Today’s Science! Headlines:

Who Knew Bill Nye’s Takedown Of Creationism Would Sound So Spiritual?

Oh! Oh! I know! I know! Pick me!

Anyone who has been paying any attention and who has two or more working synapses?

“Where did we come from?” Nye asked the crowd at one point. “What was before the Big Bang? To us this is wonderful and charming and compelling. This is what makes us get up to go to work every day.”

What you mean ‘us’ Kimosabe? Would that be comedians, television hosts, actors, writers, or mechanical engineers? You know, the stuff you’re actually trained or experienced in? That ‘us’? You can’t mean ‘scientists’ because a) you aren’t one in any sense that doesn’t also include, for example, me; and 2) scientists who actually think about things like the Big Bang *scientifically* are pretty sure that is represents a knowledge barrier of sorts, in the sense that all the stuff we can actually study *scientifically* began with the Big Bang – as far as we know, according to current theory, etc.

Let me help you out, here: when you talk like this, you’re not waxing spiritual – you’re waxing stupid.

It is a great condemnation of the current state of science popularization that guys like Nye get to be the poster child. Sagan may have set the bar for overreach and the vapid confounding of science with everything else – that’s what we refer to here as “Science!” – but Nye is a worthy keeper of the flame.

How about a real scientist popularizing real science? Feynman’s “6 Easy Pieces” is good if you’d like an example of what the real deal looks like.

Note: these comments have nothing to do with the ‘debate’ which generated them. That’s a separate issue.

Vintage Trap Kit - Drum Set 1930's
Old school Siberian Trap Set – for your paleontological basalt rock band.

Permian Mass Extinction Took 60,000 Years, Siberian Traps May Have Triggered ‘Really Rapid’ Wipeout

Merely want to mention that “Siberian Traps” would be a pretty good band name. Interesting article. Hardly qualifies as Science!, except maybe the opening sentence:

The mass extinction that wiped out the majority of marine and land species on Earth took less time than previously thought.

Fairly petty complaint: Why would it be news that some unnamed thinkers  think something took less time to happen than they previously thought? Could there be less interesting information content in this sentence? Is there some law that science writers must be recruited either from the ranks of supermarket tabloid reporters or the nearly comatose?

Crocodiles Climb Trees, Use Tools and Do Surveillance

Is this too stupid to warrant comment? Guess not:

Smaller alligators and crocodiles can climb trees. Is this news? I guess in the sense that sophisticated New Yorkers can now start having nightmares about alligators climbing out of the sewers and into the trees from where, I suppose, they leap onto unsuspecting pedestrians. Did you know hippos routinely kill and sometimes eat crocodiles? Sorry, my mind wandered to something actually interesting. Now, if *hippos* could climb trees – well, that right there is your nature channel grand slam: Next on Animals Are Better Than People: Hippos climbing trees to go after alligators – in Central Park!

“Use Tools”  – Or not. Dealt with here.

“Do Surveillance” – did the image of a bunch of gators gathered around computer monitors watching as their flock of surveillance quad copter  drones darken the skies leap nimbly to your mind? No? Well, that not what they meant.

…scientists did say that climbing trees allows the crocodiles to do “improved site surveillance of potential threats and prey.”

Oh, so they climb trees and look around? That’s not so sexy. Couldn’t we at least get them a spyglass or something?

The Not-so-Forgotten Virtues of Utterly Corrupt Politics

This little essay, The Forgotten Virtues of Tammany Hall, takes the occasion of the physical Tammany Hall being designated as a city landmark, to point out all the good works performed and social progress achieved by criminally corrupt politicians.

Apropos of nothing, I suppose.

The physical, as opposed to the philosophical, Tammany Hall

Some of Tammany Hall’s boots on the ground were making sure that impoverished immigrants didn’t go hungry or freeze, and got jobs, and otherwise were able to make a home in America. Other boots were beating up opponents, stuffing ballot boxes and demanding bribes of various sorts for anyone who wanted to do any business in New York.

So, are these two sets of activities – basic Christian charity and utter political corruption – inseparable? Or is it merely an historical accident? Was it the only thing that could work at a time and place where political power and formal charitable activities were controlled by long established and virulently anti-Catholic Protestants, and where tens of thousands of impoverished immigrants arrived each year, immigrants who were Catholic Irish, Italians and Bohemians or Jews? Was there any hope of the immigrants getting any sort of fair shake from the powers that be if they played by the rules?

On the one hand, clearly the corruption and charity were not separable where the ‘charity’ consisted of handing out spoils system contracts and jobs or the money that came from them or from graft and bribes.  And I would imagine that, if a voter were to be as ungrateful as to promote a non-Tammany politician or position, there might be repercussions.

On the other, just looking at the cast of characters, the immigrants were united by their suffering – and by having been dealt with evilly by the governments they were fleeing. The Irish were formed by centuries of murder and mayhem at the hands of the English, for the enrichment of whose lords they labored. The suffering of the Jews is legendary. Others, such as the Italians and Bohemians mentioned in the essay, may have only suffered the usual fates of peasants in quasi-feudal arrangements. Nothing in the history of any of these immigrants would lead them to expect a fair shake from the people in power.

Tammany corruption probably hardly even registered. To an Irishman, beating up a political opponent in a bar probably seemed like a friendly tip o’ the hat. That no business could be done unless the proper authorities were paid off seemed hardly noteworthy – was it any different in the mother country?

And yet: the loyalty of the immigrants and their children and grand children could be easily played. I’ve written here of the disgraceful, not to mention horrifying, behavior of the Southies that gave Whitey Bulger a pass for decades, as he murdered their neighbors, sold drugs to their kids and alternately bought off and used political intimidation to keep the legal dogs at bay.

What happens when the Tammany Halls become the establishment? When they get to run New York, Boston or Chicago for 150 years? First off, it becomes in their interest to make sure that whatever animosities drove the original problems that put them in power in the first place never get resolved. The enemy must stay the enemy, even if he has conceded on virtually all the original points. Next, the idea must never perish that there  isn’t really any such thing as honest government (Plunkett’s “honest graft” being as good as it could ever get in practice), that all governments act for the interests of some at the expense of others, and that all that matters at the end of the day is that the bacon gets brought home. Thus, Bostonians seem remarkably untroubled by the machinations needed to bring home the Big Dig and the fiasco of its execution, but relish that the money got spent at home.

So, the rhetoric of the heirs of the political machines is ever us against them, is ever about ‘fair’ (a usefully undefinable term in practice).  Their base is largely untroubled by corruption, as it seems to believe that the opponent – there’s only one, by long-standing consensus – will inevitably be at least as corrupt, and will worst of all bring the bacon to somebody else’s home.

Maybe they’re right. If so, democracy and republican government are already dead. Hope has long been a less appreciated civic virtue.  Lose hope that you can work with other citizens even when you disagree with them, and power is all that’s left. In the words of Conan, we’re just playing to see who gets “to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.” That’s who gets the bacon.

One last thought that’s been rattling around: This us against them attitude, wherein the other is the irredeemable enemy, is difficult to distinguish from power dynamic thinking, whereby identifying the oppressor and victims is the first and last step in all political thought. It’s tragic to think that Irish Catholics, the great grandchildren of those who actually suffered under the English, would fall for this. At least initially, they got involved in the political machines to redress and obvious and bitter wrongs, to feed the hungry, warm the cold, and house the homeless. But this automatic forgiveness of your team and conclusive presumption that the other team wills and promotes only evil –  well, they may be right, but if so, America is already dead.

Hope is only a virtue when things are hopeless.

Weekend Roundup

Rained hard and long (by California standards), dropping up to 10″ in 24 hours on the coastal range, 4-5″ in Sonoma and Napa, and about 3″ down here in Concord. More importantly for our drinking water supplies, feet of snow are even now falling across most of the Sierra. Only 3 or 4 more storms like that, and we’ll have an average rainfall year.  We had reached the pray for rain state of affairs. Doesn’t seem to matter that having 4-5 years in a row of 8-10 inches of rain (17″ is ‘normal’ by which I assume they mean ‘average’) occurs, it seems, about once a decade or 15 years. It still seems to catch everybody by surprise, by which I mean get all the newsies and weather droid in a froth. I would like at least 15″ of rain, just to quiet the noise down.

All I see is lots of pieces that need to be carefully assembled, carefully washed and carefully packed into their box if you ever want to put this away. A knife and a cutting board can be washed and dried and thrown back into a drawer in a minute.

1. Let’s start with something completely trivial. Pet peeve: made a recipe last night (authentic N’orleans gumbo, if you want to know) which included instructions to coarsely chop a number of innocent vegetables. I can do that. Then, later on in the recipe, it says to take those same vegetables, now coarsely chopped, and put them in the food processor to *finely* chop them. WTF? How about you say you want finely chopped vegetables, and let me decide whether I’d like to spend an extra 5 minutes chopping in lieu of spending 10 minutes cleaning the freakin’ food processor? Ya know? (I do own a food processor, which I roll out every few years to do something that calls for it, then remember that there are few non-industrial scale cooking projects that I can’t accomplish faster by hand than with a food processor, once you factor in the drag it out, clean it, use it, clean it again and put it back away time.  Then it’s packed up and put away until I forget to remember that truth again.)

2. The illustrious Statistician to the Stars tweeted a link to this essay about the unreality of elite colleges, a topic I’ve touched upon with trip-hammer like gentleness in essays like this one and this other one.

One point in particular:

There’s a certain kind of elite student who takes himself very, very seriously. Raised on a suite of educational TV shows and books that insist he is the most special person in the world — studies confirm that Generation Y is the most egocentric and self-regarding generation in our history — he is away from home for the first time, enjoying his first experience of freedom from his parents. Those same parents are paying for his education, which he considers his birthright. Shelter is provided for him. Janitors and maids clean up after him. Security guards protect him. Cooks shop for him and prepare his food. The health center provides him medical care and condoms aplenty. Administrators slave away at finding new ways for him to have fun in his free time.

Long ago, I knew a Dominican priest who attended Berkeley in the 40s.  He would wax rhapsodic on how beautiful the town used to be, as we stepped around the little Marie Antonettes playing at peasant and the general dirt and decay that seemed part of a conscious uglification project (it’s gotten a little better since – the ’80s seem to have been a low point).  At Stanford and UCLA (the Farm and Little Brother to Cal alum), the universities seemed to embrace (or at least cave in to) the native fact of affluence: all those kids and parents and staff spending all those dollars, dollars swept in by some sort of higher education vortex from all the towns little and big in the state. At the bottom of that vortex, the neighborhoods around the schools blossomed with quaint and hip shops. And were – and are – beautiful, after the manner of their kind.

At the more enlightened Cal, they started treated businesses as if they were somehow blights on the community, and noble buildings as evidence of Something Wrong That Needs Rectifying. So buildings from the 20’s and 30’s, often gorgeous Art Deco and Craftsman influenced homes, got turned into something else – a frat house, apartments, whatever, just so that the could paint them ugly or let them get run down. It looked like urban blight, except this was and remains an extraordinarily affluent college town/suburb. On the streets leading up to campus, there were lots of empty store fronts and goofy enterprises that seemed more statement than money-making venture. Again, it has gotten better.

I used to think, back then when I was much closer in age to the students than their parents, that all that keeps this fantasy world from falling apart is the hundreds of millions of dollars the rest of the state shoveled into the University each year, in the name of competition and pride and progress. What they got was contempt and institutionalized cluelessness.

3. “I thank Thee, God, that we are not like other generations, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like that other generation over there. We do stuff like run with passion and break chains, which we’re sure you’ll agree is an upgrade over fasting twice a week and tithing routine.”

At least, that’s what I thought the kids were singing – at Mass – this evening. Turns out, the song is *slightly* different:

“Chosen Generation”

We are a chosen generation
Rise up, holy nation
God, we live for You

You have called us out of darkness
Into light so glorious
God, we live for You
We live for You
God, we live for You

We run with passion for Your name, we run
Freedom, You’ve broken every chain, we run
Our God will not be moved
Our God will never be shaken
We run to You, we run

We are a chosen generation
Rise up, holy nation
God, we live for You

You have called us out of darkness
Into light so glorious
God, we live for You

And so on. So, very slightly different. Wasn’t there an adult in the room, saying, “you know, kids, I can understand why that song might appeal to you, but it’s really not appropriate for Mass.” (I refuse to contemplate the more likely scenario of an aging hippie ramming that song down their throats. It’s dinner time, after all.)

I suppose all we other generations can do is stand at a distance, not even look up to heaven, but beat our breasts and say, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

In Today’s Mammoth Science! Headlines

Grasslands Killed the Wooly Mammoths 10,000 Years Ago

The subhead lets us know that the mammoth extinction was caused “…by the sudden appearance of grasslands throughout the Arctic region.”

Scene: 10,000 years ago. A couple mammoths awake from their (perhaps dogmatic) slumber:

Mr. Mammoth: Good morning, sweetie. Looks like another beautiful day out here in the arctic…. What the heck? Where did all this grass come from?

Mrs. Mammoth: Wow, it stretches for miles. Kind of pretty, though.

Mr.:  I don’t like it, it’s weird. What’s that? Honey, look! The grass is sort of swelling up over there!

Mrs.: It’s like a giant grassy wave! This is frightening!

Mr.: It’s coming right at us! Run! RUN!!

Mrs.: AHHHH!


Just having fun with the headline, here. By Science! standards, it’s not a terrible article.

I don’t know if this is part of the ongoing effort to find a reason, any reason, for the large fauna extinction in North America circa 8,000 BC other than ‘the Indians ate them’ which, while it matches both the timing of arrivals of large numbers of people and known human behavior everywhere else on the globe, is not the right answer for some reason.

Oh, wait. Another article on the same topic clears it all up:

Vegan woolly mammoth became extinct because of wildflowers and not human hunters

“Vegan”? The word you’re looking for is ‘herbivore’, because that’s the proper scientific term for an animal that eats vegetable matter, while ‘vegan’ is what we call particularly enlightened and healthy *humans* with no doubt exquisitely aligned chakras dressed in hemp and smelling faintly of patchouli.

Those human hunters couldn’t have done it, because they were all just like that Italian guy pretending to be an American Indian in a canoe in the old commercial crying over pollution. That guy would never think of making a little mammoth parmigiana with a side of mammoth prosciutto. Kill such a majestic and delicious protein wad, just so you and your children and the whole tribe could eat for a month?  Unthinkable!

Oh wait – I get it now:

Woolly mammoths may have feasted on flowers, living life as gentle vegans, according to new research.

So, those giant pointy tusks were for gently nudging saber-toothed cats toward a higher spiritual plain? Or perhaps were only used in friendly discussions of possible breeding options, after the manner of big horn sheep? Good to know, because they look kind of scary:

woolly mammoth
A gentle, enlightened, dare I say politically progressive woolly mammoth, holding his in no way threatening yet massive tusks in friendly greeting.

Nope. All North American megafauna, including those not living in arctic regions, became extinct right around the same time significant numbers of human *hunters* arrived in the Americas because there were not enough flowers to eat in the Arctic.

It may be true to some extent – we’ll never know – but it cracks me up that this sort of speculation makes the news. Sure, it’s interesting stuff – but it’s only in the news because it allows certain people to better cling to their Disney Pocahontas mythology.

Bad Science! reporting! Bad! Hand in your lab coat right now.

An Introduction to Economics for Catholics – Part 1

  1. Introduction: What it Means to Work

There’s not a house in this country that I haven’t built that I don’t look at every time I go by. (Laughs.) I can set here now and actually in my mind see so many that you wouldn’t believe. If there’s one stone in there crooked, I know where it’s at and I’ll never forget it. Maybe thirty years, I’ll know a place where I should have took that stone out and redone it but I didn’t. I still notice it. The people who live there might not notice it, but I notice it. I never pass that house that I don’t think of it. I’ve got one house in mind right now. (Laughs.) That’s the work of my hands. ’Cause you see, stone, you don’t prepaint it, you don’t camouflage it. It’s there, just like I left it forty years ago.

I can’t imagine a job where you go home and maybe go by a year later and you don’t know what you’ve done. My work, I can see what I did the first day I started. All my work is set right out there in the open and I can look at it as I go by. It’s something I can see the rest of my life. Forty years ago, the first blocks I ever laid in my life, when I was seventeen years old. I never go through Eureka—a little town down there on the river—that I don’t look thataway. It’s always there.

Immortality as far as we’re concerned. Nothin’ in this world lasts forever, but did you know that stone—Bedford limestone, they claim—deteriorates one-sixteenth of an inch every hundred years? And it’s around four or five inches for a house. So that’s gettin’ awful close. (Laughs.)

The Mason: Carl Murray Bates from Studs Turkel’s Working

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you:
fruit of the earth and work of human hands,
it will become for us the bread of life.

Blessed be God forever.

This familiar prayer, said right before the Eucharistic Prayer, nicely expresses the Catholic understanding of work: God is to be blessed, for through His goodness, we get to share in His creative act by making something new out of what He has given us. He gives us what we need to live – wheat and grapes – but we, as a gift from God, get to work with those gifts to make something truly human out of them. This secondary creative act is one way we have been made in His Image.

So, the bread and wine, fruits of the earth AND work of human hands, becomes the perfect offering. The food Adam had been cursed to produce by “the sweat of your brow” becomes the holy offering, and, ultimately, becomes Christ Himself, the one perfect offering.

File:Trakehner Reithengst, Auktion Neumünster 2004.jpgOur work, far from being pointless drudgery, is meant as a gift, a sharing in the life of God the Creator.  Mr. Bates, the mason, shows a perfectly natural and human joy in making things, a pride that is more like delight. This God-like sharing in the joy of creation is what is meant by work, in the highest, best sense. It is, properly, the sense in which we “subdue” the earth. Chesterton observed that there are few things more beautiful in this world than a good horseman on a fine horse. Maritain observed that, while a valley in its natural state is beautiful, a valley with beautiful farms in it is even more beautiful and perfect. Thus, God gives us a beautiful world, a land of milk and honey, and we *improve* it by our proper work. A horse is more beautiful when trained and ridden by a man; the valley is more beautiful when care for and made productive by a farmer.

It is no accident that the most hideous things we do to the earth are almost always associated with mistreatment of labor, of treating working people like mere inputs in a system, rather than sharers in God’s act of creation.

File:Longsheng pano.jpg
Thought about just throwing up a Kinkade here, but – nah.

With this high calling of work in mind, it is tempting to focus with disgust on both capitalism (“unfettered capitalism”, if you prefer) and socialism as being systems within which man and his labors are seen primarily as inputs into a system, either as just another cost to be controlled within a capitalist enterprise, or as a sort of necessary evil, a formula for determining from whom things are taken and to whom they are given within a socialist system. And there is plenty to be disgusted with in both systems, as we will discuss as we go on. But we can’t ignore our own role as individuals working in the world. Regardless of the social hand we have been dealt, we must make our work holy and creative. Even slaves have been saints. The same tasks can be crushing or sanctifying, depending on how we perform them.

I hope, over the course of a few essays, to rehash neither church documents nor the Dismal Science itself, but rather to show how certain economic ideas that seem good fail due to both spiritual and practical considerations. We must be wise, as we are aspiring to great and holy things through our work.

Or you can go read John C. Wright’s latest. He takes the issues on with his incisive intellect and characteristically virile style. In this series here I hope to take a somewhat different approach.

What We’re Listening To

While the magnum opus on basic economics for Catholics molders in the Drafts folder, let’s talk music!

First up: the sublime Morten Lauridsen. Here’s my current favorite:

Abandon entouré d’abandon,
tendresse touchant aux tendresses…
C’est ton intérieur qui sans cesse
se caresse, dirait-on;
se caresse en soi-même,
par son propre reflet éclairé.
Ainsi tu inventes le thème
du Narcisse exaucé.

Wildness surrounding wildness,
Tenderness touching tenderness,
It is your own core that you ceaselessly caress,
…. as they say.
It is your own center that you caress,
Your own reflection gives you light.
And in this way, you show us how Narcissus is redeemed.

Next, been listening to some Audrey Assad (hi, Renee!). She transcends the praise song form as the sky transcends the earth:

From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me O God

From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God

And I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want

From the fear of serving others
From the fear of death or trial
From the fear of humility
Deliver me O God
Deliver me O God

And I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want

No, I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want

When I taste Your goodness I shall not want

This song is a rephrasing and extension of the Litany of Humility, it seems to me.

Finally, our 9 year old really loves this song, which is a great blessing, as 9 year olds are not generally known for the sophistication of their musical tastes. This is pretty cool:

Go buy Scythian CDs. We got to meet the Fedoryka brothers, a couple cool guys. If you like rocking Irish and world music, they’re your cup of tea.

Ends, Means and Knowledge

Two thoughts for today:

bluefenceA parable:

Once upon a time, the people in a village decided that the picket fence that marked off the village limits needed to be painted red, in accordance with the desires and traditions of the people. The village Painter announced: “I have plenty of blue paint with which to paint the fence red, and I work cheap!” The Mayor announced that that seemed good to him. And so the Painter was hired.

The village Curmudgeon tried to point out, “you can’t paint a fence red with blue paint,” but he was drowned out by the back-slapping and congratulations the villagers gave each other as the walked back to their homes.

And so the Painter began, and, over the next two weeks, the fence got a fresh coat of blue paint. Some people grumbled, saying: you agreed to paint the fence red, but it’s coming out blue. The Painter replied that you had to wait until it was finished before judging him. The Curmudgeon shook his head.

When the fence was finished, it was still blue. The villagers said to the Painter, “We appreciate your hard work and all, but the fence is supposed to be red, not blue.” The Painter replied, “Well, I’ll admit it’s not as red as one could hope. What it needs is a second coat, to bring out the red more.” The Mayor thought this sounded reasonable, and so, with a little grumbling, it was agreed.  They paid the painter for his work, and a down payment for the second coat. The Curmudgeon shook his head.

After the second coat was on, the fence remained a blue as ever. As the villagers gathered, the Curmudgeon made another attempt. “Folks, you can’t make a fence red by painting it blue.” But the Painter jumped in, and said, “Look, I’ll admit it could be more red,” (a little boy shouted “It’s not red at all!” but was quickly hushed) “but this is the way it is supposed to be done – I am the Painter, after all. If you all want it to be more red, I’m just going to have to paint it blue again.

As the people grumbled – they had paid for the fence to be painted red twice now, and it sure didn’t look red – the Curmudgeon tried to speak again: “People, blue paint makes things blue. If you want it red, you need to use red paint.” “Who are you to go on about painting,” the Mayor replied, “when we have an expert here to advise us?”

And so the villagers paid to have the fence painted blue again. Most of the villagers eventually decided that the fence color was OK, that the traditional understanding of ‘red’ was really no longer appropriate, and besides, this was the best they could do, and they should be proud of it. The Mayor declared that the particular shade of blue would from henceforth be referred to as ‘mayoral red’.  The Painter went on to a long and lucrative career in public works. The Curmudgeon shook his head.

Over the last couple decades, I have had a number of in-depth discussions of education. Several times, my interlocutor would object that, if we followed my thinking to its logical conclusion, we’d shut down all the public schools and start over (true) – and that we can’t do this, because it would be abandoning all those poor kids who need school to get ahead.

That would be the point where, back when I had hair, I’d be tempted to pull it out: the entire argument I’m making is that current schools – compulsory, factory-model schools – are not designed to teach kids anything a sane parent would want them to know, in fact are designed to prevent any real learning from taking place*

But if we just paint it blue again, THIS TIME it will come out red! Think of the children! We’d be abandoning them!


Next, it doesn’t take any special training or understanding to see that the bridge is out. However, it does take some training to see why the bridge failed and what needs to be done to fix it.

Another way to put it: everybody see that the goal is to get over the river, and that the bridge being out does not permit the goal to be realized. Yet few people understand the engineering that needs to be done to achieve the end of getting people from A to B.

This was brought to mind by a blog post on Mark Shea’s site that brought to mind the people in the picture above: everyone can see that the economic bridge is out, that some people are trapped on one side – the poor side – and the way they are to get over to the other side has been washed out.** Reading the comments on that post was, for the most part, to despair.  Agreeing to the desired ends, and embracing the Church’s teachings does not mean agreeing to paint the fence blue in order to make it red. So to speak.  Why is it that Catholics of good will and no doubt holier than I am manage to maintain such levels of total, (willful?) ignorance of economic reality?

The Church guides and helps us here: no one should be left on the other side, we have a duty as Christians to help those who are less fortunate. Given those ends, prudence might indicate that building a new bridge is the way to go – implementing structural methods by which people on the poor side can get themselves over to the not poor side. Heck, maybe we could even send economic missionaries across the bridge to take care of the immediate needs of the poor, and then show them the way across! Sign me up.

This would be very good. But, given the goal, which we will presume every decent Christian desires, we’re still going to  need the engineers to figure out what kind of a bridge to build so that it works – it reaches to the other side and allows people to cross over – and that stands up to traffic. Otherwise, it goes out again.

But, judging from much of the of the comments, many faithful Catholics want to start by stringing up all rich people, taking their money, ripping the shirts off their backs and, using a t-shirt cannon, fire wads of cash wrapped in the shirts across the river to the poor. Something like that.

I stopped commenting  after a couple tries to make a few simple economic points. The O’Floinn kept up a manly battle for a while longer, and there were a couple people who seemed to resist the attempts to merely inflame people against the rich in the name of JVSTICE. The manufactured (read: lying) statistics in the headline, and this general idea that things would get all better if we could only take everything away from the rich people (ignoring who is the ‘we’ that is doing the taking, and who gets to say who is rich) seemed to me calculated only to inflame hatred and envy.

Anyone who has read this blog much knows that I have a long list of rich people I’d like to see in jail, as a result of a litany of economic abuses committed by them or by minions for their benefit. Of course, rich people abuse their blessings and fail in their duties.

Kind of like all of us.

So, while we’re contemplating taking those bastards down, maybe we should look at history, and see how that works out in practice. When I think of rich people getting their comeuppance, I don’t just think of the Tzar and his family getting executed –  I tend to think of those rich Ukrainian peasant farmers who Stalin starved to death in their millions. Because, you know, too much wealth is in the eye of the beholder, and to the revolutionary vanguard a self-sufficient farmer with a couple cows was clearly a capitalist pig who needed to die horribly, along with his wife and kids. That’s how this kind of stuff tends to play out.

90% of the world would view 90% of Americans as filthy rich. By the same logic used in that combox to condemn the rich just for being rich, every time you buy something at WalMart to save a couple bucks, YOU are causing peasants to be abused – because they are abused IN YOUR NAME, FOR YOUR BENEFIT.  Your savings on those rock bottom prices are your 30 pieces of silver.

Unless, of course, there’s more to it than that. I feel another series of longish blog posts coming up.

*When real learning does take place in the graded classroom model, it’s often an heroic misfit teacher plus uppity parents who pull it off. The system will then do its best to repel the invaders. How often do those stories of great teachers end with them getting pushed out or fired?

** Of course, down in the river, there will people trying to swim across, or build a raft, and others who, for a small fee, will give you a ride across in their boat. And some of those people will drown, and some of the boat guys will take your money but not deliver you to the other side. It’s not pretty – but neither is it impossible.

Review: A ‘Just War Theory’ of Homeschooling?

Regular reader Adam Burch (A regular reader! Brings a tear to me one good eye!) pointed me to this article by William Fahey, currently  President of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire. By odd coincidence, my two teenagers will be flying out to New Hampshire next month to visit Thomas More College, so my interest is in what Dr. Fahey has to say is piqued.  So, let’s dig in:

This essay is adapted from a speech presented at the New England Catholic Home School Conference on June 6, 2009.First off, I agree with much of what he says. Of course, any Catholic, homeschoolers or not, should concern themselves first with the training of their children’s souls for God, should recognize that the holy life is only fully lived as a part of society, and should attend Mass regularly with their kids. The chief contribution of this essay is to remind us that it is only as a part of a society that a human being can be fully human, and that tendencies to withdraw and hunker down and see society as unnecessary or even simply evil are wrong and against church teaching. We all need to remember this, and know that our duty to love even our unlovable neighbors necessarily includes an involvement in society, that we all might be perfected and holy.

Fahey describes what he calls a “just war” theory of homeschooling, where taking on the responsibility of educating one’s children in the home is, like war, a thing of last resort. He is concerned that Catholic homeschoolers might not be doing it right:

Stated more controversially: The common approach to homeschooling today is inherently dangerous, because it may go against what our entire Western tradition and the Catholic Church herself teach about the education of the young — that education should not be done in the home, at least not for long, except during a time and place of crisis.

Why Johnny Can’t Read and His Haubregon is Dripping Gore

The first thing to note is the audience: people who already have a commitment or at least an interest in Catholic home schooling. Among devoted homeschoolers of all stripes a certain percentage tend to be people who view homeschooling as part of a larger rebellion against our current culture of stupidity, sex and death. In an odd way, Fehey’s suggestion that we consider homeschooling as the regrettable outcome of a sort of just war theory of education fits like a glove on this attitude: it’s a battle to the death – their culture, or ours – and the battlefield is the minds and souls of our kids. Even if this is not exactly what Fahey is saying, by framing it up this way he is certainly not rebutting or even discouraging this attitude. This isn’t going to help curb bunker mentality among homeschoolers.

There’s a fine line a Christian must walk: on the one hand, everything we do or don’t do is a matter of eternal life or death. Yet the first thing the angels, the messengers of God, always say to us is: be not afraid. Viewing the education of our children as being the front line of a war certainly does not reduce our fear. Continue reading “Review: A ‘Just War Theory’ of Homeschooling?”