Wednesday, May 27, 2009


John Paul, 8 lbs and 15 ozzes. Named, of course, after the famed bassist and keyboardist for Led Zeppelin.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Seven Silly Eaters: a review


The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman, illus. by Marlee Frazee, is a delight. It is a rhymed and metrical look at the life of a young couple as they have children, each of whom only eats one thing. The mother, Mrs. Peters, works very hard to fill all of the picky requests of her seven silly eaters. We see her picking apples, making bread, straining orange juice, cooking eggs just so, and doing whatever she needs to do so her family will thrive. The children don't appreciate it enough, until the surprising happy ending.

The text is fun and memorable, allowing the reader to repeat it nearly from memory after a few times. But the real charm of the book is in the illustrations, which capture perfectly the ordered chaos of a large family, a house that is cherished but not too clean, with books and toys underfoot and children draped over every surface. My children like to pause over the pictures to see things they haven't noticed before. Little details support the story, such as the cello that the mother plays is retired to a corner of the house, recalling the sacrifices of individual interests that one has to make as a parent.

It's always one of my favorites to read at bedtime, especially after a difficult day homeschooling, when I feel rather sympathetic to the put-upon, but ultimately beloved, Mrs. Peters.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Grace and Reason

In my previous post, I think I was unclear. I am not attempting to say that productive argument is impossible, but that it is difficult, and that the fallen state of human beings must be taken into account. I take it as a given that humans do not follow what their minds determine, as Aristotle knew, as Plato knew, as St. Paul and St. Augustine knew. No one ever becomes good simply by reading a book! If you are already good, the book might help you be better, but if you aren't, the book won't do anything for you. As Aristotle says, it is like going to the doctor, listening to the healthy advice, and then ignoring it.

I know this to be the case in my own life: I know what is good, and choose the opposite. Perhaps I am being presumptuous in assuming it is the case for others? So, arguments do me know good. In fact, I know them all.

What is needed is metanoia, a change of heart (literally a change of mind). We pray "Create a new heart in me, O God/ put a steadfast Spirit within me." (Psalm 51). Look at the example of the apostles, who constantly misunderstood Jesus, despite living with him for three years. Two betrayed him, and nine abandoned him. Even after the resurrection, they weren't able to understand. It wasn't until Pentecost and the reception of the Holy Spirit that they were able. The steadfast Spirit that we pray for is the Holy Spirit, who teaches us all things.

Let me do it in math:

argument + listener = 0
argument + listener + grace = infinity

Thus the question becomes not "how do we convince," but "how do we help the Spirit?" How do we present God to the world?

Are we too dumb for the natural law?

I've been thinking about this for a while. Humans seem to be immune to moral argument. This was occasioned by Barack Obama's speech ostensibly asking for dialogue on the issue of abortion. There will be no dialogue, of course, since he himself said that the differences are irreconcilable. They certainly appear to be. But why?

It is puzzling for pro-life people why there has been so little movement. Why don't people change their minds? The science is clear. Ethically, it seems obvious that if man is ever worth protecting under the law, he must be worth it in the womb, since there is no substantial change. If humans acquire dignity as a result of some power of reasoning, then we never acquire dignity at all. I've been over this before, but no one ever seems to be convinced.


Because humans are not entirely rational. We make decisions on the basis of desires and pleasures, and our desires and pleasures and intellect have been disordered by sin. We have trouble thinking clearly, especially when the res is something close to us. We are fallen, and can't think our way up.

But don't just take my word for it. Look at what Plato does in the Republic. He wants to talk about justice, but can't do it, because his audience is not ready. The common wisdom about justice is so faulty that any attempt to reach justice itself is doomed to failure. It is only after the soil is prepared over the whole book that the interlocutors can attempt the ascent out of the cave.

Look at what Aristotle does in the Nichomachean Ethics: he attempts to determine the nature of happiness, and decides that it is good rational activity. Then, he avoids talking about what kind of activity it is, rather spending much time speaking of virtues. But how can one speak of virtues without knowing what they are virtues for? It doesn't make sense, unless he was tailoring the discussion to the audience, only presenting contemplation as true happiness at the end, when presumably they would be more ready to hear it.

But we don't argue that way any more. We don't even argue. There will be no debate on abortion, only soundbites and caricatures. Given the limits of our attention span, how could we convince anyone else of anything important?

I need to think about this more.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Books and Movies I have Read/Seen

Recent forays into popular media

Star Trek: I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. It breaks the "canon", which I think is a good thing. In the Church, heresy is very bad, since the canon of beliefs come from God. In science fiction, heresy can be good, since the canon only comes from Gene Rodenberry and Rick Berman. Through the magical plot device of time travel, Star Trek gets an all-new alternate universe to play in, complete with young Kirks, Scotts, and Spocks. The casting was good (Eomer as McCoy), and despite lots of plot holes, it was fun.

I am Charlotte Simmons: I picked up a copy of this book by Tom Wolfe for 2$ at my library. It's my first Wolfe (Tom, not Gene) novel. It is a satire of college life, and one gets the sense that it the events and plot are not invented so much as amplified from real occurrences. It's also very funny skewering of current sexual morality---I remember a student telling me once, in reference to Dido and Aeneas' tryst in the cave, "In the old days, people weren't supposed to have sex before marriage." "Oh, when did the rule change?" I responded. She blushed. It's become the norm, but an uncomfortable norm. IACS takes modern sex and explodes it from the inside. Highly recommended.

Plato's Republic: I'm just re-reading it again, and feel like I am reading it for the first time. I never took the irony seriously enough before. Socrates constructs a city in words (in poetry) from which the poets would be excluded, especially the imitative poets, but Socrates the character is a piece of masterful imitative poetry constructed by the offscreen author, Plato, whose book would not be allowed in the ideal cities of the book. My mind is still running in circles.