Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

When To Call the Cops on a Kid

You saw the ten-year-old girl walking down the street -- a bright sunny day in the neighborhood, the perfect day for riding a bike or playing in the park. Her yellow sundress looked like summer, and perhaps that's the only reason it stuck in your mind, until you saw the picture that night on the evening news: Body of local girl found in park after brutal slaying. You might have been the last person who saw that girl alive and happy, the last person until her killer who is still on the loose.

That seems to be the sort of scenario that people all too often imagine, as they worry that they need to call the cops when seeing unattended children in public. A Washington Post piece which is making the rounds asks, "Would you call 911 on another parent?"
Would you call 911 if you saw a child sitting in a car parked outside a store, alone, engrossed in a video game?

Or a 9-year-old playing alone at a playground?

Or a 10- and 6-year-old walking purposefully, hand-in-hand, toward home?
It's easy to paint a terrifying scene -- like something from the first few minutes, pre-commercial break, of a cop show -- in which the only thing which saves an innocent child's life is calling the cops when parents have been so foolish as to allow that child to wander without an armed guard escort, or at least a hovering parent. But the fact is, most of the time calling the cops because a ten year old is walking down the street alone will only result in scaring both child and parents, and making them feel under assault by a malevolent society.

Certainly, there are genuinely dangerous areas, and times when you see a genuinely dangerous situation. Anyone who sees an infant or toddler left strapped into a car seat in a closed car on a hot, sunny day would do well to do something about it immediately. However I think it's also important, more so in our disconnected society where we live surrounded by strangers, that people no be over-quick to call the cops over things that honestly aren't dangerous except in TV shows.

If you see a property or violent crime being committed, by all means call the cops. Or if a kid is doing something which seems likely to directly result in death or injury. If a child seems genuinely lost, upset or hurt, and you're not able to find an adult connected with them (especially if you've taken the time to ask the kid if she needs help and she says yes) then by all means summon help.

But keep in mind that calling the cops on a family can have traumatic (and at times even fatal) consequences. "I wouldn't let my kid walk home alone," is probably not a serious enough reason, unless you happen to live rather literally in a war zone.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Catechism on the Uptown Funk

Q: Where is all this going down?
A: Uptown.

Q: What is the first effect of Uptown?
A: Uptown gon' give it to ya.

Q: What, then, is the second effect of Uptown?
A: Uptown, funk you up.

Q: When is all this going down?
A: Saturday night.

Q: If you should be so foolish as to not believe me, what should you do?
A: Just watch.

Q: How is it that my kids, yea, even the four-year-old, know almost all the words to Uptown Funk and I'm only just hearing it?
A: Uptown, funk you up. Uptown, FUNK YOU UP!

Q: When did Bruno Mars become a thing? Because the last time I listened to the top 40 station, several kids ago, he was singing sappy romantic ballads.
A: Nice moves, though.

Star Trek: Nothing Ages Like The Future

When my kids heard that Leonard Nimoy had died, they said, "The guy from Mission Impossible?" They've been working through the classic '60s Mission Impossible series on NetFlix. It started at the same time as Star Trek, and as soon as Star Trek was cancelled, Nimoy went on to take the role of Paris in seasons Four and Five of Mission Impossible. They have yet to see any Star Trek.

As a kid, I watched old episodes of the classic Star Trek over and over again. We had about a third of them on VHS, and I watched those over and over again. When Star Trek: The Next Generation started, I watched most of that too. Some of my earlier memories of story critique: tearing down the writing of something, discussing how it didn't work, and how it could have been re-written as a good story spring from listening to my parents discuss how the (pretty universally bad) first two seasons of STNG could have been better, and by the time the bright point of seasons 3-5 was fading towards the dotage of seasons 6-7, I was old enough to join in these conversations myself. During the launch of Deep Space 9 I was probably at my deepest point into Trek fandom, but then when Babylon 5 launched my allegiance wavered and I eventually quit watching all the Trek shows in favor of B5. (By the time newer SciFi shows like Firefly and the Battlestar Galactica reboot came along, I had pretty much run out of time and stopped watching TV.)

So I certainly have many fond memories of Star Trek, but as of yet they haven't caused me to plunge the kids into those series. Some of that is perhaps that I've drifted away from science fiction in general over the last fifteen years, but another element is that I've pretty consistently found that the science fiction I was attached to in my youth has not aged nearly as well as the fantasy and other genres. As a young reader, I was deeply attached to the "juvie" SF novels by Heinlein and Del Rey. I tried to get our oldest to read them as she got into reading science fiction and fantasy and she shrugged them off, so I re-read them myself. I was, of course, not around reading novels in the SF "golden age" of the '50s and '60s, but there was a basic if slightly retro currency to Heinlein when I was 10-15. Rereading them a few years ago, I realized that age had set in during the intervening couple decades. Fantasy books written in the '20s through the '50s at times have a period feel, like a historical novel, if they're set in their own present day, but they are not that hard to follow. However, Heinlein's project future of the '80s and '90s as written in the '50s is far more alien and far harder to explain. Even re-reading the much more recent Ender's Game (a 1980s SF book which deeply affected me when I read it at the age of about 13) now reads as deeply dated: the warmed over Cold War tensions, the early internet projected into the indefinite future, the futuristic novelty of video games.

And this, I think, is also part of the problem addressing Star Trek from the distance of almost fifty years. (Next year will makr 50 years since classic Star Trek first started airing.) It's not just that the special effects now look incredibly old fashioned. It's that the vision of the future and the problems we project into our future have changed. Episodes that seemed to be important commentary at the time, like the plant with the never-ending war which has been turned into a simulated war in which virtual attacks are carried out, casualties are assigned, and those "killed" then report to vaporization chambers to meet their fate (all this so that the infrastructure of civilization will not be destroyed by conventional war), or like the endless fight between the half-black, half-white faced aliens, are now inexplicable and vaguely silly. In order to understand why they seemed important at the time, it's necessary to explain so much about '60s history and culture that you'd be better off watching a historical movie about the '60s and understanding it first hand.

In this sense, it's perhaps significant that one of the episodes that's held up best is a historical: City of the Edge of Forever, a story in which Kirk and Spock go back in time to depression era Earth. Because the setting is one that's now explicable, the story has held up much better.

Of course, there's also just the fact that City on the Edge of Forever was a well written episode, and many of the classic Star Trek episodes weren't. Out of the three seasons, maybe a third of the episodes were actually pretty good, mostly from the first two seasons. Part of what was so pioneering about Star Trek was that there hadn't been a for-adults semi-realistic science fiction show on television before. This was a new kind of storytelling and people were willing to forgive a lot because of that. Science Fiction is no longer the outcast genre that it once was, and as a result people don't have the tendency to put up with as many mis-steps.

There's something compelling about writing about an imagined future, and yet it seems like a genre of peculiar impermanence. I'm trying to think of a work of science fiction from more than fifty years ago that doesn't seem incredibly dated at this point, but although perhaps I'm missing something, nothing is really coming to mind.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Children Will Listen

My six year-old-son was watching out for me. I went to get a beer from the fridge and he said, "Dad! That's alcohol. It's bad for you."

I wasn't sure where this was coming from. Aside from religion classes at the parish, he doesn't attend any kind outside classes where he'd be getting propaganda encouraging him to watch out for his parent's substance abuse. (I've never been a smoker, but I always sympathized with Mr. Quimby when Ramona and Beezus decide to wage their PR campaign against his smoking, particularly when he's out of work.) Nor is my nightly drink or two the sort of thing which would cause a child to worry. I have a beer when I get home from work and sometimes a glass of Scotch or Bourbon after the kids go to bed.

"What's the problem?" I asked him.

"It's bad for you!" he insisted. "You shouldn't use alcohol."

This went on for several weeks. Every time I got a drink, he warned me against it. Finally I sat him down. "What are you worried about, son? Why are you so upset about my drinking alcohol."

"Because it's bad for you," he said, crossing his arms and glowering with the seriousness of a six-year-old who has been questioned in his convictions. "Remember when the lady at the mall said that you should never use alcohol because it was bad for your skin?"

Then it came back to me. I'd had him with me a month before when I stopped by a shaving store at the mall and tried out their shaving soaps and aftershave. The lady there had indeed said that I should never use an alcohol-based aftershave, because it was bad for my skin. And because they sold very expensive little tubes of after-shave lotion which were not alcohol-based.

I explained to him what she had been talking about: alcohol-based aftershave, not drinking alcohol, and he was reassured. There have been no complains when I pour a beer or a gin & tonic since then. But it goes to show the extent to which young ears are open and trying to watch out for us. At the time, I'd thought he was fully occupied poking around at the demonstration products, but he was in fact paying plenty of attention.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fear and Loathing at the BMV

It was a Saturday morning, and MrsDarwin and I had both set out to get our driver's licenses renewed. It's an easy enough process, so long as one has the time to wait through the snaking line down at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and write the state of Ohio a check. We spent our fifteen minutes in line and then separated, each going do a different desk clerk to fill out our forms, pay our fees and get our pictures taken. I handed over my paperwork to the lady behind the counter with a cheerful, "Good morning," and waited.

For a moment she typed away at her terminal, then suddenly her face became grave. She turned and called over her supervisor. "Have you seen this before?" The supervisor looked at the screen and assumed a similar expression of gravity. "You can't renew that," she said.

No matter how law abiding one is, this kind of thing inspires a moment of guilty panic. What had I done? I wondered. Had I been cited for something via some sort of camera or other remote system, not received the letter, and had my license suspended? Had some terrorist stolen my identity? Was I about to be plunged into some Kafkaesque hell of mistaken identity and absurdly applied but inflexible rules?


"What seems to be the problem?" I asked.

"I can't renew your license," the woman said. "I don't know what sex you are. It should say M or F, but it just says U."

I wasn't wearing a dress at the moment. Indeed, since it was a weekend, I hadn't bothered to shave that morning. I don't claim to be the most ruggedly masculine person in the history of the world, but I'd certainly never encountered any question of this before.

"I'm male," I said.

"Yes, but I can't put that in the system without proof," she replied.

I considered offering to step into a back room and drop my pants. It seemed a little personal, but then, we've reached the point when we need take off our shoes and raise our hands while exposing ourselves to an electronic peeping tom before boarding an airplane. Perhaps it's also necessary to do a quick strip before getting a drivers license these days in order to make sure that everything is in order. Why not. I'm secure in my masculinity, and as a father of small children I'm used to not having any privacy these days.

Nonetheless, a remark which might be construed as sexual harassment didn't seem the best way to get the BMV ladies to help me.

"What kind of documentation do you need?" I asked, trying to maintain a serious demeanor.

"A birth certificate or current US passport," she said. "You are a citizen, right?"

Apparently in this day and age one can be a citizen even if one has no sex. "Yes," I assured her. I wasn't sure if it was worse that an indeterminate creature like me had besmirched the shores of these United States with my uncertain birth, or if it would be a worse offense to have dragged my doubtful sex across one of our borders, but it seemed best to stick to the facts of the matter.

"How did you get a driver's license?" the supervisor asked. "I don't understand how they even issued you a driver's license without a sex."

"I just came into this office four years ago when I moved from Texas," I said, name dropping the Lone Star State in hopes that it would help my case for masculinity. "I provided my Texas license and they issued this one."

"Well, I don't know," she said. "Maybe there was something wrong with the computers. Bring in your birth certificate or passport and we can issue you a license with your sex on it."

I left the counter, making room for a fellow Ohioan who was blessed with a more determinate sexuality. MrsDarwin was getting her picture taken. "All set?" she asked.

"No," I replied. "They said they can't renew my license."

Was this a crisis point? If I wasn't even male, could we actually be married? Sure, if this was some advanced state such as Massachusetts, this might be easy, but here in the midwest could a... whatever I was, actually be married?

"Why not?" asked MrsDarwin, unaware of the dangers that lurked in her innocent question.

"Because they don't know my sex," I said.

"Oh." She considered. "Did you tell them?"

"Yes, but they need documentation. I need to bring in my birth certificate or passport."

MrsDarwin began to laugh.

It was not the first time we had suffered an existential crisis at the BMV. Four years before, when we first came in to get our licenses, MrsDarwin had nearly ceased to exist. It was my fault, of course. The move had been a logistically difficult one, when it came to complying with Ohio law. We moved up from Texas when I started my new job in Columbus. I stayed in an apartment provided via the company's relocation package, while MrsDarwin stayed at her father's house in Cincinnati. When we found a house to move into, I set up all the bills because I was the one local. This seemed helpful and sensible until the day we went to get our Ohio licenses (having already been cited for taking too long to transfer our car registrations and licenses because we were waiting till we had a permanent address.)

"I just need proof that you live at this address," the desk clerk said.

MrsDarwin hesitated. "We just moved in. What do you need?"

"Some official mail with your name and the address on it, like a utility bill."

"All the bills are in my husband's name. I have a copy of our marriage certificate. Can we use that and the bill with his name?"

"No, we need proof that you live at the address."

"But we're married."

"Yes, but we need proof that you live there. Do you have a paystub with your address on it?"

"I stay home with the children full time."

"Oh, I see. Well, we need something."

We'd come laden down with out family documents folder, complete with birth certificates, marriage certificate, car titles, the lot. All of these pieces of official paper, but nothing to prove that MrsDarwin actually lived at the house that we'd just bought. I, the man, had taken all the utility bills, and without realizing it I had made my wife homeless in the process. In the eyes of the state she had no place to lay her head. Perhaps she did not even really exist, a flitting, insubstantial being, deprived of utility bills and paystubs by the patriarchal arrangement of our family.

In the end, the state giveth and that state taketh away. We went out to the car, where we had all the mail which had come thus far. In the midst of moving our family, I had been keeping bills and all other important papers in my backpack that I took to work. The house was still too chaotic to have a bill paying nook. We realized that although nothing addressed to MrsDarwin had arrived yet, her change of address had gone through and due to this a piece of mail from the Social Security Administration had arrived for her with its bright yellow UPDATE ADDRESS WITH SENDER sticker. We took this envelope, this slim tether which connected MrsDarwin to our home, in to the desk clerk, and after sighing and thinking about it for a bit she owned that although this wasn't really the sort of thing they were supposed to do, she was able to accept it. "You really should change at least one of the bills into your name, though," she advised, as she granted MrsDarwin existence in the form of a plastic identity card.

My own problem took slightly longer to resolve. I went home and dug out the aged piece of paper which showed, on a certified piece of paper, that years ago when I was born in Whittier, California I had a sex. I was not Unknown but Male. I took this in to the BMV, waited through the line again, and presented this proof of my sex. She had to call downtown to grant me my legal Y Chromosome. "Hello? Yes, I have a record here where I need to update the sex."

A few moments and I was male again in the eyes of the state. The supervisor came over. "I did some research into this," she said. "Did you get into an accident or get pulled over before you got your Ohio license?"

"I got a parking ticket because they thought I hadn't transferred my registration to Ohio soon enough," I said.

"That must be it," she said. "Apparently there's a glitch in the system where if you get cited in the state before you have a license, you're put in as sex unknown, and in your case that didn't get corrected when they gave you your license."

So there you have it. I had been emasculated by the police, and only when I proved my manhood to the ladies at the BMV could it be restored to me.

Anti-War and Anti-Woman

My latest read is a French novel (recently out in a new English translation in one of those nice trade paperback editions but out by NYRB), Fear: A Novel of World War I by Gabriel Chevallier. Fear was one of the rash of war novels that came out around 1930. Twelve years after the end of the first war, and nine before the beginning of the second, a number of blistering anti-war novels and memoirs came out, in part a reaction to an understanding of the war which had, in the eyes of the veterans writing these novels, been too heroic and too nationalistic. These novels emphasized the futility and brutality of the war, and the estrangement which it caused between those who fought and those back home. Probably the most famous of these was Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, but within France, Chevallier's Fear, which came out the same year, caused its own significant stir.

There's a lot interesting going on in the novel, but the part that I read tonight which struck me takes places when the main character has been wounded and is spending time in a hospital. There he's well taken care of a a group of young nurses who take an interest in him, even though he's a private, because he is a student and self consciously intellectual.

There's a trope, certainly in English and American war novels that I've read, of women as being those who see through the hypocrisy of war and object to the waste of life. I hadn't thought about how used I am to this trope until I found Chevallier taking the opposite approach: in this scene he describes women as being the ones upholding the bourgeois and sentimental mentality which he thinks enables war.
Such are our most frequent topics of conversation. They lead us, inevitably, to define our notion of happiness, our ambitions, the goals of humanity, the summits of thought, even god and religion. We re-examine the old laws of humanity, laws created for interchangeable minds, for the whole flock of bleating minds. We discuss every article of her morality, the morality which has guided the endless procession of little souls down through the ages, indistinct little souls which twinkled like glow-worms in the darkness of the world, and were extinguished after one night of life. Today we offer our own feeble light, which isn't even enough for us.

Through my questions, I lead the nurses into traps of logic, and ensnare them in syllogisms that completely undermine their principles. They struggle like flies in a spider's web, but refuse to surrender to the mathematical rigour of reason. They are led by the sentiments that a long passage of generations, ruled by dogma, has incorporated into the very substance of their being -- sentiments that they have got from a line of women, housewives and mothers, who were alive in their early years and then crushed by domestic drudgery, worn out by the daily round, who crossed themselves with holy water to exorcise any thoughts they might have.

They are surprised to learn that duty, as they understand it, can be opposed to other duties, that there are seditious ideas vaster and more elevated than theirs, and which could be more beneficial to humanity.

Nonetheless, Mademoiselle Bergniol declared:

'No son of mine will be brought up to think like you.'

'I know that, mademoiselle. You could bear flaming torches as well as babies, but you'll only give your son the guttering candle that you were given; its wax is dripping and burning your fingers. It is candles like that which have set the world ablaze instead of illuminating it. Blind men's candles, and you can be sure taht tomorrow they'll relight the braziers that will consume the sons of your loins. And their pain will be nothing but ash, and at the moment their sacrifice is consummated, they will know this and will curse you. With your principles, if the occasion presents itself, then you in turn will be inhuman mothers.'
...
When Mademoiselle Bergniol has gone, Negre, who was following our conversation, shared his opinion:

'The delicate little dears! What they need is a hero in their beds, a real live hero with a bloody face, to make them squeal with pleasure!'

'They don't know...'

'They don't know anything, I agree. When all's said and done, women -- and I've known plenty of them -- are females, stupid and cruel. Behind all their airs and graces, they are just wombs. What will they have done during the war? They'll have egged on men to go and get their heads blown off. And the men who will have disembowelled lots of the enemy will receive their reward: the love of a charming, right-thinking young woman. What sweet little bitches!'

It's a toxic mixture, I suppose, of a couple different trends I've seen, reading a bit of French stuff from the late 19th and early 20th century. It's fairly common to see women presented as less capable of the intellectualism which is seen as quintessentially French. (There's a political analog to this in that France had a very early universal voting franchise for men, but was fairly late to give the vote to women.) There's also a tendency to portray women as the keepers of family and domestic culture, and since Chevallier is writing about his sense of alienation from mainstream culture, indeed from everyone who hasn't both experienced war in the trenches and reacted to it in the same way that he has, women are an obvious target since none of them have experienced the war as soldiers.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Linkage

Here's some random linkage for you. Now I can finally close all these tabs in my browser.

The Sound of Proto-Indo-European. We enjoyed listening to the fable and identifying roots, such as "rex" as part of the word for "king".

The dramatic story of the famous Doves typeface, which was found in the Thames almost 100 years after its creator threw every piece of letterpress, almost a ton of it, off Hammersmith Bridge.

Also, you can buy a facsimile font of The Doves, painstakingly created first from careful observation of books printed in it, and then refined after the designer financed the diving expedition that recovered the original type. Darwin and I are salivating over this, though what would we do with this font? Maybe DarwinCatholic needs a facelift...

If you live somewhere where the windchill was hitting the negative teens last week, such as, say, central Ohio, you might appreciate Robert Service's poem The Cremation of Sam McGee.

As an example of how long a good commercial can stick with you, here's a Snickers commercial from the 90s that I remember like I saw it yesterday (which I did, but I mean yesterday for the first time):



Another favorite of mine, from about the same time, I think:




Saturday, February 21, 2015

Crusades, Jihads and the Politics of Indignation

The crusades suddenly became news a couple weeks ago President Obama addressed the National Prayer Breakfast and, in addressing the recent depredations of ISIS felt that he had to be evenhanded by saying:
So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities -- the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious [sic] for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.
Probably to his surprise, this created a lot of backlash.

One reason is probably social media. There's nothing new about journalists getting to frame what remarks "really mean", but social media does encourage brevity and people don't necessarily click through and see things in context. Even if they do, the framing still influences how things are read. So if we've already read the headline "Obama compares ISIS to Crusades" it's natural to then read the fuller quote (which could be read either to compare the crusades and the inquisition as a whole to the actions of ISIS or as more modestly saying that during the course of the crusades some people at times did some bad things. This modest latter would be pretty undeniable, but people mostly took Obama to be saying the former. This is hardly crazy, Obama has in the past certainly participated in the black legend of religion somehow being a motivation to commit violence which is far more deadly than any other. For instance, in his Nobel Prize speech, Obama said:
And most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint -- no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or the Red Cross worker, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but I believe it's incompatible with the very purpose of faith -- for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Of course, this is nonsense. The concept of "holy war" here, as something different from any other kind of war, is rather odd. People fight wars for a variety of reasons: to keep their territory from being invaded, because people like them (religiously, culturally, linguistically, racially) are perceived as being under threat, to protect or to conquer resources, etc. It's not clear why people fighting because of a religious identification rather than because of a racial or national identification would be more ruthless. Certainly, it's hard to identify people who've fought much more ruthlessly than 20th century communists fighting for an economic and political ideology or Nazis fighting for a racial and cultural ideology.

Nor is it clear that "every major religion" has at its heart the Golden Rule, unless one works backwards and insists that only those faiths that endorse the Golden Rule are "major religions".

But while I think that Obama's rhetorical trope of insisting that no one be indignant about ISIS burning a POW (who incidentally was a Muslim himself) alive in a cage unless they first took time out to beat their breasts about the crusades and inquisition is shallow and annoying, I'll grant that his comments can be interpreted in a way that, from someone conservative Christians didn't already have good reason to think dislikes them, would be both correct and uncontroversial. Unquestionably, people have, during the course of history, done wicked and despicable things while claiming they are doing it in the name of Christ. And it's notable that one of those criticizing Obama's remarks disputed this. The defenses of the crusades were all against the old anti-Catholic black legend view (given new life in the modern era by people like the New Atheists) that the sole purpose of the crusades was to slaughter non-Christians simply for being non-Christian, and to do so in the most brutal way possible.

Even more fascinating when it comes to the politics of cultural indignation has been the response to a very good piece at The Atlantic entitled What ISIS Really Wants. Author Graeme Wood interviews both experts on ISIS and also Muslims who are sympathetic to it (in order to keep his head in place, he focuses on Muslims living in Australia and the UK who share ISIS's theology and help boost them online.) What he presents is a fascinating picture of the variety of Islamic theology behind ISIS and how that puts it at odds with the rest of the Muslim world.

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.
...
At issue was Zarqawi’s penchant for bloody spectacle—and, as a matter of doctrine, his hatred of other Muslims, to the point of excommunicating and killing them. In Islam, the practice of takfir, or excommunication, is theologically perilous. “If a man says to his brother, ‘You are an infidel,’ ” the Prophet said, “then one of them is right.” If the accuser is wrong, he himself has committed apostasy by making a false accusation. The punishment for apostasy is death. And yet Zarqawi heedlessly expanded the range of behavior that could make Muslims infidels.

Maqdisi wrote to his former pupil that he needed to exercise caution and “not issue sweeping proclamations of takfir” or “proclaim people to be apostates because of their sins.” The distinction between apostate and sinner may appear subtle, but it is a key point of contention between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Denying the holiness of the Koran or the prophecies of Muhammad is straightforward apostasy. But Zarqawi and the state he spawned take the position that many other acts can remove a Muslim from Islam. These include, in certain cases, selling alcohol or drugs, wearing Western clothes or shaving one’s beard, voting in an election—even for a Muslim candidate—and being lax about calling other people apostates. Being a Shiite, as most Iraqi Arabs are, meets the standard as well, because the Islamic State regards Shiism as innovation, and to innovate on the Koran is to deny its initial perfection. (The Islamic State claims that common Shiite practices, such as worship at the graves of imams and public self-flagellation, have no basis in the Koran or in the example of the Prophet.) That means roughly 200 million Shia are marked for death. So too are the heads of state of every Muslim country, who have elevated man-made law above Sharia by running for office or enforcing laws not made by God.

Following takfiri doctrine, the Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. The lack of objective reporting from its territory makes the true extent of the slaughter unknowable, but social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks. Muslim “apostates” are the most common victims. Exempted from automatic execution, it appears, are Christians who do not resist their new government. Baghdadi permits them to live, as long as they pay a special tax, known as the jizya, and acknowledge their subjugation. The Koranic authority for this practice is not in dispute.
...
Choudary met me in a candy shop in the East London suburb of Ilford. He was dressed smartly, in a crisp blue tunic reaching nearly to his ankles, and sipped a Red Bull while we talked.

Before the caliphate, “maybe 85 percent of the Sharia was absent from our lives,” Choudary told me. “These laws are in abeyance until we have khilafa”—a caliphate—“and now we have one.” Without a caliphate, for example, individual vigilantes are not obliged to amputate the hands of thieves they catch in the act. But create a caliphate, and this law, along with a huge body of other jurisprudence, suddenly awakens. In theory, all Muslims are obliged to immigrate to the territory where the caliph is applying these laws. One of Choudary’s prize students, a convert from Hinduism named Abu Rumaysah, evaded police to bring his family of five from London to Syria in November. On the day I met Choudary, Abu Rumaysah tweeted out a picture of himself with a Kalashnikov in one arm and his newborn son in the other. Hashtag: #GenerationKhilafah.

The caliph is required to implement Sharia. Any deviation will compel those who have pledged allegiance to inform the caliph in private of his error and, in extreme cases, to excommunicate and replace him if he persists. (“I have been plagued with this great matter, plagued with this responsibility, and it is a heavy responsibility,” Baghdadi said in his sermon.) In return, the caliph commands obedience—and those who persist in supporting non-Muslim governments, after being duly warned and educated about their sin, are considered apostates.

Choudary said Sharia has been misunderstood because of its incomplete application by regimes such as Saudi Arabia, which does behead murderers and cut off thieves’ hands. “The problem,” he explained, “is that when places like Saudi Arabia just implement the penal code, and don’t provide the social and economic justice of the Sharia—the whole package—they simply engender hatred toward the Sharia.” That whole package, he said, would include free housing, food, and clothing for all, though of course anyone who wished to enrich himself with work could do so.

This is a deeply fascinating piece, and I'd strongly recommend giving it a read despite the length.

I've been surprised to discover that a number of liberals are really indignant about it. ThinkProgress has had a number of pieces objecting to it. This one is particularly fascinating because it consists of an interview with one of Wood's sources, Prof. Haykel of Princeton. Haykel doesn't actually contradict anything that Wood wrote in his piece, though he does expand on it in some interesting ways. However, ThinkProgress seems to think that they've somehow struck back at Wood with the interview.

At the center of the objections seems to be a belief that because Wood roots the ideology of ISIS in their theology and their theology in Islamic texts and traditions, that the piece somehow accuses all Muslims as being ISIS sympathizers and supports prejudice against Muslims. This is odd, given that the piece describes how ISIS is killing vast numbers of Muslims because it considers most of the world's Muslims (including the heads of all other Islamic countries) to be apostates. But apparently in the politically correct world of modern progressivism it's unacceptable to try to understand ISIS if that can in some way be interpreted as supporting the shibboleth of "Islamophobia".

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Novena for Order, Day 9

Grant
that with Your hardships
I may be burdened in reparation here,
that Your benefits
I may use in gratitude upon the way,
that in Your joys
I may delight by glorifying You
in the Kingdom of Heaven.


For Lent I'm going to be reading the the long text of Revelations of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich. There are 86 sections, and I'm on section 6 right now, so that gives me about two short passages a day to read and reflect on.

In section 6, Julian realizes that all good ways of praying, all intermediaries that we cling to to aid our human minds in comprehending and loving God, pale before the very goodness of God himself.

Therefore it pleases him that we should seek and worship him in these intermediate ways while understanding and knowing that he is the goodness of all; for the goodness of God is the highest object of prayer and it reached down to our lowest need. It quickens our soul and gives it life, and makes it grow in grace and virtue. It is nearest in nature and readiest in grace; for it is the same grace which the soul seeks and always will seek until we truly know him who has enclosed us in himself; for he does not despise what he has made, nor does he disdain to serve us in the simplest task that belongs by nature to our bodies, through love of the soul which he has made in his own likeness... For of everything the heart could devise, this is what most pleases God and most readily benefits us; for our soul is so specially loved by him that is highest that it surpasses the knowledge of all beings -- that is to say that there is not being made that can know how much and how sweetly and how tenderly our Maker loves us.

Lent is a time of stripping away of all the mortal things we depend upon, both physically and spiritually, so that we may be made ready for the experience of true existence, of seeing God face to face and living.


For Ordering a Life Wisely
St. Thomas Aquinas

O merciful God, grant that I may
desire ardently,
search prudently,
recognize truly,
and bring to perfect completion
whatever is pleasing to You
for the praise and glory of Your name.

Put my life in good order, O my God

Grant that I may know
what You require me to do.

Bestow upon me
the power to accomplish your will,
as is necessary and fitting
for the salvation of my soul.

Grant to me, O Lord my God,
that I may not falter in times
of prosperity or adversity,
so that I may not be exalted in the former,
nor dejected in the latter.

May I not rejoice in anything
unless it leads me to You;
may I not be saddened by anything
unless it turns me from You.

May I desire to please no one,
nor fear to displease anyone,
but You.

May all transitory things, O Lord,
be worthless to me
and may all things eternal
be ever cherished by me.

May any joy without You
be burdensome for me
and may I not desire anything else
besides You.

May all work, O Lord
delight me when done for Your sake.
and may all repose not centered in You
be ever wearisome for me.

Grant unto me, my God,
that I may direct my heart to You
and that in my failures
I may ever feel remorse for my sins
and never lose the resolve to change.

O Lord my God, make me
submissive without protest,
poor without discouragement,
chaste without regret,

patient without complaint,
humble without posturing,
cheerful without frivolity,
mature without gloom,
and quick-witted without flippancy.

O Lord my God, let me
fear You without losing hope,
be truthful without guile,
do good works without presumption,
rebuke my neighbor without haughtiness,
and -- without hypocrisy --
strengthen him by word and example.

Give to me, O Lord God,
a watchful heart,
which no capricious thought
can lure away from You.

Give to me,
a noble heart,
which no unworthy desire can debase.

Give to me
a resolute heart,
which no evil intention can divert.

Give to me
a stalwart heart,
which no tribulation can overcome.

Give to me
a temperate heart,
which no violent passion can enslave.

Give to me, O Lord my God,
understanding of You,
diligence in seeking You,
wisdom in finding You,
discourse ever pleasing to You,
perseverance in waiting for You,
and confidence in finally embracing You.

Grant
that with Your hardships
I may be burdened in reparation here,
that Your benefits
I may use in gratitude upon the way,
that in Your joys
I may delight by glorifying You
in the Kingdom of Heaven.

You Who live and reign,
God, world without end.

Amen.

translation by Robert Anderson and Johann Moser

Novel Scheduling

[duplicated from the The Great War, a novel site]

As I said in yesterday's installment, this concludes Chapter 8 and thus Part 1 of this volume.

I'm going to need to take a bit of a break here between parts. When I started putting up installments back in early November, I was a couple chapters ahead of my publication schedule, but for a couple months now I've been writing installments as I put them up, and as the novel has picked up speed that's become incredibly grueling. I've written 60,000 words since the beginning of December and 40,000 since the beginning of the year. However, that's a limit to what cutting down to five hours of sleep a night can get you. I need to do some additional research before embarking on Part 2 (which comprises Chapters 9-12) and I also need to free up a little family writing time for Cat to work on revisions to Stillwater, which she needs to start getting ready for submission to publishers.

So here's the planned schedule:

I'm going to take the next four weeks off from publishing installments. Chapter 9-1 will go up on Monday, March 16th, and the roughly 16 installments which will make up Part 2 will go up between March 16th and May 25th, roughly 10 weeks. I'll then take a second break of roughly four weeks before launching into Part 3, which will have roughly 22 more installments spread over Chapters 13-20. That means that the end of Volume One will be up by the end of October. (And yes, Volume One does close as a book. There will very clearly be more story to tell, but it won't just stop, there will be an ending to this volume which I hope will both be satisfying on its own and also leave people wanting more.)

In the meantime, we're 92,000 words into this story, which is substantially longer than my first novel. I'd appreciate it if readers, even those who normally don't comment, would leave a note on this post, here or on DarwinCatholic or Facebook, so I have some sense of the readership. I'd also appreciate any thoughts or feedback on the novel thus far: pacing, characters, genre, anything you feel like sharing.

There's something a bit experimental, certainly for me, but also in general, about this project. Every character has a substantial arc over the course of the novel as a whole, and to a lesser extent over each volume, but pulling together five characters over such a long single work (and despite the volumes this is one novel in rather the same sense that Lord of the Rings is one novel, not three) is challenging in itself. There are intersections between the characters, but some of them will be a long time in coming, and to a great extent the connections between them and the unifying theme of the novel itself is the war itself, the history. I'm determined to make it work, and I think there's something to be found in this approach to writing big history via the lives of ordinary people who are deeply changed by the central event. But in that it is something a little unusual I'm trying to do here, I would really appreciate feedback as I go along.

And of course: Thank you all who are reading. Knowing that you are out there reading about these characters and these events is one of the main things that's made it possible for me to keep up this pace and bring this dream of the last several years to reality.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Novena for Order, Day 8

Grant that I may know
what You require me to do.


It's the day before Ash Wednesday, and as usual I'm still waffling on my Lenten penance(s). I want to be more mindful of things spiritual over all, practice the Little Way, but I know that without a concrete resolution things become pretty ephemeral pretty quickly. So I'm following the prayer of Julian of Norwich from the Revelations of Divine Love (The Long Text, 6):

Our Lord God also showed that it gives him very great pleasure when a simple soul comes to him in a bare, plain and familiar way. For, as I understand this showing, it is the natural yearning of the soul touched by the Holy Ghost to say, 'God, of your goodness, give me yourself; you are enough for me, and anything less that I could ask for would not do you full honour. And if I ask anything that is less, I shall always lack something, but in you alone I have everything.'



For Ordering a Life Wisely
St. Thomas Aquinas

O merciful God, grant that I may
desire ardently,
search prudently,
recognize truly,
and bring to perfect completion
whatever is pleasing to You
for the praise and glory of Your name.

Put my life in good order, O my God

Grant that I may know
what You require me to do.

Bestow upon me
the power to accomplish your will,
as is necessary and fitting
for the salvation of my soul.

Grant to me, O Lord my God,
that I may not falter in times
of prosperity or adversity,
so that I may not be exalted in the former,
nor dejected in the latter.

May I not rejoice in anything
unless it leads me to You;
may I not be saddened by anything
unless it turns me from You.

May I desire to please no one,
nor fear to displease anyone,
but You.

May all transitory things, O Lord,
be worthless to me
and may all things eternal
be ever cherished by me.

May any joy without You
be burdensome for me
and may I not desire anything else
besides You.

May all work, O Lord
delight me when done for Your sake.
and may all repose not centered in You
be ever wearisome for me.

Grant unto me, my God,
that I may direct my heart to You
and that in my failures
I may ever feel remorse for my sins
and never lose the resolve to change.

O Lord my God, make me
submissive without protest,
poor without discouragement,
chaste without regret,

patient without complaint,
humble without posturing,
cheerful without frivolity,
mature without gloom,
and quick-witted without flippancy.

O Lord my God, let me
fear You without losing hope,
be truthful without guile,
do good works without presumption,
rebuke my neighbor without haughtiness,
and -- without hypocrisy --
strengthen him by word and example.

Give to me, O Lord God,
a watchful heart,
which no capricious thought
can lure away from You.

Give to me,
a noble heart,
which no unworthy desire can debase.

Give to me
a resolute heart,
which no evil intention can divert.

Give to me
a stalwart heart,
which no tribulation can overcome.

Give to me
a temperate heart,
which no violent passion can enslave.

Give to me, O Lord my God,
understanding of You,
diligence in seeking You,
wisdom in finding You,
discourse ever pleasing to You,
perseverance in waiting for You,
and confidence in finally embracing You.

Grant
that with Your hardships
I may be burdened in reparation here,
that Your benefits
I may use in gratitude upon the way,
that in Your joys
I may delight by glorifying You
in the Kingdom of Heaven.

You Who live and reign,
God, world without end.

Amen.

translation by Robert Anderson and Johann Moser

The Great War, Vol 1, Chapter 8-4

A couple days late but here's the last installment of Chapter 8. This almost marks the end of Part 1 of the this volume (there are three parts and twenty chapters total in volume one.)


Kiev, Russian Ukraine. August 22nd, 1914. The Kiev they returned to was a changed city. Soldiers were everywhere, and not the neatly uniformed soldiers who could be seen in parades on holidays: conscripts in ill-fitting brown field tunics, Cossacks in wide-skirted coats, and more exotically uniformed soldiers from further East.

Russian troops had crossed into East Prussia and Austrian Poland, and while news was vague, contradictory, and prone to sudden outbursts of enthusiasm, there was at least general agreement that the New Russia was in full swing. Thousands of miles of track had been laid, telegraph wire had been strung, reforms had been carried out, and surely in return for all this effort the Empire would be spared the humiliations which had come with the Russo-Japanese war ten years before.

War preparation had become fashionable, and at last Madame Luterek found herself prized for what she was, the wife of a famous surgeon, rather than feeling herself to be an art student’s clumsy and smudged copy of the masterpieces that were those born into position and wealth. Flattering little notes poured in on elegant stationery.

“Madame Luterek, My charitable society is packing bandages and other necessities for the field hospitals. We would be honored if you would join us and provide your advice.”

“Madame Luterek, I am sponsoring a hospital train for the treatment of wounded officers in our noble war effort. I would deeply value your assistance in choosing everything that is most modern and up to date.”

“Madame Luterek, I will be giving a charitable soiree to raise money for sending care packages to the front. Would you and the Doctor Luterek be willing to attend, and perhaps speak a few words regarding the wonders of modern medicine as it is applied today?”

Dr. Luterek himself had no truck with such society philanthropy. The hospital was expanding, with new wards being set up in a mansion lent for the purpose by Prince Mikhailov, and he was now a sought-after voice of authority in both medical and government circles. Money was flowing to the hospital, and he had been tasked to oversee the drafting of a new manual on the proper dressing and drainage of wounds. Madame Luterek, however, was eager to accept these newly offered honors. Not only did she herself accept every possible request for her time, but since she was much taken up with paying calls and attending meetings with the various noble and wealthy personages to whom she was suddenly dear, she deployed Sara and Lena, and Natalie with them, to roll bandages, assemble packages of comforts, and otherwise help to do the legwork of charity.

This meant that the girls’ lessons did not resume after the summer holiday, with only languages kept up in an informal fashion, but the girls thrived on the chance to feel themselves useful in the great national effort. Natalie also found a sense of satisfaction in doing some small piece of work to aid the sacrifice of Mother Russia’s soldiers, though being more than half a foreigner in her own land it seemed more natural to think of them in the pages of Tolstoy than as the actual men slogging down the streets in their brown uniform tunics. She also found in the aid work a welcome escape from the glances which, at moments of tiredness or frustration, Madame Luterek still cast at her. No word had yet been heard from Konrad since his departure. Each day Madame Luterek, after eagerly looking through the morning mail, would explain out loud to herself that the military post was still in chaos with so many men in motion for the mobilization, but she could not help afterwards resting her eyes on the young governess to whom her son had promised to write.

Thus it was that on Saturday, a week after the family’s return to Kiev, Natalie found herself happily occupied in the hospital’s new ward with her charges and a half dozen other young women -- in a grand, wood-paneled library of the old mansion, the shelves now emptied of books and lighter rectangles showing on the paneling where paintings that had long sheltered the wood from the darkening effects of the sun had been taken down -- folding up many-tailed bandages according to the instructions of a Red Cross nurse.

The technique was simple. First the thick, square pad of cotton, designed to stem the bleeding of some chest wound, was laid flat on the table. Then the “tails”, yard and a half long strips sewn onto each side, were paired off, pinned together at the end, and rolled up until the pad had a neat row of tail rows lying in the center. Lastly the pad itself was rolled up, and the whole bundle was placed in the case along with all the others.

“The tails on this one are not the same length,” Lena complained. She held up a pair of tails, one a foot longer than the other.

“Shoddy work,” the nurse supervisor ruled, after inspecting it. She pulled a pair of scissors from her pocket and trimmed the offending length. “This is the consequence when society girls are making bandages while paying more attention to their gossip than to their work. Let this serve as a lesson to all of you.”

Lesson given, she strode away to check on the work of another group of volunteers in the next room. Lena knit her brows and silently performed an imitation of the nurse’s scolding, drawing titters from another young woman.

“Lena,” said Natalie warningly.

The girl sighed and wrinkled her nose in annoyance, but went back to rolling bandages. Conversation returned to whether there would still be balls in the fall season despite the war.

This talk quickly blended into a background noise for Natalie. She thought of the Red Cross nurse, whom Lena had so casually mocked, comparing that figure with her plain gray wool dress, white nurse’s apron, and pinched expression to the young women around her in their summer frocks, cheerfully chattering away while wrapping bandages for wounded soldiers.

The volunteer work of the last week had provided a welcome change from the previous week at the summer house, when she had too often felt the ire of Madame Luterek on her and known that she was thinking of her treasured eldest son and the danger that he would be ensnared by a governess. Not only did rolling bandages and making care packages provide a welcome change from that silent accusation, taking her small part in the war effort provided a new sense of place and purpose which was welcome to her. It was the nurse, however, even with her air of tired frustration, with whom Natalie identified, not the cheerful young women volunteers around her. Soon these volunteers would tire of this activity and move on to some other minor piece of war-related charity or else abandon volunteerism entirely and return to their usual activities, and the hospital would not run the worse for their absence. Indeed, even as she diligently tried to do everything as instructed, Natalie wondered at times if the hospital would work more efficiently without their help than with it. However, if that nurse left, her lack would no doubt be noticed and regretted. She knew the purpose and the right way of doing things, and it seemed clear that her work was essential, not some mere hobby of the moment.

As Natalie was thinking about these things, a young woman from another team of volunteers, assigned to fold and put away bed linens, hurried into the room.

“A troop train has returned from Poland,” she announced, “and there are wounded aboard. The first patients have been moved into the officers’ ward!”

All work stopped.

“Wounded officers?” “What’s happened at the front?” “Has there been a battle?” “Of course there must have. How else could they be wounded?” “Did we win?” “Is the war over?” “How many wounded?”

The newcomer led the way down one hall and then another, past newly constructed shelves and stacks of supplies, and into what had been the ballroom, the wide expanse of polished wood floor now broken up into private niches by walls made of wood frames and white canvas. Above it all, incongruously, still hung the two huge, crystal-bedecked chandeliers, which had given light to different gatherings at which some of these same young ladies had danced with officers in brilliant dress uniforms just a few months before.


[Continue Reading]

Monday, February 16, 2015

Novena for Order, Day 7


For Ordering a Life Wisely
St. Thomas Aquinas

O merciful God, grant that I may
desire ardently,
search prudently,
recognize truly,
and bring to perfect completion
whatever is pleasing to You
for the praise and glory of Your name.

Put my life in good order, O my God

Grant that I may know
what You require me to do.

Bestow upon me
the power to accomplish your will,
as is necessary and fitting
for the salvation of my soul.

Grant to me, O Lord my God,
that I may not falter in times
of prosperity or adversity,
so that I may not be exalted in the former,
nor dejected in the latter.

May I not rejoice in anything
unless it leads me to You;
may I not be saddened by anything
unless it turns me from You.

May I desire to please no one,
nor fear to displease anyone,
but You.

May all transitory things, O Lord,
be worthless to me
and may all things eternal
be ever cherished by me.

May any joy without You
be burdensome for me
and may I not desire anything else
besides You.

May all work, O Lord
delight me when done for Your sake.
and may all repose not centered in You
be ever wearisome for me.

Grant unto me, my God,
that I may direct my heart to You
and that in my failures
I may ever feel remorse for my sins
and never lose the resolve to change.

O Lord my God, make me
submissive without protest,
poor without discouragement,
chaste without regret,

patient without complaint,
humble without posturing,
cheerful without frivolity,
mature without gloom,
and quick-witted without flippancy.

O Lord my God, let me
fear You without losing hope,
be truthful without guile,
do good works without presumption,
rebuke my neighbor without haughtiness,
and -- without hypocrisy --
strengthen him by word and example.

Give to me, O Lord God,
a watchful heart,
which no capricious thought
can lure away from You.

Give to me,
a noble heart,
which no unworthy desire can debase.

Give to me
a resolute heart,
which no evil intention can divert.

Give to me
a stalwart heart,
which no tribulation can overcome.

Give to me
a temperate heart,
which no violent passion can enslave.

Give to me, O Lord my God,
understanding of You,
diligence in seeking You,
wisdom in finding You,
discourse ever pleasing to You,
perseverance in waiting for You,
and confidence in finally embracing You.

Grant
that with Your hardships
I may be burdened in reparation here,
that Your benefits
I may use in gratitude upon the way,
that in Your joys
I may delight by glorifying You
in the Kingdom of Heaven.

You Who live and reign,
God, world without end.

Amen.

translation by Robert Anderson and Johann Moser

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Novena for Order, Day 6

O Lord my God, make me
submissive without protest,
poor without discouragement,
chaste without regret,
patient without complaint,
humble without posturing,
cheerful without frivolity,
mature without gloom,
and quick-witted without flippancy.

O Lord my God, let me
fear You without losing hope,
be truthful without guile,
do good works without presumption,
rebuke my neighbor without haughtiness,
and -- without hypocrisy --
strengthen him by word and example.


Brandon links to an excellent article by James Chastek on hypocrisy, in which he points out that in regards to the Pharisees, hypocrisy was not simply a matter of "Do what I say, not what I do."

What is at the heart of Christ’s vehement denunciation of hypocrisy, especially in the Pharisees? They are not hypocrites as the term is used today – i.e. those who indulge in pleasures they censure in others. If anything, they are the first ones to practice what they preach. One difficulty is that the Pharisees don’t speak much for themselves in the Gospels, though there is one moment when Christ narrates a prayer of a Pharisee which provides an insight into just what he found objectionable in them.

I thank you Lord, that I am not like other men (Lk. 18.9). At the heart of hypocrisy is a certain way of considering oneself as set apart. This “being set apart” is part of the definition of holiness and is an integral human need, and so we can’t cast it off altogehter. But how does this sense of being set apart twist itself into hypocrisy?

If we start with hypocrites in our contemporary sense, we can see their hypocrisy is a way of seeing themselves as set apart from the rules they look to impose on others, and this gives us insight into how to extend the fault of hypocrisy to other areas. We are just as much hypocrites when we, say, judge persons by standards which we excuse ourselves from, or when we’re too eager to except excuses from ourselves that we won’t except from others. I thank you Lord that I am not like other men – my faults are understandable, excusable, part of who I am and even endearing while theirs are willful, selfish, insensitive and grating. It is just this element of hypocrisy that Christ want to rule out by the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.

But hypocrisy extends even further to the ways we interpret religion so as to set ourselves apart without becoming holy. A theologian, for example, can be constantly tempted to this sort of hypocrisy – he sets himself apart as the one who knows the faith, but it is possible to simply know the faith without doing anything to become any holier. I’ve always loved how philosophical theology makes me constantly thinking about God, and I wouldn’t want to give this benefit up for anything, but I’m aware of how easy it is just to think about God without ever setting aside times to pray, fast, give alms, practice care for others, etc.* Theology can easily become a substitute for religion. [emphasis mine]

This seems especially significant to me as it's easy for me to study the Bible and derive lots of literary and spiritual insights from it, but much harder to be watchful, to die to self at each moment, to get up from the computer to help the kids the moment they call without considering it an imposition, to remember that each action resonates in eternity.


For Ordering a Life Wisely
St. Thomas Aquinas

O merciful God, grant that I may
desire ardently,
search prudently,
recognize truly,
and bring to perfect completion
whatever is pleasing to You
for the praise and glory of Your name.

Put my life in good order, O my God

Grant that I may know
what You require me to do.

Bestow upon me
the power to accomplish your will,
as is necessary and fitting
for the salvation of my soul.

Grant to me, O Lord my God,
that I may not falter in times
of prosperity or adversity,
so that I may not be exalted in the former,
nor dejected in the latter.

May I not rejoice in anything
unless it leads me to You;
may I not be saddened by anything
unless it turns me from You.

May I desire to please no one,
nor fear to displease anyone,
but You.

May all transitory things, O Lord,
be worthless to me
and may all things eternal
be ever cherished by me.

May any joy without You
be burdensome for me
and may I not desire anything else
besides You.

May all work, O Lord
delight me when done for Your sake.
and may all repose not centered in You
be ever wearisome for me.

Grant unto me, my God,
that I may direct my heart to You
and that in my failures
I may ever feel remorse for my sins
and never lose the resolve to change.

O Lord my God, make me
submissive without protest,
poor without discouragement,
chaste without regret,

patient without complaint,
humble without posturing,
cheerful without frivolity,
mature without gloom,
and quick-witted without flippancy.

O Lord my God, let me
fear You without losing hope,
be truthful without guile,
do good works without presumption,
rebuke my neighbor without haughtiness,
and -- without hypocrisy --
strengthen him by word and example.

Give to me, O Lord God,
a watchful heart,
which no capricious thought
can lure away from You.

Give to me,
a noble heart,
which no unworthy desire can debase.

Give to me
a resolute heart,
which no evil intention can divert.

Give to me
a stalwart heart,
which no tribulation can overcome.

Give to me
a temperate heart,
which no violent passion can enslave.

Give to me, O Lord my God,
understanding of You,
diligence in seeking You,
wisdom in finding You,
discourse ever pleasing to You,
perseverance in waiting for You,
and confidence in finally embracing You.

Grant
that with Your hardships
I may be burdened in reparation here,
that Your benefits
I may use in gratitude upon the way,
that in Your joys
I may delight by glorifying You
in the Kingdom of Heaven.

You Who live and reign,
God, world without end.

Amen.

translation by Robert Anderson and Johann Moser

Bus Stop

We waited at the bus stop in downtown Columbus for two hours for a bus that never came, and in that time we invited four people into our van to shelter against the 14 degree weather. Logan was a student at UC, Taylor was a student at Xavier, and the young couple was moving to Florida and needed to connect to the bus to Atlanta at 10 pm. The girls sat in the back of the van, in the empty space that should be filled by the bench currently taking up real estate in the kitchen, and Isabel, who has taken to carrying around an adventure bag just like Eleanor does, produced a pack of cards and dealt Logan into the game.

The bus should have left at 6:15. At 6:14 -- I know because I was racing against time, still two exits down the highway -- my mom looked at the message that popped up on her phone and said, "Well, you don't need to rush." The bus was going to be 60 to 90 minutes late. They couldn't have figured that out earlier? But we had a full tank of gas, so we parked the huge van by the sidewalk where the bus to Cincinnati would pull over, and we waited.

And waited. And waited. And eventually, other people's rides couldn't wait anymore. First Logan with his backpack, out on the sidewalk facing down the bitter cold, an hour after the bus had been scheduled to leave. We shuffled around in the van to make room, and I ran over and invited him to sit with us and keep warm. He'd been thinking about asking if he could come in, he said, but he'd seen the car seats and thought we were full.

About ten minutes later, another car pulled off leaving the young couple. I sent the girls to the trunk space to make room and ran over to invite them in to. At first I thought they wouldn't come, and it stabbed me through to see them sitting there on their luggage, wrapped together in a thin blanket. But after a few moments they came over and tapped on the door, and we let them in as well. The card game in the back was getting into full swing, and the girls were telling Logan about their five imaginary older siblings and inducting him into that august company. I started making calculations about the latest we'd need to leave if we just decided to drive the van down to Cincinnati ourselves so that the couple could catch their bus on time. We'd be short a seat or two, but the girls could double up, or maybe people could just sit in the open space on the floor, and we'd stay the night at my mom's and drive back Saturday morning...

The 90 minutes had almost gone when another young guy walked up the block and stood waiting right in front of the van. I shoved one of the booster seats on top of the other and invited him in too. He'd heard something about a wreck, a fifteen- or twenty-car pileup on I-70 that had shut down the highway. Someone had died.

A bus finally pulled up at 8:15, ten minutes after our passengers had been scheduled to arrive in Cincinnati. It wasn't our bus, but the later one. I waited until I saw everyone safely seated before I left. On our way home we prayed a chaplet for the safety of our travelers: Grandma, Logan, Taylor, the couple, Daddy flying home from California on Sunday. It was late when we arrived home, and everyone collapsed in bed, leaving me downstairs alone in the big quiet house, thinking about those who were stuck in a bus to Columbus somewhere on I-70, and those who were never coming home this evening, and those of mine away from me.

My mom called two hours later. That last bus didn't have the students' scheduled stop at UC like the earlier bus did, and the temperature had dropped to the single digits at the parking lot in the middle of nowhere that was the Cincinnati stop. My brother, good sport that he is, was driving the guys up to their crosstown campuses before taking Mom home. "I heard one of the guys telling his friend on the phone, 'I'm riding with the same people I was waiting with earlier'," Mom said. "Anyway, just wanted to let you know that we got in safely."

May we all stay safe and warm tonight.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Novena for Order, Day 5

"Grant to me, O Lord my God,
that I may not falter in times
of prosperity or adversity,
so that I may not be exalted in the former,
nor dejected in the latter.

May I not rejoice in anything
unless it leads me to You;
may I not be saddened by anything
unless it turns me from You.

May I desire to please no one,
nor fear to displease anyone,
but You.

May all transitory things, O Lord,
be worthless to me
and may all things eternal
be ever cherished by me."

I've been thinking about these lines in light of this article from the New York Times on the destruction wrought by virtual lynch mobs, whose outrage is not founded on what T.S Eliot called an "objective correlative". The chosen victim must expiate his or her supposed sins by being pilloried in public and humiliating fashion. People pile on to the virtual hate because they feel safe in their anonymity, assuming (against the obvious example of the mob in which they are participating) that their words will never come back to bite them, that they'll never be called to account. When you are are unaccountable, you are safe. You can say anything you want. They deserve it anyway, right? Get out of the virtual kitchen if you can't stand the real heat.

Most of us know the sickness of being the subject of gossip, the gnawing horror in the stomach and the panicky desire to hide away. We had the merest brush with this recently, seeing our name tossed out for dissection and then passed over because someone else was more interesting to talk about. One forgets, writing a small blog, that all who read are not necessarily friends or kindly disposed. And yet, this non-event left me sleepless and pale and meditative for days. Looking at Aquinas's prayer, did I falter in times of adversity? Did I fear to displease anyone? Were transitory things like the security of being anonymous and overlooked on the internet worth more to me than all things eternal? Would it really matter, in the long-term spiritual sense, if someone I didn't know and would never meet picked over the small bit of life revealed as a passing amusement?

I have found, this past week, a new side of praying the rosary, in meditating on something unquestionably pure. The results of the Annunciation may have fed local gossip for months or years, but of itself it was perfect and full of grace. May our own lives become ever more full of grace, and of the peace that passes understanding despite what anyone may say about us.



For Ordering a Life Wisely
St. Thomas Aquinas

O merciful God, grant that I may
desire ardently,
search prudently,
recognize truly,
and bring to perfect completion
whatever is pleasing to You
for the praise and glory of Your name.

Put my life in good order, O my God

Grant that I may know
what You require me to do.

Bestow upon me
the power to accomplish your will,
as is necessary and fitting
for the salvation of my soul.

Grant to me, O Lord my God,
that I may not falter in times
of prosperity or adversity,
so that I may not be exalted in the former,
nor dejected in the latter.

May I not rejoice in anything
unless it leads me to You;
may I not be saddened by anything
unless it turns me from You.

May I desire to please no one,
nor fear to displease anyone,
but You.

May all transitory things, O Lord,
be worthless to me
and may all things eternal
be ever cherished by me.

May any joy without You
be burdensome for me
and may I not desire anything else
besides You.

May all work, O Lord
delight me when done for Your sake.
and may all repose not centered in You
be ever wearisome for me.

Grant unto me, my God,
that I may direct my heart to You
and that in my failures
I may ever feel remorse for my sins
and never lose the resolve to change.

O Lord my God, make me
submissive without protest,
poor without discouragement,
chaste without regret,

patient without complaint,
humble without posturing,
cheerful without frivolity,
mature without gloom,
and quick-witted without flippancy.

O Lord my God, let me
fear You without losing hope,
be truthful without guile,
do good works without presumption,
rebuke my neighbor without haughtiness,
and -- without hypocrisy --
strengthen him by word and example.

Give to me, O Lord God,
a watchful heart,
which no capricious thought
can lure away from You.

Give to me,
a noble heart,
which no unworthy desire can debase.

Give to me
a resolute heart,
which no evil intention can divert.

Give to me
a stalwart heart,
which no tribulation can overcome.

Give to me
a temperate heart,
which no violent passion can enslave.

Give to me, O Lord my God,
understanding of You,
diligence in seeking You,
wisdom in finding You,
discourse ever pleasing to You,
perseverance in waiting for You,
and confidence in finally embracing You.

Grant
that with Your hardships
I may be burdened in reparation here,
that Your benefits
I may use in gratitude upon the way,
that in Your joys
I may delight by glorifying You
in the Kingdom of Heaven.

You Who live and reign,
God, world without end.

Amen.

translation by Robert Anderson and Johann Moser

"Placet."

Masters, undergraduates, visitors; they sat huddled closely together on the backless oak benches, their elbows on the long tables, their eyes shaded with their fingers, or turned intelligently toward the platform where two famous violinists twisted together the fine, strong strand of the Concerto in D Minor. The Hall was very full; Harriet's gowned shoulder touched her companion's, and the crescent of his long sleeve lay over her knee. He was wrapt in the motionless austerity with which all genuine musicians listen to genuine music. Harriet was musician enough to respect this aloofness; she knew well enough that the ecstatic rapture on the face of the man opposite meant only that he was hoping to be thought musical, and that the elderly lady over the way, waving her fingers to the beat, was a musical moron. She knew enough, herself, to read the sounds a little with her brains, laboriously unwinding the twined chains of melody link by link. Peter, she felt sure, could hear the whole intricate pattern, every part, separately and simultaneously, each independent and equal, separate but inseparable, moving over and under and through, ravishing heart and mind together. She waited till the last movement had ended and the packed hall was relaxing its attention in applause.

"Peter- what did you mean when you said that anybody could have the harmony if they would leave us the counterpoint?"

"Why," said he, shaking his head, "that I like my music polyphonic. If you think I meant anything else, you know what I meant."

"Polyphonic music takes a lot of playing. You've got to be more than a fiddler. It needs a musician."

"In this case, two fiddlers -- both musicians."

"I'm not much of a musician, Peter."

"As they used to say in my youth: 'All girls should learn a little music -- enough to play a simple accompaniment.' I admit that Bach isn't a matter of an autocratic virtuoso and a meek accompanist. But do you want to be either? Here's a gentleman coming to sing a group of ballads. Pray silence for the soloist. But let him be soon over, that we may hear the great striding fugue again."


The final Chorale was sung, and the audience made their way out. Harriet's way lay through the Broad Street gate; Peter followed her through the quad.

"It's a beautiful night -- far too good to waste. Don't go back yet. Come down to Magdalen Bridge and send your love to London River."

They turned along the Broad in silence, the light wind fluttering their gowns as they walked.

"There's something about this place," said Peter presently, "that alters all one's values." He paused, and added a little abruptly: "I have said a good deal to you one way and another, lately; but you may have notice that since we came to Oxford I have not asked you to marry me."

"Yes," said Harriet, her eyes fixed upon the severe and delicate silhouette of the Bodleian roof, just emerging between the Sheldonian and the Clarendon Building. "I had noticed it."

"I have been afraid," he said, simply; "Because I knew that from anything you said to me here there could be no going back... But I will ask you now, and if you say No, I promise you that this time I will accept your answer. Harriet; you know that I love you: will you marry me?"

The traffic lights winked at the Holywell Corner: Yes; No; Wait. Cat Street was crossed and the shadows of New College walls had swallowed them up before she spoke:

"Tell me one thing, Peter. Will it make you desperately unhappy if I say No?"

"Desperately?... My dear, I will not insult either you or myself with a word like that. I can only tell you that if you will marry me it will give me very great happiness."

They passed beneath the arch of the bridge and out into the pale light once more.

"Peter!"

She stood still; and he stopped perforce and turned toward her. She laid both hands upon the fronts of his gown, looking into his face while she searched for the word that should carry her over the last difficult breath.

It was he who found it for her. With a gesture of submission he bared his head and stood gravely, the square cap dangling in his hand.

"Placetne, magistra?"

"Placet."



The Proctor, stumping grimly past with averted eyes, reflected that Oxford was losing all sense of dignity. But what could he do? If Senior Members of the University chose to stand -- in their gowns, too! -- closely and passionately embracing in New College Lane right under the Warden's windows, ehw as powerless to prevent it. He primly settled his white bands and went upon his walk unheeded; and no hand plucked his velvet sleeve.

--Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night

Friday, February 13, 2015

Novena for Order, Day 4

"May all work, O Lord
delight me when done for Your sake.
and may all repose not centered in You
be ever wearisome for me."

This is my current bit of meditation from the prayer. I like my repose. A lot. Work does not delight me, generally. I just do it. And I'm always trying to sneak extra moments of repose: more time in bed, more time in front of the computer, more time reading, more time for me. And yet it is true that stolen bread isn't sweet. The extra time I spend clicking around isn't refreshing. It's just putting off the inevitable dealing with my day: kids, dishes, laundry, trying to find socks for everyone so we can leave the house. And yet, if I am doing that work for God's sake, I'm asking for it to become a delight for me, something that I will seek to do, and do well, rather than cowering away in vain repose.





For Ordering a Life Wisely
St. Thomas Aquinas

O merciful God, grant that I may
desire ardently,
search prudently,
recognize truly,
and bring to perfect completion
whatever is pleasing to You
for the praise and glory of Your name.

Put my life in good order, O my God

Grant that I may know
what You require me to do.

Bestow upon me
the power to accomplish your will,
as is necessary and fitting
for the salvation of my soul.

Grant to me, O Lord my God,
that I may not falter in times
of prosperity or adversity,
so that I may not be exalted in the former,
nor dejected in the latter.

May I not rejoice in anything
unless it leads me to You;
may I not be saddened by anything
unless it turns me from You.

May I desire to please no one,
nor fear to displease anyone,
but You.

May all transitory things, O Lord,
be worthless to me
and may all things eternal
be ever cherished by me.

May any joy without You
be burdensome for me
and may I not desire anything else
besides You.

May all work, O Lord
delight me when done for Your sake.
and may all repose not centered in You
be ever wearisome for me.

Grant unto me, my God,
that I may direct my heart to You
and that in my failures
I may ever feel remorse for my sins
and never lose the resolve to change.

O Lord my God, make me
submissive without protest,
poor without discouragement,
chaste without regret,

patient without complaint,
humble without posturing,
cheerful without frivolity,
mature without gloom,
and quick-witted without flippancy.

O Lord my God, let me
fear You without losing hope,
be truthful without guile,
do good works without presumption,
rebuke my neighbor without haughtiness,
and -- without hypocrisy --
strengthen him by word and example.

Give to me, O Lord God,
a watchful heart,
which no capricious thought
can lure away from You.

Give to me,
a noble heart,
which no unworthy desire can debase.

Give to me
a resolute heart,
which no evil intention can divert.

Give to me
a stalwart heart,
which no tribulation can overcome.

Give to me
a temperate heart,
which no violent passion can enslave.

Give to me, O Lord my God,
understanding of You,
diligence in seeking You,
wisdom in finding You,
discourse ever pleasing to You,
perseverance in waiting for You,
and confidence in finally embracing You.

Grant
that with Your hardships
I may be burdened in reparation here,
that Your benefits
I may use in gratitude upon the way,
that in Your joys
I may delight by glorifying You
in the Kingdom of Heaven.

You Who live and reign,
God, world without end.

Amen.

translation by Robert Anderson and Johann Moser

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Science of Buzz

I'm off in sunny San Diego for a couple days at a Predictive Analytics conference, where I'll be giving a short talk tomorrow on pricing analytics.

Today, however, I'm just a listener. The interesting thing about the conference being focused on analytics is that while many of us use similar methods, we're working in very different industries. Two of the more interesting talks I heard this morning were by data scientists from Mashable and BuzzFeed, each talking about how his company uses data analysis to decide what to write about and which stories they write to promote.

I'll admit, I regard these kind of sites with disdain, since I'm a relatively snobby reader most of the time, so I'd never really thought about how it is that these traffic driving sites (who are happily sucking the oxygen out of the old media world) decide what to write about. Apparently they both actually use pretty sophisticated analysis of what stories are trending and what type of stories trend how much to look for stories that are in the early stages of breaking, and then they jump on the bandwagon.

The fellow from Mashable gave a fascinating example in which one of their Australian writers noticed the other day, using the company's dashboards of stories that are in the early stages of trending on social media, that there was an Australian story picking up steam about how a 109-year-old man knits sweaters for penguins. Their data tools suggested that this was a story which not only was trending well in Australia, but that if it was picked up by a global site like Mashable it could become a world-wide trending story. So she wrote a Mashable story re-telling what local news had already covered and providing some pictures and links, and it immediately took off. Now if you search for the story on Google, you'll see that everyone else is going the same.


Part of what drives this whole approaching to producing and circulating content is that most of the clicks to content sites these days are driven by shares on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. People may still go to some single sites they like, whether it's The Atlantic or DarwinCatholic, and read down to see what's new, but significantly more visits come from shares. And visits is what allows sites to show advertising, which in turn is what makes the sites money.

Mashable and BuzzFeed may have a pretty sketchy reputation as "news" venues, but they are pretty good at driving lots and lots of clicks, which means that in the new media world they are growing, and they're by following the mission which the BuzzFeed speaker showed: "We accelerate the promotion of content that is taking off"

In other words, if it seems like these sites often aren't producing quality, thoughtful content, that's not big surprise. Their goal isn't necessarily to do that, it's to drive clicks. And the most efficient way to do that is to jump on an already accelerating bandwagon.

Another example provided was the Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit themed airline safety commercial that went viral a while back. The airline, of course, had produced it, the video was available on YouTube, but what Mashable, Buzzfeed, and even a lot of "respectable" news outlets was simply to throw up stories which embedded the YouTube video, so that people would share their story instead of a direct link to YouTube, thus netting them a lock of impressions simply by riding the coattails of something that was taking off anyway.