Monday, May 26, 2008

Who Will Defend Homer?

Not Simpson, but the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey. We have a rich patrimony of literature, art, and thought in the last three millennia. Are we abandoning it for Grand Theft Auto? That most high school graduates need to learn skills to get a decent living seems fair enough. But what about the ten per cent or so who will go on to positions of leadership in our society: the lawyers, doctors and so on?

If our leaders are out of touch with our own history and the riches of our culture, then we are being led by amnesiacs. The will to power of our leaders might turn us all into hedonistic philistines, the easier to be led.

So I justify my old age search for knowledge of the humanities, so that I might be less easily bamboozled by our plausible, but ignorant leaders.

Steynianism 151: "~ REBUILDING THE FOUNDATION: ‘A pretty good summa of the humanities’ …. (worldontheweb)"

(Via Free Mark Steyn!.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

It's Good for You

Walking, that is. I've always enjoyed walking. I used to torture my poor family with Sunday walks, more like hikes up and down the North Shore mountains. Fresh air, exercise, and nature: there's no better combination. Even now I rejoice that, although I have to work for a few more years, at least I walk to and from work five days a week. So here's a BBC journalist arguing the benefits of walking in the country:

Spring in the step: "Why a brisk stroll could be just what the doctor ordered."

(Via BBC News.)

Things to Be Thankful For

I'm inspired by this:

A reader emailed yesterday (and I didn't get a chance to blog it, but want to do so before I start my break):

Courtesy of NRO: A former speechwriter to Pres. Bush addressed Benedictine College last week. In that speech he laid out "three propositions that are easily forgotten and only painfully re-learned" and that are very much congruent with HMS ideals:

First, who you marry is far more important than what career you choose. Over the course of a life that has taken me across three continents, I have met many accomplished men and women. And I have always been astonished by the number who give more thought to choosing the job they may hold for a couple of years than to choosing the spouse to whom they will pledge – before God and their friends – to remain with until death they do part.

Second, no professional achievement – no matter how extraordinary – can match the thrill of seeing the absolute love and confidence reflected in the trusting eyes of a child who calls you Mom or Dad.

Finally, you will not find lasting happiness by pursuing it. Happiness is the byproduct of a contented life. And the surest path to a contented life is to put the needs of others before your own.

And my reader added in a follow-up:

Of course, right after hitting send I came across a link to the whole speech. It's good. And he has a nice expression in there after drawing the distinction between romance and simple physical intimacy: "And so those of us who speak fluent Audrey Hepburn find it difficult to communicate in a Sarah Jessica Parker world."

Yes, that is a very good speech. Thomist that I am, I might have put the point about happiness in a somewhat different way (for Thomas, following Aristotle, there is such a thing as the legitimate pursuit of happiness - happiness is our end - and it's something more than a "byproduct"). But I nonetheless agree with McGurn's point.
E-Mail Author

via Heart, Mind & Strength

And Here I've Been Worried For No Reason

My brain is actually getting better:

Older brain really may be a wiser brain: "

From the New York Times: Older Brain Really May Be a Wiser Brain.

When older people can no longer remember names at a cocktail party, they tend to think that their brainpower is declining. But a growing number of studies suggest that this assumption is often wrong.

Instead, the research finds, the aging brain is simply taking in more data and trying to sift through a clutter of information, often to its long-term benefit.

The studies are analyzed in a new edition of a neurology book, 'Progress in Brain Research.'

Some brains do deteriorate with age. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, strikes 13 percent of Americans 65 and older. But for most aging adults, the authors say, much of what occurs is a gradually widening focus of attention that makes it more difficult to latch onto just one fact, like a name or a telephone number. Although that can be frustrating, it is often useful. [continue]



A Cultural Divide

sometimes rears it's head inside the Catholic Church. Given the reputation for lockstep unity that the Church at least used to have, this is more than a little odd. The most striking point of divergence in my experience is the attitudes toward catechisms, in particular the Baltimore Catechism.

My own memories of that Catechism aren't quite as negative as most of my generation. But then, I'm a little too quick to like structure and simplicity. The obvious deficiency (from a perspective fifty-years later) in that training program was it's failure to focus on our relationship with Christ as central to our experience and beliefs as Catholics. Thus, those to whom the memorized answers meant little or nothing became the same generation that left the Catholic Church for a bewildering variety of substitutes, but mostly for nothing organized at all. There was no living, vibrant love of Jesus to anchor them.

In any case, even the word "catechist" is avoided by many "teaching' the Catholic religion, especially to adults. The post-Vatican II mentality assumes that religion isn't something we can share at an intellectual level, with definite answers to specific questions. Rather, it is an almost completely anti-intellectual experience that can only be shared non-judgmentally. Hence, "facilitator" is the preferred title for adult religion courses, such as RCIA. Avoiding hard questions that suggest definite answers becomes a priority in systems of this sort.

Has this generation, the one that thought the Second Vatican Council meant a complete re-tooling of Catholic Teaching and Worship, succeeded in teaching it's disciples that Catholicism, indeed organized religion of any sort, are completely unnecessary? To what degree are they responsible for the one-third of cradle Catholics who have left the Church? And is there a new generation that is ready to re-unite the intellectual and spiritual elements of Catholic Teaching?

Why we're different: "The latest issue of Commonweal contains a reflection by a 'Young Fogey'/JPII priest. The most interesting section concerns the four years he spent living with a baby-boomer pastor during his first assignment. Here's a key excerpt:

Our best conversations took place at the dinner table. My pastor recalled memorizing the Baltimore Catechism in grade school. I told him that I made collages about my feelings in religious-ed class. When he complained that his seminary formation had been too militaristic, I told him of my frustrations with a seminary formation that seemed too lax. When he spoke of the years he spent studying Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, I expressed embarrassment at not knowing how to chant the Pater Noster as I concelebrated Mass with Benedict XVI at World Youth Day a few years ago in Cologne. When my pastor expressed gratitude that the clerical dress code had been relaxed over the years, I said I thought it was important that the priest be a visible sign of the church, to remind the world that God is not dead. But when it came to the abuse scandals, we were on the same page-or at least in the same book. The scandals hit us both hard, though in different ways.

There's a similar dynamic at work among the laity of course. The bulk of the participants in my Monday morning group are post-boomers with no memory of the Council or the 'Old Church.' Another group whose members are about a generation older meets later in the week to study the Sunday readings. I had the pleasure of meeting this 'Wednesday group's' leader after our wonderful May crowning yesterday. He told me I sometimes served as their 'conservative Catholic point of reference,' which I took as a compliment. The conservative qualifier struck me as a nod to a post-boomer outlook that tends to be a bit more Magisterium-friendly. That's reflected by the educational philosophy of the Monday group itself: cognition first, reflection second. You won't find participants debating clerical celibacy, railing against the Church's 'feudal structure,' or using the word 'pharisaical' to describe a point of doctrine. Indeed, doctrine and dogma are seen as 'helps' not hindrances. I'd like to think we take the best of the old -- content, memorization, rigor -- and enhance it with what is good about the new -- discussion, fellowship, apostolate. Let's hope it bears fruit."

(Via Ten Reasons.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


is Mary's month, I'm reminded in a comment from Santiago. I wonder if he came across my blog while googling "paella"? Anyway, he gives a link to a lovely youtube video. Have a look.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Pain Management

is an issue for my best friend, whom I was visiting yesterday. The science part of this issue is brought up in this:

Breakthrough Pain: "

The Oxford American Pain Library provides practical guides that cover current approaches and new developments in the assessment and management of pain. The Diagnosis and Treatment of Breakthrough Pain is meant for doctors and nurses but can also provide some insight into treatment options for patients suffering from uncontrolled pain flares. In the excerpt below we learn what breakthrough pain really is.

The term ‘breakthrough pain’ began appearing in the medical literature in the 1980s on the heels of the increased attention, brought about by the World Health Organization, to the global problem of undertreated cancer pain. During that time, it became apparent that cancer patients commonly experience intermittent exacerbations of severe pain against a background of continuous, or baseline, pain. Episodic pains that would ‘break through’ during the treatment of background pain that was otherwise well controlled through the use of around-the-clock opioid therapy were catergorized by Portenoy and Hagen (1990) in a seminal work titled ‘Breakthrough pain: Definition, prevalence and characteristics.’ The definition of breakthrough pain proffered in that article took root and has been used in pain management parlance ever since.

As opioid therapy has become more commonly used in the treatment of chronic noncancer pain over the last decade, it have become equally apparent that similar patern of supervening severe pain episodes can confound otherwise well-managed chronic pain (Seppetella et al., 2001). Recognizing the similarities of sympotms, independent of underlying pathophysiology, a group of pain managment experts came together in 2006 to create a unifying definition, based on a review of all the literature on the subject in all populations studied to date. The more generalized definition incorporates the additional observation that breathrough pain seriously disrupts the quality of patients lives. Therefore, the term breakthrough pain is now categorically determined to define the particular clinical circumstance wherein patients who have controlled baseline pain experience severe episodes of pain that breaks through the medical therapy (usually opioids) that has relieved the baseline pain.



(Via OUPblog.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The On-Going Saga

of Canadian attempts to muzzle bad thoughts being expressed over the phone or on the Internet is discussed at Wikipedia:

Steynianism 143: "~ WIKIPEDIA– ‘Section 13.1 of the Human Rights Act’ …. (wiki)"

(Via Free Mark Steyn!.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Academy: To the Barricades

One of the things I'm expecting, and occasionally experiencing, in my academic endeavours is a steady, unreflective progressive liberalism. I try to think of it as a challenge to sharpen my thinking and communication skills. Now I'm wondering to what extent the grey-hairs of the sixties are experiencing angst over a new generations indifference to their creed.

A recent art history course included a lecture on Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa, a classic of baroque sculpture. The professor compared the saint and the angel over her to carnal lovers, sated by orgasmic sex. Apparently, this is a standard modern interpretation of Bernini, as ridiculous as that is. That a religious man portraying a mystic's experience of the divine would intend the viewer to equate that with sexual gratification is nonsense walking on stilts. As the Wikipedia article says:

It is arguable that in the seventeenth century, it was possible to draw distinctions between religious and erotic experience that are more difficult to make today.
More's the pity for us, I say.

The lack of empathy from the students was palpable. The speaker then invited the young women in the audience to publicly confirm that a snippet of Saint Teresa's written description of the mystic experience sounded exactly like a woman's experience of coitus, which was embarrassing to me, at least. The professor responded to the continuing silence by pointing out that these kinds of graphical analyses would be presented to us repeatedly in future courses, so we had better be prepared.

To what extent was the silence of the audience just a natural modesty, to be overcome by repeated assaults of this sort? The professors reaction might suggest that something else was happening, a rejection of the idea that ecstasy must, at root, be carnal and sexual, period. Or, perhaps, that modesty is a value they cling to in spite of the invitation to abandon it. At this point it's still my impression that the students were more career-oriented and more modest than the professor was entirely comfortable with.

Is this experience just part of academic liberal boot-camp? Will these students be coarsened by repeated experiences of this sort? I don't know. Check with me again in a few years, God willing. In the meantime, here is a conversation about entrenched academic liberalism at a more elevated level:

Academic Point Counterpoint: "This week was the annual meeting of the editorial council of First Things. In addition to taking care of the business that magazines have to attend to, the custom at these meetings is to take up a major subject or two. This year, Wilfred McClay of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga led the discussion [...]"

(Via FIRST THINGS: On the Square.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Brain and Consciousness

Two things that are as plain as the nose on your face, but cause no end of arguments amongst philosophers. I'm looking forward to probing more deeply into the controversy in university-level philosophy courses, if God spares me. In the meantime here's a little foretaste:

Materialists start to come to grips with global failure, but materialism dies hard: "In 'The Neural Buddhists,' David Brooks references Tom Wolfe's dramatic 1996 article 'Sorry, but your soul just died,'

.. in which he captured the militant materialism of some modern scientists.

To these self-confident researchers, the idea that the spirit might exist apart from the body is just ridiculous. Instead, everything arises from atoms. Genes shape temperament. Brain chemicals shape behavior. Assemblies of neurons create consciousness. Free will is an illusion. Human beings are ‘hard-wired’ to do this or that. Religion is an accident.

In this materialist view, people perceive God’s existence because their brains have evolved to confabulate belief systems.

Uh huh. Mario and I took it all to pieces in The Spiritual Brain. Modern neuroscience provides no basis whatever for that view - on the contrary.

Brooks, the author of BoBos in Paradise, acknowledges,
Over the past several years, the momentum has shifted away from hard-core materialism. The brain seems less like a cold machine. It does not operate like a computer. Instead, meaning, belief and consciousness seem to emerge mysteriously from idiosyncratic networks of neural firings. Those squishy things called emotions play a gigantic role in all forms of thinking. Love is vital to brain development.

Researchers now spend a lot of time trying to understand universal moral intuitions. Genes are not merely selfish, it appears. Instead, people seem to have deep instincts for fairness, empathy and attachment.

Scientists have more respect for elevated spiritual states.
Do they indeed? In that case, to learn what is really going on, they must acknowledge where they have been mistaken.

Brooks, however, hopes that the revolution will stop with 'neural Buddhism,'which turns out to mean things like 'the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships' and 'God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.'

Sorry, BoBos, it's not up to you to decide where it will end. It will end where the evidence leads, and the evidence simply does not favour materialism - yours or anyone else's."

(Via Mindful Hack.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Day Late and A Dollar Short

Non-religious "holidays" organized in the last century or so have no truck with me. Take Mother's Day. I resent the 'buck up the economy and spend more money' tone of the secular holidays.

Nevertheless, the wife is taken out each year for a "Mother's Day" meal at a restaurant of her choosing. This year it was Mexican, where she and I shared a fine Paella. We always do so a week or so in advance, mostly to avoid the Mother's Day rush. But there's also an element of protest in refusing to fuss over her on that exact day when she really deserves much more, more often, and done in a more spontaneous manner.

But she was on a ladies-only mini-cruise that ended Sunday morning. So she missed the usual breakfast made by her daughters. And as work and commitments prevented a family meal that day, she and I shared a lunch at a local restaurant and an ordered in pizza for dinner.

To the Mothers out there to whom this is a special day, here's a belated wish:

HAPPY MOTHERS DAY! [Pamela H. Pilch]

And God bless all mothers - physical, spiritual and mothers-to-be!!

E-Mail Author

via Heart, Mind & Strength

African Eve?

I have found the "African Eve" hypothesis quite attractive. It seems to support, albeit indirectly, appeals to human equality; if we share a common ancestor then we are all one family. But it appears the science isn't necessarily that clear:

Just up at the Design of Life blog: African Eve: "Was one woman who lived 150,000 to 200,000 years ago the ancestress of all of us? Science may not be sure, but pop culture is.

Part One: Our Mitochondria: A piece in the puzzle of our origins?

Part Two: What does our mitochondrial DNA say about human ancestry?

Part Three: African Eve - when pop culture falls in love with science"

(Via Post-Darwinist.)

Some Good Reading

over at First Things:

The Rare Achievement of Disagreement: "“Look, when we think about ending an early human life, this is something that is really bad for the embryo or early fetus that dies, it’s losing out tremendously—I agree with that as I already said. And then you said that it’s one of the things that we should care about. And, um, I think [...]"

(Via FIRST THINGS: On the Square.)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Contrarians Aren't Always Right "The Ice...

but we always have something to talk about:

On the other hand, Global Warming is probably the better alternative.: "'The Ice Age cometh' according to this article:

A San Francisco-based scientist says that current solar activity strongly indicates that the earth is on the verge of a new ice age.

'Sorry to ruin the fun, but an ice age cometh,' warns Phil Chapman writing in The Australian. Chapman is a geophysicist and astronautical"

(Via Lex Communis.)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Human Nature

is a nonsense term for most university professors, I suspect. So, while I'm trying to master the basic terminology for discussing English literature, you may peruse this:

Christ Against the Multiculturalists: "Address written for entering students of Wabash College, Class of 2012
Christians believe that God became human in Jesus Christ. If so, it follows that there is something called humanity. That is, humans have a nature, a shared or common nature. Human nature is not just a social construction. Human nature is real. And if it [...]"

(Via FIRST THINGS: On the Square.)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Classical Education

So we're on a theme here. Can you successfully pry the remains of a classical education out of the modern university's course offerings? Even my current course, which deals with an introduction to reading and writing about short stories, poems and dramas, has a healthy dose of modern prejudices--'we have almost fifty per cent women authors'. Why? How does this advance my understanding of the best of these forms of literature over the last five hundred years?

It doesn't. It isn't about the best, there being no current consensus that such a thing even exists. Rather, it's about what will make the students conversant with the academically respectable ideologies of the day. Yikes! Indoctrination as education.

More good stuff: "

The May issue of The New Criterion is concerned with education — mostly of the ‘higher’ variety. Contributors include Roger Kimball, Alan Charles Kors, Robert Paquette, Victor Davis Hanson, James Piereson, and Charles Murray.


(Via Southern Appeal.)

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Speaking of Choices

I've often thought about adding Latin or Greek (or both) to my dream curriculum. I had four years of Latin in high school. The last year involved translating Virgil's Aeneid ten lines a time on my own, alternating with tutoring some of the other students. I can't remember much of it, but I did learn English grammar while learning Latin.

But I already have a dream plan which, with a lot of paring of courses, still has more than 150 credits worth of courses in it. And that just to get a lousy 120-credit Bachelor's degree. But if I could just squeeze twelve more credits--one year of each. And the Latin would just be a refresher, right?

From the Alpha to the Omega: "That many of us favor a liberal arts education should be clear to any browser of these pages. It therefore should not surprise that we would favor the study of Ancient Greek, even if we got to the study of it late, in my case in graduate school. I took an intensive Greek class one summer, worked like a dog on it--between reading Churchill, Lincoln, Shakespeare, and some basketball--but managed to flunk the final exam anyway (a translation of a page from Plato's the trees right but failed to note the forest). The point is this: I knew the study of the thing is not useful (I also studied French, German, and other modern versions of logos), but thought it a good and beautiful thing anyway. I was right.

There has, for some four years now, been a push by the students at Ashland University to get the University to offer it again (as it did until thirty years ago). Yes, I said the students. These noble fellows, through their representative institution called the Student Senate, voted unanimously for at least three years running to request the faculty to re-institute the offering of Ancient Greek (and Latin). While the noble President and the Provost have argued in favor of the thing, the Spanish Department (I must say for reasons not so noble) has urged--and so far succeeded--and argued against it. The students have even conducted a 24 hour sit-in (the first here in decades), thinking that those faculty not being open to logos might be shamed into it. So far they are losing, but the polemos has not yet ended, so some are just learning the alphabet

on their own.

I'm now thinking that a more practical argument should have been used in favor of Ancient Greek. Just fifteen minutes ago I happened to see on CBS evening news--it was an accident that I watched it, never normally do--that the father (Stanley Johnson) of the recently elected Mayor of London (Boris Johnson) said that his son's election was due entirely to his son's classical education. After all, he said, 'If you can master Ancient Greek, you can master anything.' Thank you, Mr. Johnson. Kalos. (Link to this Entry. Comments. Add Your Comments.)"

(Via No Left Turns.)


Got a large dose of Rawls in Moral Philosophy, with a passing reference to Nozick either there or in the Introduction course. They both propose abstract theories that fall apart if you look at them too close, it seems to me.

Nozick posits that just acquisition of property is the primary value. But even he admitted that probably no property being held today can be judged to be justly held throughout it's history. Not to mention that it isn't at all apparent why that should be the primary concern, anyway.

Rawls' theory of a notional state in which a "pure" system of justice can be imagined seems hopelessly wishful. For every ten philosophers you can get at least eleven opinions. The idea that there could be a place where any number of intelligent, self-interested people would unanimously agree to anything is simply preposterous. Of such things are modern philosophies made:

Rawls vs. Nozick: "... is the choice that many professors of philosophy would stick us with. Shallow, abstract egalitarianism vs. shallow (well not as shallow), abstract libertarianism--some choice! Here's the right choice, according to David Schaefer: Don't bother with either of them! Neither talks about 'human nature,' by which David means real people and real human problems. When Berry students go to graduate school, they sometimes write me complaining: 'Why didn't you tell us about Rawls?' My only response: 'I didn't have the heart.' My only question to David: If Rawls is shallow, boring, and not a very good writer, why have you written so many pages on him? (Link to this Entry. Comments. Add Your Comments.)"

(Via No Left Turns.)