clicking through the channels there -- mmm
I come upon a TV show
set on an archipelago
Some castaways there killing time
Is Gilligan back on prime time?

No, it's "Lost"
I watch because
Oh, it's "Lost"
"Lost," where their faith is shaking
"Lost," where their word is breaking
"Lost," where the network's making
ratings history

Every week we watch, aghast,
the passengers relive their past -- mmm
A Smoke-monster is on a tear
Look out for crossing polar bear
The only things I've yet to see:
the "Smoking Man" and "Log Lady."

Oh, it's "Lost"
I watch because
Oh, it's "Lost"
"Lost," where their faith is shaking
"Lost," where their word is breaking
"Lost," where the network's raking
profits from ad fees.

Tonight I'll sit and watch some more
of Jack and Sawyer's private wars -- mmm
the plot moves on at breakneck pace
but Hurley still can stuff his face
John Locke and Desmond can't erase
the magnetism of the place!

Oh, it's "Lost"
Character flaws
Oh, it's "Lost"
"Lost," where their faith is shaking
"Lost," where their word is breaking
"Lost," where the viewing public
gets their fix for free


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

random musings

I'm not very knowledgeable about Ayn Rand's work except a little by reputation, so I was interested to note a question on Jimmy Akin's blog about whether her book Atlas Shrugged was worth reading. The response was informative, but something else piqued my curiosity. Several of the commenters (and I only skimmed down about a dozen--there may well have been more) actually credited Rand and her philosophy with having ultimately led them to Catholicism. From what little I know about Rand, I'd say it must have been in a veeeery roundabout way, and the old girl must be spinning in her grave.
Lifenews reports that Hope Ann Webb, a seven-year-old girl with trisomy 18, has died after outliving most victims of the disorder by half a dozen years. Her mother, Teri, was advised to abort when prenatal tests indicated the abnormality, but declined. "Had I listened to them," she says, "we wouldn't have had seven years of pure joy."

The notion that aborting a baby with a fatal genetic disorder is more "humane" than allowing it to live what little time it has with as much comfort as we can provide it is troubling, to say the least. I wonder if the intent of the advice is to save the parents pain rather than the child. If so, something tells me it's a fool's errand. The loss of a child is just that. Getting it over with a few months earlier doesn't make it less of a loss. And that's before you've factored in the difference between having to accept your child's death and having to accept your own active part in it. Before you've factored in the sheer brutality of the abortion procedure. Before you've factored in the permanent scars on your body and your psyche.

If I were going to lose a child anyway, I'd rather just have to deal with that loss.
According to another Lifenews story I can't seem to locate right now, the Arkansas state legislature will soon consider a resolution on the ERA. Yes, that ERA--the Equal Rights Amendment. I'm perplexed as to why now, and why Arkansas, but there it is. The Supreme Court declared it dead in 1982, but they've been wrong before.

In and of itself, the ERA (originally drafted by Alice Paul--who opposed abortion as "the ultimate exploitation of women") seems innocuous enough. It's tough to argue with the sexes being equal before the law. Unfortunately, it seems the ink was barely dry on the 1972 version before it was being nailed to courthouse doors in order to throw them open to unrestricted abortion. I'm a bit fuzzy on the details, but it seems to me that the refusal by the ERA's promoters to accept an abortion-neutral clause didn't help its progress during the last campaign. I might hafta look this one up.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Fishing for something

Well, I guess this blog has a ways to go before it is more popular than the Super Bowl. So, in the spirit of the evening, the fiction department has this offering:

My good friend in Miami thinks fishing is just super. Bowling doesn't excite him, and he'l just go running back home if you even mention shooting trap. Play your cards right, though, and you'll be heading down to Miami and then off to a well guarded spot in the center of the everglades. He'll even supply the tackle.

The man has money. In his investments, he gets every quarter back on his principle and his return on investment takes every last nickel. Defense of assets are often a concern for him. However, he has found that in that field, goals can be easily met. He owns pieces of a large building in Chicago and a little piece of a racetrack somewhere near Indianapolis. He has a farm that raises colts in Maryland, somwhere north of Baltimore. And in the stock market, he has hedged his bets so that the bears don't bother him. He still has his first quarter in a frame over his desk.

I tried to make conversation. "Do you think we'll catch any dolphins?"

"Stadium sports you know," my friend fired back, "but you are obviously a fishing moron."

My friend's hook was the first down in the water. It took me much longer to get my line up and out of the boat, and I had to ask him to take time out of his fishing twice to untangle my line.

"Sorry about that dolphin comment back there. I didn't mean for you to take offense." I felt my enthusiasm flag as I realized the water was not where I wanted to be. I felt artificial. Turf is my natural environment. Not catching anything in the first spot, we decided to move forward.

"Pass the pepto," I exclaimed, as the boat ride was starting to get to me. However, since the throttle had been opened up wide, receiver did not get the message.

"I don't feel so good," I gulped, realizing now how often a spot this tight ends up badly. "Could you bring the speed a touch down!" I yelled, but to no avail. The tachometer reached the red zone and I thought my friend had fumbled his controls. Unmindful of safety, blitzing through the waterways, he brought me back to the dock. He said no amount of coin tossed his way would convince him to take me fishing again.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007


I encountered an interesting juxtaposition of posts on a "feminist" (in quotes because I don't accept female chauvinism, particularly that which denies rights to unborn females and males, as feminism) blog. I'm not going to mention it by name here because I really don't feel like giving it what little free publicity I have to offer. Suffice to say that several recent posts on the March for Life and Roe v. Wade anniversary read about as might be expected given the views of the authors and commenters. Just above those was a paragraph mourning the demise of the racehorse Barbaro and deploring the cruelties of the sport of horse racing.

Now, as should be obvious given some of my past posts, I am a sucker for the critters. I offer, by way of animal-lover credentials:
1. Four medium-to-large dogs of a minimum of seven different breeds, two of whom were obtained from my community's pet rescue network and two of whom would probably have been put down by the authorities had I not taken them in.
2. The Havahart mouse traps in my pantry.
3. Several (to date unsucessful) attempts at bird and squirrel rehab.
4. Half a morning lost once tracking down a 1.5 cc bottle of clove oil to humanely dispatch a goldfish that was pretty much done for anyway.
Also, I confess to having once had a girlish enthusiasm for Secretariat and Genuine Risk.

Oh, I'm partial to horses; I was sorry, if not especially surprised, to hear of Barbaro's passing. But a few thoughts, please, for those out in the blogosphere whose sympathy for our four-legged friends at times seems disproportionate to that which they can muster for some members of their own species:

The term "cruelty" gets bandied about an awful lot with respect to all sorts of uses of domestic animals. I'm not going to quibble the finer points of when it's appropriate to euthanize an animal, or what sorts of sport or entertainment uses of animals, if any, are acceptable. I wholeheartedly accept that some aspects of Barbaro's (and any thoroughbred's) genetic makeup--that which made him such a phenomenal runner--probably contributed to his fragility. As one who grumbles often about the problems caused by dog inbreeding, I wouldn't argue that maybe it's time not to be so darn persnickety about the stud book and get some sturdier blood in those bloodlines, records be hanged. Not that anybody in the business has asked my opinion.

Still, the horse, from Eohippus onwards, was bred by nature to run fast and long. Is it cruel to run an animal that by its nature wants to run anyway? And while human treatment of animals at times leaves plenty to be desired, I doubt this is much of a problem in top-level horse racing. I've seen some kids who don't get the care racehorses do. Also, let's not be dewy-eyed naifs about the captivity issue. Life as a wild, prairie-roaming stallion may look majestic and exhilarating in the movies, but in the real world it's more often nasty, brutish, and short--and would be more so without human management. I'd take the bluegrass pasture and the racing schedule any day over death by coyote pack after some tougher stallion had kicked the stuffing out of me.

To me, though, the crux of the matter remains the apparent disconnect between sympathy and empathy among many pro-choicers. On the one hand, an exhibition of grief over the death of a horse; on the other, nothing but contempt and lack of concern--despite acknowledgement of its humanity-- for a fellow human torn violently and callously from life. On the one hand, a profound concern over human "cruelty" despite the fact that most racehorses live very comfortable lives, thank you; on the other, no interest whatsoever in the unspeakable suffering of a vulnerable being. All this in the name of female liberation and "choice," whatever that may mean to the individual.

Bill Smith, a pro-lifer from the left end of the political spectrum who generated some attention in 1980 with a cross-country walk to the March for Life, is cited by Toronto writer Denyse Handler in a The Human article reprinted in Pro-Life Feminism: Different Voices (ed. 1985 by Gail Grenier Sweet. Life Cycle Books.) I find his remarks relative to the human/animal issue extremely germane:
I remember what one of the Save-the-Whale People said when they cut open a dead whale and found a rather large baby whale inside: 'Those SOB's killed two whales, not one.' Why can't they look at human beings the same way?


Friday, February 02, 2007

kicking and screaming

...but finally on the new Blogger. As this has left me feeling in need of prayer, I submit for the benefit of all the following list of "Insta-Prayers For Each Meyers-Briggs Personality Type," courtesy of The Ironic Catholic and various others:

ISTJ: Lord, help me to relax about insignificant details beginning tomorrow at 11:41:23 a.m. E.S.T.
ISTP: God, help me to consider people’s feelings, even if most of them ARE hypersensitive.
ESTP: God, help me to take responsibility for my own actions, even though they’re usually NOT my fault.
ESTJ: God, help me to not try to RUN everything. But, if You need some help, just ask.
ISFJ: Lord, help me to be more laid back and help me to do it EXACTLY right.
ISFP: Lord, help me to stand up for my rights (if you don’t mind my asking).
ESFP: God, help me to take things more seriously, especially parties and dancing.
ESFJ: God, give me patience, and I mean right NOW.
INFJ: Lord, help me not to be a perfectionist (did I spell that correctly?).
INFP: God, help me to finish everything I sta
ENFP: God, help me to keep my mind on one th - Look a bird! - at a time.
ENFJ: God, help me to do only what I can and trust you for the rest. Do you mind putting that in writing?
INTJ: Lord, keep me open to other’s ideas, WRONG though they may be.
INTP: Lord, help me to be less independent, but let me do it my way.
ENTP: Lord, help me follow established procedures today. On second thought, I’ll settle for a few minutes.
ENTJ: Lord, help me slow downandnotrushthroughwhatIdo

Not sure which to choose, though. Thought I was INTP, but I redid the quiz this morning and came out ISTJ. Maybe I should say them both for good measure.

Yard eco: Beaucoup juncos, mourning doves, robins, mostly on the ground. Carolina wrens, chickadees, & chipping sparrows at feeders; some house finches, titmice, & of course, the occasional cardinal. Mockingbirds & brown thrashers hanging around as well. Baby thought she heard a catbird a few days ago; it had one of the squirrels' undivided attention. Yellow-rumped warblers, front and back yards in the last couple of days; great view of a downy woodpecker yesterday in the front yard! Wonderful stuff, that suet!!


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