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# Sunday, September 25, 2011

This blog has been retired. For the foreseeable future, I will maintain the content here as is.

Check out my current blog(s).

Sunday, September 25, 2011 5:20:15 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [343]  | 
# Wednesday, October 22, 2008
My most recent post on how I choose whom to vote for dived into a bit of depth on the two key principles that factor into my decisions in this important part of our lives as citizens in a democratic republic.  One of my colleagues said to me something like "it's just plain silly to vote on one issue."  Put another way, "life isn't the only issue, dude."  This is actually a common sentiment, especially by those who, for whatever reason, want to justify voting for candidates who support (usually) abortion as part of their platform.

And yes, it's true.  There are more issues to think about than life issues and abortion in particular.  No doubt about that.

Issues of Consequence


But to be a responsible voter, we have to think like adults--we have to weigh issues not only in number but also in importance, in consequence.  For instance, is a candidate's position on technology of more or less consequence than his position on education?  That's certainly debatable--there are many nuances and ways of tackling both of those, some of which would be a win-win.

On the other hand, when you compare the consequences of a candidate's position on abortion to even something as near and dear to our hearts as the state of the economy (our own personal savings), which seems to be capturing folks' imaginations these days thanks to current events, there is just no comparison.  I don't care if my life savings is wiped out.  My pecuniary situation must take second chair to protecting the lives of the millions who have been and will continue to be killed with the consent of the law. 

Today, there are very few issues that can claim the priority and consequence of abortion.  As explored in my last post, protection of life must come first.  It trumps economy; it trumps education; it trumps health care; it trumps foreign policy, and it even trumps social services.  If you don't have life, none of this matters.  It is plain, simple, straightforward logic.

If you vote for a candidate who supports abortion, you are consenting to and indirectly participating in the death of each and every baby who has its brains sucked out, who is mangled, chemically burned, poisoned, or killed in any one of the many diabolically creative ways they've figured out how to do take human life in a mother's womb.  I apologize if it offends sensibilities, but you need to make an informed decision and realize there is real, moral culpability involved in voting for candidates who support abortion.  Is your 401(k) worth more than these babies' lives? 

We can disagree on the propriety of the Iraq war (I have always opposed it but believe we are responsible to try to fix the mess we've made); we can disagree on the most effective means for social and economic stability; we can disagree on the  death penalty, and we can argue about the right way to fix the environment.  There are plenty of issues where good, honest folks can have good honest disagreements.  We have to think about all these, but we also have to weigh them proportionately. 

Religion or Science?


[If I could do side bars on the blog, this would go there.  So just imagine it being there.]  A lot of folks, including Senator Biden, seem to think that when life begins is a matter of faith.  It's not.  Life is not just a religious issue; it's about as biological and primordially human as it gets.  Human life begins at conception; this is scientific, not religious--if you don't interfere with a newly-conceived human being, he or she will develop into an adult human being.  It doesn't matter if they're self aware or not; they're still alive and have everything, genetically speaking, they'll have as adults.  You can't distinguish based on awareness--that's a slippery slope.  What about the severely mentally retarded or the senile?  What about newborns?  What level of self-awareness do you require?  What's the IQ score you have to have?  Who decides?

Our Current Choices


Obama has said that the first thing he'll do if elected is sign into law the so-called Freedom of Choice Act, which would have the effect of overturning all existing laws that limit abortion and making it harder for future limits to be created.  He has a strong, indisputable record supporting abortion, which is why NARAL and other pro-choice organizations are so keen on him.  When asked, he claims issues of life are "above his pay grade," but he has no reluctance to take actions based on this purported ignorance.

As George Weigel wrote recently in Newsweek, "Is John McCain a perfect pro-life candidate? Of course not. But Barack Obama is a perfect pro-life nightmare."  I really wish there were a party that embodied my perspectives completely, but that'll never happen.  I think that's true for pretty much everybody, so we just have to decide what's more important and vote along those lines.  For my part, I just can't see how anything is more important than protecting human life, and I can't deaden my conscience enough to vote for someone who has clearly deadened his own.  Life isn't the only issue, but it is the most important one.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 11:42:12 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [7]  | 
# Monday, September 01, 2008

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In writing this first and hopefully last political entry, I hope to help others who struggle with the question “How should I vote?” or “How do I choose whom to vote for?” If nothing else, I hope it will contribute more depth to the often polemical and superficial discussion that is our political milieu.

First off, let me say that sometimes I wish I could be a Democrat. Democrats have a great story. They work for the average Joe. They want to make sure that the poor are taken care of. They want social justice. That’s admirable; that’s something I can get behind.

For my part, I consider it part of my moral obligation to help the poor and those less fortunate. As a Catholic (or even just a Christian for that matter), it is pretty clear that caring for the poor is a basic moral principle for us, and what this means has been elaborated on and acted on throughout our two thousand year history. It has taken different forms as the cultural, political, and religious landscape has changed, but it was and remains a core concern for the devout Christian.

Fundamental Principles

By the same token, it’s also my Catholic/Christian philosophy that informs how I think about other social and political issues, including those far more fundamental, those that are the logical source of an active care for the less fortunate

You see there are those, both antagonistic and sympathetic, who suggest that a concern for others, a care for the less fortunate, should trump these more fundamental concerns. For some, this argument is purely rhetorical, but there are surely those who honestly believe in this perspective. Some of these people are close to me, and I don’t doubt their sincerity.

The problem is, I think, that there is a failure to understand the connection between these more fundamental issues and governments’ role in them, to understand the pragmatic importance of these issues, or, in some cases, to even properly value them. The fundamental issues I am referring to are those of life, first, and family, second.

Why Life Matters

Let’s begin with the first principle of life. Even our founding fathers saw the primacy and importance of this topic. Our Declaration of Independence begins with what they claim are self-evident truths, a list of unalienable rights, the first of which is the right to life. These are there to introduce the primary principles for which government is established and, in particular, our own here in these United States.

It doesn’t take a religious perspective to appreciate the fundamental importance of life, and it is not a logical jump to understand that government, which should be directed toward the common (i.e., shared, social) good, should set as its number one goal to protect the lives of its citizens--all of them, especially those who cannot, for whatever reason, protect their own lives.

It is from this fundamental principle of life that the other principles and rights both logically and practically flow. And therefore there is an implicit subjugation of these other rights (such as liberty and the pursuit of happiness) to the right of life. It follows then that a government can, in order to ensure the most fundamental right to life, restrict these others. I would suggest that it also follows that if a government inverts this order, it is inherently disordered and consequently needs to be corrected.

For if a government cannot duly ensure the right to life, all of these other rights and, certainly, privileges are in no uncertain jeopardy. We must protect life first and foremost and, if necessary, at the cost of other admirable ideals such as liberty (or “choice” as some put it) as well as concern for the economic welfare that enables the pursuit of happiness (or property, as John Locke would have it).

This is why I think that life issues must always trump economic issues (including care for the poor). If we don’t get life right, we have to seriously question both our priorities and maybe even our ability to properly think about care for the less fortunate.

Similarly, we have to vote for candidates who have these priorities straight, those who understand the primordial and fundamental importance of life and government’s principle obligation to protect it in all forms, from conception through to its natural end. Because if they don’t then they--just like a government that does not prioritize life over liberty and other rights and privileges--are unfortunately and seriously disordered. However well intentioned they may be, we must seriously question their judgment and their ability to govern wisely if they do not understand the government’s priority to protect life.

Why Family Matters

Let us turn now to our second fundamental issue--the family. It is often said that the family is the fundamental building block of society. This is true both in terms of societal stability but also in terms of the fundamental concerns of the perpetuation of a society. It is through the family that the future members of society come, and, therefore, it is through the family that the future of the society itself is perpetuated.

Any human society that values itself will inherently value its own perpetuation; it is essentially societal self-preservation that we are talking about. From our earliest human origins, the family has been the normative means for the perpetuation of society in all its forms. It is the most tried and true (and logical) way for this self-preservation to occur.

Similarly, the normative form of the family has been that of a man and woman. The simplest reason for this is, if for no other reason, due to our biological situation, our needing male and female to engender new lives. And given the very real (even biological) personal investment in the creation of these new lives, it follows naturally that those who engender them will normally be those who care for and raise them. This is of course ignoring the psychological and, dare I say, metaphysical factors that inform us that the biological parents should normally be the ones who take on the roles of mother and father.

(I hate to seem overly simplistic here, but we are talking about fundamental human principles. It seems to me that so many of us must take them for granted, so I think it is worth verbalizing them to help us think about this stuff more clearly.)

Any society worth its salt will do what it can to strengthen the normative family because it is, simply put, in the society’s best interests to do so. And we see this played out in those governments (like our own) that do create formal structures to support it, such as marriage and the many privileges given to spouses and parents in our laws. These privileges (not rights!) are there to support the normative family in hopes that it will further the perpetuation of the society and, by extension, our common good.

Supporting the normative family (like life, though secondary to it) is a fundamental issue for government. Supporting and reinforcing this primordial social unit through which the future of society is ensured should therefore supersede other concerns. And ensuring its elemental structure--a man and a woman having children and responsibly raising their children--must supersede concerns about economic welfare because in the same way that life logically precedes the exercise of other rights and privileges, so the structure of the fundamental family unit logically precedes concerns about other social conditions.

It is unfortunate that we have to make this priority explicit—because we should absolutely care about ensuring economic welfare—but this fundamental family unit structure is in question in our society today and is being pressed by many who recognize clearly the secondary concern of economic welfare. Sadly, we must first deal with this question and settle it correctly, in a way that ensures the fundamental structure of our society and consequently its perpetuation. Only then should we turn our attention to the very important concern of economic welfare.

Again, since the essential function of government is to secure the enduring, common good of the society it serves, and since any society that values itself will preserve itself by ensuring and protecting the normative family consisting of a man and a woman having and responsibly raising the future members of society, it follows that we should elect members of government who will likewise work to ensure and support this fundamental unit of society. Right now, while the nature of the family is in question in our society, we must more than ever work to elect those who share this urgent priority to finally settle this issue in a way that is in the long-term best interests of our society. We cannot redefine and dilute the elemental structure of the family, however well meaning we may be, without endangering the long-term good of our society.

Have Your Principles and Welfare, Too

Now, I started out by saying that there are times when I wish I could be a Democrat. I said this because they do have many admirable ideals, chief among which is care for the less fortunate. But the thing is, unlike ensuring that our government protects the fundamental principles of life and family, the impact of which can only most fully be realized through government, care for the poor can be (and most often is) attended by charitable works that are not governmental in nature.

In other words, you don’t have to work through the government to care for the poor, but you do have to work through the government to ensure the right to life and the fundamental character of the family. Therefore, if we must, sadly, choose between a government that protects life and the family and one that is focused on economic good, it seems clear to me that we must opt for a the former.

The good news is that in doing so, we don’t have to leave care for the less fortunate behind. In fact, I would suggest that a more effective and laudable approach would be for us to make personal, active investment in the care of the less fortunate. Give to charities. Volunteer in charitable works. Give to those who ask and even to those who do not. It is much more blessed and, indeed, enjoyable to choose to give than to be forced to give by your government. And if we all did it, we wouldn’t need to try to make each other do so through the government.

So that’s how I think about choosing whom to vote for. I hope that there are those who will find some help here, and if nothing else, I hope it will help those who are of a differing persuasion to see that despite the rhetoric, there are good reasons to make issues like abortion, euthanasia, marriage, and family deciding factors in deciding how to vote. These issues are fundamental and primary for society and government and will therefore have a much more profound and long lasting impact than other, albeit important, issues like foreign policy, economic policy, and national security. It’s not a matter of laziness or simplemindedness; it is a matter of principles.

Peace be with you all.

--
Mr. J. Ambrose Little, O.P.
Given on the First Day of September, A.D. 2008

UPDATE (6 Sept 2008): I was happy to see one of our pastors, Most Rev. R. Walker Nickless, reiterate essentially what I've said here and expand even further.  Always nice to be in such illustrious company. :)
UPDATE (11 Sept 2008): Seems that Pelosi and Biden's remarks have provided a very timely opportunity for the Church to reiterate her changeless teaching on these crucial issues as well as provide more solid guidance for Catholic (or just plain conscientious) voters.
UPDATE (14 Sept 2008): I just ran across this little video on CatholicVote.com that kind of says in pictures what I say above.  I should say the conclusions about the primacy of life and family are the same, though I deal with it from a not-specifically-Catholic perspective in my text.

UPDATE (12 Oct 2008): Just noting more bishops reinforcing this.  Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton (where Biden likes to point out he hails from) and Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh.  Bishop Martino is one of the clearest and forceful messages on this issue so far.
UPDATE (22 Oct 2008): Most Reverend Kevin J. Farrell and Most Reverence Kevin W. Vann (of Dallas and Ft. Worth, TX, respectively) have offered yet more clarification (PDF) on these issues.  
UPDATE (1 Nov 2008): This'll be my last update I expect, given the nearness of the election.  I've come across a few more bishops speaking out, but I was pleased to find that someone's been keeping a lot closer tabs.  Over 115 U.S. bishops have spoken out in recent months to defend the (true) Catholic position on these and related matters as they pertain to our participation in the democratic process.  Honestly, this is amazing and heartening.  Our bishops seem to be hardening their collective backbones.  Kudos to them and thank God.

Monday, September 01, 2008 8:16:38 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Today I went with Mrs. dotNetTemplar, along with our three ambulatory munchkins, to see the latest addition to Clan Little on the big screen.  Well, it was like a 25" screen, anyways.  At the last ultrasound, the technician said she thought it was a 90% certainty that the new one is a boy, but today it was confirmed pretty much beyond doubt.  That makes 3 boys!  Yikes! :)

It's always nice to see the little boogers kicking around, even in low fidelity, and the other kiddies enjoyed it too.  It's very clear that there's a person there, and he already bears the name Thomas Martin Bonaventure, after St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Martin of Tours, and St. Bonaventure.

So it was with that in mind when I bumped into the news that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi totally misrepresented the Catholic position on abortion in an interview on Meet the Press.  Thankfully numerous Catholic bishops have spoken up to provide the accurate Catholic position, but it's unfortunate that it happened because no doubt there will be plenty who take what she said at face value and never hear the correction.

I must say I was very surprised.  I mean, most politicians who identify themselves as Catholic at least have some integrity to dodge the issue by saying that their personal opinion should not be their public policy, which of course is deeply questionable in itself, but to outright contradict one of the most well-established Catholic doctrines--established in one of the earliest Christian documents we have and held since--and say it is an okay position for a purported "ardent, practicing Catholic" to hold is just plain wrong.

It may be challenging to argue against abortion without reference to Divine revelation, but it's just plain easy to do with it.  I mean, come on.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 9:42:05 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Friday, June 20, 2008

I'm not sure why this didn't occur to me before...  I read recently another brief article about the negative impact of email on productivity the other day, so I was thinking about a way to deal with it that didn't involve, e.g., closing Outlook and maybe even setting an "I'm not available by email until 3p today" out of office type message--seems a bit extreme, and it would also preclude my getting meeting reminders. 

It occurred to me that what usually happens is I get the nifty little toaster popup notification while doing something, almost always click on it for more detail, and then get drawn into a distraction over it.  Similarly, I was using one of those Gmail Vista gadgets that would highlight when I had Gmail waiting, or I'd leave it open and minimized and see the Inbox count in the taskbar.  The problem was not (for me) so much getting too much email as having the regular interruptions that were occasioned by these terribly useful notification mechanisms. 

Having isolated the problem, i.e., having framed the question correctly (which usually the most important part of solving a problem), I asked "How can I make these notifications go away?"  And the answer was immediately apparent: turn them off. :)

To that end, I went into Outlook advanced email options (Tools -> Options -> Email Options -> Advanced Email Options--who knew notifications were advanced?!) and deselect all the notification options:

Advanced E-mail Options Dialog

I then removed the Gmail notifier gadget, and I close my Gmail when done with it.  The magic is that I still get my task and meeting reminders, but I don't get the regular interruptive notifications.  This had an immediate noticeable effect--I could work through to a good stopping point on the thing I was working on, i.e., a point I'd normally take a break, and then I'd check my email.  Wow!  Who knew something so simple could make such a difference?  I figure if it is critical, somebody will call or come knocking on my door. :)

As a complimentary technique to that, I have taken my Inbox strategy to the next level, following a bit of advice given by Mark Hurst (who wrote a book on Bit Literacy [that I haven't read]).  One of his suggestions to avoid information overload is to keep your Inbox empty.  I previously already worked to do that because I used my Inbox like a to-do list (and don't like having a long to-do list), but Mark's advice is precisely not to do that--use it as an Inbox and get stuff out of it immediately. 

Having not read the book (in which I'm sure are tons of helpful little tidbits), I take that to mean act on it immediately if possible, file it if need be, or set up a task to do something with it later.  I was already doing the first two, but I've found this additional third technique to be a nice add.  There is a distinct satisfaction (for me anyway) to having an empty inbox--maybe it's my personality type. :)

I hope this maybe helps others out there in the same boat.

Friday, June 20, 2008 5:28:31 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thanks to Mark Hurst over at Good Experience for blogging this one.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  My favorite: "Procrastination is playing imaginary computer games with your furniture."  I laughed out loud in public..

Now I'm going to try my first embed; let me know if there are problems.

Thursday, June 12, 2008 9:38:08 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Sunday, April 20, 2008

I was just reading the sermon Pope Benedict gave today in the Bronx.  The following struck a cord:

The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love. Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (cf. Lk 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life. "In his will is our peace."

Real freedom, then, is God’s gracious gift, the fruit of conversion to his truth, the truth which makes us free (cf. Jn 8:32). And this freedom in truth brings in its wake a new and liberating way of seeing reality. When we put on "the mind of Christ" (cf. Phil 2:5), new horizons open before us!

I've thought about this seeming paradox on a few occasions--that real, radical freedom is found in truth and living in conformity to that truth. 

Loss of Freedom?
There's a common perception that morals, ethics, and religion in general limit our freedom--that we're sacrificing freedom for some greater good.  But we're not actually sacrificing freedom--we're still free to choose to think and act otherwise, however, we are using our freedom, choosing to live in accord with what we believe to be true.  It's a different way to think about it, one that puts it in the right perspective.  I think it is put in a negative perspective so often because we focus on the things we're not supposed to think or do instead of on what we are freely choosing--positively--to think and do.

The funny thing that I've found is that in choosing to align my beliefs and actions with Catholic doctrine, I feel far more at peace and far freer.  I think it is because if we're constantly struggling with the basic (but important!) questions of life, such as our origins, the existence of God and our relationship to the Divine, as well as our right relations with others, we never get off the ground, so to speak--we're always stuck in an infinite loop, wondering and (maybe) worrying, if we are conscientious. 

But if we settle all that, we're free to move on and explore new horizons.  Not only that, I think we are better equipped to explore those new horizons, because we are aligned with truth, with reality.

Mental & Conceptual Models
This reminds me of the idea in psychology of mental models and conceptual models.  My understanding, based on Donald Norman's The Design of Everyday Things (a.k.a., The Psychology of Everyday Things), is essentially that there is a conceptual model that designers create and use when they design and build things.  This is the actual and correct model.  Then there are mental models that users of the design form and use when perceiving and interacting with the design.

The trick in design is to sufficiently express the conceptual model (through a variety of design mechanisms like affordances, feedback, "knowledge in the world," etc.) so that users will form the correct mental model--one that closely aligns with the design's conceptual model.  The reason this is important is that it empowers the users to use the design effectively and not spend undue time and energy trying to figure it out, dealing with frustrations and inefficiencies that come from having a wrong mental model.  You could say that having the right mental model makes the users more peaceful and more free to explore other things because they don't have the frustrations and aren't wasting unnecessary time on it.

Applied Mental Models for Freedom and Happiness
Now map that to how we think and act as human beings.  Imagine that there is a correct conceptual model that specifies how best we human beings can think, act, and relate to others.  This model can be discovered through a variety of the Designer's mechanisms such as nature (e.g., affordances in biology), reason, experimentation (use & feedback both personal, scientific, and historical/anecdotal), and even revelation (documentation, as it were).  Now if we form the correct mental model, one that most closely aligns with the human conceptual model, it follows that we'll be more at peace (less frustrated), more efficient, more effective, and freer to explore other things.  In short, having the right mental model would give us the most radical freedom and happiness.

Wouldn't we be crazy not to use the human design in accordance with the right mental model, once we figure it out?  I think so.  For instance, once we figure out that our door key is inserted into the key slot in a particular way that gets us through the door in the least amount of time, we'd be silly--bordering on insane--to keep trying to use the key in ways that don't match that mental model.  We'd be wasting time, getting frustrated, and getting stuck outside!

No, once we discover the right mental model, the only sane thing to do is to keep using it unless someone comes along and demonstrates a model that seems to work better.  Doing this--adhering to this mental model--is not "blind faith," as many liken the faith of Christians (and others) to be.  On the contrary, adhering to a mental model that seems right  to you is pure sanity, absolute reason; doing anything else would be idiocy of the first degree.

Sharing Your Mental Model - The Right Thing to Do
It also follows that if you see someone standing outside a door, fumbling with a key, unable to figure out how to use it, that what else could you do but walk over, show, and explain the right mental model--the one that you've found is the most effective and least frustrating?  Would it be kind of you to just say "well, whatever that person believes is fine for them" and just leave them stuck and frustrated?  (I'd suggest not.)

So it is with those who share their faith, their mental model about life, the universe, and everything.  They think they've found the right mental model, the one that is most aligned with the ultimate human conceptual model, the one that if applied will provide the most peace, satisfaction, and happiness.  It is an act of kindness, an act of caring, indeed an act of love, to take the trouble to share such a mental model with others.  Correspondingly, it would be an act of meanness, selfishness, even perhaps of hatred, to not share it and try to help others to understand and use it.

So to those who think having faith is ignorant, blind adherence and loss of freedom, I'd suggest they reconsider.  Using the analogy illumined here, it seems clear that such faith is actually the opposite--it is wide-eyed, reasoned, experiential, and ultimately more radically free and more likely to provide lasting happiness (which is a goal I think any sane human being can agree upon, no?). 

Similarly, perhaps the most popular philosophical adage of our age--"what you believe is okay for you and what I believe is okay for me"--is not in actuality the most humane, reasoned, or livable approach.  On the contrary, it seems far more humane--even positively caring--to try to show each other why we think we have the right mental model.  It's something to consider, anyways.

Sunday, April 20, 2008 6:24:28 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Friday, March 28, 2008

I finally gave in and bought a graphics tablet.  My budget being as huge as it was, I opted for the Wacom Bamboo, which retails at $79, but ANTOnline (via Amazon) had it for $50 plus shipping ($58 total).  I haven't been this tickled to get a new gadget in a while.

The whole experience thus far has been grand.  I placed the order at about 10p on Tuesday night.  I got an email Wednesday night saying it had shipped, and when I opened it Thursday morning and clicked the tracking number, I was informed it was out for delivery--and I paid for standard shipping.  Awesome.

I got the box later Thursday morning, and opened it to find a sleek box wrapped in tissue paper, as if it were a gift.  After sliding it out of the tissue paper, here's what I saw:
Wacom Bamboo Box

Not bad styling.  Let's open 'er up:
Wacom Bamboo Welcome Messages

"This is your Bamboo.  Use it to get more out of your computer.  Let us know how it goes..."  In many languages.  Then it is signed by, presumably, the creators.  Very nice touch, I thought.  I felt like a proud owner already.  Then you lift up that insert, and there's the tablet in all its beauty.  Grab it out--there's the cord, the pen, the pen holder.  Great.  Simple. Obvious.  Beneath that is another tissue wrapped gift, a stylish little black box that has some simple instructions on getting going and the DVD.

Wacom Bamboo Open Box

Just opening the thing was a pleasure.  Honestly, these folks know what UX is, and this is just for an $80 graphics tablet. 

I plugged it in, and it immediately just worked.  Having read a comment somewhere, I just went to the Web site to download the latest drivers.  That was easy.  Install.  I had to try twice; it got hung up for some reason, but then, I did have 30 apps open at the time and they did suggest closing them all. :)

I immediately opened OneNote and went to town.  I started drawing the simple stuff as Dan Roam suggests in his new book, The Back of the Napkin.  (I attended his session at Mix and liked it enough to buy the book.)  Then I really went out on a limb and drew a self-portrait:

Ambrose Self Portrait

Not bad, eh? 

Well, it was a first shot.  I tried writing and realized just how bad my penmanship has become over the years.  Trust me; it's bad.  Nice thing is that maybe I'll get some of it back and improve it now that I have this (who knows?). 

I'm now on Day 2 of using my Bamboo, and I really like it.  My wrist, which had been hurting more as of late, has been loving me.  One of the reasons I tried this was to see if it'd be better to avoid "repetitive strain injury," and I noticed an immediate difference.  The other reason was because I get so tired of being constrained by drawing programs in terms of what I want to represent visually.  SmartArt in Office really, truly (as cool as it is) only goes so far. :)

So my first real use was to start diving into my Agile UX Design Process diagram to replace a particularly painful slide (Slide 19) in my Building Good UX talk.  It (both the drawing and the process) is a work in progress; just trying to visualize some of my thinking about it right now.

Agile UX Design Process

If you look hard, you can see my chicken scratch compared to the nice, free Journal font I picked up.  The point of this diagram is to show how to integrate UX pros into an Agile process.  Not saying this is all fleshed out or perfect, but it's a start. :)  One important point is that even if you don't have the pros, you can start doing the UX stuff yourself.

A Few Tips Using Bamboo (thus far)

  1. Use Mouse mode.  When you install the driver, it switches to Pen mode, which tries to map your screen(s) to the tablet.  Even though Wacom recommends this mode (even provides exercises to get use to it), I found it frustrating when trying to draw on my right screen--I felt too close to the edge for comfort. 
  2. Disable acceleration.  While it can be a nice feature when using it literally like a mouse, it messes you up when drawing.
  3. Switch to the dreaded single-click mode in Explorer.  Back when the single click mode was added (XP?), I tried it out and was disgusted.  But double-clicking w/ the pen is just not easy, and actually, the single-click mode feels really natural with the pen.
  4. Switch to scroll on touch ring. I don't feel too strongly about this, but honestly, I don't use zoom (the default) enough to have it as a top-level feature on the tablet.
  5. Upgrade to Vista?  I think that you must not get ink in Office 2007 w/o Vista?  I can't figure it out, but it's not there for me in XP.  The Wacom site mentions Vista explicitly, and my searches haven't turned up anything useful.  Folks talk about "Start Inking" as if it is just always there, but it may also have something to do with Tablet PC.  I'll let you know if I figure it out.

It is taking some getting used to, of course, but so far I think it's a big improvement.  Ask me in a few weeks. :)

And now for the gratuitous signature:

J. [Ambrose] Little

 

 

 

 

Nice.

Friday, March 28, 2008 5:32:00 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I just had a remarkable experience (hence I'm remarking on it :) ).  At work, I park way out at the edge of our parking lot, which backs up against some undeveloped land.  I do it because I figure I gotta get some exercise somehow, but today I got an unexpected and delightful surprise.

As I was sitting there in my truck, finishing my yogurt and rosary, I took note of a group of red-breasted robins hopping around.  Robins are cute, but I don't find them remarkable in themselves.  But then I saw a male cardinal.  I think those are one of the most beautiful common birds with their striking red feathers.  So I was enjoying watching it, musing about its etymology, as one, two, then three blue jays flitted into view, which is another beautiful bird in my book. 

At this point I was thinking, wow, this is really cool.  Then a squirrel showed up and started chasing one of the robins around; I guess the bird snatched something he had his eye on.  I see squirrels all the time around here, so that wasn't particularly notable in itself, but it was just like slapping on extra gravy to the full on wildlife experience I was getting.  At this point, I was feeling like St. Francis. :)

But it didn't stop there!  I looked to my left, where a robin was eyeing me suspiciously, and something else caught my eye, flitting around on the ground.  When it paused to take a breath, I realized I was looking at a chipmunk!  Talk about brother sun, sister moon!  I don't think I've seen a chipmunk in the wild before.  Cute little boogers.

So I finished my stuff and was just about to step out of the truck when an iridescent black bird swooped in to roost right in front of my truck.  Icing on the cake, my friend.  Robins, cardinals, blue jays, a blackbird, a squirrel, and a chipmunk--right there around me all together.  Who needs a zoo!?

Now, nobody better start parking out there with me after reading this!  (For those of you not from around here, yes, this really happened--in New Jersey!)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008 11:14:40 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [3]  | 
# Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Dominican Cross Given that tomorrow (Ash Wednesday) begins our season of Lent1, it seems appropriate to me to comment on the Dominican "colors" of black and white.  The friars habit (their outfit) is black and white (well, you might say white and black, depending on your perspective).  The Dominican cross' most distinctive mark is its alternating black and white, and many other derivative insignia use those two colors.

So what's up with these colors?  Were they picked just because they look good together, have great contrast, or what?  Well, they have a meaning.  The black represents penance, and the white represents joy. 

What an odd combination, eh?  After all, isn't penance about being truly sorry for one's sins, turning away from those sins, intending to not sin again, and even doing things to try to make things right (reparation)?  How can you have joy if you're penitent?

The thing is, that penance is really an act of faith, an act of hope.  Without faith and hope, it doesn't make any sense.  If you don't believe in a transcendent, objective Good (i.e., God) from whom the nature of good flows, it is hard to know, concretely, what evil is (essentially a negation/privation of good).  Sin is a moral evil; that is, it is an act that is not in accord with the transcendent, objective Good and thus in some way negates and loses that Good. 

Penance is an act of hope because without hope of forgiveness, of restoration of the good we've deprived ourselves (and sometimes others) of, there'd really be no point in penance.  Why even bother trying to make things right if there is no hope that they can be made right?  It just wouldn't make sense to do that; it'd be a waste of time and energy, and instead we'd just waste away in despair.

But for those who have faith and hope, penance makes a lot of sense.  And its precisely that--that faith and hope--that makes penance essentially an act of joy.  We can take deep consolation and joy in penance because we know that we are making things right through God's grace.  The good that we've lost is restored and then some, and that's where the joy comes in.

So tomorrow starts what we call the penitential season of Lent, about forty days of observing a spirit of penance prior to celebrating that greatest of all days, when God made it possible for us to get things right--Easter.  Tomorrow we get ashes to remind us of our fragility and mortality: "remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return" echoing the words of God spoken to Adam as the consequence of that original sin. 

But the story doesn't end there; if it did, we may as well just do as Job's wife suggested--curse God and die.  No, the story goes on to the redemption of humanity through the Incarnation and atonement that makes it possible for us to restore that original good and in fact to go beyond that to become partakers in that transcendent, supreme Good, that Divine nature. 

So we can with true joy be sorry for our sins and do concrete acts of penance (fasting, abstaining from meat, giving to the poor, visiting the sick, and many others) because we have the end in view; we know the story doesn't end with our screwing things up if only we accept in faith and hope the grace made available to us to make things right.

So I hope that Christians will join me in joy as we celebrate this season of penance looking towards the resurrection of our Lord.  And maybe those who are not will better understand why it is we do what we do. :)

Notes
1. The word "Lent" is from earlier English and Germanic words for spring (because it's around springtime).  "Easter" is another one of those where the Church co-opted an English word for Church use; good symbolism, though--the east, the rising sun, the celebration of the rising of the Son of God.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008 10:56:16 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Saturday, January 19, 2008

One of the questions that gets asked and re-asked over the generations is "how can a good, all-powerful God exist if there is so much evil in the world?"  There's even a specialized term that's been created for dealing with that question--theodicy.  Needless to say, as many times as it has been asked, there have been answers given.  For some, these answers are sufficient, but the fact that it keeps being asked indicates that for some the answers are not sufficient.

I'm not about to say I have found the answer to silence the question, and even if I had, very few people will ever read this. :)  But I do think the correct answer is what has been offered by others, which is that evil exists so that greater good may come of it.

This answer is hard to swallow when we can't see the greater good, when we're being brought face to face with great suffering and the terrible things that people do to others or even just the suffering of the poor, those afflicted by natural disasters, and those who suffer as a result of accidents.  I think some would argue even that "natural" death itself seems to be an evil.  It can be very hard to see the greater good because these things stand out in stark, ringing, painful contrast to what we think of as the good life we want for ourselves and hope for others.

What is Evil and From Whence?
Tied up in this question is the deeper question of "just what is evil, anyways?"  If I recall correctly, St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the great Christian philosophers and theologians, proposed that evil is the negation of good.  Depending on how you take it, this may be a good definition.  A friend of mine once suggested he thought that evil wasn't just the negation of good but that it was the twisting, or perversion, of good, but I can see that falling under St. Augustine's definition in that if you are twisting or perverting something, you are refusing it as it is and changing it into something it is not, which I think is essentially a negation.

On this question, I tend to hold with St. Augustine, as his definition seems to be a simple one that really does encompass the meaning of evil, and it reflects even our common understanding of evil--as inclusive of human suffering and death as well as the rejection of God, the ultimate good.  I do think that human suffering and death are, taken solely in themselves, evil, though not absolute or unconquerable evil.  I think that such evil can be overcome by good.

To reinforce that suffering and death are evil, apart from it seeming obvious common sense, we also see in divine revelation that we humans were not made for suffering and death.  God made us and our world and said "it is good."  Our sin, that is, our turning away from the God who is the source of our life and joy and our turning inwards on ourselves, introduced the possibility for death and suffering.  I think the curse of Adam is not so much an external punishment inflicted by a seemingly vengeful God than it is an affirmation and explication of the natural consequence of our willful separation from the source of all being and happiness.

The Transcendent Good that Overcomes Evil
But God foresaw this and, from the foundations of the universe, planned to redeem us from our turning away from our natural end, which was and is eternal sharing in God's goodness, his love, his joy, and his peace.  He planned to come down to us and become one of us, taking on our whole human nature, purifying it, restoring it, and further dignifying it by infusing his own complete divine perfection. 

He thus empowered us to turn back to him and to receive from him again that which was our natural end to begin with--that complete human participation in the perfect divine goodness.  By becoming human, taking on our whole humanity, he not only restored us to our status as "good" creatures of God, he adopted us as his children.  Through Jesus, the only, eternal Son of God--through his incarnation and sacrifice--we can now truly become children of God.

The redemption of humanity through God's becoming man and atoning for our sin, in itself, is almost an infinite good.  As far as we humans are concerned, I think it is the most perfect good, and its goodness overcomes (is greater than) pretty much all evil throughout all human history, including the supreme evil of our turning away from our source of life and happiness, which is what got us into this mess in the first place.

By joining ourselves to the incarnate Son of God, we can come to share in this unspeakable goodness.  All suffering pales in consideration of this goodness, and in fact, we can take consolation in our own suffering by uniting it to the suffering of Christ.  In offering our suffering in such a way, we make that suffering a loving act, a gift, for our own sake and for that of our fellow human beings.

Through his overcoming of death by his own resurrection, he enables the rest of us humans to do likewise.  And that is why death, for a faithful Christian, is not an evil, but a good.  We know that we have eternal life through Christ.  We know that in death, we come to share more fully in the infinite perfect goodness of God.  This is why the Psalmist can say "precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his saints."

Now this is not to say that suffering isn't real by any means.  This is not to say that suffering and death are not evil.  They are.  Suffering and death is the natural state of humans separated from God; it is a consequence of our original turning away, which has created a real physical and spiritual corruption of the good human nature that we were created with.  Suffering and death are very real, and they are very painful.  When speaking of good overcoming them, we are not minimizing them; in fact, I'd say that the very reality of these is a stimulus to make us more aware of the incomparable goodness we receive from God through Christ.

Why Freedom?
Given all of this, the question remains, though, of why God would have allowed us to turn away from him in the first place.  Why grant us such freedom in the first place?  After all, we human parents restrict our children's freedom in order to protect them from hurting themselves.  Why didn't God keep us from hurting ourselves by turning away from him and entering into a state of suffering and death?

It is a fair question.  I think the answer is essentially the same--so that a greater good could come of it.  In this, I see two greater goods.  The first is the incarnation of God--God becoming human so that we humans could become more like God.1  This is why the original sin is known as the "happy fault" according to our ancient liturgy.2  Our original damaging of our nature occasioned God's joining himself to us and elevating our human nature, not just restoring us to our original state of human goodness but elevating us to be true children of God, more fully able to participate in his infinite goodness.

The other greater good is wrapped up in this:  Our freedom enables us to truly love.  Love, the free giving and sharing of ourselves with others, is the greatest act of good, and God desires for us to share in that goodness.  Without freedom, we cannot love; we can only mimic the act of loving.  We would be marionettes in God's great play.  In granting us freedom, however, God enables us to experience this supreme act of goodness, which is love--love of him and of others.

Eventually, we parents must let our children strike out on their own.  We must let them learn from their own mistakes and make their own decisions.  Only in doing so will they fully become their own selves, more fully human, and not an extension of us.  Loving parents will do what they can to protect their children, but they will also let their children develop into independent human beings.  Loving parents will teach their children the best path for them to walk in life, but they will also be there when their children choose to stray from that path and hurt themselves.

So it is with God.  In wanting us to be fully independent, to share fully in the goodness of love (that is, to become fully human), he grants us freedom, even freedom that we can use to harm ourselves.  He teaches us the right path to go.  First, in creating us, he imprinted upon our hearts a knowledge of the right path,3 then he reinforced and further illuminated this through his revelation of Himself--directly to Adam and Eve and later to Abraham, then through the Mosaic Law and the prophets, and finally in becoming human himself, teaching the Apostles, and through their writing and oral teaching, directing the Church with the Holy Spirit.  So he gives us freedom and shows us the best way to use it, but he also foresaw that we would not use our freedom wisely, so he planned from the beginning to pick us up and heal us from our fall, much like a loving parent treats the scraped knee or helps us recover from other, larger mistakes.4

So we see that God can be truly all powerful, perfectly and infinitely good and loving, and yet still allow evil to exist.  Evil exists both as a result of our freedom but also as an opportunity for good to abound, as a thing that spurs us on towards the good and to overcome with good.

The Ordinary Good That Overcomes Evil
Yet I realize that there are those who may be unable to perceive and appreciate the transcendent goodness of God in his creation, his giving us of our freedom, his revelation to us, and in his Incarnation and atonement that effects our redemption.5  Even so, for those, there is more to offer here.  I would suggest that even the ordinariness of human love, especially familial love, from a strictly proportional perspective, far outweighs all the evils in human history.  Think of it this way.  Almost every human being that has ever existed has experienced some, probably a lot, of just ordinary human love--love of parent, love of sibling, love of children, love of friends, and (for many) love of God. 

One could say that throughout our lives, the average human is surrounded by a swirling sea of human love that we never recognize because it is so ordinary and mundane.  It is not heroic.  It's just all those everyday experiences of kindness and sacrifice that are so small that, in themselves, they are not noticed.  But taken as an aggregate, I would suggest that these far outweigh the more shocking instances of evil in our history.

I would further suggest that especially when we see evil, some notable and notorious evil, the everyday human reaction is sympathy.  Think of 9/11, the tsunami, Katrina, earthquakes, floods, genocides, war.  For every great human evil, there seems to be a corresponding outpouring of ordinary human love.  In fact, it is often noted that such tragedies bring people together who would otherwise not be sharing with each other.

And so I think we should not wonder at the existence of evil.  Even in a purely human perspective, it seems to me that there is far more love in this world than evil and hate.  The fact that we seem to take more notice of evil strengthens this view because, as a rule, we humans tend to notice the out of the ordinary more than the ordinary. 

When you add on to all of this ordinary love the transcendent, infinite love and goodness that God has wrought in human history, all the evil pales all the more and we become truly thankful and at peace while enduring and witnessing evil because we know that there truly and actually is a greater good all around us every day, often increased in response to such evil, and we Christians have the firm hope of sharing in the eternal infinite goodness of God, leaving behind the evils of this present world and realizing the fullness of our human potential for good.  In light of all this, rather than wondering why evil exists, should we not be pondering why God created such a world in which love is so ordinary and yet so transcendent?

In pain, sorrow, and distress, suffering and death, let us not lose heart.  Let us cry out in our humanity with the Psalmist "O Lord my God, deliver me!", but also "I love the Lord, for he has heard the cry of my appeal."  For we know the trials of this life, however painful, are already answered through the work of Christ.  Let us not forget the ordinary love that surrounds us each day, and most of all, let us put our trust and hope in Him for "those who put their trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, that cannot be shaken, that stands firm forever."6 

--
Given on the Memorial of Blessed Andrew of Peschiera, O.P.

Notes
1. St. Athanasius put it this way: "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God," which is to say that we might become partakers of the divine nature.
2. From the Exultet, an Easter Vigil hymn of praise.
3. This is what we call "natural law," which is essentially an inherent human capability to know from reason what is the best way to live.
4. Let's not presume, though, that God models his actions on ours; it is the opposite.  We understand something about God's fatherhood through our limited understanding of what good fatherhood is here on earth.  But that's part of the beauty of God's revelation--he meets us where we are, teaches us through humans, through words, actions, and the image of God that we have received from him that has been perfected in Jesus Christ.  When we try to understand God's paternal love, we must keep in mind that we do not judge him by our understanding of paternal love but rather use paternal love as a means to better understand his actions in human history, including our own history.
5. It is worth noting, however, that given our presuppositions about God and his revelation and action in human history, we Christians can make a pretty good account of why evil exists.  A person's inability to appreciate it, which is understandable for those without faith, does not change the fact that we can make an account for why God allows evil to exist. 
6. From Psalm 116 and 125, respectively.

Saturday, January 19, 2008 3:17:21 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Sunday, December 30, 2007

"How many kids do they have??" asked the bemused co-worker upon hearing that someone is having a fifth child.  I am similarly bemused why so many people seem to feel negatively towards those with large families.  I guess that people may not really think about it or, if they do, maybe they really don't know why anyone living in the 21st century would want to have more than the popularly accepted family size of two, maybe three.  The best I can do is offer why my wife and I are choosing to have a large family.

You see, I did not grow up in a large family.  I have one brother and for most of my childhood, my mom was single.  Nor did any of my immediate family or even my friends have large families; I think the largest family had three kids.  I recall it as being a mostly happy childhood--I'm not complaining.  I only mention it to say I did not inherit or learn by example how or why to have a large family; it didn't come naturally. 

For my wife, Christiane, and I, it wasn't a decision to say "we want N number of kids" at some point or other.  Early on in our engagement, we did toss around the idea of four.  Christiane grew up in a family of six (that's four kids for those counting), my mom has three siblings, and so it seemed like a good number somewhere between two and some unthinkable number beyond four. :)

But as we progressed in our philosophical and spiritual journey, we became convinced that setting some artificial limit up front just didn't make sense.  Yes, we became Catholic in this time period, and yes, Catholicism has a rather radical teaching on this matter.  The essence of the Catholic perspective on children is that they are a blessing, a gift from God, and that we should remain truly open to these wonderful gifts.

Despite some Catholic caricatures, this does not equate to being irresponsible and just having as many children as you possibly can.  For example, the most recent authoritative Catholic teaching on the subject, Humanae Vitae, specifically speaks to the issue of responsible parenthood, saying that couples can decide to avoid conceiving "for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts."1  And in doing so, we're supposed to use the most effective, safe, mutually respectful, character-building, and morally commendable means when doing so--abstinence during fertility.2

There's obviously no one-size-fits-all family size. Some couples are infertile.  Some couples find the wherewithal to have a dozen or more children, even while relying on remarkably limited income.  In considering the question of how many children to have, there are a number of common concerns that need to be addressed.  Since this is a short piece, I can only touch on some of them, particularly those that seem to be the most common, and offer some positive reasons to have children.

What Do We Value?
For us, the question is not so much how many kids we should have.  I think the question is rather what do we really value in life?  Some time ago, Saturday Night Live had this series of crazy fake commercial where this couple were blatant cheapskates when it came to their children but would lavish luxury on themselves, advertising a fictitious online store for such parents--cheapkids.net.  It was ludicrous, but it is poignant.  I think this caricature speaks to those who, by their choice, remain infertile and yet enjoy a lavish or even just a very comfortable life as a married couple.  This satire portrayed a couple who at least had kids, even if they were cheap with them, but it seems to me that those who refuse children or limit them artificially and frivolously might want to ask themselves if they are denying life to potential human beings in order to live in relative luxury.  Are those things more valuable than human life?

Of course, I do not speak here of those who live in poverty or who truly would endanger the lives of their family by having more children.  I speak here of those who, like me, live in relative luxury compared to most of the humans in this world.  People who are not hardened have their guts wrenched by the poverty of many in this world (and rightly so), but there is another kind of poverty that goes unnoticed--the poverty of life, the poverty of being denied even the opportunity to exist solely so that another can live in ease and comfort.4 

From this consideration, it seems that the original perspective (of bemusement or even distaste or disgust at having many children) should be turned on its head.  The question becomes, instead, how can so many otherwise nice, well-meaning people deny so many more the chance to exist?  Perhaps folks should not respond with puzzlement or condescension to those who remain open to life but rather respond with admiration and respect.  We all know that kids, though they are indeed the most amazing and wonderful blessings we can naturally receive, are a handful to say the least, and so I think people should be a tad more reticent when criticizing those who have many.

Why Limit Family Size?
Are there good reasons for regulating birth?  Obviously.  Even beyond the grave economic reasons, I think there are others.  Perhaps there is real psychological concern for the mother or father.  Perhaps there is a physical or mental condition that a parent or child has that would make further growth of the family unwise.  Perhaps there is a real threat to the mother's health.  I'm not writing to address every conceivable circumstance; I'm writing to address popular notions concerning children that my wife and I have had to think about (and are often confronted with) in our own working out of how we live out what it means to be responsible parents wanting to live in the best way possible, trying to have the most perfect family we can.

Before moving on considering the common reasons given to limit family size, it is worth noting that the decision to have children should flow from a lifelong commitment.5  Just like there are not so good reasons to limit family size, there are not so good reasons to have children.  Having babies seems to be a pastime for celebrities these days.  It should be obvious that getting more attention/publicity, trying to save a marriage, keeping up with the Joneses, extending the family tree, etc. are not so great reasons.  Children are human beings, having the full dignity of human beings, to be treated and loved as such; they are not accessories, trophies, or any other means to an end--they are end in themselves, and we should be just as careful about our motivations for having them as we are in our motivations for not having them.

Education
The most common concerns we hear are monetary, the top being about the rising cost of sending kids to college.  I, for one, did not get a dime from my mom to send me to college--she didn't have it to give.  I made good enough grades in school and fared well on the ACT, getting a decent scholarship to a private school, and then worked for and borrowed the rest.  I have known many others, many of them my friends, who have similar stories.

We all want the best for our children, but is the "best" sending them to a good college?  I think that a good, liberal arts education is deeply valuable in itself.  I have a degree in history and humanities, but I worked my way into software.  I am glad of my education even though its credentials don't mean a lot in my occupation; I value it more highly than had I spent the same effort on a technical degree. 

But a degree, even from a good university, only goes so far in life.  Ultimately, it comes down to an individual applying himself or herself with the talents and desires he or she has.  You can teach a child a good work ethic for free at home that will do more for them in the long run than any degree would.  And I'd suggest you can teach such an ethic more easily in large families where mutual help from all members is a necessity. 

You can teach a child to be a lifelong student, to enjoy learning and to think critically, for free at home, and that, too, goes further than any degree.  You can teach a child values of honesty, integrity, commitment, kindness, charity, compassion, and other virtues for free at home that simply are not taught at university, and these as well far exceed the long-term value of any degree.  And I'm not talking about home schooling; I'm simply talking about setting an example, teaching, and encouraging your children in addition to any regular, formal schooling.

I'm certainly not opposed to college or formal education in general, but its value has been way overemphasized in our culture.  The purveyors of formal education have much to gain from this, as do lenders and investment companies who help you invest to save for your child's education.  I think we need to be careful not to be blinded to the economic realities involved in all of the marketing about education and simply recognize formal education for the value it does have.  It shouldn't be the ultimate deciding factor and choice in parenting.6

There are affordable alternatives for higher education, and if it is important to the child, he or she can make an effort to realize such goals.  Furthermore, I have no doubt that a large majority of parents who at some point use this reasoning actually end up not saving or investing properly or find themselves in a situation later where the investment was truly needed for other reasons.  In short, I tend to think that a vague concern about "sending my kid to a good school" is not a viable reason to limit family size. 

Expense
Apart from higher education, there seems to be a general consensus that children "are expensive."  I'd like to suggest an alternative to this maxim.  Children can be expensive.  Just as with higher education, you can choose to spend more money than you need to on each child, but it is a choice, not a given.  And it is on this point, more than any other, that we see the rubber meet the road in terms of a challenge of values.

If we are given over to our contemporary culture, children are indeed expensive.  If each child needs his or her own expansive room, if each child needs new, brand-name clothes on a monthly basis, if each child needs more toys than he or she could possibly enjoy, if each child needs his or her own car, then yeah, they can be very expensive.  But lets not stop with the kids.  If mom and dad need a brand-new car every few years; if they have to have new clothes every month, new jewelry, new perfume, new golf clubs, new computer, Playstation, or Xbox games, if they need to go to plays or other high-culture events regularly, and if the family has to eat out every day, then definitely, a large family is "too expensive."

Put simply, if one is a purebred consumer, yeah, a large family costs too much.  Doesn't it speak volumes that our primary concern and objection about large families is economical?  Doesn't it drive to the very heart of the matter if that is the chief concern?  Ultimately, doesn't it say that we truly do value things, comfort, and luxury more than we value people?  In short, doesn't it imply that we're just plain selfish?

What's truly sad about this is that we are deceiving ourselves.  I can attest from experience that all of these things don't really last--the return on investment just isn't there.  In fact, all these things actually "increase our sorrow" because they increase our worries and consume our mental and physical energies (in working for, acquiring, securing, insuring, storing, moving, caring for, and maintaining them).  Not only do we tend to get bored with new things; they tend to have a net negative effect on our lives that we've become blind to.  No, we're not really blind--we recognize the deficit they produce, but like a dog returning to its vomit, we try to ladle on the salve of more things, which only exacerbates the problem.  We're blind to the remedy; we're not blind to the effects of the problem.

The Common Good
There is another common concern that is not economical (at least on the individual scale), and it seems to be less pronounced these days than it was for the previous generation--that of the concern about overpopulation.  For Christiane and I, this has always seemed to be more of an excuse than a reason.  It seems that an uncertain, future concern about one day overpopulating the world is not a compelling reason to overcome the more sure, immediate positive reasons to have children.  Even so, it is a common enough concern to warrant addressing. 

A good deacon friend of mine put it another way that gives this concern a bit more weight.  If everybody in the world decided to have ten children, what would that mean for the common good?  He suggested that we may just be lacking in imagination to think how we'd address such a situation, and maybe so--we humans tend to get pretty inventive when we need to.  No doubt we'd figure something out.  But I have to say I am not suggesting that everyone have ten children.  I don't think that would be responsible for many, perhaps most of us.   Being truly and actually open to children does not necessarily equate to having ten.

On the other hand, I tend to think the larger problem, as it is with most of these life issues, is our generally selfish culture.  We're so busy looking out for number one that we accumulate for ourselves far more than we need in order to have a good and happy life.  I'm not advocating socialism or any kind of enforced equal distribution of goods; I am advocating charity as a core cultural value.  If we, the human race, shared this core cultural value, I tend to think that concern about overpopulation would be a moot point.  And in any case, it remains that it seems to be a rather vague, unsubstantiated reason to limit family size.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving
It seems to me that people, especially children, are truly a gift that keeps on giving.  If we lavish our care on them, they tend to give back in equal, if not greater, measure.  That's the funny thing about authentic love.  It's like investing in a sure thing--you give and you'll get back, well-measured, shaken and packed down, and running over.  It may not even be the recipient giving back.  That's another odd thing about authentic love; it tends to be its own reward--there is joy in the act of loving itself.

We often think that children are just a big hassle.  In Stumbling on Happiness, the author suggests, based on subjective surveys, that children do not in fact make us happy, that it is, rather, a big, consensual lie that we tell each other.  It is claimed that the people interviewed said they were happier after their children grew up and out of the house than they were when they were in the house.  Despite the author's disclaimers, I think this really takes a shallow view of happiness and does not account for the deeper happiness that is satisfaction, which results from seeing effort come to fruition.  These parents experience, naturally, a certain happiness and lessening of difficulty at having reclaimed time for themselves once children are out of the house, but they also share in the abiding joy of having their children "all growed up"--their investment, as it were, has come to completeness.

The survey also does not, I think, account for the consideration that perception is a large part of reality.  Because our culture sells us a bill of superficial bull about what makes us happy (i.e., things, comfort, entertainment, and luxury), our perception is deeply skewed and we see children as detracting from our attainment of these things (taking us back the the monetary objections discussed above). 

Indeed, it makes perfect sense, and I've seen it in my own life, that when my children cause me the most "trouble" and frustration is when I am turned in on myself (being selfish in some way).  They are taking me away from what I want to do or they prevent me from getting something I want, so I perceive them as a nuisance.  Usually, though, when I am in the right frame of mind, I see their activity for what it is--exploring the world, learning to function according to all life's little rules, or maybe simply just wanting to spend time with you because they are infatuated with you.  This latter dies away as they age I suppose, but wouldn't you agree, if you're being honest with yourself, that a large bit of the friction between parents and kids comes in the first two?

The point is that it is generally those times that we are most frustrated that we are being the most selfish.  In other words, it is not that the kids are the problem--we selfish parents are the problem.  If we change our perspective (which takes practice, I can promise--I'm still working on it), and learn to not fight for our selfish impulses against our children but instead indulge in authentic love (self-giving) towards them, we will find one of the greatest joys in life--shared, familial love

Once Christiane and I recognized this, it seemed almost a no-brainer that we'd want to increase this joy as much as we can.  We saw that instead of thinking how few children can we have, we think how many children can we responsibly have?  This way of thinking is, we think, the best not only for us but especially for our family as a whole. 

When we are considering when to have our next child, we do try to be responsible.  We think about how this new person will fit in our home both logistically and socially, and we consider the psychological impact on the other members of the family.  In the end, we try our best to err on the side of openness and only choose to delay for what seem to be good, unselfish reasons.  We're not perfect by any means, but this seems to us to be a big step on the the path toward a more perfect family life.7 

--
Given on the Feast of the Holy Family in the Year of Our Lord 2007

Notes
1. At this point, my darling 1-year-old, Brendan Patrick Irenaeus, toddled over to me with one of my house shoes.  Thanks, Brendan!  My feet are freezing... now where's the other one?
2. Without digressing too much, let me briefly touch on this subject which is so awesomely opposed to our popular culture these days.  My wife and I practice what is called Natural Family Planning (NFP).  You can read about all the details elsewhere; let me just add my own personal testimony.3  For a brief time early in our marriage, we did use artificial birth control, but for the vast majority of our 8.5 years together, we've practiced NFP.  I can honestly say that you don't die by not doing it; you can be just as happy and fulfilled.  (And trust me, this is coming from a very red-blooded, American male, if you get my drift.)  

Based on our experience, I do feel that mutual abstinence does indeed build character, build mutual self respect for each other, increase understanding of the way God's made us, increase affection for each other, and help you appreciate even more the times when you don't abstain.  Plus, not using artificial birth control (or rather, being truly and actually, not just hypothetically, open to the creation of life) does enhance our relationship and our intimate time together.  In short, we find the practice of natural family planning to be a significant positive influence on our marriage.  And it does work!
3. Now John, my three-year-old son, is yanking at my arm and climbing on me (took a while to type this); ah, tickling is a good deterrent.. now the other two are attacking.. :)  Bridget, my six-year-old daughter, is dancing around and tweetling (best onomatopoeia I could come up with for it).
4. This touches, of course, on the sensitive topic of abortion (and indeed the desire to have few to no children is directly related to abortion), but that's not the focus here.  Here I'm speaking in a more generous sense of even those who would otherwise never consider abortion, and yet make the regular, conscious choice to refuse the potential life of another human being for less than serious reasons.
5.  This comes from the understanding of the true good and beauty of marriage discussed in "On the Good and 'Right' of Marriage."  See particularly the section entitled "The True Good."
6. Besides, we've all seen and heard stories of parents' painstaking planning being tossed to the wind by children who have other plans for their lives.  There's no guarantee that even those who save and have money for their children's education will see that money go to good use. 
7. And thus we see that the teaching of the Catholic Church (as is actually true of all Catholic doctrine when you truly understand it in all its beauty and truth) is a positive prescription on how to live the good life to its fullest, that is, how to have abundant life.  And I have to admit, we've inherited this from our Jewish siblings.  Scripture, especially the Psalms, regularly laud the blessing that children are, and it is not talking about them being a help on the farm, i.e., large families are not only good in agricultural societies!

Sunday, December 30, 2007 12:00:54 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Saturday, December 22, 2007

Papal Approbation of the Order of Preachers Today marks the 791st anniversary of the official establishment of the Dominican Order.  It's so cool to be a part of this ancient order, being fraternally connected to the many Dominican saints, blesseds, and regular folk like me.

Happy Birthday, Order of Preachers!  May you have thousands more!

 

Of course, just being a member of the Catholic Church, the "one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years,"1 is pretty dang cool, too. :)

Notes
1. From G.K. Chesterton's "Why I Am a Catholic," circa 1926.

Saturday, December 22, 2007 1:07:07 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Saturday, December 08, 2007

In my last post, a co-worker of mine commented on my saying "they may as well be Protestants."  It didn't occur to me at the time how this might be interpreted by, of course, Protestants.  The point, in that context, was directed at those who think themselves to be "true Catholics" (those traditionalists who, above all, would not want to be identified as Protestants) but who end up being, by their protestations of the last ecumenical council, the Second Vatican Council, end up becoming Protestants themselves. 

You see (I've thought about this a fair bit, being a convert from Protestantism), I think the thing that truly separates a Protestant from a Catholic is a basic mindset, the mindset that sets itself up as the final arbiter and authority on truth.  In other words, it is a manifestation of the original sin of pride based on the original temptation for us to "be like God who knows what is good and what is bad," (Gen 3:5) that is, what is true and false.  Such a mindset, even if well-intentioned, is at the heart of all Protestation of God's authority, from Lucifer to Eve to Adam to us.  Of course, it is for God alone to judge our hearts, to impute, and to forgive our guilt, and he is a just and merciful judge.1

This post is a kind of expansion on how this mindset relates to being a part of the Church.  I have no delusions that these musings will "convert" anyone.  Just take them as my own personal reflections for what they're worth.  They revolve around my meditations on one of the mysteries of the rosary.  It's written to Christians, so I am writing from those presuppositions.

Introit

The Crowning with Thorns

    Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And
     kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, 'Hail, King of the Jews!'  -- Matthew 27:29

The third sorrowful mystery is the crowning with thorns.  Lately while meditating on this mystery, I keep having the idea of the Church (the invisible, spiritual body of all Christians) in my mind.  The Church is a wonderful thing; it is sometimes called the body, sometimes the bride, of Christ.  It is a thing that honors and proclaims the majesty and dominion of Christ, the King of the universe.  In that way, it is a crown, which is a symbol, a proclamation of regal authority and power.

But I think it is a fractured crown, broken into many pieces, divided asunder by the arrogance and pride of many.  There is the Great Schism that has divided the eastern church from the west, and of course there is Protestantism and its many divisions.  But even before that, since the beginning (as attested to by the letters of St. Paul), there have been those who sow discord and cause division--even those who think they are doing the right thing and truly think they are following God's will.

So I see this fractured crown that we call the Church, a thing that despite itself is indeed a herald of Jesus' Kingship.  I see Jesus the King, bloodied, beaten, and scourged, being crowned, but instead of the crown being the thing of beauty and awe that it should be, it is this broken thing, disjointed, full of jagged edges and being driven down onto the head of the King of the universe, the splinters biting deep into His skin, tearing it, and scratching against His skull. 

Rather than being an occasion for joy, the crowning is an occasion for sorrow because what should be whole, smooth, unified, and undivided, is instead shattered, jagged, split, and divided.  This is the image of the Church today--the crown of thorns.  It is still a messenger of Jesus' kingship, but it is not the thing of beauty and awe it should be.

Jesus prayed four times to the Father (in St. John's Gospel, chapter 17) that we (the Church, Christians) would be one.  But through our arrogance and pride, we have utterly failed in this, from the earliest of times.  It seems clear, based on just this prayer alone, that unity in the Church is of supreme importance to God, and it is a perfect unity--the same unity that exists between the Father and the Son--that God desires for us. 

Jesus said "that they may be one as we are one" and prayed that we "may be brought to perfection as one," so we see that it is not a superficial unity or a unity only in "essentials" (a common term by ecumenists who try to glaze over real and important differences).  There is NO division in God, and this is what God wants for the Church.

Similarly, when Jesus founded the Church upon St. Peter, he promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.  Here, a few interesting things stick out to me.  First, Jesus specifically grounds the Church he is founding as something on earth.  He gives the keys of heaven to Peter, saying that what he binds and looses on earth will be bound and loosed in heaven.  It seems to me this is a foundation of a visible (earthly) Church that Peter would lead with real binding power both here on earth and in heaven.

The Church is indeed the mystical body of Christ, but it is also an earthly body.  Like us, you could say, it has a body and a soul, but the two are fundamentally one thing.  When Jesus founded the Church, he established an earthly (bodily) existence with Peter at its governor, giving him the power to bind and loose, as well as a heavenly (spiritual) existence, also governed by Peter.

Jesus, at this institution of our mutually earthy and heavenly Church, promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.  In other words, the powers of hell, the domain of Satan and the fallen angels, are going to try to prevail, but they won't.  The Church will be under assault, but it will remain forever, and being a unity of body and soul (earthly and heavenly, visible and invisible), this means that the Church will stand firm on both earth and heaven under the delegated governance of Peter and that the visible Church (as well as the invisible) is inextricably and directly linked with the headship of Peter.

Since St. Peter was not to live here on earth for eternity, yet we see from the Word of God that the Church remains forever on earth and in heaven under Peter, it follows that God intended for this headship, on earth, to pass to St. Peter's successors, whom we know as bishops of Rome, popes.  Thus the visible, earthly body of the Church is that Church which is under the headship of Peter and his successors, what we know today as the Roman Catholic Church.

Now we return to the prayer of Jesus.  If it is God's will (as it is clearly revealed in St. John's Gospel) that we believers be perfectly unified (absolutely no division in body or soul), and it is God's will (as seen in St. Matthew's Gospel) that there be a perpetual Church under Peter on both heaven and earth, it follows that this perfect unity is to come about in that Church and no other.  It follows that we are to place ourselves under that headship, subordinating our personal druthers, opinions, and reasoning to the leadership that Christ established and endeavor to eliminate anything in us that damages that perfect unity that Christ so strongly desires. 

Doing this is not only an act of obedience to the King of the universe, it is an act of love.  Seeing how strongly Jesus desires that we be truly one, we should desire, if we truly love God, to fulfill his desire.  Just as a lover infatuated with his love has no other desire but to please his beloved, so we  should desire to please God.  We should be that perfect, shining, unified crown upon the head of Christ the King.

We should also, therefore, be ashamed, truly sorry, and saddened, however, that we are instead a crown of thorns.  As long as we selfishly and proudly put our own opinions, desires, and reasonings ahead of our love for Christ, our fulfillment of his desire that we be one, we will remain this crown of thorns.  It is for this reason, in part, that I have joined myself to the Church of Christ under Peter's headship.  It is not blind faith; it is wide-eyed, ferocious love for Christ that compels me to do so.  Protesting against this Church, creating division upon division against it, is not only injurious to those souls who are driven from Christ by our divisions, it is an injury to God himself.  How long will we remain this crown of thorns?

--
Given on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Year of Our Lord 2007

Notes
1. Update: In other words, I'm sure there are plenty, probably most, who do not even recognize or intend this, but it seems to me that it is at the heart of the protestant approach to the faith, even if wholly unconscious.  I tend to think that God will have mercy on those who are not aware of it (inculpably ignorant), and in any case, I don't make such judgments on individuals myself! (cf. St. Matthew's Gospel 7:1ff.) 

Saturday, December 08, 2007 1:05:19 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Thursday, December 06, 2007

This is an open appeal to anyone interested in having the traditional Latin mass in the Princeton, NJ area.  The traditional Latin mass (TLM) is also known as the mass of Blessed John XXIII, the (now) extraordinary form of the Latin Rite, the Missale Romanum of 1962, Tridentine mass, and more.  With the publication of Summorum Pontificum (I know; I'm a bit late), I'd like to get in touch with anyone in the area who feels attached or maybe just is interested, priest, lay, religious, old, young, student, professional, whatever.  My hope is that there will be enough interest in the area to organize time at least once a week where the extraordinary form could be celebrated.

When I was living in Tulsa, OK, I had the blessing of an FSSP parish.  In fact, the pastor was Fr. George Gabet, who went on to become the North American District Superior of the FSSP.  Although my family decided to return to Holy Family Cathedral while we were still in Tulsa, I've never lost my appreciation for the TLM.  It can have a certain beauty and mystery that seems to not be as common in the ordinary form in the vernacular.  Especially the high mass with the chant, the asperges, the incense, the vestments, the silence, the celebration ad orientem, and (to a small degree) the Latin itself have a quality that is transcendent and mysterious that you just don't get normally.

Traditional Latin Mass
[Courtesy of OKC Latin Mass Community]

Now, unfortunately, there are those who use the extraordinary form as an opportunity to promote dissension and disunity, some to the point that they may as well be Protestants (in the plain sense).  Despite my appreciation for the older form of the mass, I am not one of those nor do I wish to encourage that by petitioning for the Latin mass in my area.  I am one of those "young persons too [who] have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist particularly suited to them."  I, with the Holy Father Benedict, hope that "the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching."1

If you're interested or know of one in the area, please drop me a line; you can use the contact feature on the right or comment on this entry.  Pax vobiscum!

Notes
1. Both quotes from H.H. Benedict XVI's letter to bishops with Summorum Pontificum.

Thursday, December 06, 2007 11:48:43 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Tuesday, November 13, 2007

[Sorry 'bout the title; I couldn't help it. :)] 

The weekend of 3 November was an important weekend for me.  Apart from getting some great, seasonal family (pictured below) photos with Hussey Photography, on Saturday, the feast of St. Martin de Porres (a Dominican brother), I was received into the Dominican Order as a lay Dominican. 

Clan Little Goofing Around
[This is what we normally look like. :)]

Believe it or not, I've been trying to write this post for over a week now, agonizing over the right way to write or even if I should write it at all.  I want to avoid repeating what is written elsewhere1 about Dominicans, and particularly lay Dominicans, even though I feel like explaining just about every other term I use because it's pretty unfamiliar to us everyday folk (and because I just like explaining things).

You see, I want to explain (told ya!) why I joined the Dominican Order, but it's kind of hard to do without using religious or Catholic jargon, but then when I start explaining the jargon, I find myself reiterating what one can find by looking into these other online resources.  When it comes down to it, I did it because I think it is what I am supposed to do; I believe it is what God wants me to do.  We call it a vocation (a calling).  It's not a club or cult or simple study group.  It is a way to a more perfect life, the life of perfection and holiness to which we are all called and for which we have all been created.  It's a peculiar way of living towards that end.

It's peculiar in the Dominican love of truth and the expression of that through study, contemplation, and sharing that with others (preaching), and that's why the Dominican Order is actually called the Ordo Praedicatorum (Order of Preachers).  "Preaching" is meant in the broader sense of proclaiming, not just from a pulpit.  Perhaps what Dominicans do was best put by St. Thomas Aquinas, an early Dominican: contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere, which means to contemplate and to pass on to others what is contemplated.

I don't know why; it's certainly no doing of my own, but I have a love of truth.  I think it's been with me my whole life, but it became more pronounced in college, and it is what led me to become Catholic.  I have an inkling that its something God instilled in me, and that's partly why I feel called to the Order of Preachers, even if only as a layman (since my first vocation is to marriage and fatherhood).

Local Friars Praying for Departed Dominicans at Dominican Cemetary on Dominican All Souls Day, Nov. 8th, 2007
[Local Friars Praying for Departed Dominicans at Dominican Cemetery in D.C. on Dominican All Souls Day, Nov. 8th, 2007]

For some time now, I've considered becoming Dominican.  I first thought about it back when I lived in Tulsa, OK, not long after I became Catholic.  But at the time, it took a long time to find a local chapter (community), and when I found one, it was about hours away.  So not only would it have been troublesome, but it just didn't seem like the thing to do at the time, so I let it go.

Four Brothers Making Final/Solemn Profession on 10 Nov. 2007
[Four Brothers Making Final/Solemn Profession on 10 Nov. 20072]

I didn't really think much about it for a long while after that, until Mrs. dotNetTemplar got me a small book last Christmas called How to Be a Monastic and Not Leave Your Day Job.  That book, though intended to invite folks toward becoming Benedictine Oblates, renewed my latent interest in the Dominican Order, so I went online, found 3op.org, read up on it again, and it just seemed like it was the right time to pursue it further, so I got in touch and started attending the St. Catherine of Siena (a 14th century lay Dominican--yeah, the Dominican Order was established 800 years ago!) chapter in Philly, which meets once a month for prayer, mass, study, and sometimes, apostolate (thus bringing together the four pillars of Dominican life).

That made me what they call an "aspirant," which is basically someone who's checking it out, and it's a time for the Dominicans to get to know you, too.  At some point along the line, I became a postulant, which basically means you're intending to join but you are still in the getting-to-know-you phase.  At the end of the postulancy, if everything checks out on both sides, you can be received, and that's what happened to me on the 3rd.  I got the habit (which, for us lay folk, is the Dominican scapular), received the Rule, and professed my intention to live like a lay Dominican.3

Now I'm a novice, a n00b. :)  I'm officially Dominican, even if only a novice, but apart from not being able to vote or hold office, I'm fully a lay Dominican.  After a year, I make temporary profession, which is a three-year promise to live as a lay Dominican, and after that, I make a perpetual profession, which is a lifelong promise to do the same.  Of course, the point of the graduated promises is to make sure that it's the right thing for me (we call it discernment), so at any point up to the perpetual profession, there's still an easy exit route.  It is a real commitment, not as binding as marriage or religious vows, but a serious commitment, so that's why there's the period of discernment.

Anyhoo, I'm pretty pumped.  Being received actually had more of an effect on me than I anticipated; I expected to feel pretty much the same as before, but I don't.  I really feel a part of the Order, and I feel a renewed interest and strength to pursue the vocation.  It's just the beginning, but I feel really good about it.  I'm looking forward to continuing and doing more praying, studying, and sharing the fruits of all that.

Pax vobiscum!  [Peace be with you all!]

Notes
1. For instance, the official site of the Dominican Order, the vocations Web site here in my province, and that of the lay Dominicans in the eastern US, which I think is one of the best resources for learning about lay Dominicans.  Oh, by "lay" we just mean not ordained or consecrated, which basically means not a deacon, priest, bishop, or what most of us think of as monks and nuns (it's a bit more involved than that, though).
2. It should be noted that the brothers here and above are consecrated, not lay, brothers.
3. This basically means according to rules #8-10 of our Rule.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007 12:45:44 AM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
# Monday, August 27, 2007

A week or so ago, I received this nice little letter saying that I'd been nominated to the Cambridge Who's Who, which purports to be an organization that recognizes industry professionals.  All I had to do was fill out a simple form online and I'd be entered, so I did this (never hurts to add a tick mark to your resume...).  A few days later, I was called (today) by them, and they asked for information about me, which I provided.  After congratulating me for being inducted, I was introduced to their "Platinum" and "Gold" membership options, which cost several hundred dollars.

At this point, I'm getting a tad suspicious, and being one who rarely buys something over the phone, I said thanks for the info but I'd have to think about it more.  It was at this point that the true colors of the whole deal became clear.  I was told that in order to publish my info and get me access to all these wondrous benefits of being a member, I needed to decide if I wanted to be gold or platinum.  I balked, saying that most industry accolades don't come with a price tag (at least not the ones I've received).  In fact, they tend to come with benefits.

Well, not so with the Cambridge Who's Who.  You have to pay hundreds of dollars for the honor of being a member.  Maybe for some, it'd be worth it.  But considering I'd never heard of them prior to the letter I was sent, I wasn't about to fork over cash to join.  The "services" they provide are publishing my info and connecting me to the other 250,000 notables.  Wait a sec.  Don't I get that and more for free using things like LinkedIn and Facebook? 

So if you get a letter from them, be forewarned.  Don't waste your time unless you intend to fork over a handful of cash for services you can get for free.

Monday, August 27, 2007 11:49:00 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
# Tuesday, May 29, 2007

As a subscriber to First Things and Touchstone, I know that musings upon the compatibility or incompatibility of Christian faith with evolutionary theory are not in short supply.  Neither, of course, are the unceasing dialectics on the truth or falsity of evolution, including all the usual suspects and alternatives.  But this may come as a surprise to those who only follow these topics as flare ups occur in the national media--there are no assertions being made in these thoughtful magazines that Catholics, or any Christians, must adhere to literal creationism.

The authors writing for these magazines are well-known names in general (the Pope himself wrote a recent article, as well as Supreme Court Justice Scalia), and First Things in particular hosts some of the icons in the evolutionary debate.  These aren't oddball nobodies, and I only say that to quell any imaginations that the voices in these magazines are on the sidelines--these are people of note and, in many cases, authorities in the fields upon which they're opining.

The most recent discussions have been around the feasibility of the formal notion of "intelligent design," which as I understand it revolves around arguments against chance-based evolution due to irreducible complexity in organsims, such as the eye.  One may note in this that it is not an argument against all evolution, nor is it an argument for literal (seven literal days as in the biblical account) creationism.  I am not going to say much more on the details of the theory because I'm not qualified and would probably get it wrong anyways.  My point is simply that there are respectable Christian positions in the evolutionary debates that are not the oft-touted literalist creationism.

This came up recently for me at work.  We were brainstorming ideas for visualizing something, and the idea of evolution came into play, so I tossed out, half-joking, that we should show a fish crawling out of water and turning into a monkey or something like that.  Rather joltingly, a co-worker blurted out "hey, I thought you didn't believe in that," to which I, dumbfounded that my beliefs were brought up in that context but more annoyed at the misconception of my beliefs, just stared, smiled, and moved on.

Being busy like we are, I had to set it aside and just focus on what needed to be done, but now that I have the luxury to propound what I actually believe (in what I think is a proper medium and place for such exposition), let me say that Christian faith does not presuppose literal creationism.  In fact, it doesn't even preclude strict evolutionary theory, biologically speaking.

This message still seems newsworthy; the popular misconception of the Christian being the ostrich with his head in the sand in regards to evolution (and science in general) is still in force, as evidenced by my co-worker's remark.  This doesn't surprise me; I still recall reading the headline "Pope Says Evolution Compatible with Faith" back at university in 1996 (before I became Catholic myself).  It made an impression on me because I was in fact raised in the milieu that evolution is inimical to the faith, so there is definitely some truth to the stereotype.  Plus, the literal creationists tend to be the ones who make the most noise and controversy, which is likely why the stereotype exists and persists.  So I have to be patient and understanding with those who hold the stereotype, but I also want to do what I can to dispel it--to make some noise of my own.  Sadly, "Catholic Software Creator Says Evolution Compatible with Faith" doesn't promise to make much noise, but I can try.   

As this article mentions, Catholicism has long been reconciled to the possibility of an evolutionary biological mechanism in nature.  Despite the ever-popular sensationalizing of the Inquisition and the Church's treatment of Gallileo, Catholicism has a very positive view of reason and science.  Philosophy and learning have ever been a bulwark of Catholic (Christian) faith. 

For example,  St. Justin Martyr, an early second-century Christian (as in less than 100 years after the Christian Church was founded), championed the idea that there is truth and wisdom to be found in non-Christian learning.  He specifically builds on St. John the Apostle's (the disciple of Jesus and author of several New Testament books) description of Jesus as the "Word" (i.e., Logos, which is Greek for the faculty of reasoning) of God, the Word made flesh.  This passage has been the basis for much deep theological reflection over the milennia, and St. Justin is just one of the earliest examples of the friendship of Christian faith and reason.

One only has to lightly peruse a book on the Fathers of the Church, the discussions and resolutions of Church councils, or a handbook on medieval scholasticism to see that from its very origins and consistently throughout its 2000-year history, Christian faith has been deeply rational and embracingly friendly to learning.  The first universities were Catholic, and many of the greatest thinkers throughout Western history have been Catholic, including several of our current Supreme Court justices.

The exceptions to this friendship have occurred only when there is a perceived threat to the faith, and in those cases, it is not a fear of science per se but rather a sincere and generally well-founded concern for souls.  While I think it is true that this concern was misdirected and even abused at times, the point remains that it is not a general enmity for science or learning that animates those actions we see as negative but rather an overreaching of the pastoral impulse--to protect souls at all costs, even at the cost of the body or of freedom.  It is hard to understand the medieval mind on this point because our society today is different in very dramatic ways,  but that particular point is subject enough for multiple books (and numerous books have indeed been written, such as Characters of the Inquisition). 

The issue here is that even the sensationalist examples that are usually used to support the assertion that Christianity (and, in particular, the Catholic Church) are anti-rational, anti-science, and/or anti-learning are just not true.  In fact, they're patently false, at least for Catholicism.  There are some branches of Christianity, particularly the the Protestant fundamentalist ones, that may live up to the stereotype, but the vast majority of Christianity (in general) and Catholicism, specifically, embraces and has embraced learning that does not directly come from Divine Revelation.

The point at which we depart from a secular approach to learning is the point at which it becomes irreconcilable with Divine Revelation.  And it is, in fact, this point which is the crux when a Christian is bound to deny some scientific theory.  Evolution in particular has long been bound up with an underlying materialist philosophy, and it is this philosophy, rather than the biologicial theory of evolution, that a Christian should reject.  The essential problem of the materialist evolutionary philosophy is the underlying assertion that "this is all there is," i.e., that the material world is all there is, that there is no spiritual reality and, correspondingly, no Supreme Spiritual Being (God).

The popular view of evolution is imbued with this theory, and that is why there has been (and remains to be) so much debate between Christians and non-Christians around evolution (excepting, of course, the literal creationists, who object to anything but a literal interpretation of the creation account).  Those who believe in evolution are stereotypically also materialists because, theoretically, evolutionary processes free one from having to believe in a creator.  If we are, after all, just the product of chance mutations over millions of years, what need have we for a God to have created us?  This thinking extends into cosmology where the study of physics enables us to theorize about a universe that either always has been and/or continually recreates itself.  Freed from a physical or biological need for God, those who desire to reject Him now seemingly have a scientific basis to do so.

Historically, Christians have (and rightly so to some extent) seen these scientific theories as inimical to Christian faith.  The key lies in disentangling the materialist philosophy from the biological theory of evolution and from theories pertaining to the formation of the cosmos.  Inasmuch as a theory does not entail the rejection of Christian faith (which does include God's creation of the cosmos, including humans), Christians are free to believe it.

In the case of evolution, if you don't read the creation account strictly literally, it is conceivable that God could have created the world and in a manner that accords with the theory of evolution, i.e., using natural mechanisms that he built into the fabric of the universe.  The key moment of creation, inasmuch as man is concerned, comes with God's "breathing life" into us. 

It is in fact oddly believable that God did use evolution, allowing our human form to develop until the point at which he imbued us with spiritual life.  This would explain the seemingly sudden generation of civilization from what we think of as pre-history.  It could allow for the development of other physically similar, human-like species that ultimately died out.  The creation account certainly follows something of an evolutionary account from the creation of the cosmos, to the formation of the earth, to the growth of vegetation, to the animal life originating in the seas, then the air, then on land, and then ultimately humans whom he gave the "breath of life." He did not breathe on the other creatures that were also alive, so clearly the creationary moment for man was not the giving of physical life but of spiritual, and it is this that makes us different from the animals--our spiritual, God-like (we were made "in his image") nature.

Divine Revelation is even less specific about the creation and nature of the universe, so many of the theories about the universe that cosmology proposes are acceptable--as long as the universe can ultimately be held to be a creation of God.  I think we could even say that a universe that keeps recreating itself in time could be synthesized with Christian faith because there is still room for God to have set this self re-creation in place.  Even an eternal universe could be conceived of as long as the quality of "eternal" is understood to mean existing as long as time has existed.  In other words, it is possible to conceive of God's eternal nature to be such that he existed prior to the creation of time, that he is "eternal" in the sense that he is outside of time so that temporal terminology and thinking doesn't apply (is absurd) when speaking of him apart from how he interacts with time as a created thing.  Thus in one sense of the word "eternal" (existing as long as time has existed and continuing to exist as long as time does) the universe could be eternal without denying that God created that concept and reality of "eternal" because he himself is "eternal" in the since that he exists outside of time.

The point is not so much to theorize about what is or is not the truth in terms of the creation of the universe and man but rather to illustrate how Christians can faithfully accept what science has to offer.  I should note that although Christian faith can be compatible with evolution and theories about the universe in general, we are under no compulsion to adhere to any of these particular scientific theories. 

I am often amazed at what seem to be boundless extrapolations (from the specifics of dinosaurs to evolution to the creation of the universe), but I am more amazed that popular society seems to accept them all without any critical thinking.  I for one remain non-committed to these theories; I retain the same healthy skepticism for them that many reserve for propositions about God. 

For me, God is much more real, more verifiable than the theory of evolution or the big bang, and I also happen to think that my relationship (or lack thereof) with God has a much greater potential impact on my personal happiness (and those around me).  Therefore, I think it is a far better use of my time to invest in my spiritual life than worrying about whether or not I share 97% of my genes with a chimp.  Seems logical and reasonable to me. :)

To wrap things up, Christian faith is not at enmity with reason or even with material science--it cannot be--because, as St. Justin Martyr highlighted, truth is truth and can be found outside of Divine Revelation in non-Christian philosophy and the material sciences.  Where there is truth, we should embrace it.  Where it seems to conflict with our faith, we should strive to understand how it does not.  Science, when understood correctly, can only serve to enhance our faith, for as our understanding of the amazing complexity and beauty of the material world increases, so should our amazement at and love for our Creator increase.   Our faith should complement and enhance our learning.  Like cocoa without sugar is bitter, so is learning without faith (Eccl. 1:18; a.k.a., "ignorance is bliss").  However, when we combine faith with our learning, we get something joyous, sweet, and delicious.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 9:43:01 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Sunday, December 31, 2006

I just read that my governor has signed into law a bill granting many of the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples who create a "civil union" together.  I suppose I should be happy that at least they're not calling it marriage.  At the same time, one has to wonder how such unions promise society the good that traditional marriage promises, but I tend to think the root of the problem is a misunderstanding of the full meaning of marriage.

As I see it, the chief good that marriage promises society is the promise of a desirable future, which is brought about by the bearing and rearing of children to become mature adults who contribute meaningfully to their society.  It goes without saying that homosexual couples cannot bear children, excepting those women who may choose to become artificially inseminated, but certainly male couples cannot bear children in any sense of the word. 

As for rearing, yes, through adoption, homosexual couples could indeed rear children, so there is something to be said for that.  But even so, it is at best an unestablished good.  It seems likely that the child raised by a homosexual couple will have at least some issues similar to other children who are raised without a mother or without a father (in addition to those generally experienced by adopted children).  Maybe in some individuals' conception ideal society, it wouldn't matter if a child were raised by homosexuals, but it remains the case today that it presents numerous challenges, emotionally and socially.  That said, the challenges such children may face might not be as bad as growing up in numerous foster homes or in orphanages, so I personally can't rule it out as a good for society. 

And in cases where artificial means are used to produce children (ignoring other ethical questions on that subject), there should surely be some concern for the child's desire to have and know his or her other "real" (biological) parent.  Despite our technologically arrogant objections to the contrary, it appears there really is something to biological parenthood, and so I think we need to be careful when obscuring it--we need to be mindful of the potential damage it will have on such children.  Personally, I don't see the good for the child or for society in such a situation.

In any case, it seems to me that such a situation, either the bearing of children through artificial means or adoption, are going the be the exception for homosexual couples, not the rule.  They are certainly not the almost inevitable outcome of such unions, as would be the case in heterosexual marriages.  Indeed, one would think that the likelihood of childbearing and rearing would be inversely proportionate between homo- and heterosexual couples, i.e., only a small percentage of homosexual couples would bear or rear children while only a small percentage of heterosexual couples would not bear or rear children.  And history has proven this to be true.

Of course one might argue that history, societies of the past, have not given homosexual unions a chance in this respect, but as homosexual advocates are all too eager to point out, homosexuality is not an invention of the modern age and even in society's where it is/was not frowned upon, it is/was quite rare for a homosexual couple to rear children.  And why should it be common after all?  The joining of male to male or female to female does not naturally result in children, and so it would indeed take an exceptional couple to reach beyond the natural fruit of such unions to desire and follow through with the upbringing of children.

The Misconceived Good

I said before, though, that I think there is a deeper problem in this question, one that reaches to a foundational lack of understanding of marriage between a man and a woman.  I am thinking here of the focus on love between two individuals as being the defining trait of marriage.  One need not look far to see manifestations of this belief--pick up any book or movie that involves a marriage, and you'll almost invariably see a love story that results in a culmination of marriage.

You won't find me naysaying love, certainly not love in marriage, but the issue here is the popular representation of the good of marriage, namely, that it is the culmination of a love story.  I dare say it is this conception of marriage that is the chief cause of many ills in our society.  I dare it because marriage is the foundation of family and family is the foundation of society.  If marriage is misunderstood then the glue that holds a family together becomes brittle and breaks, and when families break apart, society becomes undone at its very roots.  And so we have been and are proving here in the West.

So just what is the good of marriage if it isn't what our popular culture portrays it to be?  I have spoken already of the good that marriage promises society--chiefly the bearing and rearing of children, but to be sure, there is more good in marriage.  Indeed, love between the husband and wife is a great good as well, but it is more than the giddy love that drives love stories to their climax.  I would even go so far to say that the giddy love, that feeling of complete elation and enthrallment to passion that we humans sometimes feel towards one another, is not inherent to the essence of marriage.

Now I speak both from my own experience and that of others.  There was a time when I was "in love"--when my thoughts were filled with little else than those of my beloved, when my heart sang, my pulse raced, and the mere thought of her painted a goofy grin across my face.  Truly it is an awesome and wonderful experience to be so infatuated, better than any drug or food or even sex itself because it lasts longer and has no crashing at the end.  I would not deny anyone the joy of it, but I would and do deny that such feelings are essential to marriage.  I do because marriage is so much more than this and matters so much more than any passing infatuation.

The infatuation inevitably fades.  Surely, there are moments, glimpses, perhaps even real resurgences at times, those times when you again feel truly in love with your beloved, but they are rare, and I would say that their rarity makes them more treasured and enjoyable than if they were constant.  Like the beauty of the sun's rays piercing feathery clouds on a cool winter morning, they are wonderful and joyful, to be relished and remembered chiefly because they are fleeting, contrasted with the normal beauty of a clear blue day or a sparkling night.

The True Good

But there is something in that--the beauty, the good of marriage is also constant, also "normal" so that we often do not recognize it for what it is.  It is that regular pattern of day and night, the constancy of the sun rising and the moon waxing and waning.  It is the comfort of air to breathe and ground to walk upon; it is that calm pulsing of blood through vein that assures us we are alive, that our heart is still beating.  It is awakening to find your love snoring beside you, and opening the door in the evening with the knowledge that the home is not empty.  It is the joy of a shared meal, a walk through the trees, and the watching of a movie.  And it is in having an argument, feeling extreme anger, and knowing that it will pass and that the sun will rise again.

I think that this constancy that is known from a true and honest pledge--an oath taken in solemnity to love and to hold, in sickness and health, in passionate anger and in flights of infatuation till death parts us; it is this unquestionable knowledge of commitment to one another that is the chief and defining good of marriage.  It is this good--not infatuation, not sex, not even children--that is essential to marriage and is also its primary joy.  But it must be understood that this is an unbreakable, unquestionable lifetime commitment that no one, not even those who enter into it, can break. 

For if it could be broken, the good would be lost entirely and in fact would never exist.  What comfort could we have if the sun could choose not to rise, if the earth could choose to cease its rotation?  What true or lasting joy if the ground beneath us could whimsically disappear or the moon could alter its path and tumble to the earth?  It would be a life lived in constant anxiety, and any joy or happiness found would be a mask, a salve over an open wound of fear and uncertainty.  Such is a marriage where a pledge of lifelong commitment is conditional upon the whims and flights of passion to which we humans are subject.  If vows are taken lightly and divorce is always an option then marriage loses its supreme, primary, and defining good; in short, it becomes meaningless and has no real beauty, no real joy.

The Shared Benefit of the Good

It is upon such lifelong commitment that society must be built.  It is for this reason why meaningful marriage should be a prerequisite for bearing (or having sex for that matter) and raising children.  The foundation of family is unbreakable commitment, a commitment that starts and ends with the unbreakable union between two persons whence all other commitment and marital goods, such as that to bear and raise children, flow from.  This is why governments should grant special status to marriage and show preference for unions that naturally result in the bearing and raising of children. 

There is no "right" to marriage; there is only the granting of privileges to couples who have made an unbreakable commitment to each other and, preferably, to produce children who will one day do the same.  The purpose of government is to secure the common good, not the individual good, and insofar as a union between persons promotes the common good, as it generally and naturally does in the case of heterosexual marriage, the government should work to promote and secure it. 

Granted, a similar vow between persons of the same sex does in some ways promote the common good by increasing social stability and, e.g., reducing the financial burden for the treating of diseases spread through promiscuity (and even some will choose to raise and succeed in raising responsible citizens), so I am not opposed to some governmental preference for homosexual unions, but it must be in proportion to the good that those unions promise.  They have not historically proven to promote the common good nor do they naturally result in the perpetuation of good society, so how can they claim equality with heterosexual marriage in the eyes of the government?  The misguided sense of fairness that suggests that they should be equal needs to be weighed against what is truly right and just, i.e., granting privileges based upon historical and natural good with a view to protecting and promoting the common good.

This is not a matter of us versus them, and it is not even essentially a religious matter--it does not depend upon any revealed truth but is discernable from reason, experience, and history.  While I must object, both on a philosophical and a religious basis, to homosexual actions, I can see the value for society in providing privileges to homosexual unions that are in proportion to the good that they propose to society.  They just need to be in proportion to the good that typically come of such unions, not a blind extension of the privileges of one kind of union to another.

But I think the larger issue here--the reason that there is confusion about and advocacy of homosexual unions to have the same privileges as those of heterosexual--is due to our core misunderstanding of marriage itself.  A society and government that allows divorce on demand and does not provide concrete incentives for marriages to stay together--one that does not help couples to uphold their vows--cannot understand why such fickle unions based on whim should be granted any special status.  Indeed, if all marriage is is a transitory union based on passing infatuations, it should not be granted any special status.

A Better Approach

What we need to do to fix things is not further contribute to the demise of society through further dimunition and obscuring of the chief good of marriage by extending it to other forms of interpersonal union.  We need, rather, to work to reverse the damages done to marriage already.  We need to make divorce more difficult; we need to make it more undesirable.  We need to promote lifelong marriage and fidelity, and provide real incentives for it. 

We need to make marriage more difficult to get into, not because we want to be mean or ornery but because in making it overly accessible we have cheapened, demeaned, and diminished what it really is (or at least should be) and because we have simultaneously endangered our social stability and the future of our civilization.  It is sadly laughable that we have mandatory waiting periods to purchase firearms, but marriage can procured with no waiting period at all.  Failed marriages are at least as harmful to society as the misuse of firearms. 

Something like a waiting period for marriage would have both an instructional and a practical effect.  It would communicate the gravity of the commitment being entered into, and it would help ensure that both parties have sufficient time to discern if they feel they can make a lifelong commitment to each other.  When we were a wiser society, we even took it further to include external validation by publishing the "banns" of marriage to help ensure that there are not known reasons that a couple should not be married.

Debunking a Malicious Myth

We need a renaissance of understanding the beauty and value of commitment.  Too often our popular culture portrays it as something stagnant, dull, boring, and constrictive, in short, something to be avoided at all costs.  Yet it is strange that despite this popular mythos, we humans still gravitate toward it.  The stories of our day are often a clash of the supposedly free individuals (those who are avoiding marital commitment) with those who are entering into it.

The popular feeling and advice is to "enjoy your freedom while you have it" and, on a more vulgar note, to engage in debauchery and promiscuity while you can.  Yet oddly enough there seems to still be a latent and innate, although rationally inconsistent, recognition of the value of marriage.  These love stories that culminate in marriage still show that marriage is something to be desired over and above the alternative supposed complete freedom of the individual.

But this greater good of marriage--the good that drives the lovers in these love stories to marry despite the much-vaunted loss of freedom--remains unarticulated and, for that reason, looms smaller in the popular imagination.  Why should a love story culminate in marriage?  Surely it is not strictly literary convention.

No, I think that what I said before about the real good of marriage is intuitively recognized, even by those who cannot or refuse to articulate it.  In this sense, not much need be said to convince others of its value.  We intuitively understand the value of a lifelong commitment and the family that is built upon it, despite popular culture's ravings that it is not to be desired.  What we need, rather, is to be reminded of it, to have it be articulated more often, as I have tried to do in this essay.

And the interesting thing is that there truly is no conflict between freedom, rightly understood, and lifelong commitment.  Indeed, there is a greater freedom that comes from such commitment than is known without it.  If one is inclined to marry, one is in constant servitude to the drive to marry--to seek out a mate--until the mate is found and marriage is consummated.  It dominates the mind and heart.  This, too, is known intuitively and experientially and is also manifest in our popular culture's obsession with dating and love stories that culminate in marriage.  The mere fact that we can be infatuated speaks to it, and there is a word in our language--enthralled--that directly speaks to the servitude that we experience in seeking and finding a mate.

It is not in dating and being free to date that we are free, nor is it in being enslaved to our passions and the pursuit of sexual pleasure.  Here again our popular myths debunk themselves.  How much time, effort, and cost do we see being expended in such pursuits in our popular culture?  Is it not well-known that having a girlfriend, mistress, or, for that matter, prostitute is more costly than having a wife? 

It turns out that our intuition is right in the case of marriage.  It is better to marry than to burn with passion that can only be satisfied at great personal cost (and even danger).  It is better to have a partner in life than to be in the constant pursuit of that partner or in the pursuit of one of many goods that such a partner can provide.  Sex is just one of the many goods of marriage, and it turns out that when there is a more or less basic assurance that you can have it, you find there are many other worthwhile pursuits to expend your efforts on.

Marriage is the stem from which the flower of life blossoms; it is the beginning of freedom.  Once one is no longer consumed with the dating game, with the seeking of a partner, with the pursuit of sex, the mind and body are freed to engage in other pursuits.  The supposed freedom to pursue vague varieties of a single pleasure, which only shows one's slavery to that one pleasure, is exchanged for the real freedom to pursue all the real, many, and varied goods that this life offers.  And what's more, if one is careful about the choice of one's lifelong partner, you get to explore and enjoy those many wonders with someone you treasure for the rest of your life.

I would suggest that having and raising children, which is the natural result of the good of sex anyways, is a supreme good in marriage.  The blossoming and shaping of other lives that are utterly dependent upon you, the joys of re-experiencing the many wonders of life through their eyes, and the shared joy and love that comes from them are not to be paralleled with any other worldly pleasure.  Unlike many pleasures, the pleasure of love (and by this I mean charity, caring, and giving as well as affection) only grows when it is shared; the more children you have and the more love you give to them, the greater the joy of love becomes.

And while children are a great good and pleasure to be shared in marriage, they are just one of the many that come from the freedom and good of a lifelong commitment to another.  When the fear, anxiety, and loneliness are removed thanks to an unbreakable commitment to each other, one has far more freedom and far more joy than can be had without it.  Sure, we do sacrifice some liberties, but we do so for many more and for the greater peace, joy, and shared pleasure that comes with it.

This is the message that I think we need to remind each other of when faced with the false dualism of freedom versus marriage.  This is the message that will help others to understand the supreme good of marriage--that which flows from a sure, certain, and unbreakable commitment, that which we intuitively know.  With this understanding, the practical suggestions of helping each other to choose wisely when entering into this commitment and to help sustain each other in times of difficulty (rather than giving up and bowing out in divorce) do not seem so hard or imposing.  We see that we are working towards not only the greater common good but also towards the couple's good, the children's good, and indeed the individual's good. 

In short, we see that by taking such measures, we are showing our love for each other.  We are showing that we actually care, that we are not just a bunch of individuals cut off from each other, that we are neighbors, not strangers.  This is what a good and civilized society is all about, and it is clearly a far better society than the one we have been building by the unrestrained promotion of individual liberties.

Towards a Better Future

Those who understand what I'm saying here and are inclined to agree with it should take it upon themselves to spread the word.  We're never hesitant to talk about the latest great movie we've watched, and we should be far less hesitant to speak well of marriage given that it is a far greater good.  Given that we're a democratic society, it's just a matter of reminding enough people about the real good of marriage to get things changed for the positive, to start the long overdue repair work on marriage in our society. 

And given the regularity that the topic of homosexual union is in the news these days, there are ample opportunities to talk about it.  We need to redirect the question to its proper root.  We need to help people to understand what marriage is really all about, and then it will become far easier for others to understand our opposition to elevating homosexual unions to the level of marriage and granting them the same governmental privileges.  We need to show that it isn't about elitism; we're not hateful, selfish, or otherwise malicious.  In fact, we're pursuing the same thing--equitable privileges under law, where equitable means that the privileges are equitable with the promised benefit to the common good.

Another common opportunity to talk about marriage is when someone is getting married.  Inevitably, there are the comments like "run, don't walk," "enjoy your final days of freedom," and the like that echo what our popular culture thinks about marriage.  Instead of perpetuating that myth, we should try to debunk the myth and share the good.  Bachelor parties should be a celebration of the impending marriage, lauding the coming joys of marriage with the groom, not a chance to get one last debauch nor a dirge for the groom's supposedly lost freedom, and if we have any influence over them, we should push them in the direction of the good.

And of course, we need to be mindful of ourselves and our own marriages.  If we need to re-examine our commitment to our spouse and perhaps renew it, it's not too late.  If we got into marriage without due consideration, we should try at all costs to salvage it.  We already made the vows, whether or not we really meant them at the time, so it is a matter of making the intent real now.  It is not unheard of for long-married couples to renew their vows, and if that would be helpful, by all means we should do it.  Whatever it takes to get ourselves right and our commitment real, we should do in order to experience the chief good of marriage for ourselves.  Divorce is not an option except in extreme circumstances. 

If we're engaged or thinking about it, we need to examine ourselves and do our best to discern if the beloved is someone we can commit to for life.  If not, we have no business considering marriage.  And those of us with influence in such situations should help the couples to understand and discern the same.

Given our culture, and human nature itself, it is inevitable that discussions of love and marriage will arise, and whatever those are, if it seems appropriate, we should make an effort to raise awareness of and appreciation for the real goods, joys, and nature of marriage.  If we do what we can to shape the popular mythos around marriage, it will go far towards enabling us to create better societal structures, including laws, to improve and support marriage in our society, which will ultimately make a better society for us now, for our children, and for our children's children.

--
Given on the Feast of the Holy Family in the Year of Our Lord 2006
JMJ++

Sunday, December 31, 2006 7:12:44 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Thursday, November 02, 2006

Let me start by saying that I neither strongly adhere to nor dissent from the theory of evolution.  I figure God could easily have created a universe in which things evolve just as he could have done it in one instant and have things as they are now.

What I object to, however, is the use of science, in particular biology and genetics, to try to answer the big questions in life.  Science, biology, genetics--they're all good things that help us to understand the way things are, but they fall flat when they try to answer why humans are the way we are or, perhaps more importantly, how we should act.

There's a fairly common sentiment these days that we're just another animal.  The resultant moral implication is that we can and should just act like animals, just follow our animal instincts. 

The support for this comes from, in part, the study of our DNA (good science) and the study of primate DNA (also good science) with the observation being that hey, some really high percentage of our DNA is identical to that of apes.  Of course, the idea that we're closely related on the biological order to apes is nothing new; it's simply advances in genetics have recently (historically speaking) helped to confirm this.

In other words, you often hear (or at least I do) materialists, atheists, agnostics (i.e., non-theistic types) say things like "we're just a bunch of apes" or something along those lines.  And it seems to make sense; it has the ring of truth because science does indeed show that in many ways we're related. 

But, and it is this "but" that makes all the difference in the multiverse (or universe if you prefer), BUT we are NOT apes.  Take an ape into your home, raise him like a child, do everything you'd do if he were a human, and in the end, you still have an ape.  He is an animal not capable of higher (abstract) reasoning, that can't speak any human language, and if released into society would soon be caught and put in a zoo because he IS just an ape.  And these are just the natural characteristics--ignoring the spiritual.

Think of it this way.  What are the attributes of a triangle?  It is two-dimensional.  It is made up of straight lines.  It has corners.  Now consider a square; what are its attributes?  Is it not also two-dimensional?  Is it not also made up of straight lines and corners?  In virtually every way but one--the number of lines--triangles and squares are the same.  And yet they are NOT the same.  No sane person would say otherwise.  No matter that they are alike in many more ways than they are different--they are essentially different kinds of things.

So it is with humans and apes.  We have many similarities on the natural level, far more than differences.  But in the end, we are not apes, and only a fool or an insane or unthinking person can say that we are. 

So let's stop all this nonsense about humans being just another kind of ape.  And with the ending of such silliness, we must also end the silly suggestions that we can and should just follow our animal instincts.  No matter how alike we may be to other animals, in the end, it is our minds and souls that truly make us human and impose upon us a higher moral order, even if we like to pretend that God does not exist.

Thursday, November 02, 2006 8:21:52 PM (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I don't watch the news.  I figure what's important will filter down to me through one avenue or another, and it generally does (as far as I know hehe).  Recently, Pope Benedict XVI made a comment in a university lecture that has caused quite the controversy.  Naturally, the controversy wasn't intended, and the Holy Father, numerous bishops, and other Church officials have quickly done what they can to calm the situation down.

It appears that, as is often the case in such brouhahas, words were taken out of context, causing much consternation in the Muslim world and, possibly, even some violence on its account, such as the murder of a missionary nun in Somalia.  Although I know I shouldn't, I still am dumbfounded and in disbelief when confronted with such inhumanity and evil as a group of individuals who would gun down a woman who has devoted her life to relieving ill and suffering around the world.

It does make one wonder if the words of the Byzantine Emperor that the Pope was quoting did not have some truth to them.  Looking at the startling acts of violence, inhumanity, and yes, evil, perpetrated in the name of Islam (such as 9/11, the London bombings, not to mention those in the Middle East) and those acts which have been thwarted (such as the shoe explosive, recent liquid explosives, and more that we probably don't know about), outsiders such as myself are forced to wonder if the central message of Islam is not such evil and inhuman activity.  And then a senseless and violent killing in Somalia only serves to harden such suspicion.

Yet despite all of this evidence, forgetting the unknown, countless lives tossed aside during the jihads that spread Islam across the Middle East, Africa, Turkey, and Persia in the first milennia, let us with good faith assume that the Emperor was not right (though surely he was more learned on the subject than I).  Let us assume that there is some new good that Muhammed brought to religion.  Even so, the point at issue is still a matter of lack of context.

The Holy Father was quoting the Emperor not as an endorsement or affirmation but as an illustration.  He even says that we are "astounded" at the Emperor's "brusqueness."  Pope Benedict continues, as Manuel II Paleologus reportedly does, showing that this is a hyperbole leading into a discussion about the incompatibility of violence with the nature of God (and reason).  I've read the whole text, and while it isn't immediately obvious how the consideration of the Emperor's remarks fit into the greater dialogue other than, as the Pope says, "a starting point," it does fit with the broader theme of giving reason a greater place in human affairs, both in religion and faith and in the university, which these days has tended to want to limit reason to scientific thought stemming from Cartesianism and empiricism.

I believe the parallel between the reference to Islam and the reference to the developments in modern thought is that in both reason and God are seen to be somewhat, if not wholly, incompatible.  With Islam, as His Holiness expounds, there are developments which say that faith is something other than and often in contradiction to reason; such a stance makes believing that conversion by the sword an acceptable means because reason is opposed to violence.  The Holy Father also notes similar developments by some in the modern Christian tradition, so we see that it is not simply a criticism of Islam on this count.

Similarly, the modern scientific worldview sees anything that is not mathematical or empirically observable and verifiable as suspect, subjective, or wholly false, not in line with what is perceived as "reason."  In both cases, the Holy Father is advocating a wider understanding of reason and its applicability to religion and faith--that there are valid, useful, indeed critically important modes of reason outside of the mathematical and empirical, that the mathematical and empirical depend on these, and that reason is in accord with them and with God's nature.

Thus we see a dual consideration: on the one hand, a critique of those who would push reason out of the sphere of faith and on the other those who would push faith out of the sphere of reason, leaving them as disparate spheres of life, more often than not in conflict.  This is not the Catholic (read, historically Christian) way of understanding the relationship between reason and faith, and it is a greater understanding of and appreciation for the interdependence of faith and reason that the Pope is advocating, seeking more open and rational dialogue on both fronts.

All that said, I must say that I think the point could have been made without restating the controversial quip from Manuel II, but there I think we simply see the intellectual side of the Holy Father--the university professor who curiously relates how reading a text struck him and what it made him think of.  Given the context of the address (a university lecture), this seems wholly likely.

It is highly unfortunate that this has been blown out of proportion and taken out of context, even to the point of violence.  Hopefully, Muslims will see this as an opportunity to prove the Emperor wrong and make the noise of the good in Islam louder than the noise of those who would continue to try to spread and defend Islam through violence.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006 10:27:45 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [6]  | 
# Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I'm pleased to announce that Brendan Patrick joined clan Little on this side of the womb today at 2:29.  He's a healthy boy of 10 pounds, 5 ounces, and measures in at 21.5 inches.  Christiane (mom) is doing well with no complications.

Wish us good rest! :)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 8:28:27 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [9]  | 
# Wednesday, July 19, 2006

While reading over the latest issue of Perspectives from the IASA, it struck me my current thinking about philosophy rings true for how I'm thinking about architecture, at least in one rather important aspect.  You see, in considering all of the various philosophical systems developed over human history, it strikes me that there is no one philosophy that suits all people, at least not realistically speaking.

Sure, as a devout Roman Catholic and amateur philosopher myself, I do think, ideally speaking, that Catholicism is the best philosophy for all human beings.  The problem is that, first, not all humans are philosophers.  Second, and vastly more importantly, all philosophers and non-philosophers alike are humans. 

As humans, we're made up of more than just plain ol' objective reasoning.  Indeed, I rather think that we are first and foremost a bundle of nerves and emotions, and only a few among us even try to tame that bundle into something resembling objective and rational thought.  Even those are still far and away subject to the non-rational whims of humanity, including prejudices, presuppositions, and all that other non-rational goo that makes us who we are.

This is why I say, realistically speaking, there is and can be no unifying philosophy that all humans can follow, as much as I might like for it to be otherwise.  I think this much has proven true in that neither by force nor by argument has any one philosophy been able to subdue humanity in all our history, despite attempts at it by both the very strong, the very intelligent, and the very persuasive among us.

If this is true, what is then the best thing that we can do?  Right now, it seems to me that perhaps the best thing that philosophers can do is to try to discover philosophies that are the best for persons with a given background, a given culture, and at a given time.  I don't think this is the same thing as relativism because, first, we can still talk about the best objective philosophy for all humans (even if all humans will never follow it), and second, we can talk about an objectively best philosophy for persons of similar backgrounds, cultures, and times.  We can still say that our philosophy is the best for humanity while realizing that perhaps the best for this person over here is another, given all the factors that have shaped him or her.

About now, my technical readers will be wondering when I'll get back to talking about architecture and how it relates to these ramblings, and, happily for them, here we are.  The most recent issue from the IASA has several articles purporting what it means to be an architect, how to become an architect, and how best to educate for architecture, among other things.  In reading these, I was struck (I should say again) that there doesn't seem to be one unifying idea of what it means to be a IT architect or how to become one.

Certainly, there are commonalities and core competencies, but I think that ultimately, the question of whether or not one can know if he is an IT architect (shall we say, the epistemology of IT architecture) and consequently whether or not you can tell someone else you are one, depends largely on the context of the question.  Just as there are many different industries, company sizes, and corporate cultures, so it seems there should be many different categories of architects to match. 

In an earlier blog post and article this year, I tried to throw out some ideas about what software architecture is and how we should be thinking about it.  I still think that the distinctions I was drawing are valid as are the key differentiators between software architects and developers, and incidentally, I'd suggest that the distinctions are also valid for the infrastructure side of IT.  It seems to me that the key defining aspect of an architect is the ability to tangle with both the business and the technology problems and effectively cut through that Gordian Knot, arriving at the best solution.

If so, then what makes a person an IT architect depends on the business at hand and the technology at hand, not on some presupposed host of experience with different businesses and architects.  The issue I take with Mr. Hubert in his "Becoming an IT Architect" (IASA Perspectives, Issue 4) is that it sounds as if one must have visited all his "stations" in order to know one is an architect.  While he starts out the article saying he is just recounting his particular journey, most of the article smacks of an attempt at generalizing his individual experience into objective truth, in much the same way that some philosophers have tried to draw out the best objective philosophy based on their own experiences and cultures.  In the end, such attempts invariably fall flat. 

Without digging into the specifics of the "stations" that I don't think are core to becoming an IT architect, let's stick to the central proposition at hand (which makes such a specific deconstruction unnecessary), namely that IT architecture at its essence is the previously described weaving of business and technology skill, with an admittedly stronger technical than business bent.  If that is the case, there is no one definition for what it means to be an IT architect, nor is there consequently any one path to become one.  With that in mind, reading Mr. Hubert's story is valuable in as much as one wants to know how to become a software architect at the kinds of companies, projects, and technologies that Mr. Hubert works with today, but it is only one story among many in the broader realm of IT architecture.

Rather than trying to establish some single architect certification that costs thousands of dollars and requires specific kinds of experience to achieve, we should think in terms of what it means to be an architect for a company of this size, with this (or these) primary technologies, this culture, and at this time in the company's life.  Only within that spectrum can we realistically determine the best definition of an IT architect, much like there may be a best philosophy for individuals within the spectrum of particular backgrounds, cultures, and times.

Does this mean we can't talk about skills (truths) that apply to all architects?  I don't think so.  The chief skill is what I've already mentioned (solving business problems with technology), but perhaps we could say that all architects need deep experience and/or training in a technology (or technologies).  Similarly, we could say that architects need training or experience in business in general (those concepts and skills that span different industries).  We might also say that they need training or experience in particular industries, at least one.  These individual truths combine to form something of an objectively best architect, but the specific best architect definition will vary depending on the context.

This kind of talk provides a broad framework for speaking about IT architecture as a profession while leaving room for the specific categories that could be specified to enable better classification of individuals to aid in both education and recruiting.  We already have some of these definitions loosely being developed with such terms as "solutions architect," "enterprise architect," and "infrastructure architect."  However, I feel that these may still be too broad to be able to sufficiently achieve an epistemology of IT architecture.  Maybe "enterprise" is the best one among them in that it historically does imply a large part of the context needed to have a meaningful category within IT architecture, but I tend to think that "solutions" and "infrastructure" are still too vague and lacking context. 

I don't propose to have the solution all worked out, but I do think that the key things, both in philosophy and software architecture, are to provide contextual trappings to determine the most meaningful solution to the problem at hand.  If that means speaking of a software architect for a local, small, family-owned brewery on the one hand, and an infrastructure architect for a multinational, Fortune 500, telecom company on the other, so be it.  But if we can generalize these sort of highly-contextual categorizations into something more usable for education and certification, all the better.  Granted, we won't have categories that sufficiently address every meaningful variation (as is the case with all taxonomies), but as long as we're working forward with the necessary framework of context, I think we'll get a lot closer than many of the current attempts that result in over generalization (and thus lose meaning as categories per se). 

In the meantime, I'd suggest that my assertion that the key distinction is in one's purpose (see the aforementioned article) is the best way to establish a basic epistemology of IT architecture.  I think it is certainly sufficient for individual knowledge and broad group identification, though clearly more needs to be worked out to assist in the development of training, education, and certification that will feed into trustworthy standards in the various categories of IT architecture.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006 10:30:40 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Monday, July 03, 2006

I just finished reading Blink based on the recommendation of a presenter at TechEd.  I don't recall the presenter's name, but it was an architecture track about bridging the gap between infrastructure and development.  Turns out I could have pretty much just not read the book and gone with this presenter's synopsis of the main points.

I don't want to downplay the work that Malcom Gladwell (author) put into the book.  He clearly spent a good deal of time researching and interviewing, and the book is engaging.  He uses a lot of anecdotes to illustrate his points, and the overall impression reminded me a lot of the Dale Carnegie books.  Both use anecdotes to prove points, and both have points that, when you think about them, are pretty much a given.

I will hand it to Gladwell in that he has gone to more trouble in the research department and has gone to lengths to use scientific studies and anecdotes from pundits to support his points.  For those who need the scientific evidence, that will be important.  But I personally found that the points are things that can be inferred from human experience, if you think about them.

The nice thing about books like these is that they do humanity a service to draw out and highlight important elements of our shared humanity and how we can take advantage of them to be more successful in life.  It would be so easy to go through life without thinking twice about the propositions that this book makes, but just like the Carnegie books, if you are conscious of them, you can try to employ them to better yourself.

The book is a very easy read, and so it is easy to forgive that there isn't terribly much in the way of thought-provoking substance.  In fact, it is its easiness that makes it worthwhile.  While the same points could be presented in a much more concise format, it would be a much drier read and may not even have the same impact.  Because it was peppered with anecdotes, like the Carnegie books, the points made were more relatable and more memorable.

If all you care about are the points being made in a book, I'd suggest you just read the Publishers Weekly review on Amazon, but if you like to be entertained while you learn and learn in a memorable way, I'd recommend picking up a copy of this book.  The points are valuable on a personal as well as a business level.

Monday, July 03, 2006 8:45:29 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Saturday, July 01, 2006

I just heard that my governor has shut down half the state government because some other politicians won't go along with his plan to increase sales tax.  Given that New Jersey has the most ridiculous property tax I've heard of, and we're supposedly the most densely populated state in the union, I find it hard to believe that we really need to increase the sales tax to balance our budget.  Apparently, a lot of politicians agree.

Not only is he shutting down stuff, but he's also keeping government employees working without pay.  That's just not right.  For his own sake, and for all the affected gov. employees, I hope they figure something out quickly...

Saturday, July 01, 2006 10:05:35 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Thursday, June 15, 2006

I guess somebody thought it'd be a lot of fun to see a bunch of geeks take an early morning stroll. 

I was rudely awakened not long ago by what seemed to be an alarm clock, my neighbor's alarm clock, or so it seemed in my groggy, post-party sleeping mind.  So I tossed the useless, decorative pillow towards the noise, hoping somehow that'd make a difference.  It wasn't until the recorded voice came on telling me that it was an emergency that it crossed my mind that I might want to get up and see what the hell was going on. 

I jumped up or, more actually probably, crawled out of bed and tossed enough clothes on as to not scare my cohabitors and stepped out into the hallway.  Most folks seemed to be in the same mind-numbed state as I because we all slowly and calmly trapsed towards the stairs, greeting each other with friendly and somehow knowing smiles.

The stairs took an uncomfortably long time to descend.  All the while I was thinking about how it's a good thing that it wasn't a real emergency; otherwise, well, err, umm, our studied rate of descent would not I think have sufficed.

After stepping down uncounted steps, we broke through the perimeter and exited the rear of the building.  It could have been a scene from Night of the Living Dead for all the energe with which we circled the building, looking inquisitively at each other and the seemingly unharmed hotel.

Eventually, I came to a stop at what I thought was a safe distance when the hotel started to disassemble itself, floor by floor, starting at the top down, like a drunk man shedding his clothes to join a swimming party.

No.. wait... that was just my sleep-deprived imagination trying to make sense of the events.  What actually happened was that I waited and chatted with a fella that I probably otherwise would not have met until we saw folks start slowly streaming back into the hotel, past the fire trucks and ambulances (yes, those were real, surely).  We stumbled into the lobby as a few of Boston's finest meaningfully slid past us, carrying what little gear they brought in with them.

Now, after my legs quit burning from the strenuous ascent back up seven floors (hey, I'm not in good shape!), I find the alluring siren call of the bed beckoning me to return to the dreamland whence I came before this brief morning adventure was so rudely thrust upon me.

As the good Willy Wonka once said, "adieu. auf wiedersehen.  gesundheit. farewell.  parting is such sweet sorrow..."

Thursday, June 15, 2006 4:22:29 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Sunday, June 04, 2006

It's been on my mind for some time to (re)try my hand at fiction again.  I've got some experience, chiefly from my university days, but I've been feeling the urge to stretch those fictional writing muscles again.  Now that I've got some publisher contacts, I thought it might be worth pursuing.  Granted, they're tech publishers, but at least some of them work at houses with fiction publishing arms.  Maybe they could hook me up.

Then again, I thought that rather than committing myself to a book project with a publisher up front, I might try a different approach akin to the serials in the old days.  In essence, I thought I might set up a site for the book and publish chapters one at a time on the site, using RSS as the notification mechanism for when new chapters are available.  For those who don't mind reading online and waiting for the next chapter, I figure they could use the site and give me feedback as the book progresses.  Then, once I have something that might qualify as a book, I could see if any publisher would have me for those who (like me) still prefer to read from paper pages.

So what do you think of an approach like that?  Would you ever read a book published serially on a web site?

Sunday, June 04, 2006 8:46:55 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Friday, June 02, 2006

I recently ordered an audiobook on CD from Recorded Books, mainly because it was only available there from what I could find.  The book is Baudolino (great medieval fiction, BTW; I’ve listened to it from libraries 2x already).  Anyways, I was suprised when they charged me sales tax because they’re based in MD not NJ, so I wrote to ask them about it.  This is their response:

The state of New Jersey Department of Revenue now requires Recorded Books to collect sales tax on orders from residents of New Jersey.  They base the demand on the fact that outstanding rental audiobooks (in the hands of New Jersey residents) gives Recorded Books a "physical presence" in the State and therefore we are compelled by law to collect sales tax on all orders from New Jersey.

Before I moved up here, I knew that property taxes were high and that they have state income tax (unlike Florida), but since I’ve been here, I’ve heard other amazing stories about the ridiculous ways in which the state taxes its residents.  This has got to be one of the more creative ones, though.  They sure are creative bloodsuckers; I’ll give them that!

Friday, June 02, 2006 12:49:25 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
# Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I just ran across a rather interesting article while doing some book research for my upcoming book, The Contemporary Patriarch.  Of course, I'm kidding about the book; Mrs. dotNetTemplar has, tongue in cheek, suggested I write it a few times if for no other reason than that I might get an interview on The Colbert Report.

So, I was doing some searching to see what the competition is for my book, and I came across this article, which just happens to be on a site that appears to be about Catholic culture.  The excerpt is from something written by Christopher Dawson in 1933.  Remarkably, most of it is still quite relevant.  The only thing that seemed obviously dated, sadly, is the claim that "marriage is still the only form of sexual union which is openly tolerated by society."  Other than that it is an interesting read that considers the impact of marrital structures on broader society through history.  I recommend it.

In a related note, I found this quote quite telling (from this article on Newsweek):  "All my friends are having kids," says Penny Stohn, 33, a director for the New Jersey Department of Higher Education."They tell me how glamorous my life is but I just sit there and envy them their kids."  I find the frank admittance of the value of marriage and the family by career-minded, single women quite notable given what still seems to be the popular sentiment about full-time wives and mothers, which is that it is still somewhat looked down upon.  Motherhood is, to the contrary, probably the most intrinsically valuable career a person could have, and these single women attest that this is still the unspoken truth.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006 9:05:34 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Thursday, May 25, 2006

I'm not usually one to bring my political views to bear, chiefly because they have changed a lot over the last 10 years. In some ways, I could sympathize with Kerry in his being labeled a flip-flopper simply because I try to have an open mind, see issues from as many sides as are presented to me, and try to choose what seems to be the most viable given the current data and my presuppositions. I'm not one to doggedly cling to an idea just because it is the one I previously selected as my own (or at least I try not to); if new data is presented or new arguments that make an alternative seem to be better, I'm not so intellectually inert that I won't ever change.

Unfortunately, I guess that approach to life can make one a flip-flopper, but I’d say in that respect, being a flip-flopper is a good thing to be.  Changing my views (or at least my professed views) based on popular winds of opinion or the advice of my campaign managers, however, is not a good reason to be a flip-flopper, and that’s where Kerry and I differed, or so it seemed to me.

All that said, I find myself wanting to say something about this post over on the Future of Freedom Foundation.  Personally, thanks to a very persistent Libertarian boss I once had, I’ve flirted with Libertarianism.  It certainly has its appeal, especially in this relativistic age.  I think Mr. Hornberger, though, is painting conservatives with too broad a brush (what else is new?).  In that vein, I’d say that we can sum up Libertarianism with the old dictum of “live and let live.”  It takes freedom to an extreme, such that it becomes the core tenet of their political creed.  

Unfortunately, it leaves out the central good of government, which is to promote the common good.  Certainly freedom is one of the chief goods that we have as humans, but it is not the only one.  It seems to me that government must also take action to promote the common good, which includes other goods such as public decency, protection of innocents, affordable transportation, and care for the poor, to name a few.  And it is precisely in these other areas that the Libertarian and I differ. 

While they might agree that these are common goods, they would argue (or have with me at least) that all these can and should be promoted through private organizations and peer pressure, not the government.  But as I see it, such an argument is flawed in that government, in a very basic sense, is just such a social organization, particularly a democratic republic such as our own.  Libertarians speak of taxes being akin to stealing and government being the modern day Robin Hood, but that would only be true if we were governed by a non-representative government.  It is this point, in fact, that catalyzed our founders to form this new republic.

As I see it, Libertarianism is the rich person’s religion.  It shares many similarities with feudalism.  In fact, if Libertarianism were fully applied today, I think we’d see just such a social structure emerge—those who can afford to fund their liberties would have them; the rest of us would have to attach ourselves to one such lord or another in order to ensure, as much as is possible under such a social organization, some subset of the liberties we have today.  Maybe the lords would be corporations, maybe they’d be individuals, but when you privatize every common good that is provided by government, that’s what you end up with.

It is, in fact, Libertarianisms failure to account for the common good that I find myself unable to attach myself to that party, despite its superficial appeal.  Of course, I don’t find myself able to attach myself to any of the current parties in our system, which is why I’m registered as an Independent.  Each of the parties have compellingly good platforms on different things, but none fully aligns with what seems to me to be the best approach to government.  Sadly, our mostly bipartisan system is just woefully inadequate.  And painting folks with broad brushes such as conservatives and liberals just doesn’t work; somehow I just don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way.

Thursday, May 25, 2006 9:00:09 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
# Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Well, for those of you anxiously awaiting (ha ha) this post since my last on the subject.  We’re finally all settled in up here in New Jersey.  The movers returned on Sunday, the 8th, and loaded up all of our stuff (except for the little bit we were taking to survive on until they came).  The trip up was uneventful (thankfully), and we arrived as planned in the afternoon on Wednesday.

We absolutely love the area; we’re in north Princeton (technically in Montgomery Twp).  Most every road is two lanes, and many of them cut through wooded areas and farmlands.  My drive to work consists of about 10 minutes of wood-lined drives and 10 minutes of farm-lined drives, and, apart from crossing US 1, there is very little traffic to speak of, even during rush hour, so much nicer than the urban, perpetual six-laned, traffic (and traffic-light) bloated roads I took to work in Tampa

The weather here has been lovely as well, at least as far as I’m concerned—I love cool weather.  It’s been lows in the 50s and highs no more than mid-70s, perfect, in other words.   With the occasional cool, rainy day, I don’t think I could order nicer weather.  Different strokes for different folks, I guess, but I much prefer this to the already sultry Tampa weather we were having when we left.

Our place is nice, too.  It’s a duplex townhouse backed by greenery and a babbling brook, nestled off a little road, just south of Rocky Hill.  The floorplan is very different from what we came from, this being a two-story townhouse and our prior being a one-story house, but with the huge attic and large, accessible crawl space, we’ve managed to make everything fit rather nicely.  Just last night I finished hooking up my desktop, which was the last bit of settling in really.

The job is great, too, better than I expected.  Of course, I’ve learned you gotta work at a place for at least 3, if not 6 or more, months to really get a feel for it.  But, especially compared to my last full-time gig, the overall atmosphere at Infragistics is superlative.  We’ve got a lot of work to do, but it is exciting.

All in all, I feel this has been a really great move for me and for my family.  Making cross-country moves with a family is a big deal, and I’m very glad this one seems to have worked out very positively.  We’re looking forward to our next N years here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006 9:53:07 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
# Saturday, May 06, 2006

I hope I'm not the only one who starts grooving to techno memories when I read "it has begun!"  Ah.. Mortal Kombat....

What has begun?  The move, the move to New Jersey.  Today the packers came (no, not Green Bay--you'd be surprised the looks you get when you say "the packers are coming to my house.").  They said they'd be here at 8a, so I was surprised when Mrs. dotNetTemplar yelled "I think they're here!" at me as I was in the shower at 7:40.  What a start, but it was a mostly uneventful and good day.

They packed for a solid seven hours, the two of them, and now, as I sit here amidst the walls of boxes and barren walls surrounding them, I think I should feel or think something great or deep.  Mostly I just feel relieved.  It's been more than six weeks since I decided to join Infragistics, but due to prior commitments, I've had to put off the move.  Of course, the wise angel on my shoulder tells me that it was good that I had so long to prepare, but I'm the kind of guy that wants to act right away when I make a decision to make it real.

But now it's here.  The move is upon us.  Tomorrow the movers (formerly known as the packers) return to pick up all our stuff and take off with it to various and sundry other cities across the eastern US to pick up others' belongings before they'll show up on our doorstep in a week or so. 

In the meantime, the fam and I will be leaving Monday morning for a three-day-tour of our own, overnighting in the well-known towns of St. George, SC and Colonial Heights, VA before finally arriving in our new home in Princeton, NJ on Wednesday, assuming all goes according to plan.  Traveling with two small children, a cat, and a bun in the oven should make it.. interesting, but we'll make it.  Fun fun fun!

Saturday, May 06, 2006 10:14:15 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [4]  | 
# Sunday, April 30, 2006

Commenting on a recent entry, Stanley asked me about why the Catholic Church has historically used censorship, citing the case of the naming of the canon of Scripture (as specifically excluding other books, such as the so-called Gospel of Judas and others that did not make it into the canon). 

The New Testament canon is, remarkably, something that Protestants and Catholics agree upon.  Its formation is outlined here in more detail than I am qualified to provide.  The council that most cite is either that of Hippo (393) or Carthage (397) as the official formation of the canon, but, as the referenced artice makes clear, the canon was more or less formed long before that.  The Gospels, in particular, were settled long before then; as the article puts it, "the patristic testimonies have brought us step by step to a Divine inviolable fourfold Gospel existing in the closing years of the Apostolic Era."

That quote hints at the Catholic principle on the formation of the canon of Scripture, namely, the doctrinal witness of Tradition, which is the deposit of the faith left to us by Jesus and his Apostles, passed on through history by the witness of their successors, the bishops of the Church.  This is why I just laugh (and am bothered) when the TV shows make inflammatory statements about "new gospels" that "will change Christianity forever."  I just don't get it.  These "new gospels" were around back then (and in greater numbers than are extant today) and did not make it into the canon then, so while I value their historical significance, that's all it is, historical (not spiritual or religious).

Perhaps the reason that they're seen as so potentially important, revolutionary, or threatening is that there is a perception that censorship in the Church was done by power-and-money-seeking hierarchs, as is constantly suggested by the popular media in movies such as the recent movie The Order, in which the "gospel of Jesus" is rediscovered as well as the centuries old plot to conceal it because it offers credence to the popular notion that organized religion is unnecessary.

This and virtually all other recent flicks that involve the Catholic hierarchy paint them as the most nefarious powergrubbing politicians ever to walk the earth.  And this, of course, is why the Church had the Index of forbidden books and supposedly suppressed the reading of Scripture, much less the gnostic gospels.  These are the same reasons that the Church at times tries to conceal the weakness of its leaders, or so the implications go.  Of course, The Da Vinci Code is just one more in a long line of such fiction to impugn the reputation of the Catholic Church.

While I certainly don't view the history of the Church through rose colored glasses--I am fully ready to see and admit the many failings of Christian leaders through the ages, including St. Peter himself who denied Jesus three times--I also certainly don't see the entire (or even majority of) Catholic hierarchy as corrupt as they are so often painted.  My personal experience, my studies, and my watching of current events teach me that the vast majority are more or less (usually more) good men who are living their vocation to lead the Church as well as they are able.  And without a doubt they have the best intentions (as a whole) of the Church at heart.

And it is this, in fact, that is and has been the primary motivation behind the various attempts in Church history to smooth over the rough spots where it can and to even censor.  Namely, it is out of a care for souls, which is their vocation.  The bishops and priests are (and see themselves as, one hopes) our spiritual fathers.  That's why we call them father.  As such, they are bound to protect us in as much as they can in paternal care. 

As my children grow older (my oldest is five now), I increasingly gain a sense of this paternal instinct and care, particularly in relation to what my children are exposed to.  How many of us would defend the "right" of our children to view pornography, senseless, graphic, and brutal violence, profanity, or anything else that we think would be damaging to them?  Even our secular nation has an enforced rating system that prevents just this thing.  Is that not censorship?  It is, but we do it for a good reason.

This is precisely the same motivation behind censorship and "cover-ups" by the Catholic Church.  We may disagree with the principal that they are our spiritual fathers (and all that it implies), but that doesn't change the truth that this is how they and we (should) perceive their vocation.  The desire to avoid scandal is the same.  True, there are cases where individuals have probably let their own pride be a more motivating factor than care, but overall, the principal is sound.  This has been proven to be true in the fallout from the recent sex scandals.  There has been a dramatic damage to the faith of many. 

There are many these days, many Catholics and even bishops included, who now seem to think that people have a "right" to know everything, that somehow this helps them.  The popularity of shows like Dateline further emphasize this--people think they need to be informed of everything that could potentially affect them.

In truth, I would argue that this is not the case and rather that you can indeed know too much.  There is a line between wisdom and paranoia, and the more that you feed your mind with worrisome "threats" that might affect you, the more paranoid and disfunctional you can become.  Some people can deal with it; others can't.  But I digress.

The point is simply that it is out of a care of souls, a desire that faith and hope not be damaged due to either the weakness of others or of the individuals themselves, that is the primary motivator for such actions.  Most people do not in fact take sufficient time to form their conscience to make the right decisions, and even when we do, we have many non-rational implulses that pull us away from the truth.

For better or worse, we are now living in a society where such pastoral control is really not possible.  The Church can still try to avoid scandal, but it is much harder due to the exponential growth in the freedom of information provided by the mass media and the internet.  Now, in fact, it would almost be unwise to try to conceal potentially scandalous facts because their latter revelation, coupled with their attempts at concealment, only make the scandal worse. 

This is why, I think, the bishops have adopted a much more transparent stance in the wake of the sex scandals.  The fact that sex abuse was kept in house, so to speak, is not really that impactful on the reality of the sex abuse problem--there are many, far more influential factors that allowed it to become the immense issue that it became.  But it is evident that in these post-post-modern days, any attempt at pastorally motivated shielding from scandal will likely only lead to greater scandal because the popular sentiment is that such covering up of sin can only be for bad reasons, which is, in my opinion, manifestly not the case.

So the change in approach is, as I see it, not guilty political maneuvering but rather a frank realization that it is more pastorally wise to do so.  And that is why I think the Church has acted in the way it did in the past and why it has changed the way it acts to meet the changing nature of the society in which it is a part.

Sunday, April 30, 2006 8:54:55 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [3]  | 

I barely have time to play it, but I finally got it.  My Xbox:

This is actually the children's edition.  The wife insisted that we get one that everyone can enjoy.  It doesn't come with the wireless controller; I had to buy that separately.  Besides, I couldn't figure out where I'd plug in a regular controller anyways.  Pretty cool, eh? :)

Sunday, April 30, 2006 2:09:37 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
# Saturday, April 29, 2006

I just updated this site to the latest version of dasBlog.  Many, many thanks to Scott for helping me out with getting it (given that I am a total noob to CVS and, apparently, picked a bad time to start since SF was having issues).  Most notably (that I know of), this version incorporates using Feedburner, which I guess is the latest and greatest for distributing your feed and lowering bandwidth usage, though I'm sure there are some other goodies in there.

Anyhoo, let me know if you suddenly start running into any problems with my blog.  Have a good un!

Saturday, April 29, 2006 2:19:18 PM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
# Thursday, April 27, 2006

Mrs. dotNetTemplar and I have decided to homeschool our children, and it is always interesting to see the various reactions you get.  Some folks think it's grand and say they wish they could.  Probably the majority just kind of stare at you blankly like you were just speaking in tonuges or kind of pat you on the head knowingly.  But the stock question, the one that you get more than any other, is "what about socialization?"

I'm not sure why or how this became common wisdom about homeschooling.  As far as I know, there haven't been any studies conducted to show that homeschoolers are socially stunted or inept.  Rather, there has been signficant research that indicates quite the opposite.  All you need to do is Google it to see more realistic information about the topic; I thought this article summed it up nicely.  Excepting those who have a vested interested in public (or private) schooling, the consensus among those informed is that homeschooling can actually be better than the alternative for socialization.

Here's a nice little snippet that I ran across today in a newsletter, The Liberator Online, I occasionally read (no, I'm not a libertarian).  The source they got it from is the New Oxford Review, which was quoting the Kolbe Little Home Journal, Fall 2005. 

When my wife and I mention we are strongly considering homeschooling our children, we are without fail asked, 'But what about socialization?' Fortunately, we found a way our kids can receive the same socialization that government schools provide.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, I will personally corner my son in the bathroom, give him a wedgie and take his lunch money. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, my wife will make sure to tease our children for not being in the 'in' crowd, taking special care to poke fun at any physical abnormalities. Fridays will be 'Fad and Peer Pressure Day.' We will all compete to see who has the coolest toys, the most expensive clothes, and the loudest, fastest, and most dangerous car.

Every day, my wife and I will adhere to a routine of cursing and swearing in the hall and mentioning our weekend exploits with alcohol and immorality.

...And we have asked (our kids) to report us to the authorities in the event we mention faith, religion, or try to bring up morals and values.

It's funny (and sad) because it is true.  The socialization one gets in public (or private for that matter) schooling is just not natural.  Where else in life are we surrounded by only peers of our own age?  In pretty much every other social environment I've been in outside of school, my peers are made up of people older and younger than me.  The grouping of kids by age, while expedient for group education, is certainly not the ideal model for socialization. 

It seems that homeschooling actually bears out to provide better-adjusted children who turn into better-adjusted adults.  When you add that to the many other benefits of homeschooling, one wonders why more people don't do it.  Well, actually, one doesn't.  It isn't the easiest path; in fact, compared to just dropping your kids off at school every day, it's significantly harder. 

Naturally, I realize that not everyone can for very good reasons (and not just, say, because it is hard).  Thankfully, my family is blessed to be in a position to homeschool, so that's what we're going to do.  I know it's not going to be a bed of roses, but at least we don't have to worry about the kids being socialized and well-adjusted; that's just a red herring that has somehow become common wisdom.

Thursday, April 27, 2006 7:55:57 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [4]  | 
# Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Part of the common "wisdom" these days seems to be that religion and religious feeling are a bad thing.  Don't believe me?  When was the last time you heard someone say "I'm not religious about it"?  I'll wager that not much time has passed since you last heard a statement to that effect.  The speaker intends to say that he is not irrationally attached to the idea, equating, implicitly, irrationality and negativity with religious sentiment.  

I trust I need not rehash the bad rap that religion, particularly "organized religion," gets these days.  You can see it all over the media, in film, magazines, television, etc.  If an established religion is involved, particularly a Christian one such as Catholicism, the "organized" aspect of it is villified.  Religion is a byword in our society today.  Any attempt at its intrusion in public life is met with suspicion (at best) and often outright hostility.

And who are these who demonize religion?  Certainly there are the active atheists, but more often than not, it is your neighbor, or maybe even you.  After all, everybody knows that if you get "religious" about something, it is not going to end well, right?  I mean, everybody knows that lots of people have been killed and tortured for religious reasons, no?  Religion is a disease of the brain that prevents humans from thinking rationally, or so seems to be the presupposition these days.

So how about we just take a few seconds to think about history and religion?  Hmm.. we have the Crusades, the Inquisition, the 30-Years War (and other bloodiness surrounding the Reformation), and.. and.. hmmm.. Dang, I've flat run out of stock examples of how religion is so terrible.  Sure, there are the odd one-offs here and there you hear about, but this is pretty much the stuff of it that so permeates our consciousness today.  Strangely (or not so strangely), these are the same stock arguments that have been bandied about since the so-called Enlightenment.  Let's take a closer look.

The Crusades.  What can we say about them?  A lot, actually.  A lot more than the squishy tale of romance and vacuous "spiritual" comraderie displayed in the "Kingdom of Heaven."  In fact, I recommend a good and, more importantly, short book on them by the accomplished historian Thomas Madden.  In fact, you can read a short summary article treating the same topic here.  Read it, you might be surprised.

The Inquisition.  The mere word strikes disgust and fear into your heart, right?  Well, before you go swallowing mythology hook, line, and sinker, you should check out this article by Thomas Madden and, if you have more time, maybe take a gander at this book, Characters of the Inquisition, by William Thomas Walsh.  Brief summary: The Inquisition was a good thing for its time.  You don't even have to be Catholic to think so, if you'll just look into the facts and how it was a civilizing and taming influence in otherwise extremely brutal times.

The Reformation and ensuing atrocities such as the 30-Years War.  Now for these, I'd actually grant that there's a lot of bad stuff being perpetrated in the name of religion.  But the key phrase is "in the name of religion."  I won't argue against a lot of really, really bad things being done in the name of religion, but, uh, that don't make religion bad, it makes it abused.  I'd actually argue that the reason religion has gotten such a bad rap in all that is a direct result of the destabilizing and modernizing effect that the so-called Reformation had on Western society.  I'd further suggest that the only reason such atrocities have taken place in the name of religion in the four to five hundred years leading up to the 20th century is precisely because Western man was unlearning religion, particularly Catholic, Christian religion. 

The Reformation gave a carte blanche to European powers and principalities to do whatever they darn well pleased, without having to worry about the checks and balance of religious corrective exercised through the Catholic Church (as in, e.g., the Inquisition, interdicts, excommunications, etc.).  The more freed from any answer to a "higher power" that the rulers became, the more brutal and bloody things became.  This is not to say that bad things were not done by Catholic rulers as well during (and before) this time, but, like the Crusades, these were first and foremost defensive postures, reacting (and overreacting) to the new threat that Protestantized monarchs posed.  And of course, Catholics were fighting amongst themselves long before this for reasons having nothing to do with religion (they shared the same one, after all); this isn't to claim that churching culture makes men perfect but rather that unchurching culture makes them far worse or at least far more susceptible to being bad.

But if you think all the mess of the Reformation is bad, consider the absolute bloodiness of the French Revolution.  Under the guise of folks like Robespierre (whom I had the "opportunity" to do a paper on in school), these "supremely rational" people unleashed an unholy terror on their own countrymen, bathing the country in blood in the name of reason.  Yes, that's right; the French Reformation was all about "enlightenment" and "reason."  And lets not stop there.  Who was the French emperor of the late 18th and early 19th centuries that stomped all over the European continent?  Was it a religious fanatic that spilled the blood of countless thousands in the name of Enlightenment goals like public education?  No, it was a self-appointed dictator of the Enlightened world, Napoleon Bonaparte.

Did it stop there?  No, as world leaders became more and more distant and divorced from Christian rule, things progressively got worse.  Witness the many continuing continental wars of the 19th century with nothing more than national and empirical ambition as its goal.  Witness the explosion of the British Empire that ruthlessly subjugated more peoples across the world than history had yet seen for nothing more than financial gain.

Oh and now we move on to the worst record in human history in terms of how humans have treated other humans.  The 20th century saw more bloodshed than all previous centuries combined, or so I've heard.  Was it in the name of religion?  No, rather, it was in the name of secular, materialistic philosophies such as facism and communism.  We see the blatant attempt at exterminating an entire race of people, along with anyone else not meeting an atheistic conception of the perfect man as well as those who would stand up for the targets of extermination (namely, members of organized Christian religions).  Let's also not forget the bequeathment of that philosophy that so many rational, liberal, academic people coddled--communism.  Far more have been killed in the name of that philosophy than Hitler ever dreamed of (well, maybe he did dream of it).  Both of these philosophies are completely divorced of Christian religious power. 

Now, who is it that is seen as probably the most influential person in bringing communism to an end?  Many say it was John Paul the Great.  In many documentaries and commentaries following his death, none especially Catholic in name or nature, I heard of his unwavering resistence to communism and the dramatic role he played in its fall. 

And so we see the true nature of religion:  arguably the most organized religion in world history has consistently tried to act as a check to the powers of this world, reminding them of their duties to mankind and trying to enforce those duties when it could.  The worst periods of violence in human history were made possible by the utter elimination of this religious power, the only power that strives to act in the name of something higher than itself, the only power that truly believes (and has a basis for believing) that we, as humans, have distinct and undeniable dignity and rights that flow from an Absolute Source.

So the next time you're tempted to diss religion, think on these things.  The next time you are tempted to laugh or cheer when somebody takes a pot shot at organized religion, think again.  Religion, if one approaches history with an open mind, has a track record of an undeniably positive effect on human nature, both on the individual and in public life.  The facts are there folks if you're willing to see them.  As Jesus said, "he who has ears to hear, let him hear."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 1:51:34 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [3]  | 
# Monday, April 24, 2006

Not long ago, I polled subscribers as to what they're interested in.  There seemed to be a fairly even divide between what I'll roughly call Technical posts and Non-Technical posts.  In fact, my goal with this blog is to be a blend of those two general categories.  At the same time, as much as it hurts to admit it, I know that some folks really don't care about my opinions on non-technical matters.  So it struck me (some time ago, actually; I've just been lazy) to create two general categories using the creative taxonomy of Technical and Non-Technical. 

Why?  This is because dasBlog (and most other blog systems, I imagine) allow you to subscribe to category-based RSS feeds as well as view posts by category.  So from this day forward, in addition to the more specific categories, I'll be marking all posts as either Technical or Non-Technical.  If all you care about is one or the other, you can just subscribe to one or the other and never be bothered with the stuff you don't care about.

You can view/subscribe to the feeds using the feed icon next to each category in the list (of categories).  Here are direct links as well:

Technical

Non-Technical

I hope this helps!

Monday, April 24, 2006 10:28:33 AM (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 

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The opinions expressed herein are solely my own personal opinions, founded or unfounded, rational or not, and you can quote me on that.

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