Saturday, October 31, 2009

Birthdays approaching

Thomas and James both have birthdays in November - James's comes first, on November 12 (Dean was so relieved that we didn't have a baby born on Remembrance Day). He doesn't care much for cake, except to demolish it - I've gone on a cake- and pie-baking hiatus right now, because James was getting obsessed with destroying the lovely smooth surface of a new cake or pie by plunging any nearby available object into it. I decided to wait a few months before making anything new, so that he could get that little quirk out of his system. It's very demoralizing.

As for presents, it's usually quite easy to get things for both boys - any Thomas the Tank Engine video or book is sure to be a hit, and this year there are more cartoons available on dvd that they'd like: I saw a collection of Scooby Doo episodes, which would probably be very unpleasant for the rest of us, but Thomas or James would LOVE them.

But this week James has gotten into a few fights with Thomas, and yesterday he decided that all his problems would be solved if only he could get a Death Ray. Since I mentioned birthdays next month, that's what he's been asking for. "Oh no! Death Ray Thomas goodbye - oh nooooo!" Despite precedents....

I think he had in mind something that would be a little more personally hands-on, like the famous Death Ray in 'Chandu the Magician':

But what I think I'll probably get (if it can arrive in time) is something called "Magic Dust".  James has been obsessed with a picture of this barbecue spice rub for months.  Something about the colours and the arrangement of the font. He really just wants the bottle, so we'll take out the spice mix and give him the empty bottle, which should make him very happy.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Captains of the Outlands

The best opinion piece so far on the Pope's audacious invitation to the believing Catholic remnant in the Anglican Church has come from The Belmont Club.
Andrew Brown of the Guardian called the Roman Catholic Church’s offer to admit disaffected Anglicans “the end of the Anglican Communion”, describing the 1/7th of the clergy which its believes will jump ship as a death blow. If so, it is the coup de grace. The Anglican Communion has long been hemorrhaging members, fleeing from a church which many of its members believe has abandoned its traditional beliefs. Most of those who were expected to take up the Catholic Church’s offer to convert are described as social conservatives who think their community has gone too far toward embracing openly gay bishops and women priests. The Daily Mail put the indictment against the Archbishop of Canterbury plainly: he’s no longer a divine, but a politician and those are dime a dozen. “If our Archbishop spent less time fretting about climate change, he might notice the pope is about to mug him”.
Many are echoing Andrew Brown's speculation that this will turn out to be a sort of Trojan Horse manoeuvre, and that by bringing in Anglicans, Benedict will (unwittingly?) import the virus that will destroy priestly celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church. I think this too-clever-by-half conspiracy theory will come to nothing. First of all, I don't think the Holy Father does ANYTHING 'unwittingly'. His enemies perpetually use any excuse to drag out their pepier-mache puppet Pope and try to get people to throw rocks at it, chanting accusations of "clumsy" "out of touch" "undiplomatic" "gaffe" and anything else that will get people excited. He's none of those things. We're just repeatedly surprised to find that his priorities are not the world's priorities, and he won't cower and hide when they are in conflict.

If the Pope really thought that clerical celibacy should go, he wouldn't have to stage this rigmarole to do it. The anti-celibacy propagandists remind me of the Scots in an old Goon Show called 'The MacReekie Rising of '74':
Tonight we march north to England!

But England's south!

Aye, we're going to march right roond the waarld and sneak up on them from behind!
They seem to think that married priests will behave like Tribbles: just get one on board, and before you know it, they'll be tumbling out of overhead chasuble cupboards and purring in the choir stalls. It's not going to happen. Nor will the Church be somehow tricked or trapped into "logically" having to extend the married priesthood beyond the narrow confines of the Anglican Colony. They will always have the last word on who gets to be a priest, and I don't think that it should even be assumed that every Anglican priest who wants to cross over will automatically be handed a comp ticket - married priest couples, for example, where the husband wants to convert but the wife doesn't, would be a scandal to the faithful. In fact, I would think that any married priest whose wife doesn't also convert would probably not be allowed to be a priest in the Catholic Church. I've no evidence for that, just my own gut feeling, coupled with the logic of how Catholic marriage has to work.

Everyone says that "the Catholic Church thinks in centuries" but they don't have to bother when dealing with the Anglican Church. There will be no "precedent", because in another generation, there won't be any more Anglicans to convert. The Catholic Church can read the demographic tables as well as anyone else. There won't be a steady stream of Anglican priests coming to Rome; this generation is it. If Rome decides that future ordinands must be unmarried, then when this generation of priests dies, the brief anomaly of married Catholic priests will die with it.

The thing that seems to be missing most from the commentary about this Anglican Outreach is the question of whom Benedict is really reaching out to. Everyone fusses about the priests and the bishops, and how soft a landing they can make when they parachute out, carrying all their luggage. I don't think the Pope is doing to this to make life easier for Anglican priests. I think he cares about the little nobodies in their little pews, trying to live Catholic Christian lives. THOSE are his flock. For such an intellectual, Benedict XVI has a deep love and reverence for the simple faith of the common man. I think that they were also the reason for his demarche towards the SSPX. While the press were shrieking with outrage about the solitary "shiten shepherd", Benedict was looking at the "clene shepe" - the thousands of lay Catholics who follow these clergy in search of spiritual food. Should THEY remain forever stranded on a flooded knoll, when they could be brought to safety?

TThe principal attraction of the Roman Catholic Church, at least to conservative Anglicans, lies precisely in that it hasn’t been eaten out by socialist/communist faith to the degree that the Anglicans have been. It’s not that they love Rome, they’re simply seeking shelter within its walls.

That’s not to say that Roman walls are safe from the same relentless attack of secularism which did Canterbury in. Given enough time, Rome too will go under; and Benedict knows it is only a matter of time until some ecclesiastical Barack Obama mounts the pulpit to warn in a honeyed baritone against Climate Change and extol the virtues of Islam. For that reason Benedict is picking up stragglers, having judged the Anglicans already shattered. But its real foe, upon which Rome’s eyes are fixed, are the socialist/communists. Osgiliath is driven in and the orcs are hard behind. Roman Catholic Archbishop Nichols, the primate of England, put it bluntly.

He claimed the Pope had made the decision because he wants worshippers to unite in the face of increasing secularism rather than form numerous smaller churchers. … Quoting the Pontiff, he said: “As he has written: ‘In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God.’ “
One part of 'The Return of the King' not shown in the movie was the arrival of the Captains of the Outlands, marching up the south road to Minas Tirith, to join in its defence. The little principalities down the river and along the coast, taking their part in the battle of Gondor against the Enemy. But Gondor was not just the biggest policeman on the block; it was also their mother, the civilization that planted them and made them thrive.
And so the companies came and were hailed and cheered and passed through the Gate, men of the Outlands marching to defend the City of Gondor in a dark hour; but always too few, always less than hope looked for or need asked. The men of Ringlo Vale behind the son of their lord, Dervorin striding on foot: three hundreds. From the uplands of Morthond, the great Blackroot Vale, tall Duinhir with his sons, Duilin and Derufin, and five hundred bowmen. From the Anfalas, the Langstrand far away, a long line of men of many sorts, hunters and herdsmen and men of little villages scantily equipped save for the household of Golasgil their lord. From Lamedon, a few grim hillmen without a captain. Fisher-folk of the Ethir, some hundred or more spared from the ships. Hirluin the Fair of the Green Hills from Pinnath Gelin with three hundreds of gallant green-clad men. And last and proudest, Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, kinsman of the Lord, with gilded banners bearing his token of the Ship and the Silver Swan, and company of knights in full harness riding grey horses; and behind them seven hundreds of men at arms, tall as lords, grey-eyed, dark-haired, singing as they came.

And that was all, less than three thousands full told. No more would come. Their cries and tramp of their feet passed into the City and died away.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Medals for suicide?

A new first for Canada: now we will be giving out medals to soldiers who commit suicide.
Soldiers killed in service-related accidents or suicides will now qualify for a newly created medal intended for military casualties, the Canadian military announced Monday.

The Sacrifice Medal was first unveiled in 2008 to recognize only those killed and wounded by hostile action.

The Department of National Defence said Monday it expanded the criteria to include all service-related deaths after concluding a review this month, which was launched in response to criticisms from the families of slain soldiers and peacekeepers.
There's no indication that this will be for cases of "altruistic suicide" - where a soldier heroically flings himself on a grenade to save his comrades. No, this will be when a guy gets depressed and offs himself - but because it happened while he was engaged in military service, we are now going to consider this deserving of a medal.

I don't want to increase the pain of the families left behind by such suicides, but this whole approach is just wrong. It's an example of the "therapeutic approach" to life which is seeping into everything. Now we no longer give medals because a man's actions are intrinsically admirable; we give them in order to "mean a lot" to the families - to make them feel better, in other worlds.

Medals used to be to acknowledge GOOD things - heroism, bravery, skill. Now they're to be consolation prizes for people who have been victimized by their experiences. If they hadn't gone to a combat zone, this wouldn't have happened, so now Canada has to make it all better. I'm sure there are sad and pathetic stories behind each military suicide, but the same thing is true of EVERY case of suicide. We help nobody by pretending that there's no difference between dying at the hands of an enemy and taking one's own life. The first is endured, even though it's the last thing a soldier wants, for the sake of a greater good. The second is sought out, at the price of rejection of every other good. G.K. Chesterton wrote the definitive description of suicide, and why we must harden our hearts and reject it, no matter how compelling the sob-story that accompanies it:
Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world. His act is worse (symbolically considered) than any rape or dynamite outrage. For it destroys all buildings: it insults all women. The thief cannot be bribed, even by the blazing stones of the Celestial City. The thief compliments the things he steals, if not the owner of them. But the suicide insults everything on earth by not stealing it. He defiles every flower by refusing to live for its sake. There is not a tiny creature in the cosmos at whom his death is not a sneer. When a man hangs himself on a tree, the leaves might fall off in anger and the birds fly away in fury: for each has received a personal affront. Of course there may be pathetic emotional excuses for the act. There often are for rape, and there almost always are for dynamite. But if it comes to clear ideas and the intelligent meaning of things, then there is much more rational and philosophic truth in the burial at the crossroads and the stake driven through the body, than in Mr. Archer's suicidal automatic machines. There is a meaning in burying the suicide apart. The man's crime is different from other crimes--for it makes even crimes impossible.

About the same time I read a solemn flippancy by some freethinker: he said that a suicide was only the same as a martyr. The open fallacy of this helped to clear the question. Obviously a suicide is the opposite of a martyr. A martyr is a man who cares so much for something outside him, that he forgets his own personal life. A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything. One wants something to begin; the other wants everything to end. In other words, the martyr is noble, exactly because (however he renounces the world or execrates all humanity) he confesses this ultimate link with life; he sets his heart outside himself: he dies that something may live. The suicide is ignoble because h has not this link with being: he is a mere destroyer; spiritually, he destroys the universe.
I notice that Chesterton contrasted the suicide with the martyr, not the soldier who falls in battle. Because this was written in 1908, he was closer to an age where war was regarded as a common hazard of life, and was not sentimentalized. Today, in Canada, not only do we want to honour suicides, some want to give medals to everyone who has the bad fortune to die:
"I have always felt that all soldiers that have fallen in Afghanistan should receive it," he said. "It certainly means a great deal that this will be received."
And another person is quoted as saying
"If a person has forfeited his natural life expectancy in the aid of his country, recognition should still be there."
So now the "All Must Have Prizes" mentality has crept to the point where medals are to be routinely given just for the bad fortune of dying. I'm sure in a few years, we'll have the "Participation Medal" for those who just packed a suitcase and had to leave home for a few months. Why should "recognition" be withheld from those who left friends and family behind, even if they eventually came back?

Sunday, October 18, 2009


The Anglican Curmudgeon has a good post up about the entropy overtaking The Gay Church. As happens with many (perhaps all) institutions, it carried on for a while on a surge of original energy, but today we see it falling to the inexorable Second Law of Thermodynamics.
In the same way, institutions can for a time defy the Second Law. They accumulate people and energy, and flourish and spread and thrive. Some can maintain their health for centuries, or even millennia. But if the flow of energy out begins to exceed the amount that is taken in, eventually the institution must succumb to the Second Law if the process cannot be reversed.

The Episcopal Church (USA) is no exception to the Law. I submit that all of the outward signs point to a draining from it of people and energy which at the moment is very much greater than what it is managing to attract to itself.

Being purely mortal, the Episcopal Church is sharing the fate of all purely mortal things, which will also be the fate of our governments, cultures and civilizations in time.

But let us not be too downcast. The topic gives me a chance to post a YouTube video by Flanders and Swann, giving a musical physics lesson. I have to say, this little song has worked for me over the years. If someone mentions the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, I immediately hear the syncopated verse in my head:
HEAT - cannot-of-itself - PASS - from ONE - body-to-a-hotter - BODY."

And while we're at it, here's another Flanders & Swann song - 'The Gasman Cometh', animated with Lego figures. This is one of my favourites, and I have even learned to play it on the piano!

Friday, October 09, 2009


A powerful essay on the corruption and spiritual death overtaking a post-Christian world. I was struck by how applicable it is to The Gay Church:
Postmodernism posits the notion of “narratives”, which are an understanding of culture and society largely determined by those in power. It specifically rejects the notions of Divine lawgiver or transcendent moral absolutes as mere narratives of religious power centers whose intent is to control. For the postmodernist, all behavior will ultimately be judged against their own narrative rather than an absolute which transcends culture and time. What the religionist views as a transcendent absolute is seen as nothing more than another narrative by the postmodernist — a narrative imposed by religious and paternalistic authority solely for the purpose of controlling the flock. The intersection of these two radically different worldviews makes compromise and communication virtually impossible between them, since there is no common framework of understanding or language to bridge the gap.
Even the jargon has been imported: "narrative" is one of those soft sociology terms always creeping into Episcopalian plans and programs. And where have we heard this recently?:
Even seeming linguistic commonalities lead to confusion in the interface between these cultures. For the traditionalist, the concept of evil, for example, represents a violation of moral absolutes, by individuals ultimately held responsible for their actions. In the postmodernist vocabulary, evil is corporate, embodied in institutions and groups, and is a social construct rather than a moral one.
It's the flip side of The Madwoman of Second Avenue's claim that individual salvation is "the great Western heresy" (I strongly suspect that the dirty word in that phrase is supposed to be "Western", not "heresy".) It can be summed up as "All for the group, and nothing outside the group."

The rejection of absolute truth, and the resulting repudiation of reason as a basis for judgment, creates an exasperating comfort with contradiction, where cognitive dissonance is the norm, and that which is emotionally compelling or strongly believed becomes Truth by the mere force of conviction driven home by relentless repetition and coercive groupthink. The term “evil” thus no longer serves a universal meaning across the culture, and its use sows confusion rather than commonality. One could multiply examples without end from the linguistic miasma of politically correct speech, politics, and the mind-numbing inanity of popular culture.
This, I think, is the source of the nervous self-congratulation of modern Episcopalians on their "living into tension" - it's a way of escaping the charge of "hypocrisy" (one of the worst slurs possible today) by brutalizing their consciences into submitting to perpetual incoherence and contradiction.

There's a lot of good stuff here, and though the writer was talking about secular civic culture, not a religious denomination, it is eerily accurate as a portrait of The Gay Church, right down to "the ruthless dismissal of all moral restraints in the achievement of pursued goals " (i.e., jerry-rigged "trials" to liquidate opponents and plunder their assets), "through the erosive and relentless undermining of the traditional societal and moral constraints which oppose the desired cultural and political changes."

Read it all: it's The Picture of Dorian Gray's Church.

(Hat tip: American Digest)