Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Prices' Best Christmas Present This Year?

 How about our lives? We went up to visit our parents for Christmas this year, as my sister-in-law came up with the inspired proposal to get the three Price households together for perhaps the last time for the next several years (my brother works in Washington State, and we don't know where he'll be assigned to next). So, we went up on Thursday, had a great time, watched the five kids fill the air with wrapping paper confetti and came back on Christmas Eve. It also meant reduced sleep for me, so I passed off control of the Family Assault Vehicle, heavily laden with children and children's loot, to Heather. We were about here


on southbound I-75 at about 3:00pm when Heather started to make a lane-change on an overpass. Unfortunately, there was a car in our blind spot, and Heather swerved back into the center lane. Or tried to. That's when I woke up. Fully. The road was wet. Not icy, but it might as well have been. The Venture started fishtailing--badly--at 70 mph. We swerved into the right lane, heading toward the fence as Heather tried to steady the vehicle and slow us down. No good. We started to hydroplane. The minivan began to spin slowly but surely in a clockwise direction. In a seeming instant we were facing northbound but still moving to the south. We were slowing down, yet still spinning. We faced east, and then hit drier pavement, arresting the spin and, mirabile dictu, leaving us facing southbound again, and in the center lane. Stalled out. But otherwise unharmed. The traffic behind us, despite being beguiled by the show (I will likely recall the expression on a middle-aged woman with glasses for as long as I live), had managed to slow down in good order, and passed us at a relative crawl. Nobody else even so much as left the road. Heather managed to get the van over to the side of the expressway and stopped shaking a few minutes later. I am morally convinced that I couldn't have done any better, and quite probably would have done worse, than she did. Our children were shaken, but since we didn't freak out, they didn't. In fact, Dale now seems to think it was great fun and would like to try it again. [Memo to self: he can have a Segue when he turns 16 and like it.] The wonder of it is that absolutely no harm was suffered by anyone. We could have hit another car or cars, spun right off the steep overpass embankment or even hit the drier pavement at the wrong time and gone into a barrel roll, with all of the stuff our van was crammed with going flying about and hitting the kids. So, no, it's not technically miraculous, it just feels that way. Oh, and by the way: my sister-in-law gave me this visor clip for Christmas. It's staying in the van, if you are curious: 


"Fictional" saint, my tuchus.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Intelligent Design Post.

Since the decision has come down, I thought I'd chime in.

Three points:

(1) Full disclosure: yes, I'm sympathetic to it. I'm also impressed by the arguments against it by such luminaries as Fr. Edmund Oakes, S.J., and Fr. Stanley Jaki. Not coincidentally, both also deploy their formidable logical and rhetorical firepower against materialism, too.

(2) I have a degree in political science, so I lack the tools to say whether ID is good, bad or, indeed, no science at all.

(3) Science and philosophy are inextricably intertwined. That's the reason these disputes keep popping up, and will keep popping up, all the permanent injunctions by flustered judges notwithstanding. [BTW, the First Commandment of Lawyering is thus: Never, ever piss off the judge (the late, great barrister F.E. Smith excepted). From what I've read, the Dover Board did that in spades. It was a horrid litigation vehicle, and the judge was right to be hacked off about the behavior of many of the defendants.]

I have no problem with the teaching of science, including natural selection and evolution--as long as science acknowledges its limitations and stays within purely scientific boundaries--i.e., what can, and more importantly, cannot, be established by the scientific method.

It is the latter where the scientists, including the invariably blustery spokesbeings at the National Center for Science Education, drop the ball. The battle rages on because Dr. Bunson Honeydew and Beaker keep wandering out of the lab, drawing philosophical conclusions that cannot even be verified by the scientific method, and flatulating endlessly about metaphysics. To whit:

Sir Julian Huxley: "In the Evolutionary pattern of thought there is no longer either need or room for the supernatural," Huxley wrote. "The earth was not created, it evolved. So did all animals and plants that inhabit it, including our human selves, mind and soul as well as brain and body. So did religion. Evolutionary man can no longer take refuge from his loneliness in the arms of a divinized father figure."

Richard Dawkins: "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."

Michael Shallis: "It is no more heretical to say the Universe displays purpose, as Hoyle has done, than to say that it is pointless, as Steven Weinberg has done. Both statements are metaphysical and outside science. Yet it seems that scientists are permitted by their own colleagues to say metaphysical things about lack of purpose and not the reverse. This suggests to me that science, in allowing this metaphysical notion, sees itself as religion and presumably as an atheistic religion (if you can have such a thing)." [For more proof of this, check out this story about the recent intellectual lynching at the Smithsonian.]

Derek Ager: "I suppose I had better mention the concept of a divine creator, but personally I do not find that particular hypothesis useful and I am tempted to ask about the cosmic accident that created Him (presumably before the 'big bangs' that started the universe). And what did He do before He created the world and mankind?"

And, my personal recent favorite:

Daniel Dennett: Dennett claimed that Darwin had shredded the credibility of religion and was, indeed, the very “destroyer” of God. In the question session, philosophy professor Jeff Jordan made the following observation to Dennett, “If Darwinism is inherently atheistic, as you say, then obviously it can’t be taught in public schools.” “And why is that?” inquired Dennett, incredulous. “Because,” said Jordan, “the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution guarantees government neutrality between religion and irreligion.” Dennett, looking as if he’d been sucker-punched, leaned back against the wall, and said, after a few moments of silence, “clever.”

OK, the last one is a bit of a trick--Dennett is not actually a scientist--he's a philosopher. But you sure can't tell, can you? The proper response to every last one of the holders of the atheistic mindset is this: Prove it, professor. Using the scientific method, put up, or shut up.

Of course, they can't prove it--as the Shallis quote helpfully notes, their atheistic conclusions are inherently metaphysical and not susceptible of scientific proof/disproof. But that doesn't keep them from yammering on endlessly about it and muddying the waters.

That's why the backs keep getting up--people keep (wrongfully) using the science to buttress philosophies directly opposed to religion. If the NCSE tried half as hard to keep Dr. Science Who Knows More Than You on a choke chain as it did working itself into its dog-annoying shrieks about ID, it would quickly find itself enjoying something akin the quietude of the Maytag repairman, and, perhaps, not so often finding itself constantly "pushing down the lumps in the water bed," to use the memorable analogy of one of its spokesladies yesterday.

As badly as many religious folks need to take science classes, just as many in the pocket protector crowd need to take a few courses in philosophy and religion. The ignorance is hardly all on one side.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What more needs to be said?

The worst thing about this model of the Motor City Kitties is that you get the distinct sense that no one has the faintest idea how to fix it--even if (and it won't happen) Millen gets the axe. Nobody from the Lions is saying it--nobody dares--but it is obvious that the team will have to be blown up and rebuilt from scratch.

Oh, joy--rebuilding. Again. And a metronome chanting "patience, patience, patience..."

You go ahead and do that, Ford family. Serve up the cornbread 'n kool aid to those willing to buy your never-good-enough-to-cause-heartbreak product. I've got better things to do with my Sundays in 2006, thanks. And I won't be alone.

That's the last thing I'm going to blog about the Detroit Lions this year. They didn't deserve the space I gave them in the first place.

[Update: OK, one more. This was too good to pass up:]

Victor Morton has a very worthwhile essay about That Pudding-Deficient Gay Cowboy Film.

It's here, and it's Exhibit A why he was right not to retire his blog.

It's also not brief, so be prepared to put your feet up.
From the Far, Far Too Much Free Time On His Hands Files.

A Changeverse fan has drawn up a Deathzone map of the U.S., basing it on Steve's theory that the post-Change dislocations would destroy everything within a certain radius of metro areas bigger than 50,000 people (I forget the precise ratio of population to mileage).

Hair-raising, especially given where I live now. Leaving aside the fictional/fantastic horror of the novels, there's always the sobering real-world nightmares like the impact of electromagnetic pulse attacks (make sure to take the time to read and print this one--I have). I've always been strangely drawn to the Upper Peninsula, and now I am getting an inkling why.

More seriously: as regards electronics and electrical generation and transmission, an EMP assault is the functional equivalent of the Change, and would quickly leave us facing many of the same scenarios.

Have a great day!
From the Jesus Never Said Anything About Dwarf-Tossing or Seal-Clubbing School of Christian 'Thought'.

Mark brings us the stylings of one Paula Gott, self-proclaimed "biblical investigator," proclaiming a Deus lo volt! in favor of embryonic stem cell research.

Initial impressions: (1) Her research has a telling, Didache-shaped hole at its center that leaves the remainder suspect (note Chapter 2).

(2) I doubt she's an evangelical, though she tries to appeal to that audience in the way she structures her arguments. (a) They generally avoid the New Revised Standard Version like it was herpes and (b), they don't argue that Plutarch wrote the Gospel According to Luke and Acts of the Apostles. [H/t to one of Mark's commenters for this great find.] I suspect the terms she uses are a direct appeal to the predominantly-evangelical audience of outstate Missouri.

And while I agree that her thesis about Plutarchian authorship of this large swath of the NT is...sui generis...I strongly object to Mark's commenters calling the Rev. Ms. Gott a "loony." In fact, those are fighting words.

She is not a loony! Why must she be attired with the epithet 'loony' merely because she has established that Luke is Plutarch? I've heard tell that John Shelby Spong has posited that Mark is Stephen King, and you wouldn't call him a 'loony'! Furthermore, Brett Favre, the gentleman quarterback, argued that Matthew was Dean Koontz; Dennis Kucinich hypothesized that Voltaire wrote both Philemon and Hebrews, and Jackie Collins conclusively proved that Douglas Coupland wrote Revelation! So, if you're calling the author of Hollywood Wives: The Next Generation a 'loony," I shall have to ask you to step outside!

Do try to keep a more civil tone next time.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Interoffice Memos from the Department of Redundancy Department.

Greg ponders, and I respond.

Door Number 2. Ever and always. On very, very rare occasions, the American ecclesial bureaucracy issues something worthwhile or challenging, but invariably fails to follow up on it or runs like hell from it once the implications become apparent (Living the Gospel of Life comes to mind). Most of the time, they serve up gruel thin enough to raise salmon in (e.g., the "official" voter's guides).

It helps if you remember that there are two essential features for every official USCCB statement, both of which are closely-related:

(1) Giving the widest possible latitude for the in/actions of its individual members; and

(2) Being sufficiently malleable to function as a big-tent consensus statement, papering over the gulf between opposing camps.

The problem is, of course, that you end up with a mess of ambiguous pottage. Could be veal, could be headcheese--hard to say. Depends on the angle and the lighting. Either way, tastes like chicken.

The end result reflects the dictum that no one has ever been successfully called to arms by a committee. Which is why the Conference statements almost never have any positive impact, nor do they even sharpen the issues.

Der Tommissar proves that it's all about public service this time of year:

First, the unacknowledged dangers of making Albuquerque a space hub. 'Ware The Created and the Zoopremists, too.

Second: the perils of long-term Toronto Maple Leaf fandom. I've always known it is safer to huff sarin, and now DT has photographic evidence to back me up.

As was ordained from the beginning of time, Hilary is about to de-pope. Actually, she's probably just going to Scotland's magnificent western isles, as it is hard to picture her as a Presby.

[Much harder to picture her as a Unitarian, to be sure, but there you have it.]

Rich Leonardi brings to our attention yet another work continuing the demolition of the tattered-but-fashionable Myth of the Backward Medievals. If the new book is half as good as The Rise of Christianity, it will be magnificent.
With that, you might be able to understand the paucity of postings of late.

The Prices are attempting to reach Target: Christmas with a couple of redlined engines and even more redlined travel schedules.

Add in the fact that The Boy™ is exploring the rudimentaries of potty-training (with all the bad aim, awful timing and origamy that implies), I'm still not finished shopping (two more nephews), andI haven't slept for crap in a week, and I'm pretty well redlined myself.

Blogging may have to continue to sit on the (inoperable) back burner.
It's a bad sign...

...when you get a call from your credit card company indicating its concern regarding a run of recent card use.

But it's much, much worse when you know there's no fraud involved.

Man, am I dreading next month's Discover statement.

Monday, December 12, 2005

An even better way to hack off a pre-schooler.

Take a run at St. Nick:

Here comes sphagnum moss/
Here comes sphagnum moss/
Right down sphagnum moss lane...

"It's 'Santa Claus'!!!!"

My mom kept calling him "Dental Floss," and my horrified brother and I were sure that he was going to skip our house in retaliation.

Try it--works every time.
At least the book post is getting some comments.

So I'll move it up here.

First, there's a query from the author:

So, if you had to live in the Post-Change world (as an ordinary shmo, no getting to be King) where would you prefer to be?

Bearkillers? Clan Mackenzie? Corvallis? Mt. Angel? England? The PPA?

Peggy arrived and stated:

Mrm. I would choose Clan Mackenzie, admittedly, in that it is shown how deeply faith/religion informs their daily life and the way they mark the seasons - had the same been detailed for Mt. Angel, I'd no doubt opt for them.

Count me among those who would not see the Change itself as a bad thing - it grounds the characters, as Dale and others have said, in realities that are too easily passed over nowadays.

Not a bad choice, and for the reasons stated. The Mackenzies are a likeable bunch, and are genuinely hospitable, to boot. But I'm going to stick with the home team and say Mt. Angel (or the Benedictines' Brigittine affiliates in Amity), for obvious reasons. My second choice would be the Bearkillers, with the Mackenzies as the bronze medalists. While Charles can't reign forever, England is going to be tense (and facing a possible civil war) as his eccentricities continue to wax, and the PPA is horrid beyond words. I prefer my antipopes laughable, and not wielding the power of death over me and mine, thanks.

I'll take the Bearkillers over the Mackenzies for two reasons: (1) I was in a music fraternity, and musicians can be...maddening to deal with; and (2) despite my qualms about the society, I really like the fearless "I got your back, no matter what" approach. If the PPA-ish lord mentality can be reigned it, the BKs have a lot going for them.

Finally, more light is shed on reader reaction to the new-old post-Change society:

I think the other thing that put some people off post-Change life was precisely that it wasn't a buffet, as Dale put it. Not just in matters of religion, but generally. In most areas of life there would be fewer choices. You eat the foods seasonally available because that's what there is; you farm or work at a craft (or you don't eat) rather than picking a career; no 500 channels of TV so you read or listen to a storyteller or find someone to play chess with; no Gap so you wear the clothing that's customary/available in your area; you make your own music or go without (which implies getting other people to agree with your choices).

That sort of thing. Likewise, you're stuck with the people you live with -- and you -have- to get along with them, or move, and moving isn't like switching towns in our society. It's more like emigrating to a strange foreign country, and may not be possible at all without loss of rights and status. You can't pick and chose who you associate with on a daily basis; it's your family and local community or nothing, and nothing really isn't an option since you need these people to _live_. The lack of urban anonymity and commercialized choice are things that would impact people very strongly. People tend to forget these days how desperately important your relations with the circle of kin and neighbors used to be. That's why "reputation" was so crucial, and why things like "shunning" were such terrible punishments. Being generally viewed as a jerk or a shirker or someone who wasn't a decent person... that wasn't just annoying, it threatened your existence. You can't get -away- from these people, or they from you; and you can't keep much secret from them, either.

The thing that strikes me about this analysis is that the same could be said for most of settled rural America, right up to the 1920s [and this is a helpful way to explain how they revived more quickly, too, post-Change--the survivors are out in the sticks]. Sure, there were mass-migrations, most notably European immigrants generally, and internally southern blacks and Appalachian whites to the industrial Midwest, but generally small towns managed to avoid or absorb this and didn't change much. There are even some remnants of this today--I've heard "Hey, you're Dale's boy!" both in my own small hometown and my dad's even smaller one more than a few times, so the family ID still matters some in rural Michigan. It certainly does not in metro Detroit. But post-Change, it's another faded strand of the past firmly woven back into a survivor's identity--and one not entirely unwelcome, at least in the circles I travel in. It also plays on a few strings that have an increasing appeal, such as distributist economics, a beat of life more in tune with nature, putting a bullet into the unblinking eye in the living room, etc.

Though I can see the good arguments on the other side (apart from the obvious, namely the horrors of the first Change year)--for example, the downside of the family bond is that you can wear the mark of Cain for something a forebear or current relative did, the lack of genuine goods like advanced and readily available medicines, inexpensive printing and a few other things I've come to appreciate.

Anyway, keep the comments coming.
How to get a round dozen comments on a Catholic blog without really trying.

Rule 1: talk about the music at Mass.

Todd had a couple of interesting posts (I don't think his permalinks are working) concerning this online survey.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the traditional classics, mortified by more than a few and somewhat bummed to not see either Charles Wesley or a recent Catholic classic (not quite an oxymoron) like To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King.

I'm going to steer clear of the usual grumbling about the cotton candy ditties and focus on Todd's point that the newer songs are grounded in scripture.

Well, sorta. Kinda. They are grounded in certain consistent images taken from scripture, and almost always the God-As-Eternal Comfort Blanket images, to boot. Take, for example (please) the #1, On Eagle's Wings, based on Psalm 91.

Here are the lyrics:
You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord,
Who abide in His shadow for life,
Say to the Lord, "My Refuge,
My Rock in Whom I trust."

And He will raise you up on eagle's wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His Hand.

The snare of the fowler will never capture you,
And famine will bring you no fear;
Under His Wings your refuge,
His faithfulness your shield.


You need not fear the terror of the night,
Nor the arrow that flies by day,
Though thousands fall about you,
Near you it shall not come.


For to His angels He's given a command,
To guard you in all of your ways,
Upon their hands they will bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.


Here's Psalm 91:

1He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."

3For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. 4He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. 5You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.

9Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place--the Most High, who is my refuge-- 10no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.

11For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. 13You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

14"Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation."

Rather close--certainly far, far better than Hosea (urk), which turns the prophet into a less-flinty version of Stuart Smalley. But you can see what OEW edits from Psalm 91 in bold, and it is telling. So much for the notions of sin and salvation, the girding for strife, and proceeding boldly with the Lord at your side--OEW makes the singer a passive recipient in a way that the Psalm manifestly does not. And that's all the worse when you consider that the Psalms were written to be sung in worship. Not to pick on OEW, though--as I said, it's better than most of the popular ones that claim to ground themselves in scripture, which are even more incomplete and distorted in their use of imagery. Comforting, to be sure--but dangerously tame and fragmentary.
Iä! Iä Lakeside Ftaghn!

Why, yes, I went Christmas shopping at the [guttural] Maaaaaaaaauuuuuuulllllllll on Friday.

Actually, wasn't too horrid, but the week itself was devoid of joys. Starting with the furnace going on the fritz, then the kids going on the fritz (some kind of cold), then the kids getting insufferable, then dad getting hoarse at the insufferable kids, and a host of additional unwanted bills and tasks that have taken the small cushion out of our checking account.

So, my Christmas cheer is on a respirator at the moment.

On the brighter side, The Boy™ asked to use the toilet on Sunday, and, wonder of wonders, actually used it. It almost made up for his Vikings-At-Iona behavior at church earlier in the day.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Some Wolverine fans are upset about the Bowl selections.

I'm not. Come on--you're talking Outback Bowl vs. Alamo Bowl. Paper or plastic, fellow UM sufferers?

Is it really so important to be hunched in front of the TV at 11am on January 2, just so you can say your team played in "a New Year's Day [sic] Bowl"?

The correct answer is "No," by the way.
The sound of crickets.

What's with you people? And by "you people" I am specifically referring to Zach, Peggy, My Pagan Associate and everyone else in the unofficial blog S.M. Stirling Reading Society:

We have the God's honest author in the comment box for The Protector's War, and you go all "Silent Spring" on me.

It's legit. Really.
Prescription: Several paper lunch bags and a grip.

Boston College's admin cancels a GLBT dance.

The student newspaper goes the full Cayce and predicts the school will soon be falling off the continental shelf.

Favorite part, in what is a target rich environment:

BC's rise in national prominence has been fast and significant, but the University can go much farther. As BC aspires to become one of the top universities in the country - and steps have certainly been made to do so - it has a choice to make. Regardless of varying views on homosexuality, every BC student wants their BC diploma to mean more 20 years down the line as BC becomes an even more respected university.

But will that be possible if a school that claims to espouse the values of a man who accepted prostitutes as his equals cannot give the same respect to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals?


[Draws prolonged breath.]

Hypoxia--what a rush!

Anyway, the other funny part is the suggestion that the canceling of a dance is going to somehow render the BC parchment worthless.

[Scene: Bright-eyed BC Class of '06 grad, sitting down for a job interview with a Fortune 500 headhunter.]

HH: Well, Ms. Smith, I have to say I'm quite impressed--Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, spending 20 hours per month tutoring the illiterate, and a starter for the varsity soccer team. That's a remarkable resume', and all the more so for having been accomplished at a demanding academic environment like Boston University. Kudos to...

BC06: Actually, Mr. Hunter, I attended Boston College, not Boston University.

HH: [Stunned silence, followed by a croaked whisper]: Boston... College? You mean the place that cancelled the GLBT Safe Zone Dance right before Festivus last year?

BC06: [Reluctantly]: ...Well, yes...

HH: Get out of my sight! And take your glorified JuCo transcript with you! Consider yourself lucky if you get any job that doesn't come with a paper hat!! Rest assured, though, it will be my personal mission in life to ensure that you and your Eagle ilk won't be so fortunate!!!

BC06: [Flees, weeping...]

[Link via CWN's Off The Record.]
The Christmas Special That Almost Wasn't.

Great article about the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, forty years old tonight. About the only one who believed in it was Charles Schulz:

When CBS bigwigs saw a rough cut of A Charlie Brown Christmas in November 1965, they hated it.

"They said it was slow," executive producer Lee Mendelson remembers with a laugh. There were concerns that the show was almost defiantly different: There was no laugh track, real children provided the voices, and there was a swinging score by jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi.
Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez fretted about the insistence by Peanuts creator Charles Schulz that his first-ever TV spinoff end with a reading of the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke by a lisping little boy named Linus.

"We told Schulz, 'Look, you can't read from the Bible on network television,' " Mendelson says. "When we finished the show and watched it, Melendez and I looked at each other and I said, 'We've ruined Charlie Brown.' "

It's on ABC at 8:00pm tonight.

Monday, December 05, 2005

No, I don't know what's wrong with Haloscan.

For some reason, the top post to the blog frequently doesn't have a comment box.

Hopefully, it's just a hiccup.
Fundamentalism is the theological equivalent of a fever.

Think of it as the Body of Christ's attempt to fight off an infection. It's a sign that there's a deeper problem. You shouldn't celebrate the fever, but it's better than no temperature at all.

Or at least that's what came to mind while reading this ho-hum bath of lukewarm modernism passed off as "biblical scholarship" in the latest issue of U.S. Catholic (Motto: Helping the People of God Coo Into The Mirror Since 1963). Not to put too fine a point on it, it's the usual crap, tarting up, warming over and serving leftovers of Renan and Loisy covered in a generous frappe' of semi-ass-covering ambiguity. The crust long ago formed over the jacuzzi's contents, but people still like to cavort in the scuzzy water.

Oooh, the scandal: Joseph could have been Jesus' biological father! The Resurrection is not historical (which is what the "verifiable" tack boils down to)! Matthew cleverly cobbled together the story of the Virgin Birth!

In addition to helpfully pointing up how moribund Catholic biblical scholarship is (Quick: Name a significant Catholic biblical scholar under age 60 whose last name does not rhyme with "Ron"?), there is another helpful observation (emph. added):

Because historical-critical scholars try to get to the historical base of the text and the intent of the author, they begin to call into question some long-held beliefs. For example, are virginal conception or Resurrection things you can prove historically? How are we to understand this material? Are gospels biographical statements or are they theological statements?
When historical criticism began to raise these kinds of questions, the reaction was fundamentalism.

There is a real insight here, albeit wholly unintentional. You'll often hear progressives talk about "reception," the concept that if the "People of God" do not "receive" an irritating magisterial teaching, it is null and void. E.g., the ordination of women, non-affirmation of Pelvic Issues 1 through Infinity (inclusive), etc. More often than not, the "People of God" tend to be coterminous with the chancery staffs and Catholic university faculties of North America, but no matter. What's interesting is that "reception" does not apply when the prerogatives of the establishment are at stake. So, when the laity barf up the expired headcheese of biblical scholarship, the reaction is not "hmmm...maybe there's something wrong with what we're doing here."

Instead, the Inner Sadistic English Schoolmaster takes control and tells the benighted pupils that they will not be getting any pudding until they eat their "beef." After all, "We Catholics are not fundamentalists." Never mind the fact that that popular empty catchphrase is usually said with a preening self-regard worthy of the most accomplished Pharisee.

Given the choice between the baptized agnosticism of the scholars and fundamentalism, it's not surprising lay people choose the latter--better to be staggering around with a fever than on your deathbed.

Remember that the next time your bishop, chancery or episcopal conference gets worked up about "fundamentalism." They are concerned about the symptoms, not the underlying illness.

Friday, December 02, 2005

How to irritate a child in one easy step.

Change the words of a book or song they know by heart.


(1) Last night, as SpongeBob came on Nickelodeon, I joined in with my dulcet tones:

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?/
[Me:] SpongeSquare BobPants!
[Maddie and Dale: No! It's SpongeBob SquarePants!]

Absorbent and yellow and porous is he/
[Me: SquareBob SpongePants!]

(2) Later, after baths, reading to them before bedtime:

Me: OK, what do you want me to read? It's Maddie's turn to choose.
Maddie: The Itsy Bitsy Spider!
Me: OK, fine. [Picking up book.] [Reading title:] The Achy Breaky Spider.
Maddie: NO! Itsy Bitsy Spider!
Me: The Artsy-Fartsy Spider?
Maddie: No, it's the Itsy Bitsy Spider, you geek!

Methinks the eldest has been listening to Heather very closely of late.
The Change, Eight Years After.

[Obligatory Full Disclosure Notice Here. And no, I'm not going to tell you anything about AMAC.]

The Protector's War is the second installment in the first trilogy set in the Change universe. For details on what the Change involves, go here. By 2006, the population of the Earth has started to recover from the catastrophic dieoffs (somewhere in the neighborhood of 98%) of the first Change Year. The fledgling Oregon survivor bands (good and ill) seen in DTF have shaken out and formed into something resembling nation-states of their own. What's more, we get a "what" of the Change, if not the "who" or "why." Essentially, mother Earth has been targeted with very precise changes [rimshot!] in the way certain gasses behave and the way molecules "glue" together--bottom line, the energy from compressed gasses is but a fraction of what it was before the Change. The same appears to have happened with electrical voltages, and something similar with fission reactions. The effect is, bye-bye engines that rely upon the compression of gasses--internal combustion, firearms, etc. If it's not human-, animal- or hydraulically-powered, it doesn't work.

We also get a glimpse at the state of the rest of the world: pretty much totalled, with the exception of Tasmania, New Zealand's South Island (which both managed to survive unscathed), the island redoubts of Britain (Wight, Man, Anglesey, the Hebrides), northern Scandinavia, the deep interiors of the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia, along with a few isolated, remote, or improbably lucky regions. And nothing--nothing--else, as it is explained that the rule of thumb is that everyone within 100 miles of a major metropolitan area either fled quickly or died. Assuming that flight was possible, of course. The description of the grisly discoveries by explorers probing into the salt flats surrounding the necropolis of Los Angeles is chilling.

Continuing the focus of the first book, we get a detailed look at three of the Williamette states: Clan Mackenzie, Mike Havel's Bearkillers, and the dread Portland Protective Association, the last a weird fusion of gangbangers, the Society for Creative Anachronism and the Inquisition into a very dark Norman kingdom. Actually, check that--by our standards, they're all "weird." But thriving, if in very different ways. By Change Year 9, a stalemate of sorts has developed between the PPA and "Free Oregon."

(1) Juniper Mackenzie, erstwhile gifted busker, current Wiccan high priestess and reluctant chief of state, has managed to deftly herd 20000+ cats into a successful agricultural power, one very handy with the longbow. If anything, the book is Mackenzie-centric, focusing more on Juniper and her unruly, if capable and good-natured, Clan. Mackenzie remains the most likeable of the characters, one whose practical moral groundedness is only matched by her mysticism. The mysticism (even if it's hardly mine) is one thing I appreciated, in that it dispels the idea that mystics are invariably feverish, unblinking and detached souls. Not so. Anyone who thinks that needs to get acquainted with St. Teresa ("God save me from gloomy 'saints'!") d' Avila, whose connection to the Almighty was so close she felt comfortable with carping at Him for letting her get tossed into a creek by her horse.

Again--to make it clear to the peanut gallery--I find Wicca unpersuasive at a number of levels. But the depictions are fascinating, and, especially in the dedication of Sutterdown, truly "other" and even unnervingly alien. If I have one gripe about Juney's character, it's that she tends to be non-interventionist when it comes to her people pursuing paths she recognizes as destructive. Perhaps Wicca doesn't have quite the same "brother's keeper" angle as Christianity, but still. Overall, though, the Mackenzies remain perhaps the most attractive of the societies depicted so far. While increasingly and overwhelmingly Wiccan, they are democratic and genuinely tolerant, as is seen in the treatment of a Catholic refugee family in the book.

(2) Then there's the Bearkillers. Dear reader, my question is this: Is Mike Havel an Arminger with a conscience? It is clear from the book that the Bearkillers are the only Williamette state that engenders real respect from the lords of the Protectorate, who go so far as to address their Bearkiller opposites with the term "Lord." The BKs and the PPA resemble each other in ways too close for comfort, with the essential difference being the former possessing a benevolent leadership cadre. The BKs are also doing well, but are starting to bifurcate into a class of lords and everybody else, which, to his credit, worries Havel. But something else is more pressing, namely:

(3) The Portland Protective Association. In the years since Norman Arminger's goons drove most of the desperate population of Portland out of the city to die, the Lord Protector has managed to recreate feudal Norman England, or a SCA revision of the same. A particularly hellish DisneyWorld version, but live-action, as it were. Arminger even has his own anti-pope (though the denizens salute him as the Successor of Peter) and Inquisition installed to keep order. The Sunday obligation is quite mandatory, indeed, in the PPA. We get a longer look at the Protector and his kingdom, as opposed to the briefer treatment in DTF. Interestingly, Arminger has dispensed with some of the outwardly kinky aspects of the early Protectorate, even if he otherwise remains the same dangerously charming and capable sociopath we've come to know and loathe. His even more dangerous wife, Sandra, gets more time as well--also charming, she gives the impression of having been cloned from the DNA of Elizabeth Bathory and Martha Stewart, perhaps with Tamerlane as Dad. Because the PPA cannot abide free states along its long borders, war is inevitable and preparations on all sides are underway.

An increasingly strong focus of the series is on adaptation to the Change, and what kind of mindsets work (or don't). The most striking example is that of Astrid Larsson, who treats Tolkien as the Revealed Word. It would be insane--in certain respects it still is--but it works in the Changed world. What is more insane is to try to live as though the Change never happened--which has broken more than a few of those who have managed to survive. Another intriging example of this are the hints of a gradual morphing of the brutal gangers of the PPA into something much better, and the suggestion that their children will be better still. Even the Armingers seem to have been caught up in their creation, and are as often being carried by it as directing it. It is an interesting process, and one that mirrors the experience of the Nantucketers in the Island series.

Plot-wise, there's plenty of action, as well as the introduction of several new perspective characters, starting with three doughty Englishmen: Sir Nigel Loring, his son Alleyne and "Little John" Hordle, 6'7" of bastard sword-swinging fury. Just the kind of guy you'd like to see taking on Baron Liu's hulking buddy, Mack, in fact. Sir Nigel is an old-school Edwardian and ex-SAS colonel who quickly recognized that the Change wasn't changing back, and recommended fleeing to the defensible islands off Great Britain. It worked, after a fashion, saving upwards of 200,000 British souls. Charles became king, and went a little...eccentric ("bloody barking mad"), and Sir Nigel fell out of favor. Sir Nigel and the other two go into exile, and, through an interesting, er...coincidence...end up in Oregon.

Much rollicking adventure happens, we meet a famous royal personage, villains are battled, the Protector goes to war (if not quite in the way a reader might expect from the title) and the good guys come into possession of a few items of great importance to Mr. Arminger. There is a revelation which changes the dynamic of several relationships, and we are also left at the end with a cliffhanger regarding the fate of two characters. There are also several amusing cultural references, overt and implied, from such diverse sources as Bored of the Rings, The Wicker Man, Blood of Heroes, Lonesome Dove, Dirty Harry and Monty Python, to name but six.

As far as the reading goes, remember two things: (1) It's a middle book. Much is set up and left unresolved, so there's a natural unsatisfied feeling. (2) Check the dates at the beginning of each chapter--they are essential for keeping the plotlines from getting confused, especially where the "flashback" sections begin. One of my few gripes with the book is with keeping the plot strands straight. I understand why it was done that way, and there is a payoff, but it can be difficult to follow at times.

My other essential gripe is that the Catholic characters come across as a little generically Christian--not that they do anything "unCatholic," so to speak, but not distinctively Catholic. That's fixable, though.

Finally, as to the religious angle: Amazon reviewers are a hoot. The whining about "all the Wicca" is a little funny by this point. It's a little like reading, say, James Fenimore Cooper, and asking "What's with all the effin' Indians? It's kinda the idea, guys.

The important thing to remember is that we are seeing only a couple slices of the post-Change Williamette (CM and BK), so to say that Wicca dominates the entire region is, to borrow an Ayl-word, gormless. Wicca dominates the Clan, true, and has made serious inroads into the BKs, but with regard to the latter, so has Catholicism, as is noted in a scene where Mike issues a ruling in a domestic matter. The "founder effect" ensures that the Huttons' religion will be as influential as Astrid's among the Outfit. And, lest we forget, there is a thriving Catholic presence at Mount Angel which is referenced at the early meeting and in spaces throughout the book. So to say that Christianity is in terminal decline is reading into the text something that is not there.

The striking thing, from a religious perspective, is that religion is not an optional thing in the Changed world. There is no spiritual buffet. It is ground into the lives of most of the characters, and, whole and entire, is an essential part of their identities. It is also interesting to note that Wicca is becoming less "spell" and more "prayer," so to speak. Juney's conversations with the divine are not really different in form (as opposed to content) from that which goes on in the head of practicing Christians. At least not from my head--YMMV.

Overall, TPW is a worthy sequel to DTF, and one that leaves the reader primed for the final book of the trilogy.


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