The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Monday, July 24, 2006

Gone Fishing

I'll be in Alaska all next week, so probably no bloggage.

Here's a picture of where I'll be: (more pictures here)

See you when I get back.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Happy Bastille Day?

The French Revolution is such a mixed bag. The Declaration of the Rights of Man is cut basically from the same cloth as the Bill of Rights (both were accepted at almost exactly the same time), but there's this caveat in the French version absent in the American:

"provided that [...the] manifestation [...of their religious opinions] does not trouble the public order established by the law".

That provides a lot of leeway. It wasn't too long before priests were being imprisoned and even massacred. Why this inverted inquisition is not thought to discredit secularism in the eyes of those who think the Spanish Inquisition (I've said a few things about that here) discredits the Church is beyond me.

They knew just how to attack the Church, though, making Priests and Bishops locally elected state officials--(regardless of religious affilication! I think there were a few Protestant and Jewish "Catholic priests"). This was eliminated on paper by Napoleon, but the structure of the Church in France remained in the grip of the State.

It is now almost universally agreed that separation of Church and State--in the sense that the Church and State have no official overlap in autority, not in the sense of a naked public square where religion must not peek out of homes or parishes--is much to the benefit of the Church. This is actually a regular theme in the writings of Pope Benedict XVI.

It is not abundantly clear to me that democracy is to be preferred to monarchy. They each have their advantages and disadvantages and my principled objections to monarchy apply in large part to most democracies as well. And my arguments for the validity of democracy are also convertible into arguments for monarchy.

Revolutions remind us that governments are created by men (which of course God must allow, but that raises a host of new issues), and that should remind us to think about where our rights come from and why we should surrender them to governments. In Political Philosophy this is called the Problem of Political Obligation: When do I have to obey the State? "Always" and "Never" are nice answers from a theoretical viewpoint--"sometimes" always implies some line which is hard to draw--but have had dire consequences. There's an interesting discussion of political obligation here.

A Delicate Issue Regarding Delicate Tissue

OK, so as you know I now no I'm the father of a boy and--per the ultrasound--he's got boy parts. So, now I have to make a decision: cut or no-cut.

Here's my opening gambit.
Sarah got a pamphlet on circumcision today at here appt. Based on it and a bit of a web search it seems like the mainline medical community has adopted a “stop the circumcisions now” policy. This bugs me since the ideology seems to have moiled the arguments (I ought to receive some kind of prize for that pun). For I lean about 65% against, but I don’t want to be associated with the kind of nonsense in this pamphlet.

My reasoning is basically this:

1. Medical procedures shouldn’t be done unless there is some compelling reason to do so.
2. There’s no compelling reason to do circumcision (in normal cases).
3. So the circumcision shouldn’t be done.

I don’t remember if we talked about this or not so I don’t know if the boys are au naturale or what. My brief success with Isaiah peeing (now surely to be judged a coincidence) did not give me any evidence one way or the other, since, at least from my small sample of evidence, little kids have yet to inherit their endowment and it’s all mush and skin anyway.

So on behalf of 2:

The reasons to do so would surely be either religious, medical, or cultural, but:
*The Council of Jerusalem specifically says we goyim don’t need to be circumcised.
*Official “Big Medicine” says it’s not medically necessary.

So that leaves cultural reasons. Interestingly circumcision is quite varied by region, but on overall decline to barely over half in the US highest in the Midwest and very low in the West—less than 1 in 3. Since I don’t know where we’ll end up, it doesn’t seem that the cultural reasons can be much of a factor. STATS

Here's what a good friend of mine had to say:
We decided for it. Our reasons were,1. Social disutility associated with uncircumcision.2. Health issues associated with uncircumcision.a. An uncircumcised person needs to pull back the foreskin and make sure it’s clean. Not doing this can lead to bad infections. Problems of this sort occur primarily in the early years up to the teen years and in old age when the man can no longer clean himself. b. A related issue here is the parent having to remind the child to “pull back the foreskin”. This can create odd situations, as you can imagine.c. There’s a slightly greater risk of cancer for an uncircumcised person.3. Sexual disutility, at least for the wife. Problems relating to premature ejaculation are very high among uncircumcised males. Also it can be “unsightly” for the wife.All in all we judged that the benefits didn’t outweigh the costs.------------
Here's my reply:

Interesting. Anti-Circs argue that sex is better for the man if the glans is kept soft by the foreskin, but let’s face it, it’s *always* better for the man! I think when guys get too old to clean themselves people have to clean there anyway and if someone’s already willing to do that then… I suppose the kid case is a bit more delicate but no more so than what Sarah has to do with the girls—lots of folds of skin you know.The social disutility is very hard to weigh. There wouldn’t be much worse than being teased by peers about that, but circumcision rates vary by region.I was really surprised to see that it was so low in the South. Studies which break regions up to include the Midwest by itself show that it’s the highest by far. It’s clearly declining and I can’t think of any good reason why this wouldn’t continue.Since there seems to be a prima facie reason to keep it we probably wont do it unless there’s a compelling reason not to and all the arguments pro and con seem to be a draw to me. What’s funny is how mad some people get about it. The #1 reason I’d go ahead and do it now is the whacko mentality of most of the anti-circ crowd.---------

This is an interesting case-study in decision making. There'll be more about this.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mailbag: Homeschooling, Unschooling

I was recently queried about how we homeschool. I paste a snippet blow.
We don’t really “do” curricula. We unschool. I think it’s just the natural, rational thing to do and I can defend that, though the natural objection is that it’s more a reflection of my antinomianism. However, in rebuttal all I can say is that I think my reasons are good reasons and that my antinomianism has subsided somewhat and my belief in unschooling has grown. Nevertheless perhaps I can say something useful.

Our focus is on the four R’s: Reading, ‘Riteing, ‘Rithmatic, and ‘Rt (love that last one).

I. Reading (by the way, do a Google Image search on “girls reading” (be sure to include the quotes)).

A. Chesney (5)
*Reading lesson each day from Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy lessons.
*She reads aloud for corrections from Scholastic Press’s Phonics Fun (why isn’t “phonetic” spelled phonetically?) book which has one or two sentences per page (Frog and Toad is great, but she gets intimidated and bored by full paragraphs. One or two sentences she gets rewarded with a picture more frequently).

B. Fiona (7)
*Reads from Bible and Catechism each day.
*Reads What Your Kindergartener Needs to Know to Chesney
N.B. Prior to this we read it to her straight. Oddly, I’ve met multiple people who think they should digest the book and work it into the “curriculum” rather than *making it* the curriculum. So each day we’d read a few pages from each category. It doesn’t have to be hard.
Reads a few chapters of some chapter book selected in consultation with parent.

II. Writing

A. Chesney
*Works on penmanship using basic sheets printed from
B. Fiona
*Writes brief book reports with illustrations
*Writes email to friends and family
*Writes brief narratives of recent special events. For example we went to Niagara Falls last weekend and she wrote about that.

III. Arithmatic

*Fiona prints off worksheets for her and Chesney from progressing a bit each day or so.
*This is occasionally supplemented with colorful workbooks from the dollar store or the Walmarts.

IV. Art: The usual stuff.

They also frequently play educational games of the Reader Rabbit variety and lately the pretty good Zoombini’s Logical Adventure (which is actually quite good).

Of course this only covers a fraction of what we do because, of course, life *is* a classroom and learning is a lifestyle for us. The thing that counts is that we set an example of reading and learning. That’s number one. If you got that, you got it all; if you don’t have that, you don’t have anything.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Wisdom from the World of Accounting

My old friend who's a CPA now was reflecting on what he's learned in the buisness. I thought it was so good I'd paste it here.

I see a lot in my business people who work their life building a retirement fund. They don't recognize when the pile is big enough for retirement. Instead it is like the pile takes them over and they work to make the pile bigger instead of spending the pile and switching their vocation, if need be. They could also use the pile to further their personal causes, organizations, etc. Instead, they die and the pile is no smaller than the day they retired. We both know the pile doesn't do them any good where they are going.

A prime example, I had an 80 something old lady in my office the other day. She worked as a nurse until she was 78. Now, she complains that she is running short in monthly living expenses. I tell her that she has $400,000+ (soon to be almost $1 million when she sells her house) in investments that she could partially spend. She wouldn't hear any of it.

One of my grandpa's was like this. He went through the depression era and only knew how to save. When he died he had a huge estate. The bulk went to his brother--his closest living relative--who bought a big new fancy car and then added the remainder to his pile.

Money is a means. It has no intrinsic value. It's only value comes from what one does with it.

Domesticity in Style

Blossoming over at The Weedy Garden this week is a wonderful meditation on found freedom. There's also a recent poem--a work in progress but still very good--which, together with the freedom piece, shows how well the author blends domesticity and reflectiveness.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Resources in Philosophy of Mind

A friend recently wrote me regarding good reading in the philosophy of mind from a Christian perspective. I paste in my recommendations below.

You've been reading some serious stuff. I like Pinker's work on the language instinct--though in an oblique way (similar to my attitude about E.O. Wilson)--but his philosophy of mind is whack. His work is adrift with "just so" stories. There are two good critiques I know of by good philosophers.

This one is by Edward T. Oakes an insightful Jesuit thinker. This one is by Simon Blackburn a very renowned philosopher from Chapel Hill (at least one of my profs studied with him). They are both pretty well written and witty (though at times acerbically so).

McGinn is very fascinating as an individual and thinker. Perhaps you’re familiar with his intellectual autobiography _The Making of a Philosopher_.

Now you asked for a Christian “scientists” take on the subject. I’m not sure with what strictness you were meaning to use that term. McGinn certainly isn’t one and if Pinker is one, he is so only in a fairly loose sense. So I’ll answer first strictly, then less so.

There is no question as to the best writing on consciousness by Christian scientists. (1) Part V of Stephen M. Barr’s _Modern Physics and Ancient Faith_. He is—with only one fairly close second—by far my favorite writer on science and religion. His articles on evolution in First Things are the sanest things written in English on the subject. He’s off-the-charts successful as a physicist as is (2) John Polkinghorne—of whom I’m sure you’re aware (but he is seriously one of the more accomplished physicists living) who is the aforementioned close second in the first chapter of his early classic _Faith of a Physicist_. Both address the issue of quantum models of consciousness. They only touch on it but Roger Penrose—of _Emperor’s New Mind_ fame—goes into great detail in his fairly recent _Shadows of the Mind_.

Other Christian thinkers of great import who’ve weighed in on consciousness are Robert Adams in “Flavors, Colors, and God” collected in his delightful and diverse volume _The Virtue of Faith_. Renowned Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne goes farther down essentially the same path in his _The Evolution of the Soul_, recently out in a revised edition (Swinburne is el Capitan in philosophy of religion).

Two fairly recent books by Christian authors deserve mention here, one defending substance dualism, the other critiquing it and offering an emergence alternative. Both address the philosophy of mind via freedom and rationality (a la Lewis in _Miracles_) rather than via consciousness. The first is J.P. Moreland’s _Body and Soul_. It has one section on theory and then a second section applying the results of the theory to bio-ethics. The second is William Hasker’s _The Emergent Self_. Hasker basically takes up a defense of Lewis’s argument in _Miracles_.

Finally, I want to mention two other books which, though I’ve not read them, I find cited a lot in the books I do read. 1. Kevin Corcoran’s Soul, Body, and Survival: Essays on the Metaphysics of Human Persons. (he’s also got a piece in one of those “four views” books here) 2. Agents Under Fire, Materialism and the Rationality of Science by Angus Menuge.

Dubya Covers U2

There are lots of good spoofs of President Bush by impersonators like this one. And there are a lot of funny collages of his very own goofs like this one. But the best of the neutral patch-togethers is this one by a mile.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

It's a Boy!

We found out this week that our third child--now in the 4th month of gestation--is, in fact, a boy.

Having raised two girls, this comes as a bit of a shock. I'll have to figure this thing out I guess. Since it's pretty well-documented by all the right people that most men spend their lives trying to win their father's approval or compete with him, it is very important to me to make sure this boy knows that I love him and support him no matter what he decides to do with his life and to lead by example in such a way that whatever he chooses to do, he will do it with diligence and integrity.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


I ran this race this morning. It was a real blast. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) My time of around 40 minutes was respectible and it was fun, so I'm happy about it.

Monday, July 03, 2006

So I guess I'm a famous athlete now.

At least the photo below of me jumping across the finish line in the Rochester Classic Duathlon was used in the Summer newsletter for the area multi-sport club. Always hamming it up.

Tomorrow I'm running the Firecracker Five-mile, an annual Independence Day race. And I just signed up for a half-marathon, so we'll see if I jump triumphantly over *that* finish line!