Friday, May 24, 2013

Seven quick takes


Michael is either having a growth spurt or teething or just trying to break my spirit.  That is, he is not sleeping.  Like, at all.  At least that's how it seems.  It's hard to tell.   I just know that he wakes up the moment I start to drift off at night and then the rest of the night is a vague haze of getting kicked in the stomach.

He has never been a good sleeper, but I could swear he used to be better than this.

So I started out the week full of pep and it's been draining out each day.  Today I feel like doing absolutely nothing, alternated with long naps.

Need I say that's not what I've been doing?  But I haven't been productive either.  Mostly just disaster management.


Have I mentioned before that John went and founded the Blue Ridge Young Republicans? Well, he did; and the next thing I knew he was going to various events and conventions several times a week.  I like to tell myself that I am participating in the political process just by letting him go.  It's the closest I get; I have not shown up to a single one of these things -- partly out of despair for the future of the Republican Party, and partly because I would be bored out of my skull.

This weekend he is knocking on doors for Mark Berg's campaign.  I have to say, it rather amazes me how political spirit animates him ... because I wouldn't knock on doors for any amount of money, and he's no less hesitant to confront total strangers than the next guy.  I'm pretty proud of him.


Both kids, by the way, are being very charming lately.  At any rate Marko is.  He was going through a little uncooperative stage where his catchphrases were "I won't!" and "I don't like it!"  But we just held on and suffered through it.  Usually, you know, I don't need to make him cooperate.  "Will you clean up this mess with me?"  "I won't!"  "Fine, I'll do it myself."  (Very often this was enough to get him to do it!  And if not, he's three ... I kind of expect to do the cleaning myself.)  Or, "Please stop banging on the wall."  "I don't want to!"  "Okay, here we go to your room where you may make all the noise you want."

So when one morning he woke up and started saying "I will!" instead, I don't think it was anything we did.  He just started feeling better about life and got back to his normal pleasant self.

Well, one thing that may have helped is that I scaled down the amount of stuff we were doing and made sure he had more unstructured time.  It's not like we were doing a lot, but we were taking a lot of walks to church and the library and having maybe too many playdates.  I don't want to turn us all into agoraphobes, but we are all introverts, so I try to make sure we have one day where we don't go anywhere for every day we go out.


Michael is just developing super fast.  He's thirteen months and very much a toddler.  He spends his days pulling out the dining room chairs, climbing on the table quick as lightning, and then dissolving into a little puddle of woe when you get him down.  Then you look away and he's back up in a flash, dancing on the table.

More and more his babbles are sounding like words.  He's nothing like as verbal as Marko was at this age, but then he gets less attention.  He can say, for sure, ball, eat, water, out, Mama, more, up, down, and kitty.  Now that I think about it, that's kind of a lot of words!  None of them are clear at all though, and I mostly figure them out from context.

Notice he doesn't say nurse.  He used to say "ssss" for nurse, but now he's learned to yank up my shirt or reach his arm down it.  Classy.  When he gets a sight of what he wants his eyes light up and he laughs.  He is so into nursing.  It's his favorite thing to do, a dozen times a day sometimes.  He eats too, but mostly just bites here and there.  Nursing is where it's at for him.

He goes in the potty more often than not.  I keep him in just pants, and he goes through a few pairs a day.  Beats diapers, because he feels uncomfortable right away when he gets them wet.  But I don't leave him naked much anymore because he thinks it's a free-for-all to pee anywhere he wants.


I spotted some pumpkin sprouts today!  Squeee!  To celebrate I made pumpkin scones, from canned pumpkin, because it is cold and windy and rainy today.  It may be May, but it feels like October.  (Which is fine with me.  It was in the nineties this week.)


Lately I keep getting in debates about Catholic doctrine.  It's kind of stupid of me, because debates usually have nothing to do with finding wisdom; they leave me more confused than I started.  Last week I was in one about whether a Catholic can morally support civil marriage licenses for same-sex couples.  I was able to prove that there has never been an infallible statement on the topic from the Magisterium, but then my opponent countered that you couldn't possibly be a good Catholic and only believe the infallible stuff.

Does that seem weird to you?  It did to me.  What do you think?  What things does a Catholic have to believe, and what are we allowed to use our own judgment about?  I know what I learned in theology class, but I'm curious what you all think.


Two interesting links I read this past week.

How Free Markets and Human Ingenuity Can Save the Planet

As a libertarian who is concerned about the environment, I am always looking for solutions to the "tragedy of the commons," the problem of commonly-owned resources (i.e. the environment) being despoiled by people who have a profit motive to get as much out of them as they can.

The solution listed here -- requiring companies to reimburse citizens for the resources they use -- isn't 100% anarchist, but it seems fair enough to me.

Rachel Carson, Mass Murderer?

This one came up as I was researching DDT because ... heck, I can't remember why.  Because I'm a life-long learner, that's why.  Anyway, I've heard the argument in the past that banning DDT has led to millions of malaria deaths.  This article decisively proves that that's not true.  DDT is unsafe for humans, sure, but it isn't actually banned for use in controlling malaria.  The reason it isn't used to control malaria is that mosquitoes have become resistant to it.  So if you care about the spread of malaria, it's not enough to insist on more DDT for everyone.  You actually have to find solutions that work.

You can read more quick takes at Conversion Diary.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

May garden pictures

Spring is that magical time of year when we can actually play in the backyard.  It's shady and cool and the bugs haven't arrived yet.  So we have been making mudpies.  Or rather, I have been making mudpies and the kids keep getting in my mud.

What I'm actually trying to do is make clay to make some flowerpots.  If the process is a success, I'll share it here.  But mainly it's consisted of the boys dumping out my buckets and splashing in the puddles.  Which is cool too, you know?

But when we're not there, we're in the front yard gardening.  Or rather I'm gardening, Marko is following me saying, "MY turn!  MY turn!" and Michael is climbing off the porch into the lettuce bed.  He thinks it's hilarious when I come to fetch him out.  I'm almost sure Marko must have been this difficult, but I barely remember it.

So far it promises to be a good year of gardening.  My lettuce is doing great.

The light green stuff is Black-Seeded Simpson lettuce, from the packets they sell at the grocery store.  The dark green heads on the top right are Mignonette Bronze, which I saved from last year.  The first year I planted lettuce, I sowed and sowed and sowed and got one plant.  The second year, I sowed a few times and got five plants or so.  I let them go to seed.

But since I'd had such a failure the previous times, I decided to try something different from sowing them the same old way.  Instead of stripping the seed from the heads -- which was incredibly time-consuming anyway -- I just broke up the whole seed heads and stuck them in a bag indoors till fall.  In October, I threw them out on the bed where I wanted to plant them and tossed old leaves over the top for mulch.  The thought was to get the kind of crop that you get when you let them self-seed, but while still being able to rotate the lettuce to a different bed.

I thought they'd wait till spring.  Instead, a few sprouted right away and were looking great in January!  They appeared to freeze a few times, and they were snowed on many times, but they sprang right back and grew huge as soon as the weather got warm.  And then the rest started sprouting, and I've had no end of lettuce.  But I threw down some spinach seed (which mostly hasn't grown) and some Black-Seeded Simpson, just to diversify.  The Mignonette Bronze is heat-tolerant, which is why I bought it, but it gets a bit bitter in the heat and it's not very delicate at the best of times.  So I wanted something else to go in my salads along with it.

Oh, and the giant bush is last year's parsley.

This bed above is my pride and joy.  It's full of stuff I've never successfully grown before.  The garlic I did do last year, and it did well.  It was just grocery-store garlic that I broke into cloves and stuck in the ground in the fall.  It needs no attention at all until it turns brown in midsummer, at which point you pull it up, dry it in the sun for a week, and then store it for the year.  For some reason the garlic I grow is spicier than what I buy, even though they are the same variety -- I guess it's my organic soil.

Just above the garlic is a row of broccoli, then the carrots, which as you see I didn't have the heart to thin as well as I was supposed to.  Then cabbage, which at this point looks no different from the broccoli, and then, almost invisible, are a few beet plants.

I thought my plants were doing pretty well, if a bit scrawny.  But then I looked over the fence and saw my neighbor's broccoli and cabbage are almost ready to start forming heads.  So I guess I'm behind after all.  That's what you get for starting them late, almost killing them several times, and not having enough light indoors.  Then I transplanted them when they weren't really ready to go out (but they'd basically stopped growing indoors because it was so dark).  And then I direct-seeded some, which works best for me for most things, but the seedlings got chomped by something.

Not sure those brassicas are going to be a success for me.  Nothing that needs pampering is a good fit for my garden.  But I do like them so much ... so I had to at least try.

Here are two potato plants that I hadn't planned to grow.  I just had some red potatoes sprout in the cupboard so I stuck them in the ground right after the last snow we had.  Well, they took off, so I may get one meal of potatoes out of them.  Maybe next time I will buy actual seed potatoes of some interesting variety.  Potatoes are too cheap to be economically worth growing, but you can grow a lot more varieties than you can find at Aldi.

Here is my healthiest, biggest tomato plant.  In other words, tomatoes are not doing well.  I did with them what I did with the brassicas: half killed them inside and planted them out before they were ready.  You're supposed to wait till they have true leaves, but I hardly ever do because nothing ever gets true leaves in my house.  They just freeze and only their spindly stem appears to grow.  I worried that their roots were outgrowing their tiny pots, but that wasn't it.  They had hardly any.  It's just the lack of light in here. 

Anyway, I've got a few solutions here, all of which are non-optimal.  I can baby the remaining three plants and call it good.  I usually do eight, so that would be a big loss for me.  I hauled in a bumper crop last year, but I never, ever have trouble finding things to do with them.  I love tomatoes.  And if I can't eat them all fresh, they can, freeze, and pickle easily.  Three plants are just not enough.

Or I can do what I have already done, and try direct planting.  That's never worked for me before, but why not try?  I've heard tomatoes grow taproots if they're direct-sown, and that makes them more drought-tolerant.  I just laid them on the soil and sprinkled a bit of sand on top, which is what worked for finally sprouting my carrots this year.  And of course I'm hovering over them, watering often.  We'll see.

But if that fails, I will probably have to admit defeat and just buy seedlings.  Which is lame.  I'll be stuck with the same old varieties, the pot-bound roots, and the overgrown stems.  But my neighbor was able to get his tomatoes and peppers out in a single weekend by buying his seedlings, and that's also how he managed to get his cabbages and broccoli so far ahead of mine.  

I'm not even including a picture of my pea and bean beds because they're so lame.  Here, the failures were all mine.  First, planting peas too soon and letting them get snowed on.  They never sprouted at all.  And then running out of seeds.  I had eight Kentucky Wonder pole beans and three Thai Long Green bush beans, and so that's what I planted.  To fill in the rest, I just planted chickpeas, even though they didn't do well for me last year.  I'm just going to have to buy more seed this weekend.  As of now, I have three pole bean seedlings with their leaves eaten off, one bush bean seedling that's doing fine, and five chickpea seedlings.

That would have been all, but I added two more beds because I just couldn't deal with how little garden space I had.  Around March I smothered the grass with newspaper, sticks, cut grass, and garden tools to keep the newspaper from blowing away.  (Which, of course, it did anyway, and the grass has been heroically pushing through every gap trying to take back over.)  And just last week I cut some holes in the covering and planted pumpkins and cucumbers.  I'm also plotting to put more pumpkins and also baby watermelons up on the hillside, which if it works will cut down on the weedwhacking we have to do.

I also have some strawberries growing well.  A friend brought them last spring when Michael was born, and I didn't have the energy to do more than turn over a paving stone and stick the plants in the hole.  This spring I cleared away the weeds and found the plants already blooming!  And now they have little greenish-white strawberries all over them, which hopefully I can eat before the birds do.

And the plum tree, as always, is preparing for a bountiful year.  My neighbor says that it has never had a bad year since it was put in.  Certainly last year it gave more than I could pick, despite being a dwarf tree.  It's all covered with marble-sized green fruit.

Next job is to plant some herbs ... and then just watch everything grow!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My generation

I've been reading a lot lately about people my age, called Millennials.  It started here, with a bunch of articles on Psychology Today.  The weird part (to me) is the paternalistic tone.  People who write about Millennials usually are baby boomers, with an audience of baby boomers.  Sometimes I want to clear my throat and awkwardly interject, "You know, guys, we can read now.  We know what you're saying about us, and it's kind of weird when you talk about us like we're not there."

What baby boomers say about us is predictable.  We are lazy, selfish, and don't respect our elders.  We've always got those dang earbuds in and never log out of MyFace or Spacebook or whatever it is.  We have been known to text at the dinner table.  And, horror of horrors, we like our parents: we call them a lot and sometimes even live with them after eighteen.

But more optimistic (and factually supported) articles point out other things: we use drugs and have sex less than Gen-Xers did at our age, and we vote more.  Our popular music is more singable and fun than what was coming out ten years ago; our culture is less dark.  We're a bit more wholesome than "young people" are expected to be.

A generation is bound together by a lot of factors, one of which is the prevailing view of children that our parents had when we were born.  In the eighties, adults were looking at the teenagers of the day and realizing that maybe total neglect wasn't a good plan.  There were news stories about kidnapped children, about drugs.  Parents decided to start investing a bit more in kids, paying us more attention, making sure there was someone watching us.  The latchkey kid phenomenon started to die out.

But there's also the things we went through together -- what was going on in the culture, what was happening on the news.

We grew up in relative affluence; throughout our childhood the economy was getting better all the time.  We weren't allowed to watch and do a lot of things.  Many of us grew up shuttling between two households and were part of blended families.

We were talked to a lot about racism and tolerance, about drugs and sex; and for the most part we listened.  We all agreed that the people in our history books were dumb for caring what people looked like.  Our classrooms were rainbow-colored and there were kids in wheelchairs at our clusters of desks.

There was always a computer in the classroom, and some lucky people had one at home too.  They would bring in pretty printed pages from Encarta for reports -- what an easy way to do research!  We had computer labs and got to learn to type, to use Paint, to play Oregon Trail.  I thought everyone would have a computer before my family did, but eventually we got one.  It had seven programs on it.  Before long it was replaced by a truly gorgeous one that had actual games.

Technology developed so fast we hardly noticed.  That was just what technology always did.  We learned how to use each new thing before our parents had quite figured it out.  We got email addresses and some of us learned to make websites with html.  In high school I joined a Lord of the Rings forum and learned to speak both kinds of Elvish.  I felt like there were now no limits to what I could learn.  And for those of us who had previously felt weird and different, now there were friends around the world interested in the same stuff as we were.

There was some talk about us being sheltered, spoiled, but very optimistic.  Of course we were optimistic.  Everything was going well!  Then, of course, came 9/11.  It was a tremendous shock.  Some of us were more affected by it than others.  I hardly comprehended it at first.  The war, though, I did understand, and it terrified me.  I had always thought those bad old days were over; that having a dad in the military was just something to brag about.  I never thought he would actually have to do anything.  Friends whispered to me that they didn't know where their fathers were; somewhere in the Middle East they thought, but they weren't allowed to know.

We went to college, some of us.  My dad told me that I was lucky to come of age in such a prosperous time; I could major in whatever I wanted and would have no trouble getting a job.  I had a scholarship and my parents' help to pay for college; other friends readily got loans.  The thought of not going to college didn't really occur to me; I kind of thought everyone did.  And anyway that's what you do when you're smart enough and you want a good job someday.

Then, right as we were graduating, the economy imploded.  Some were lucky enough to have already established some kind of career; others languished unemployed for years.  That often meant having to move back in with Mom and Dad or at least accept an occasional monetary gift.  It can be hard to accept that, when you were hoping to be "grown up" by now and not need help from anyone.  And then everyone calls you a "failure to launch," which I think is ridiculous ... we should call it, "a failure of you guys to bank responsibly."  Because of all the people alive today, Millennials are the ones who aren't responsible for the state of the economy.  We haven't had much chance to participate in it!

Then of course we have insult added to injury every month (if we are the lucky ones with paychecks) when we see Social Security being deducted to pay for our parents' and grandparents' retirement, even though they have money to live on and we don't.  We're not stupid.  We know Social Security isn't going to be there when we turn 65.

So where does that leave us?  Disappointed?  Yes.  Bitter?  A little.  Pessimistic?  Surprisingly not.  What I see in my peers is grim determination to at least do something about this mess.

You can see it politically.  Millennials haven't been voting much for status quo politicians.  Some voted for Barack Obama when he promised Hope and Change, because by golly that's exactly what we want.  And others of us got behind Ron Paul.  He, like Obama, promised some actual changes, the kind of changes we want.

And what do we want?  For the most part, we want the American dream, the way it was promised to us.  A chance for everyone.  Not, as we are maligned, because we want our slice.  It's because we want everyone else to get theirs too.  People made fun of Occupy Wall Street protesters because they could afford to take the time to protest.  Some obviously didn't have anything else to do, being unemployed.  But others said, "Well, I can afford this, but others can't, so I'm out there for them."  We don't really like the huge divisions in wealth between us.

We're mostly for peace.  Obama in '08 and Paul in '12 were both peace candidates, and that made a big difference.  We tend to be tolerant of differences, which is why we are hard to rile up about defending traditional marriage.  We tend to prefer the "live and let live" approach.  The same goes for marijuana -- even if we don't smoke it, we tend to think it doesn't matter so long as people aren't blowing it on our faces or driving stoned.  Our elders really hate this, but there it is.

We're conflicted about abortion.  We are all well aware that we could have been legally aborted ourselves, and that a large number of us were.  At the same time we usually know people who have had abortions or who struggled through crisis pregnancies.  So I'm noticing that the pro-choice Millennials are stressing that they would like to reduce abortions, and the pro-life Millennials are talking more about reaching out to mothers in need than they are about condemnation.

What will we do with all this?  Well, we already are doing things.  Even in our teens and twenties, too young and too few for our votes to count for much, we're making big changes.  We're finding ways to achieve outside of conventional definitions of success.  There are singers making musical careers exclusively on YouTube and writers making a mint selling ebooks on Amazon.  There are programmers and microbusiness owners.  There's a homesteading movement that appears to be gathering speed.  And you may have noticed things like Linux and Wikipedia, open-source projects that we work on for fun which do good for the world.  No, we didn't invent open-source, but we sure do a lot with it.  Where other generations get home and watch TV, we get online and create content.

As a group, we're not particularly interested in money or climbing corporate ladders -- though some still do.  We're more interested in making a difference and in finding our bliss.  We don't mind being weird (see also Hipsters).  We'd rather hack our lives into a shape we like than just do what everyone else does.  This looks like selfishness and narcissism to baby boomers.  To us, it's just shaping our lives the way we like them.  We've taken seriously the idea that what the world needs is people who have come alive.  It doesn't mean we ignore the needs of others -- by no means.  We're heavily involved in charity work, advocacy groups, and so forth.  But we don't mind feeling good about ourselves along the way.

What will we do when we've all come of age, when we're a substantial voting bloc or when we populate the Senate floor?  No one knows, but those who are paying attention seem to think it's going to be big.

A few books and articles I've been reading:

Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation

This book is based on the thesis that generations go in huge cycles.  Thus, the Millennials are parallel to the "G.I. Generation," the people who lived through the Depression and fought in WWII.

I read the excerpts available on Amazon -- which amounts to quite a bit of the book -- and I can see the parallels.  However, I'm not really convinced.  There's so much more to each generation than the way we react and are shaped by the generations before.  Some things go in cycles, but others develop linearly or are completely unforeseen.  For instance, technology has increased throughout the past century, and that affects us deeply.  And 9/11 was a shaping force that was completely unforeseen (the book was written in 1999).

I'd like to read the rest of the book.  There was some talk of parenting trends, and I can definitely agree that we got more attention growing up than Gen-Xers did.  But it's interesting that there is no mention (in what I read) of the return of breastfeeding.  I've often thought that the trouble with baby boomers is that they weren't breastfed -- how does that affect us, since more of us were?  How does homeschooling change things?  Basically none of the G.I. Generation were homeschooled, and wouldn't that make a difference in how we view the individual versus the collective?  And the book does suffer from being such an early prediction.  It couldn't foresee just how much the internet was going to change how we relate to one another and to the world.

Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America

This book follows the same thesis, but I couldn't read as much of it.  I'd certainly like to read the rest; it was written later than the other, so there's talk of the election of 2008 and what that says about us.

A striking wealth gap emerges between young and old

"The typical U.S. household headed by a person age 65 or older has a net worth 47 times greater than a household headed by someone under 35, according to an analysis of census data released Monday.  While people typically accumulate assets as they age, this wealth gap is now more than double what it was in 2005 and nearly five times the 10-to-1 disparity a quarter-century ago, after adjusting for inflation."

The article notes that there is an extensive safety net for retirees and basically nothing for young people.  If your parents are rich, you borrow money from them.  If not, you're out of luck.

The We Generation

A whole blog about Millennials.  By baby boomers, of course.  I wish I could find more about Millennials that was actually written by us; I feel older people are trying to write our narrative for us.  But it's an interesting blog.

Are you a Millennial?  What do you think of our generation?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Evangelization and parenting

I got in a Facebook debate the other day.  It was on this article and whether it's okay to treat gay people "as if their lifestyle is acceptable."  Namely, going to a Thanksgiving dinner at which a gay couple might be present.

My first issue with the phrasing I quoted is that there isn't a special way I treat people when I approve of their choices.  I just treat people like people.  Most people have at least something about them I don't like, but I focus on the good.  If we're close, I might mention the other things: "I worry about how much you drink," or, "You have spinach in your teeth."

An acquaintance of mine said that this attitude is "compromising my principles."  When I said something about Christian charity, he said he didn't see the difference between charity and compromise, and we have to "hold the line" against the onslaught of evil.

This is the sort of thing that comes up for me all the time.  If I say we should be nice to this or that public sinner, I'm accused of getting in bed with the devil and being personally responsible for the downfall of humanity.  Whereas I think that whenever I treat a person with charity -- any person, good, bad, or indifferent -- I am acting 100% in accord with my principles.  Because principle #1 for a Catholic is charity, right?  That doesn't include changing my mind about my morals, but simply being kind rather than shunning.

My interlocutor brought up that I have kids and said, "Well, if one of your kids misbehaves, you don't just hug them and tell them they're wonderful, do you?"

Cough cough.  I directed the conversation away from my parenting because I was sure this guy would judge me for the "slacker" parent I am.  But on second thought, that was a mistake.  Being a mother actually gives me a lot of insight into how people work, and it's made me a much kinder and more merciful person overall.  (It's funny, because he said I couldn't understand the spiritual battle because I'm not a Marine.  I just got mad, but I should have pointed out that motherhood is, on the spiritual level, a pretty amazing vocation which teaches you a lot.)

You see, I'm not merciful and kind to my children because I don't care how they behave, or because I think it's okay for them to act however they like.  If I were, I'd definitely go along with the "running into traffic" argument: "Well, you can be carefree about most stuff, but if they run into traffic, they're getting a spanking.  You have to keep your kids safe."

Would I spank my children to keep them from being run over by a car?  You bet I would.  Is spanking my children actually going to keep them from being run over by a car?  I don't think so.

You see, if my kids are on the edge of the street, heading for an oncoming car, and I stomp up to them shrieking "You're gonna catch it!" what do you suppose they're going to do?  If they glance over their shoulder and see me, and know that I'm going to give them a spanking when I catch them, what direction are they going to run?

It's happened many times that my kids are heading for something dangerous, and I cry, "No!  Dangerous!  Come here!"  My children know I wouldn't hit them.  They know they are in for hugs and not spankings.  They also have a trusting relationship with me and know I want to keep them safe and that I don't lie.  So when I hold out my arms to Michael, or shout "Dangerous!" to Marko, they come running.  They come because they trust me.

That relationship takes a lot of building up and a lot of work.  It takes humility and patience and forgiveness.  It would be easier to go the authoritarian route, but it would be less effective.  Sooner or later, at two or at twenty, my kids would realize that I can't make them do what they don't want to do, and they will do everything I told them not to do.

Is it so hard to think of doing the same thing with people who are considered "sinners"?  (Because, guess what: we are all sinners, so if we avoided sinners we'd be pretty darn lonely.)  Yes, I very much want people to abandon whatever sins they have and become Catholic.  But what is the more likely approach -- to walk up to someone and say, "You're going to hell," or to walk alongside them in life and show them how rich our faith can be?

When it comes down to it, we don't live the moral life because we're afraid of punishment or because we've reasoned it out from the natural law.  That might get you a little way, but when you want to sin badly enough, those arguments just don't hold water.  What keeps you on the straight and narrow when all else fails is that you know that God loves you, that he is trustworthy, that he knows what's best.  You have the kind of trusting relationship with him that makes you able to give up even your most beloved sins, because you'd rather be close to God than anything else in the world.

People who live as if they don't know God .... probably don't know God.  The odds are good that they really don't know what God is like.  I keep being told, "Oh, the Bible is everywhere, there's no excuse."  But which of us really was taught about God, his love, his forgiveness?  Weren't most of us taught about Jerk-God instead?  No matter how people try to explain, there's always this confusion, mixing God up with this mean nun or that harsh principal or the parent we never got along with.  So many of us are profoundly hurt, having never been shown the kind of unconditional love that God has for us.  If no one has ever loved you that way, how could you imagine what it's like?

There is only one way.  There has only ever been one way.  And that is for those who do know God to show forth that kind of unconditional love wherever we go.  Charity is the earmark, the character, the membership card of the Christian.  Without it, we're worse than useless.  We drive people away from God, the one person who could heal them, because we are the only image they have of God, and we're jerks.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Bad arguments about global warming

In the interest of having an open mind, I've been putting some research into global warming.  But it is much more difficult than I expected.  Not sure what I was hoping for -- perhaps a formal, written debate where the two sides took turns refuting each other's conclusions?  Instead I'm finding that no one appears to be even using the same data.  I have read just today that the past decade has been extremely hot, that it's been cooler than average, and that it started warmer and got cooler.  The actual numbers that I saw looked like mostly hot with two cold years.  But what do I know?  The science is awfully complex, and I'm still struggling to learn enough to even understand the conversation.

But in my small amount of research, I've stumbled on some laughably bad arguments on either side.  I'll throw them out there, with my answers, in the hopes that maybe we can move on to arguments that actually further the conversation.

1.  "95% of climate scientists believe in global warming."
I'm surprised it's not 100%.  Groupthink in specialized disciplines can be seriously problematic.  I have read study after study proving that eating fat won't give you a heart attack, but try to find ONE dietician who will tell you that.  It's easy enough to show that the risk of hepatitis B exposure in an average child under ten is vanishingly small, but show me ONE pediatrician who doesn't insist it's necessary at birth.  I can't imagine, in our current climate (har har) how a skeptical climatologist is supposed to get published.

2.  "First they called it global warming.  Now they're calling it climate change.  I smell a rat."
I think these people must not speak to anyone who believes in global warming.  They all seem to use both terms.  "Climate change" doesn't mean it's not getting warmer.  I think maybe it was intended to convey that it's a bit more complex than "more beach days each year" and that it wasn't a good thing.  I really couldn't say, but I haven't run across anyone avoiding the term global warming.  They still say the world is getting warmer.

3.  "Follow the money."
Well, obviously, right?  Okay, so I did.  Turns out there's money to be made in alternate energy, AND there's money to be kept in fossil fuels.  There is lots of money to be made on cap and trade schemes, and there's lots of money to be lost by businesses who would have to pay for their emissions.  There's money flying everywhere.  It doesn't help.

4.  "People who talk about climate change are using it as a reason to push population control."
This is entirely true.  And I don't believe in population control, at least not the kinds we're talking about here, like sterilizing poor people in third world countries or forcing women in China to abort their second babies.  If population growth were really at a point where it was dangerous, though, we really would have to reduce population growth.  As Catholics, this could mean more people choosing the single life or marrying late in life -- or even having celibate marriages.  That's no fun, but I'd do it for the good of the planet, if it required it.

However, I don't think the planet will be helped by people in first world countries having few or no children.  Instead, that trend is crashing our population faster than we can adjust, leading to a rapidly aging population.  In America this is offset by immigration--and more open immigration would help even more.  Global population is expected to peak and decrease soon, and I'm not terribly concerned about it.

BUT, whether or not population control is a good thing is independent of whether global warming is happening.  If it's happening, it's happening, no matter how much you disagree about the solution.  This goes along with the argument "but people who believe in climate change are liberals."  Well, for the most part, yes.  But that has a lot more to do with people adopting the opinions of those they like and trust, and not much to do with how trustworthy those opinions are in the first place.  And you can find people who are pro-life and believe in climate change.  They aren't talking about population control, but about reducing each person's carbon footprint.  So believing in global warming isn't going to suddenly transform you into a baby-killer.  Promise.

5.  "Global warming is a good thing anyway."
I was thinking along those lines in 2011.  I know a bit about the havoc wreaked by global cooling in history, and it seems a warming phase would be a lot more harmless.  Wouldn't we just get a longer growing season?

Then we had the summer of 2012.  It was hot.  And I was trying to grow things, very optimistic about it because there was all this hot weather.  I didn't follow my planting charts (which can be risky because unusual weather is unpredictable), but that worked fine.  And yet my garden suffered.  I planted peas in February and they were still killed by the heat before I could harvest them.  My lettuce turned bitter and bolted.  Beans and brassicas were completely eaten by bugs.  My tomatoes got a fungus and rotted on the vine.  Cucumbers turned yellow and died from some disease.  Only peppers and pumpkins were more or less unscathed.

We also had a flea epidemic of Biblical proportions, which I didn't even mention here because I was afraid you'd all judge me.  I don't even want to talk about it.  It was awful.  There was no winter to kill the fleas from the year before, and fleas boom in hot weather.  So do mosquitoes, and flies, and aphids.  Diseases, from tomato fungus to malaria, are rampant when the weather is hot, even in areas that have never seen them before.  Pests spread north into places they've never been before, infecting hosts that have zero resistance.

Meanwhile the Midwest suffered severe drought, something home gardeners can't really appreciate because we can water our gardens.  It's pretty difficult and hugely expensive to water a whole cornfield.  A few more years like that, and you can expect to see more farmers going out of business, more consolidation, and prices going up.  Or, worst case scenario, another Dust Bowl.  It could be very bad.

Here in America, with our heat and air and very little contact with agriculture, we think of weather as a nuisance and nothing else.  But weather affects every part of the world.  Global cooling in the 5th century drove barbarians south to conquer Rome, sent the plague of Justinian to decimate the Britons, drove Anglo-Saxons across the sea, and is the reason you speak English today.  Funny how that works.  In the large scale of history, that doesn't sound like a big deal.  But it felt like a very big deal to the Britons, who suffered an entire century of utter chaos and then mostly died.  Global warming could result in drought, plague, crop failure, erosion, freak storms, floods, and war.  I don't really see a part of that that is good.  The faster the change happens, the less time there is to adapt and the worse it will be.

So if global warming is real, you kind of have to admit it's time to panic now.

5.  "But it's sweltering/snowing out right now!"
Uh-huh.  So the global average temperature trend over decades can be adequately predicted by today's unusually hot or cold weather.  Moving on.

6.  And my all-around favorite: "Why would God give us all those fossil fuels if it would be a bad thing to use them?"
You can replace this with anything you like.  "Why did God give Adam and Eve that tree if they weren't supposed to eat them?"  Or, "Why did God give us sugar if we weren't supposed to gorge on it?"  Or, "Why did God give us sun if we were going to get a sunburn?"

Maybe ask this question, "Why did God give you a brain, if not to figure out what uses of his creation are dangerous, so that you can avoid them?"

I'm going to keep researching and see what I find out.  But I'd be happy if I never saw these six arguments again.  Lately I haven't found any skeptics who actually seem to know what they are talking about, or who aren't really noticeably cherry-picking data.  But they may be out there.  In the meantime, I did find one site that actually addressed some of the arguments of the other side -- this one.  I would love to see a comparable site from the other side.

Meanwhile, I can tell you one thing: being sparing of energy use, buying a car with good mileage, fixing what you have instead of buying new things, and growing your own food are things that have no downside.  I do them anyway because electricity and gas cost money, and because I believe in frugality and independence.  But if the earth really is warming and affected by my actions -- well, I think I'm doing pretty okay.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Long takes


I'm not going to lie to you.  I don't do quick.  If it were under 500 words, it would be a facebook status.


I took word verification off of the combox because someone complained they could never read the captchas.  But I haven't been getting any more real comments since then, and I've had bucketloads of spam.  I just can't keep up with it.  So I'm putting the captchas back on, and if you have trouble, email me your comment and I will post it for you under whatever name you like.  My email is, as ever, sheila the bard (no spaces) at the domain name yahoo with the appropriate suffix (that begins with a c).  Let's see if that keeps me from getting any more spam than I already do.  (Due to all the spam I get on that account, it does take me awhile to respond to stuff.)


The garden is doing great.  A tiny fluffy forest of carrots!  Half a dozen cabbage and broccoli seedlings remain uneaten by bugs!  I still have a few itty bitty beets!  Still no peas.  Still lots of lettuce.  I'm going to plant out my tomatoes, basil, and cilantro soon.  The pepper seeds haven't even sprouted, but it's probably just not warm enough, even indoors.


I am seriously living in fear these days because of all these awful stories people keep sharing about CPS.  I mean this one and this one and especially this one.  In the first two cases, it seems the police knew they couldn't prosecute for the marijauna, so they just took the kids even though there was no sign they were in danger, to punish the parents.  At any rate, that's how it looks from here.  And in the third, the doctor probably phoned it in because he was mad about the parents switching hospitals.  Sure, they got their kid back -- but you can't just separate a five-month-old from his parents for a week or more and assume that it doesn't matter!  What about bonding?  What about their breastfeeding relationship, if they had one?  It's even worse with toddlers.  They're old enough to know something's up, but not old enough to understand an explanation.  I can only imagine the trauma that my kids would undergo if they were separated for days from everyone they know.  How would a stranger know that Marko won't ask for food and has to have it offered to him -- or how to get Michael to go to sleep?

Just thinking about it puts me into a panic.  I try to be a "good mother," but you know there's always something.  I don't use pot obviously, but while I'm typing Michael is standing on a chair with nothing on but a shirt.  Is that a sign I'm a bad mother?  What about letting them play in the yard?  What about when I start homeschooling?  A friend of mine has been investigated twice just for letting her kids play in the fenced front yard -- but she suspects it's really because her neighbor disapproves of homeschooling and keeps making calls.  And a couple of weeks ago I was accosted by the police for taking my kids out on a dock.  Michael was in my lap and Marko was well back from the edge -- and the water was only two feet deep anyway -- but they insisted that I didn't know what was doing, I didn't know whether my kids would suddenly leap in, I didn't know how deep it was, etc.  I felt so ... undermined.  Like, am I their mother, or am I not?  Do I know them better than you, or do I not?  Do I care about them more than you, or do I not?

But when the cops tell you "get off that dock," you do what they say.  Because you have kids.  Because if you get uppity or mouthy or ask if you are breaking any laws or explain that you don't have to do as they say because they don't have a warrant or a court order ... they can override all that and just take your children away from you until you comply with them.  Because if the kids are in danger, or if they say they are, none of your rights apply.

On the one hand, I do see a purpose for CPS.  It's one of the reasons I'm not an anarchist; there has to be something you can do if you know a child is being abused.  But bringing the government into a family is like bringing a bull into a china shop.  It's a delicate living thing, and it can be harmed so much by your blundering around.  Separating a child from his parents is ALWAYS traumatic, no matter how awful and abusive they are.  So you'd better be darn sure that the danger outweighs the risk of traumatizing the kids.

It really makes me afraid to be an American.  Only everywhere else is worse.


To cheer us up, we've been thinking about building our own house in the country.  Not because we are in a position to do so, but because we do want to get further out into the country someday, and why not have some kind of specific plan?  There is a shortage of beautiful old farmhouses on 5 acres out here ... at least, for under a million AND not tumbling down ... so we're thinking we may just build it ourselves.  Or rather have it built.  It's fun looking at plans and considering what sort of kitchen we want and where the bedrooms should be.

What are your favorite house features?  Mine are fireplaces, wraparound porches, root cellars, lean-to greenhouses, and huge windows.


Of course the more of our favorite things we put into our house plan, the more expensive it gets and the longer it will take to save up for it.  So I had the idea of building an earth home.  They are beautiful, traditional, sustainable, durable, cheap to heat and cool, cost very little, and you can do the work yourself.

But then John said the words "building codes" and the dream evaporated.  I feel like Joel Salatin, "Everything I want to do is illegal."

But it is legal to live in a trailer, and those are nice and cheap.  I wouldn't mind.  I think John would.  But it is a thought we've kept in mind, especially after I saw this series and ebook on trailersteading.  Two words: no mortgage.  Sometimes I think I could live in a cardboard box if it meant getting out of debt.


Today I first found out what the Catholic Worker movement is all about, and I thought, "Gee, if I'd known about this when I was eighteen, I would have run off and joined them in a heartbeat!"

Then again I wasn't the "flaming liberal" then than I am now.  (I say these words with a wink ... some of the Catholic Workers are a bit too liberal for me, but some are about right.)  And now I have too many commitments.  But to hear of some of them living in little Catholic mini-communes out in the country ... well, it appeals to me, is what I'm saying.

There are more takes here, if you're into that sort of thing.
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