1. Acquired a cold just strong enough to plant me in front of the PC and get some writing done for a change. I’d complain, except it’s really not that bad. For me. My family wishes I’d start making dinner again. I think.
3. Guessed at my login information for the Happy Catholic Bookshelf enough times that I finally broke in. And put up my review of Walking Dickens London. Verdict: I still don’t like Dickens all that much, but the guide book is awesome. Of course I had to put a reference to Rerum Novarum in the review. Only logical.
4. I cleaned out my inbox. If I still owe you an e-mail about something, you’d better tell me. Because I’m under the mistaken impression I’m all caught up.
5. Planted the potatoes that were sprouting in the cardboard box in the living room. Ditto for some garlic in the bottom of the fridge.
6. I’ve written about 5,000 words on the homeschooling manuscript. Also pre-wrote my January CatholicMom.com homeschooling column, because once you get school on the brain, and a cup of coffee, these things just pop out.
7. I got all vice-presidential over at the Catholic Writers Guild. Being VP is almost exactly like being the blog manager, except that instead of plaguing the officers all month long with bad ideas and unhelpful suggestions, you also get to do it during the monthly officer’s conference call. I think someone nominated me because the existing officers were already practiced at telling me, “No! Quiet! Sit! No Biscuit!” so it makes their job easier. So mostly as VP I amuse people with my ridiculous ideas, and about 1 time in 10, I think one up that someone makes me go do. And then I regret it, and don’t think up any more ideas for at least 10 minutes.
Also, I goofed off on the internet more than I had planned. It happens. I was sick.
Thanks once again to our host Larry D. at Acts of the Apostasy, who’s also doing a time-travel edition today.
Blogging Popes. That’s my topic for today. Not the kind you’re thinking of, though.
See, here’s what happened: Saturday night I was bored, tired, and itching for something to read. Something fun and relaxing and novel. Meaning, new-to-me. I usually grab one of my daughter’s library books for this purpose — just enough entertainment to get me through a non-digital Sunday, but not so much that I’ll be out of service, glued to a book, for 10,000 hours waiting for Br. Cadfael to tell me who did it. But I needed novelty.
So I went to Papal Encyclicals Online. I’m sure that’s what you do, too. But before you get too impressed, keep in mind that the three reasons this was a possible source of reading material were:
I’d never read most of them before. Strike one against my Catholic-nerd credentials.
They’re usually very short. This is why I’ve read the minor prophets, but *still* never gotten through all of Isaiah.
There was no chance I’d let the cat starve, or grouse at my children for interrupting me during an especially gripping scene.
And the thing is, they tend to cover that same juicy ground as your average Catholic blogger, only you get bonus credit for not being stuck to the computer all day while you work up your angry frenzy at the injustice in the world. Of course, no Star Trek screen shots for illustrations, but look, I was desperate for entertainment.
And the one I picked was Rerum Novarum. Which is basically a series of blog posts on economics. Perfect.
(Let me just say right now, JPII’s follow-up work is not blog-genre. Waaay more wordy. Waaay more. I haven’t finished it yet. But I’m half thinking, “What more is there to say? Leo.Encyclicalpress.com already covered the whole territory. But you know how it is, people need to explain the obvious. Or maybe people needed the obvious re-explained.)
Here’s a sample snippet of the Leonine goodness:
Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition.
The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men.
Followed by this:
To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.
See? I spent my weekend reading 64 Cath-Econ-blog posts, 19th century edition.
And although I could pretty much shut my eyes and point my finger anywhere in the document to find a good quotable quote, one of my underlined favorites is
Well that’s all for today. Still accepting suggestions for additions to the sidebar, so tell me who to add. But do just one link per comment, because otherwise the robotic spam-dragon will consume the whole lot of them. Thanks!
There’s a pile of us blogging today about The Mercy Project, a non-sectarian effort to free children from slavery in Ghana. I have no affiliation with the project myself, so if you decide to support it financially, do your own due diligence. But I think the project deserves attention as a model for serious anti-slavery efforts.
Why does slavery persist? It is difficult to maintain the unbridled hatred that inspires forced labor camps, Nazi-style. Over the longer run, the humanity of the slave is undeniable; to calmly take lifetime ownership of another person requires the unshakeable certainty that somehow, for some reason, we simply must have slaves. To be convinced it’s an unavoidable fact of life, one of those regrettable difficulties we must chin-up and endure, hand in hand with long work days, mosquitoes, blisters — all that we suffer in this fallen world.
In Ghana, parents relinquish their children in desperation — the alternative is death. [My own former-slave-state’s motto seems to particularly apt. Probably not what the founders had in mind.] The fishermen on Lake Volta who use the children as slaves are in a similar situation: I need this free labor, or I can’t stay in business. The Mercy Project’s method is to think up a village-scaled sustainable new business project that eliminates the financial need for slaves, and then to partner with a particular village to coordinate an emancipation day in conjunction with the implementation of that new opportunity.
[There’s then a process for helping the newly-liberated former slaves to recover from their experience and to rebuild their lives back home with their family of origin, with family assistance to prevent re-trafficking.]
I just spent 3 days in the largest Catholic bookstore in the world. I bought one book. This is it:
Then I was stuck in an airport for five hours. Perfect timing.
What it is: Tiến Dương is a real guy about your age (born 1963) who is now a priest in the diocese of Charlotte, NC. Deanna Klingel persuaded him to let her tell his story, and she worked with him over I-don’t-know-how-long to get it right. Fr. Tien is a bit embarrassed to be singled out this way, because his story is no different from that of thousands upon thousands of his countryman. But as Deanna pointed out, if you write, “X,000 people endured blah blah blah . . .” it’s boring. Tell one story well, and you see by extension the story of 10,000 others.
The book is told like historical fiction, except that it’s non-fiction verified by the subject — unlike posthumous saints’ biographies, there’s no conjecture here. It’s what happened. The reading level is middle-grades and up, though some of the topics may be too mature for your middle-schooler. (Among others, there is a passing reference to a rape/suicide.) The drama is riveting, but the violence is told with just enough distance that you won’t have nightmares, but you will understand what happened — Deanna has a real talent for telling a bigger story by honing in on powerful but less-disturbing details. Like, say, nearly drowning, twice; or crawling out of a refugee camp, and up the hill to the medical clinic.
–> I’m going to talk about the writing style once, right now: There are about seven to ten paragraphs interspersed through the book that I think are not the strongest style the author could have chosen. If I were the editor, I would have used a different expository method for those few. Otherwise, the writing gets my 100% stamp of approval — clear, solid prose, page-turning action sequences, deft handling of a zillion difficult or personal topics.
Why “Most Important Book?”
This is a story that needs to be known. It is the story of people in your town and in your parish, living with you, today. And of course I’m an easy sell, because the books touches on some of my favorite topics, including but not limited to:
Freedom of Religion
Goodness and Virtue
Marriage and Family Life as a Vocation
Huggy vs. Not-Huggy
You get the idea. There’s more. Without a single moment of preaching. Just an action-packed, readable story, well told.
UPDATED – DARWIN CORRECTS MY CALCULATION: After reducing the tax-table amount by our tax credits ( Child Tax Credit in our case) the amount we actually owed was only 5%. Much better. Matches last year’s number, something of a relief after seeing that big jump in the first try. Thanks Darwin!
To calculate, take line 55, which is your tax less regular tax credits, divided by line 22, gross income. At least, that’s the way I do it when Darwin reminds me that’s the way I do it. Also when I remember that thanks to those PDF’s mentioned below, I don’t have to dig through files to check line number, I can just pull up the PDF in about ten seconds. Yay.
1. Our real federal tax rate was 8.5%. That’s taking our tax from the tax table cacluation as a portion of gross income. (Line 22 or thereabouts? I already put my forms away. It was line 22 last year.) I think it’s a useful calculation, since talk about taxes tends to revolve around theoretical tax rates, when the actual amount you pay may be something quite different.
[FYI for those of you haven’t done the real tax rate check-in before, please don’t post any income information or long explanations. Just the percentage. Privacy, modesty, all that.]
2. I was pleased to see that behind that flashy opening page, IRS.gov remains it’s same sensible self. If I could only have one website, that would have to be the one. Since everything else, in theory, I could do without. But the days of riding downtown and searching through the shelves at the tax office for the forms I need? I do not miss those days.
3. I love fillable forms.
4. Not the ones provided by third-party businesses I’ve never heard of and wouldn’t dream of using unless I had some time to research it, which I don’t. But those lovely, lovely IRS-issued PDF’s. Oh how I love them.
5. I wish South Carolina would take a hint and follow suit. Hand-writing is so 2009.
7. Curse you, SC, for not printing SC Long Form booklets anymore. You, too, should give me a booklet. I want a booklet. I never bought into the accusations that SC is a “backward” state, but now I see it is true. Fillable PDF’s, newsprint booklets. It is The Way.
8. The IRS really does have good writers.
(Okay, after a certain point, I think they assume nobody is reading the instructions anymore, because if you dig into the more arcane forms, yes, incomprehensible. But a good ol’ 1040, and schedule A and those guys — yes. Well done. And thank you generous employers for not giving everybody $7 in foreign-source dividend income as an employee perk, the way you did that other time. I feel an HR person was burned in effigy over that little incident.)
9. Thank you kind person who forgot to pay me until January 2012. I owe you one. Saved me a ton of headache I didn’t need this year.
10. Geek humor: The SuperHusband was talking about income and work and raises. I told him to tell his boss about our big financial goal: We want to pay Alternative Minimum Tax*.
*It’s a JOKE. I’m KIDDING. Neither Powers nor Principalities need to get a laugh at my expense by making it actually happen. Thank you P&P for your self-restraint.
A friend of mine lives in one of those helpful European countries with nationalized health care and social services and everything you could want. And I know from experience that these systems can work pretty well for a lot of people. I understand the appeal.
But my friend’s recent struggles to get the care she needs (nothing wildly expensive) leads me to think nationalization of social supports is a very bad solution. Here’s why:
Government-run services are much harder to shut down if they become corrupt, incompetent, or unsafe. It takes, literally, an act of Congress. (And then some). In comparison, privately-run services can be boycotted by consumers, or in the case of safety-violations, legitimately shut down by government regulators.
When the system doesn’t work, there is nowhere else to turn. Taxpayer-funded, universal-enrollment systems squeeze out private providers. The money I could have spent on private fees has already been mailed to the government in taxes. I no longer have that cash on hand. The vastly diminished demand for privately-provided services also means therea are fewer private providers available to choose from.
“Universal” services shortchange the poor. The supposed reason for creating nationalized services is so that the poor have access to the essentials they need, such as medical care or education. The reality of government-run bureaucracies, however, is that they favor the upper-middle class — the people who have the resources and connections to work the system to their advantage.
How, then, to help the poor? By helping the poor.
Those who truly cannot provide for themselves do indeed need our assistance. One can reasonably argue that in a large, diverse, and mobile society, government-provided alms are a legitimate way of caring for those who might otherwise be overlooked by private charities.
But the whole nation cannot need alms. It is a mathematical joke. We cannot all be poor all the time.
Thanks once again to our host Larry D. at Acts of the Apostasy, who has me so well trained I had this ready to go before even finding out if he means to continue. Updated to report: Yes! And check out the stylish Christmas theme:
This week we are Bunny-sitting. Cinnamon and Jenny-Bunny look delicious, but they are not for eating. We are working hard to avoid bunny-tragedy. The dog sits at the glass door looking out on the screen porch and whimpers. The cat sneaked in from outside when someone left the screen door open, and there was much bunny-scurrying in the cages. But bunnies remain both safe and entertained, because also on my screen porch is . . .
Ping Pong! I felt un-American, having no ping-pong table all these years. I still don’t, but I talked the 5-year-old into buying a package of balls for her brother for Christmas. (She bought her sisters scented hand lotion; I didn’t think He Who Is Doubtful About Bathing would want the lotion.) I sprung for two paddles. Christmas afternoon we set up my 2×5 folding table on the screen porch — true Table Tennis. Perfect size for children, and for adults who want to sit while they play, plus it is more compact than a regular table. And you don’t feel bad about eating on it. The balls don’t bounce well on the plastic table, so SuperHusband loaned us a sheet of luan plywood to place over top, and that both improved the bounce and gave us the happy ping-ponging sound.
The family is divided between the bitter minority that thinks we must have a net, and the large, superior-reasoning majority who observe that we’d just have 10,000 net balls. Screened porches are the ideal place for ping-pong, because the balls can’t get far. Plus, covered. No rain. But still outside. Children + Balls = Outside.
NEWSBRIEF: LIVE FROM BOY’S BEDROOM: DOGS EAT PING PONG BALLS. Don’t store them in the house. That’s the other reason dog sits whimpering at glass door. All those balls, bouncing back and forth, and that horrid glass between. It is the week of Dog Torment.
Also seen from the living room is this view, which I included in the homeschool photo-fest this past fall not because it had to do with homeschooling, but because I was so excited about my invention.
Here’s what happened:
Our dryer attempted death.
My dryer-repair guy was going to be preoccupied with gainful employment for a while.
No problem. Neglected laundry tree out in the back yard.
I’m not complaining just observing.
Did I mention dryer-guy not home to fix dryer?
Meanwhile, we had a patio table out front on the, er, patio. (Actually the driveway, but we don’t drive on that part so we call it The Patio. Pretend with us.) I pulled the umbrella out and stuffed it in the shed, then dragged the table into the screen porch. Placed the umbrella stand in position under the table.
I used tools we don’t want to talk about to dig the laundry tree out by its roots where it was determined to be permanently affixed in the yard. [If I have one superpower, it is furniture-moving. Laundry Tree you met your match.] Put old socks from the cloth bin on the pokey edges of the laundry tree, and very very carefully, with would-have-been-horrified-and-cringing spouse safely away in a neighboring state, erected the laundry tree in the hole in the center of the table where the umbrella used to live.
It works great! The mesh top of the patio-table is perfect for laying things flat to dry. Only caveat is that since the laundry tree is not in the ground, it stands taller than normal. I’m 5’7″ in a pair of sneakers and can reach fine, but it doesn’t work for shorter people. So now I’m commissioning child-height under-eaves laundry lines for the small people, because they seriously need a feedback loop about how much laundry they are generating. Plus, see “Decrepitude”, “Plague”, etc., I would get a much more reliable flow of smug superiority if my ability to hang laundry didn’t depend on standing* quite so much.
I think SuperHusband is willing to take the job, because now the dryer is getting serious about its death threats (it wails pitifully), and it pains the man to spend money on something you technically don’t need, plus costs more money to operate, when all that cash could be spent, on, say, camera lenses. He thinks that if we are serious about hanging out laundry all the time, maybe he can nurse the dryer along a few more years with urgent-case-use only.
So. Smug superiority. Hanging out your laundry, if you are the grumpy, complaining type, can make you downright peevish towards so-called environmental groups that are advocating for this and that alternative fuel, but can’t be bothered to push a serious campaign to cut American energy usage in very simple ways. Laundry lines being #1. And #2 on the list is
Something I’ll rant about next week. Hope your 12 Days are fantabulous — is anyone else having a Chocolate Year of Christmas? I’ve been getting the stuff from everybody. Let me just say: Best gift ever. Okay and single-malt scotch is right up there, but not everyone is the SuperHusband, and plus you don’t have to be so moderate on the chocolate.
*If you’ve been sitting on the edge of your chair wondering when on oh when I’ll post the next decrepitude-watch post, the short version is: All is way better than a year ago, not so good as two years ago. Reliably walking maybe 2 miles? And then I can fit in another hour or so of other house-yard-etc activity. Depending on your perspective, that either seems like an extravagant plenty or a laughable pittance. I agree. Anyhow, it is enough to hang laundry, plague not withstanding. I happen to love hanging laundry, so long as I can get the other people to leave me alone while I do it. Silence. It’s all about the silence.
I have been frustrated in trying to find a good book about slavery. Most in our library focus entirely on the history of slavery in the United States, with perhaps a brief mention in passing of the existence of slavery in other times and places. I find this limited treatment of the topic leads to some problematic misunderstandings — in many ways perpetuating the same racism that enabled American slavery and the subsequent post-emancipation civil rights abuses.
So I was glad to discover this book:
This is an introductory treatment, very readable and with lots of pictures, but it is not for young children. What I like:
Separate chapters on slavery in the ancient world, pre-colonial Europe, Africa from ancient times to present, in the Americas among indigenous tribes and states, in Asia, and in the modern world internationally.
Precise scope. Serfdom, for example, is mentioned only when the conditions truly amounted to slavery — mere garden-variety medieval serfdom is passed over in favor of actual slavery in the era. In the same way, contemporary slavery is restricted to true slavery — forced labor with no option of departure — rather than degenerating into a diatribe against poor wages and lousy working conditions. (Those are serious problems, but they are not slavery.)
Honest who-did-what-when reporting. No bizarre cultural biases or weird anti-European narratives.
Factual but not voyeuristic accounts. The realities of rape, starvation, torture, and the like are all mentioned where the historical record shows they happened, but there is no morbid dwelling on gruesome details.
What it amounts to is a book you can take seriously. Good starting point, though it certainly left me wanting to learn more. Highly recommended.
Do you love the planet? Or the poor? Or low gas prices?
Boycott Dollar Tree*.
Okay, not specifically Dollar Tree. Just all cheap plastic trinkets. The adorable ones from Target. The bargain ones from Walmart. The pious ones from Oriental Trading Company. And especially the ones in your McDonald’s happy meal. Here’s why:
Plastic trinket are made from fossil fuels. Better to ship those barrels of oil straight to the strategic national fuel reserve.
More fuel is spent manufacturing the trinkets. At factories that might not be so zero emissions?
Using labor that could have been spent producing something a person actually needs, such as food, shelter, or clean water.
More fuel (and labor) is spent shipping the trinkets to your local trinket store.
Where you waste your time wandering around dazed and confused until your mind deforms under the glare of the flourescent lights.
When you could have been doing something wholesome and productive, like playing video games, or gambling.
And then the children who receive the trinkets will fight over them with their siblings.
If they have no siblings, they will find some.
The trinkets will end up lodged in some essential piece of household machinery.
And then you will put them in the landfill.
Trinkets do not build wealth. Trinkets do not help the economy. They are a transfer payment that wastes natural resources. If you want to do a good work with your $.97, invest in the production of a good or service people actually need.
End of rant.
*No bloggers darkened the door of Dollar Tree to ascertain what portion of the merchandise is trinkets. 100% of the Dollar Tree items purchased for the Fitz home happen to be trinkets. But no doubt Dollar Tree sells worthy items as well. Purchase those.