Advent: St. Lucy’s Day

As we rapidly approach the Winter Solstice, the day of the year with the least sunlight, the Church calendar and readings stick to the theme of light. This coming Sunday’s Gospel opens with John 1:6

A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.

The ‘O’ Antiphon for December 21:

O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.

And today is the Feast of St. Lucy, whose name means ‘Light’.

virgin and martyr of Syracuse in Sicily, whose feast is celebrated by Latins and Greeks alike on 13 December.

According to the traditional story, she was born of rich and noble parents about the year 283. Her father was of Roman origin, but his early death left her dependent upon her mother, whose name, Eutychia, seems to indicate that she came of Greek stock.

Like so many of the early martyrs, Lucy had consecrated her virginity to God, and she hoped to devote all her worldly goods to the service of the poor. Her mother was not so single-minded, but an occasion offered itself when Lucy could carry out her generous resolutions. The fame of the virgin-martyr Agatha, who had been executed fifty-two years before in the Decian persecution, was attracting numerous visitors to her relics at Catania, not fifty miles from Syracuse, and many miracles had been wrought through her intercession. Eutychia was therefore persuaded to make a pilgrimage to Catania, in the hope of being cured of a hæmorrhage, from which she had been suffering for several years. There she was in fact cured, and Lucy, availing herself of the opportunity, persuaded her mother to allow her to distribute a great part of her riches among the poor.

The largess stirred the greed of the unworthy youth to whom Lucy had been unwillingly betrothed, and he denounced her to Paschasius, the Governor of Sicily. It was in the year 303, during the fierce persecution of Diocletian. She was first of all condemned to suffer the shame of prostitution; but in the strength of God she stood immovable, so that they could not drag her away to the place of shame. Bundles of wood were then heaped about her and set on fire, and again God saved her. Finally, she met her death by the sword. But before she died she foretold the punishment of Paschasius and the speedy termination of the persecution, adding that Diocletian would reign no more, and Maximian would meet his end. So, strengthened with the Bread of Life, she won her crown of virginity and martyrdom.

And:

Lucy’s legend did not end with her death. According to later accounts, Lucy warned Paschasius he would be punished. When the governor heard this he ordered the guards to gouge out her eyes; however, in another telling, it was Lucy who removed her eyes in an attempt to discourage a persistent suitor who greatly admired them.

When her body was being prepared for burial, they discovered her eyes had been restored.

Quotes Catholic Saint Lucia. QuotesGram
St. Lucy. Here’s looking at you! 

Before you dismiss this as sheer pious fantasy, you might want to read this David Warren essay. I’m inclined to believe that the bare bones of the story as factually correct, and that there’s something behind the more legendary claims, even if they might have suffered some embellishment in pious hands. The Church has long held that there’s little harm in pious legends, and much good if they inspire us to greater holiness.

Be that as it may, the feast of St. Lucy has some interesting history and traditions around it. Due to the subtle inaccuracies of the Julian Calendar, the Winter Solstice had slowly crept earlier over the 15 centuries since that calendar’s promulgation. Pope Gregory’s team proposed an equally subtle correction in 1582. That’s the calendar we use today.

Even though the Gregorian Calendar is a better calendar in all practical senses, keeping the days of the solstices and thus the seasons more or less fixed for millennia to come, the Pope had no authority to enforce this change. He could only appeal to reason. We know how far that will get you in a politically charged (to say the least!) environment. Plus, there was a correction needed: the papal bull specified that Thursday, October 4, 1582 under the Julian calendar be followed by Friday, October 15, 1582 in the Gregorian calendar. Tough break if your birthday falls into those now-vanished days!

In the end, Catholic countries pretty much got on the bandwagon pretty fast, while Protestant countries, being Enlightened and all, resisted doing the logical, practical thing for a long, long time.

When John Donne wrote A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day around 1627,  the British were still using the Julian calendar (better to get one’s calendar from a pagan emperor than a pope!), according to which the Winter Solstice had crept forward to indeed fall on (or very near) St. Lucy’s Day. As mentioned in this earlier post, our European ancestors were much less bent out of shape by claims that coincidences showed the hand of God, in fact, they expected God to work through accidents. Thus, that the feast of the saint named Light would fall on the day with the least light would seem appropriate cause for contemplation, portentous, even, to a man of Donne’s time.

St LucyThus has St. Lucy been remembered since the 6th century on. More recently, as in the last 1,000 years or so, Scandinavians have celebrated St. Lucy’s Day as part of the Christmas celebration in this manner: eldest daughter wears white that day, and wears a crown of candles. She is charged with serving food to the family, in commemoration with a legend that has it that St. Lucy did this to have both hands free to serve the poor.

There is a procession, and, in church, appropriate hymns are sung.

The love of Scandinavians for St. Lucy, a Sicilian, is explained by how her feast fell close to the pagan Norse celebration of the Winter Solstice. Those Norsemen would build big bonfires during the longest winter night to drive off the darkness and invite back the light. Lucy’s Day timing, name and story seemed a good segue from pagan to Christian.

And who doesn’t like setting stuff on fire?

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Science!: One *Million* Dollars!

A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.

H. L. Mencken

(WordPress formatting Hell – unlocked!)

We will not here pile on to the current avalanche precipitated by political news proving Mencken’s point. Instead, let’s do Science!

I’d never heard of these folks before, just saw the headline and had to take it on. This is who they say they are:

About The Western Journal 

The Western Journal is a news company that drives positive cultural change by equipping readers with truth. Every day, WesternJournal.com publishes conservative, libertarian, free market and pro-family writers and broadcasters.

As Americans — and indeed, readers around the world — continue to lose trust in traditional newspapers and broadcast networks and their claims of objectivity and impartiality, The Western Journal is rapidly filling the gap as a trusted source of news and information. The Western Journal is staffed by an experienced team of editors, journalists and media experts who both recognize the stories that matter to everyday readers and provide a truthful and unfiltered view of current events.

Now, I would often give a pass to stories of the quality of the one we’ll be discussing below, not because such are not egregious examples of the Mencken quotation above, but rather because they are Legion and comparatively harmless. Not absolutely harmless, because they perpetuate the mindless Pavlovian expectation that we salivate ooh and aah at impressive sounding numbers and speculations passed off as facts as long as they’re associated, however tenuously, with Science!

The headline to the article, NASA Admits Valuable Asteroid Would Crash Entire Economy, Still Sending Retrieval Rocket, is so egregiously stupid that it’s hard not to laugh. The “experienced team of editors, journalists and media experts” have got to be kidding, right? NASA, collective bureaucratic feet no doubt to the fire, admit to the truth they’d been hiding: that an asteroid of all but immeasurable value would “crash entire economy” somehow – but they are nefariously sending a “retrieval rocket” nonetheless – unless, I suppose, we, the faithful readers of the Western Journal somehow can stop them! At this point, I think we need to appeal to the imperial senate to send Jedi to break the trade embargo. Or something. It’s only prudent.

But the ‘About’ quoted above says either ‘no, they’re serious’ or ‘deep meta-humor going on here’,  and I’m not quite buying the meta humor angle. One supposes there’s also the ‘false flag’ angle, where somebody’s goal is to discredit “conservative, libertarian, free market and pro-family” people by claiming to be on their side, then repeating Science! so stupid that only the appallingly ignorant would fall for it. Tempting to believe, but that’s a little hard to buy, as I’ve seen worse in, oh, Scientific American. So:

“NASA admits” – admits?

“valuable asteroid” – ya know, there are supposedly diamond stars out there, too – do we refer to them as ‘valuable stars’? Without, oh, factoring in the effectively infinite retrieval costs? Just curious. Now, an article on how technology is even now driving down retrieval costs for asteroids to some level where either they can be economically redirected to some more convenient orbit or mining operations could be set up on the asteroid in its current orbit AND we’ve got some plausible ideas on how we get stuff from the asteroid to the surface of the earth economically and safely – well, I’d eagerly read that article.

This is not that article.

“would crash entire economy”  – sure! Movies have been made on that topic – a 130 mile diameter asteroid could crash a lot more than just the economy! Perhaps the word ‘crash’ is infelicitous in this context?

“still sending retrieval rocket” – the nerve! Don’t those NASA people even watch the show?The scene: the dedicated and “experienced team of editors, journalists and media experts” have gotten NASA dead to rights, but just as they admit this asteroid they’ll be retrieving is a real threat to destroy The Economy, they cackle maniacally and declare: “and we’re sending the retrieval rocket anyway! MUAHAHAHA!”This is point where I’d like to say some headline writer got out of hand, the real article isn’t nearly this bad.But it is:

NASA has officially set a date for a trip to an asteroid that is so valuable it could collapse the world’s economy.

The mission is set to launch in the summer of 2022, and is planned to arrive at the main asteroid belt where the asteroid is located in the year 2026.

The asteroid named “16 Psyche” measures about 130 miles in diameter and is made entirely of nickel and iron.

Psyche is worth approximately $10,000 quadrillion, according to Daily Star. To put that in perspective, the world’s economy is currently worth $73.7 trillion dollars.

And so on. So: NASA is somehow going to ‘retrieve’ a 130 mile diameter chunk of nickle and iron from the asteroid belt, which, last I checked, is over a hundred million miles away at the closest. This chunk of nickle and iron is worth the staggering sum of $10,000 quadrillion, which is, let’s see, pulling out the calculator here, A LOT!!!

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Luke: Listen, if you were to rescue her, the reward would be…more than you can imagine.  Han: I don’t know. I can imagine quite a bit.

I recently watched a little video about traditional African iron smelting. The team made the video to capture the techniques before the last people who knew how to smelt iron from ore died off. They mention in passing that about 60 years ago, a ship was driven aground and abandoned on the shore, and the Africans, being not stupid, started right in stripping the wreck and stopped smelting their own iron. Then, Japanese and Chinese showed up, and would sell them all the iron they could use. So, rather than draft the entire village to work their behinds off digging and hauling ore, chopping down a small forest for charcoal, hauling clay and water to build a furnace, then burning, pounding, fanning and sweating for hours on end all to get enough iron to make a couple hoes, hoes they could swap a piglet for – they stopped. Economics and all that.

Iron and nickel are quite valuable – when you have to make them yourself. Thanks to the miracle of the free market system, you don’t. You just buy them from companies that, through applied science and a couple centuries of effort, are willing to sell you nickel for under $5 a pound and iron for much less than that.But if you take those numbers, apply them to however much iron and nickel you calculate a 130 mile diameter sphere would hold, and – WOW! One *million* dollars! Or, it might as well be, given how well readers of the Western Journal (including me) are able to imagine $10,000,000,000,000.

Let us assume – dangerous, I know – that somehow NASA retrieves this asteroid so that the there’s so much nickel and iron on earth that it is effectively all but free. This will destroy the economy – how? Like how gravel pits have destroyed the economy? You know that virtually all you’re paying for when you buy gravel is the equipment and manpower needed to get it out of the ground, sorted and delivered. The rock ain’t worth much.

Unless all my money was in mineral rights to iron and nickel mines, I fail to see how this could possibly be a bad thing.The remainder of the article is untethered speculation, some by NASA scientists, among which are the idea that you could corner markets or solve all the world’s metal needs for ever. You need to squint a bit and cock your head just right to get anything like the click-bait headline out of it.Followed some of the links in the article to other equally confidence-inspiring sources, until the interesting stuff came up: it is not assumed that this asteroid is only iron and nickel, but rather that, as a possible planetary core (mentioned without comment in the Western Journal article) it would be rich in rare and valuable metals. That’s the interest: getting stuff that’s really rare and valuable on earth. What exactly ‘retrieve’ means wasn’t spelled out, but one would assume samples, if anything.

This introduction to the Western Journal has made it a trusted source for goofball click bait headlines. Science, not so much.

Ave Fit Ex Eva

Happy, holy and blessed Feast of the Immaculate Conception!

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Immaculate Conception, El Greco, 1610. You can count on El Greco for weird and arresting colors and composition, and also for unusual insights into the emotions of the scene depicted. For example, study Mary’s face in the painting. 

This is a lovely and evocative feast. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is a wonderful expression of faith understood through tradition and logic.

I was a little disappointed at mass this morning when the homilist stuck to a Sunday school level exposition of the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. He first spent a couple minutes making clear that we’re talking about Mary being preserves from original sin, not Jesus’s divine conception or virgin birth, then explained how Mary needed to be kept free of sin in order to be the Mother of the sinless God – well and good.  But we left it there.

It was completely orthodox, something for which I suppose I should be thankful, especially given some of the homilies I’ve heard at this particular church (recently retired: a Jesuit, and a super-duper spirit of V-II priest.) But my mind went back to this little ditty, the sources of the text for which dates to the Middle Ages:

(Not the exact text Williametta Spencer used – I couldn’t find it – but close)

1. Gabriel of high degree,
He came down from the Trinity
From Nazareth to Galilee,
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

2. He met a maiden in a place;
He kneeled down before her face;
He said: “Hail, Mary, full of grace!”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

3. When the maiden saw all this,
She was sore abashed, ywis,
Lest that she had done amiss.
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

4. Then said the angel: “Dread not you,
Ye shall conceive in all virtue
A child whose name shall be Jesu.”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

5. Then said the maid: “How may this be,
God’s Son to be born of me?
I know not of man’s carnality.”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

6. Then said the angel anon right:
“The Holy Ghost is on thee alight;
There is no thing unpossible to God Almight.”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

7. Then said the angel anon:
“It is not fully six months agone,
Since Saint Elizabeth conceived Saint John.”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

8. Then said the maid anon quickly:
“I am God’s own truly,
Ecce ancilla Domini.”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

It seems those poor ignorant medieval peasants were getting markedly deeper theology in popular songs than one can nowadays expect from the pulpit.

The refrain is the key: Ave, the first word of the angel’s greeting of Mary, is made from (fit ex) Eve’s sin. The medievals loved the little accidental palindrome of Ave – Eva. In fact, they didn’t really believe in coincidences like this – they thought that the all-loving God would quite naturally use little associations like this to make His Love known.

For the Ave really is made by reversing the Eva. Mary is not the only Immaculate Conception, in the sense of the only person born without Original Sin. There are 4: Mary, her Divine Son, Adam – and Eve.

Eve, sinless and blessed with a personal knowledge of God, who walked with them in the cool of the evening, nonetheless chose to reject His will. By means of her ‘No’ to the will of God, all her children inherited a darkness of intellect, a weakening of the will, and a tendency to choose evil. And we all thus die.

Mary, also sinless and blessed – full of grace, even – and free of those curses, is thus able to respond to God’s call with complete freedom. By means of her ‘Yes’ all her children inherit the grace of salvation, and are likewise free to chose to do God’s will.

Eve, the mother of mankind, and Mary, the Mother of God and the mother of the all who follow her Son, are set in parallel for our contemplation. One chose hard but well, the other chose poorly. One was faced with a simple prohibition – don’t eat the fruit! – and could not trust God enough to obey. The other was faced with a huge unknown, and chose to trust God’s will anyway. Neither knew what would happen, but Eve hoped to become a god herself but becomes instead the mother of sin, while Mary loses herself in God and becomes the queen of heaven and earth.

When it comes to revealed truths, Thomists have from the beginning loved to argue from appropriateness – we may not be able to reason our way to a particular truth (that’s why it is revealed) but we can see that the revelation is meet and just. And thus it is with the Immaculate Conception: it is meet and just that, since sin entered the world through the choice of the woman Eve, that salvation should enter the world through the choice of the woman Mary; that, as Eve was sinless and thus perfectly free to choose, Mary must needs be sinless and perfectly free to choose; that, just as the result of Eve’s poor choice was death for her children, the result of Mary’s good choice is life for her children. As brothers and sisters of Christ, we are children of Mary.

The Immaculate Conception is celebrated as a great feast of Advent, because Mary’s preparation for the coming of Our Lord, and embrace and acceptance of the consequences of that coming, are meant to inspire and inform our own preparations and our own acceptance of the Lord. Our salvation is and has always been an unmerited gift. We must, like Mary, say ‘yes’ and be prepared to live out the implications of that yes in our lives.

The Harrowing of Hell, depicted in the Petites Heures de Jean de Berry, 14th-century illuminated manuscript By Anonimous – from en.wikipedia.org, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3170407

The final punchline is something often portrayed in medieval art: the Harrowing of Hell. Christ, during His time in the Tomb, is portrayed opening the gates of Hell and freeing those souls who had yearned for His coming but were not yet saved because he had not yet come.

The first two people out are always Adam and Eve. Thus, even Eve, our mother in sin, is saved by means of the ‘Yes’ of Mary, our mother through our being the brothers and sisters of Christ. To the medieval mind, the symmetry and beauty of such a resolution and such mercy was indeed meet and just, a magnum mysterium to be contemplated in awe.

 

 

 

 

Chicago & the FBI

I can’t shake this, but I also lack time to do the level of research to even make it a good working theory. So take this as the speculation it most certainly is:

Bathhouse John Coughlin.jpg
‘Bathhouse’ John Coughlin, Alderman for 46 years. Good Irish boy, threw a hell of a party. Hey, what’s a little prostitution, gambling and racketeering among Paddies? It’s not like it’s your sons and daughters having their lives destroye – oh.

When looking at the history of Chicago for the last century or so, one thing is clear: it has been run by the Mob. Much of the time, such as under ‘Bathhouse’ John Coughlin in the early 20th century or Fred Roti in latter part, the Mob’s running of the city was quite overt – these men were both well-known criminals and elected officials, and you crossed them at your very real peril.

Other times, the Chicago Outfit has been more subtle – not a lot more subtle, but at least the guys in charge weren’t widely known to be made men. But any way you slice it, Chicago politics has been Mob politics for generations now.

And it still seems to be. I’ve looked in vain for the reform moment, the point where somebody cleaned house, threw people in jail, and made a fresh start. Nope. When Fred Roti, a made man dying of cancer, was ‘caught’ by somebody wearing a wire – a wire that, oddly enough, never caught anybody else doing anything illegal – he went to jail in 1993 without too big a fuss, and left a ‘legacy’ of having launched the careers of dozens of current and former Chicago politicians.

At what point, then, did political control of Chicago pass from criminal hands? It never did seems to be the only viable answer.

I have friends and acquaintances who are proud Chicagoans. They seem to more or less consciously make the self-fulfilling assumption that all politicians are crooks. Certainly, nothing in their immediate experiences would prove them wrong. Therefore, all that really matters is that the crooks keep enough of a lid on their criminal activities so that it can plausibly be maintained that it isn’t *that* bad, and keep the pork rolling to the constituents.

You think this is too harsh, maybe? Consider the Boston Southies, who treated Whitey Bulger as a hero because a) he was one of them; and b) he sometimes played Robin Hood and threw around a little cash. His willingness to support his brother Billy Bulger’s political career was standing up for his brother, like any good Southie would do. Only when he was tried for murder as an old man did it seem to dawn on people that the guys getting murdered and the families left behind were most often ones of them, too. It might even have been them getting murdered or left widowed. But, like retractions in the New York Times, their changes of heart were relatively muted.

Coughlin and his partner and fellow alderman Michael ‘Hinky Dink’ Kenna were generally thought very kindly of by the people of Chicago. True, under their management the perhaps less lovable but vastly more, shall we say, efficient Italians took charge –  Johnny Torrio & Al ‘Scarface’ Capone, who in turn more or less handed off much of the leadership duties to the Roti clan.  Fred, the youngest Roti, seems to have handed off leadership to a committee. I suspect Rahm Emmanuel runs it now, or at least is the designated figurehead (although Rahm’s intelligence and ego would appear to make him a poor choice as a figurehead. Unlike a certain former president, who would seem to have the perfect skill set for the job. But I digress.)

Business as usual, in other words.

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Hinky Dink Kenna and a younger, more dapper Coughlin.

Back to Chicago. So, as I said, the only viable theory about Chicago politics is that it remains in the hands of the heirs of Fred Roti, his hitman father Bruno ‘the Bomber’ Roti, Al Capone,  Johnny Torrio, Big Jim Colosimo, Coughlin and Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna.

The Untouchables famously got Al Capone. While the Mob works hard and with considerable success at making sure it has control of local law enforcement, the FBI has, as in the case of Capone, proven on occasion more difficult. The FBI got Roti, but under conditions that make it pretty clear Fred was taking one for the team. I’m pretty sure – and here’s where I should stop and do some research, but I just don’t have time right now – that the FBI has been deeply involved in the endless stream of Chicago politicians and mobsters (but I repeat myself) who have been caught and convicted.

So here’s my little conspiracy theory: one of the goals of the Obama presidency was to reign in the FBI. Not that Obama himself would get involved in this – he seems to be the Warren G. Harding of this age, except without Harding’s self-awareness – but he brought essentially his entire team with him from Chicago to the White House. In that team were certainly people that the likes of Roti knew they could work with, as it were. A key guy here, an informant there, a guy in position to put the brakes on over there – and, voila! While you may not be able to stop the rank and file agents from doing their jobs, you can make sure nothing much comes of it.

All this is brought to mind, of course, by the items in the news describing how, shockingly, a number of people in the FBI seems to have their loyalties first to Obama and then Clinton, and only second, if at all, to their duties. This is exactly what I would have expected, and is one of the reasons for the clear panic that seems to have gripped many in Washington with the election of Trump. I’m guessing – and here, again, is mere speculation – that there’s a lot of agents with a lot of dirt, starting just below the head honchos.

I suppose we’ll see. Or, if the Outfit is still at the top of its game, maybe we won’t.

An Invitation to Solemn Joy

Yesterday, the family attended Mass at beautiful St. Dominic’s Church in San Francisco, one of the loveliest churches on the West Coast.

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Image result for St. Dominic's Church in San Francisco

The neo-Gothic style building is situated in a bit of a valley or hillside on the north side of San Francisco not far from the Presidio. It’s not a particularly large or imposing structure, especially when compared to the Cathedral or St. Ignatius in the City.

The interior, in particular, is very well done. A slightly yellow-tinted stone was used for most of the interior, which gives it a warmth. The many stained glass windows fill it with richly colored light. The woodwork on the confessionals and trim is beautiful German craftsmanship. The proportions are glorious yet still human scale.

I love the high altar in particular. The classic semicircular apse, raised a couple steps above the nave, with an ambulatory which provides access to the sacristy, has the effect of at once setting the sanctuary apart while also allowing people to walk around it easily. The altar piece features Dominican saints arrayed around the Crucifix and Tabernacle. The altar rail, although I suppose unused for decades, is attractive and, more important, still there.

The interior is at once joyful, playful, even, in that Gothic way, and completely serious. The result of all this, and the defining characteristic of St. Dominic’s, is that it is a special place, a place set apart. It could not be mistaken for any other kind of building.

St. Dominic’s is an invitation to solemn, almost stern, joy. In a way more definite than even a burning bush, everything tells you you are on holy ground. You should be silent and pay attention. Something Important happens here.

Built in the 1920s, this building is a concrete expression of the Latin Mass, and not just in having been built to facilitate the rituals. It shares an esthetic with the old Mass, and, much more – they share a spiritual mission.

Having recently been blessed to attend the Ordinary Form of the Mass in the way envisioned (and commanded!) by Vatican II – ad orientem and in Latin – it’s easy to imagine that the Novus Ordo, too, shares that same spiritual mission. It’s also hard not to conclude that the Ordinary Form as done 99.99% of the time in this neck of the woods – ad populum and in English, sure, but more important, with the sensibilities of a game show – does not.

The Mass as actually celebrated by the wonderful Dominicans at St. Dominic’s is, of course, beautiful and efficacious, and we are grateful for having been blessed to attend it. And the artistic and spiritual spirit of the building does seem to have a calming affect, inspiring a level of reverence sadly lacking in most parish churches. But the gap between architecture and the practice that architecture embodies was palpable. It would no doubt foment a revolution of sorts, but I imagine that, for some people, maybe many people, that if they started doing an ad orientem Mass in Latin there, they would never want to go back. They harmony of building and practice would call to them. They would know that they were home.

 

On Sacrificing Children to Educational Abstractions

One view I run across from time to time holds that all parents are morally obliged to send their children to public schools for the greater good. Googling produces:

If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person (From Slate, you’ll be stunned to learn)

There’s a Simple Solution to the Public Schools Crisis ban private schools! (Gawker – likewise shocking.)

Why not ban private schools? From some education blog doing its part to normalize the concept. Warren Buffet is a fan, bringing to mind a quotation from the otherwise forgettable I Robot movie:

Let’s complete our sources with the Huffington Post:  Warren Buffett Is Right: It’s Time to Ban Private Schools Well, that should about settle it. When such luminous examples of enlightenment and right thinking come thundering together like a herd of cliff-bound buffalo, what is a mere mortal to do but agree?

A smarter dumb person might refer such thinkers to the 1925 Supreme Court case  Pierce v. Society of Sisters, in which the Court stated that

Under the doctrine of Meyer v. Nebraska,262 U.S. 390, we think it entirely plain that the Act of 1922 unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control: as often heretofore pointed out, rights guaranteed by the Constitution may not be abridged by legislation which has no reasonable relation to some purpose within the competency of the State. The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.

(Aside: interesting to note how the Wikipedia essay and a few other sources I looked at – they possibly all came from some one common source – ignored, or all but ignored, the passage above and its implications, but focused instead on how the court determined this law unconstitutionally put legitimate businesses – schools – out of business without cause or compensation. So, let’s talk money instead of the rights of parents and children? Hmmm.)

But we only like legal precedent when it backs up what we already favor – it is only to be ignored when it doesn’t. So I suppose this is unconvincing, and we must now rehash the ancient, ancient history of 90 years ago, when people were much less sophisticated and enlightened than they are now.

All this came to mind while reading a rather preposterous essay at something called the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal which, to be fair, seems to have its heart in the right place. The essay, A Letter to Conservatives: You Need College and College Definitely Needs You, applies roughly the same logic the above thinkers cooked up for k-12 public schools to public colleges and universities.

You can read it, if that floats your boat. Lots to talk about. Here, I’ll confine myself to just one little thing, something that often infects postmodern popular thinking when its pretending to be fair and is the unspoken crux of this pro state colleges and universities argument:(1) that, simply because the positions can and have been separated along a pre-existing political conservative/liberal axis, they must each be treated as equals, having equal weight and deserving of equal respect.

The thing is, state colleges and universities are not the voting booth, where we have an opportunity free from coercion to express our political beliefs by picking candidates and laws we like. Even more important, we spend maybe a few hours of our lives each year on voting, and even then only if we want to. Colleges and universities, especially if you don’t live at home, are all but 24/7 with comparatively rare and temporary escapes, for as long as you attend them. You won’t merely be harangued for a few minutes while you gut your way through the opposite side’s arguments in the voter’s pamphlet. Nope – teachers will harangue you in class, pester you with homework, grade you on how well you can regurgitate their views and otherwise force-feed you their positions.

And the college student is typically 18 to 22 or so, which is by no stretch a mature adult. These days, at least.

What if, say, one side is happy to argue with and make space for the other, while the other side attempts to exclude and silence their opponents? Forget the political associations for a moment. This isn’t traditional Republicans and Democrats here, who have (had?) some incentive to work together at least some of the time. This is between ideologues who believe their end is so wonderful as to justify any means, that the individual is nothing and the collective everything, who believe rights accrue to people only insofar as they are true believers, and even then only so long as those rights don’t interfere with the goal – and people who reject all those claims. The latter position welcomes argument; the former sees rational discussion as something dangerous to be shouted down, and those who insist on it to be vilified.

So, pretending like subjecting your kid to Marxists is just another learning experience, like a field trip to the sea shore, and at any rate is comparable to subjecting them to classical liberal education is mind-blowingly clueless, at best.

For example:

What about indoctrination by leftist professors? The lack of viewpoint diversity in the academy is definitely a problem. It frustrates me to see how ideologically-biased the social sciences and humanities in particular have become. Academia has long leaned left, but, as has been revealed in a number of recent surveys, this is increasingly the case. In some disciplines, it is easier to find a Marxist than a Republican. Classical liberalism is giving way to left-wing fundamentalism.

As a result, you feel like the college campus is not a welcoming place for your kind. But do you like the safe space movement on many college campuses you keep hearing about? Well, conservatives don’t need safe spaces either.

Your sons and daughters should go to college and take the full range of classes, even ones from Marxist sociologists. They will learn something. In fact, if your children share your conservative views, they will receive a better education than the progressive students who are getting their beliefs reinforced, not challenged. Your children’s thinking on important issues will become more nuanced and sophisticated.

Education is about expanding knowledge and being exposed to new ideas, not affirming existing beliefs. Plus, many college courses have little or nothing to do with political or social ideology.

Note how little concern is shown for the intellectual (or moral) fate of the already liberal kids being indoctrinated by Marxists – and learning not to argue and to condemn as hopelessly benighted any who are so unenlightened as to disagree. That’s presumed to be just dandy, except insofar as they won’t get quite as good an education as those conservative kids who take those same classes and – it is presumed – are immune to all the social and psychological pressure to conform such classes bring to bear. Mom and dad are presumed to have never taken such classes or heard of Stockholm Syndrome.

Anyway: a parent’s first loyalty and duty are to his kids, not the public schools nor the state control such schools represent. The Supreme Court has made that the law of the land! You’re not letting anyone down, and certainly not your kid, by refusing to send them to a public school, or state college or university.

(My kids were told they could go to any college they wanted, but if they wanted my financial help, it needed to be on the Newman List.)

  1. In the articles linked above, there is no pretense at withholding judgement: those who disagree – conservatives and other on the Wrong Side of History, one can safely conclude from who the publishers are – are dismissed with a sneer. Only the last essay, which is attempting to reason with conservatives, doesn’t do that – but it doesn’t sneer at the Liberal position, either.

Science! Time Spent with Children

I think this qualifies as Science! because lots of people will decide it’s true and look at you funny (at best) if you disagree:

Parents now spend twice as much time with their children as 50 years ago. Except in France. From the Economist.

There are pretty charts showing time spent with children by mothers and fathers across decades and cultures, from 1965 to 2012. Also work University education into the mix. Nice smooth curves, too – that’s the way progress works, after all, it just smoothly moves us into a better future without any hiccups.

OK, let’s count the ways this is nonsense:

1. What does time spent with their children mean? Does it mean the same thing in France in 1965 as in the US in 1992 as in Japan in 2012? From family to family? How would you know this? Am I spending time with my children if the family sits down together for dinner? What if the TV is on at the same time? Does an hour at dinner with wine, conversation and manners count the same as an hour during which people come and go, watch TV or work on homework at the same time? And on and on. This issue alone renders the entire exercise meaningless.

2. What does University educated mean? Same thing in the US in 1965 as in Italy in 2012? How would we know? Is it self reported? Barber college count?

3. Methodology consistent across time and space? Double-blind observation on thousands of subjects validated against clearly defined categories?  (Not likely.) Or a variety of surveys relying on self-reporting by self-selected (those willing to take the survey) subjects? Or what? Because if you measure one group one way and another another way, all bets are off.

4. Self reporting biases: Are they dealt with somehow? Because I’d bet they’re in there. Do French parent feel like spending too much time with their kids makes them old-fashioned or otherwise looked down on by their peers? Did Danes come to some sudden realization after 1965 that the parenting methods of Lief Erikson lead to lopping off heads and slaughtering monks, which had lamentably gone out of fashion, so they switched it up? Or what?

And then you combine these issues, and you get more problems. Dads in the US, for example, have certainly been shamed into spending time with kids in traditional motherly ways since 1965. Having kids hang around while you chop wood or fix the Chevy – does that count? As much as changing their diapers or fixing them dinner?

I, for one, will be very skeptical of claims that modern moms and dads find more time to be with their kids than people in the bad old days. Getting horribly cynical here: They’re clearly taking time out from looking for husband #3 or drinking in the hookup bars with their buddies to arrange their days around custody schedules. Or maybe custody schedules are the sole drivers, here? I spend more net time with the kids and step kids because I’m stuck with one set while my spouse is visiting the other set? Does time spent in court or with lawyers count?

Seriously: nothing can or should be made of fluff like this. Therefore, one should expect to be accused of being anti-science if one rejects it.