Archive for March, 2022

Parental rights & wrongs

A quick (I hope) follow-up to the previous post.

I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m all Muh Parental Rights and that PARENTS KNOW BEST.

Because I’m not.

It’s really the way of the world. When we’re on one side, the other side is the enemy, and then when we’re in their shoes – when we’re the customer service provider, the minister, the teacher – well, that’s a different story.

So in brief: go to a gathering of school parents, and it’s all complaints about the school. Sit in the faculty lounge…ouch. Burn after burn after burn.

And all of it probably true in some way, you know?

The 1959 Saturday Evening Post cover over there sums it up.

So, parents and their role and rights in the education of their kids:

It’s complicated, of course, when you outsource this, whether it be to public or private institutions. In both, parents can claim a stake, not only because it’s their children you’re educating, but because it’s their money, too – their taxes or their tuition. And the more tuition is paid, definitely the more entitled the tuition-payers feel.

And perhaps that’s one way to break it down:

Parents’ rights….or parents’ entitlement?

Look. If every parent had veto power over every aspect of curriculum, you’d have an endless nightmare on your hands. At some point, you just have to trust.

But at the same time, there has to be accountability and transparency and respect as well, from the institution’s part.

And perhaps a quick run through educational history might be useful here – not that I’m going to do that. But just consider the history of institutional education: through most of history, when it existed, it did so on a local scale, with communities – aka mostly parents – with all the power to build the schoolhouse and hire and fire the teacher. Throughout most of history, teachers – whether they be in classrooms or individual tutors – have been hired workers, not icons and heroes.

I’m going to return to something I’ve said again and again. Or at least maybe I’ve said it to myself, if not here.

Half – maybe more than half – of these education-related battles would disappear if:

a) Education wasn’t compulsory or at least weren’t as highly structured as it is

b) There was a mechanism for 100% school choice in the public system.


c) the role of institutional education in communities and families’ lives were minimized.

It would be a completely different scene if you, living in a neighborhood, didn’t have to send your kids to a specific school with its particular rules all day for half a year, an institution that dictated your family’s schedule, a school that your obligatory taxes support – that whole situation sets up a dynamic of expectation and resentment and ownership on both sides that would not be so deeply built into a freer system.

Not that a freer system wouldn’t have its issues, among them a whole other set of reasons for feeling entitled as well as potential tribalism and uniformity. But I’m talking about these particular battles of curriculum that we’re constantly fighting now.

But that really wasn’t my point, is it?

My point was – no, parents don’t always know best. Of course they don’t. Parents abuse and neglect. Parents screw up massively.

One of my many hobbyhorses is against the contemporary self-assurance mantra of “You’re great as you are!” “You’re doing your best!” whether that be for individuals or parents – especially mothers. The alternative is not a stance of constant self-doubt or self-recrimination, but to position ourselves as parents as people who must always be affirmed that we must, simply because we are parenting, are of course doing our best – well, that’s just a modern form of paterfamilias.

If Mom is always “doing her best” just because she’s Mom – why the heck are so many of us still grappling with Mom and Dad issues into adulthood?

I wrote about it here.

I don’t know where the sweet spot between blinkered guilt and blind arrogance is, but I can say that I think it has something to do with this:

The most important thing you can do as a parent is to give your child the inner resources to overcome your bad parenting.

That means, first of all, reminding them, through word and action, that you’re not God – only God is.

And, to tie this into my most current Issue of the Year: 80% of the “trans kids” situation is caused directly by frankly insane transchausen-by-proxy parents – with the rest of it from greedy and unscrupulous therapists and medical professionals.

So no. There’s an objective standard of care, behavior and humanity that we’re all accountable to, no matter our role. That’s the standard.

Parents do have an absolute right to know every single thing that’s going on in the classroom – every single thing, as well as a role in decision making dependent on the school’s structure – but they don’t have veto power over any of it either.

Rights, but not entitlement.

On both sides.

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A few years ago, a controversy erupted in the Diocese of Nashville, at Father Ryan High School, particularly, about a sexuality education program.

It was the usual dynamic: Someone decided that it would be a good thing to incorporate explicit lessons on sex in the curriculum, and then someone made the equally stupid decision that it would be a good thing to belittle and threaten parents who…had questions.

I wrote about it here.

I had a few points to make. First was that the curriculum was, really, way too much. It was weirdly too much. As in – you wondered about the person who dreamed this up.

The second point was related, and it was rooted in my own experiences teaching high school and, of course, my experience as a mother of five kids, and then ultimately, my experience as a human being.

It was this:

This is about more than this particular situation. It gives anyone working on these issues in parish or school settings something to think about.

So if you’re in charge of things like this in your school or parish, you might want to consider the weird factor. You might want to consider that the parents who are not down with your plans don’t hate sex, don’t want their kids to be ignorant about sex and don’t want them to be ignorant of the Church’s teaching. The parents of kids in your school might even have had some sexy time themselves recently.

Maybe, just maybe…they think it’s…. odd …for random adults to be bound and determined to talk to young teens – who are required to be in this setting, without parents present and are graded on their responses- about the mechanics of sexual activity, diagrams and aroused clitoral dimensions helpfully included.

Thinking about current controversies related to the Infamous Florida Bill and related matters happening in other states and localities, my point stands.

Normal adults would prefer to get wisdom teeth removed without anesthesia than talk to other people’s children of any age about sex.

As I said back then:

(And the examples were not made up – they were taken from the Father Ryan curriculum materials)

I just want to focus on something else.

The weirdness.

Maybe just distance yourself from this for a minute. Pretend that you don’t know anything about culture wars, Catholic or otherwise, or that you don’t have a stake in any of these issues.

Now. Consider this.

Consider the possibility that it’s a little …weird for an adult to stand in front of a group of young teen boys and girls and teach this material:

CLITORIS a) This is the most sexually sensitive part of the female body. It corresponds to the glans or head of the penis. b) Though there is no reproductive purpose, the clitoris is made of erectile tissue and contains a high concentration of erotic neural receptors and blood vessels. c) When flaccid or unaroused the tissue is c.1” long; when aroused, it swells to 2” to 3”.

Not weird in a counter-cultural Albanian-nun-picks-up-dying-poor-from-Calcutta-streets kind of way.

More like…what adult in their right mind wants to talk to other people’s 14-year old kids about the clitoris? kind of weird.

And more like…with all the fascinating things to learn about the world that will help kids find a unique way to help make the world a better place, YES let’s spend time on the mechanics of sexual activity with 14-year olds kind of weird.

(Imagine you are a parent of a teen. And then you stand up in front of your kid and his or friends and give this lesson.

GLANS 1. Located at the tip or head of the penis is a structure which contains a highly concentrated amount of neural receptors sensitive to stimulus; it is the center of sexual pleasure for the male.

That would be weird of you. Your kids would die. You might even get arrested.

And no nonsense about “What they already know” and “what they see on their smartphones.”  No kidding. And you think this helps? 

It’s not weird at all to want to help kids navigate this culture and their own desires and questions. It’s not weird to want to share the Good News of the truth about sexuality in a reasoned, understanding, realistic way. It’s really important to do this, as a matter of fact.

But again…context. Which is SCHOOL. Required attendance. Grades. Mixed gender groups.

And now I will add –

…other people’s kids

….with a widespread code of omerta when it comes to letting parents know what you’re talking to your kids about.

But then….

What is normal:

To be faced with a classroom – a world – of hurting kids and to be moved to pity and convicted of the urgency of helping them.

What I really do think, though, is that despite the undeniable truth of this: school and the classroom is not the place to try to live out this mission, except in the most general way.

For a classroom is not neutral ground.

It’s a place of coercion and a place where children and young people are told, every day, day after day, that survival and success in that place is a matter of doing and repeating back what they are told.

It’s a place where, in the younger grades, adults are revered and almost worshipped. How many of us, as parents, have ruefully reflected on the fact that Junior would probably clean the whole house if Miss Kelsey Kindergarten Teacher told him too, while for us, picking up his toys leads to World War III?

The classroom is not neutral ground. Teachers and school systems have all the power, and as much as some educators are moved by a deep desire to fix all the broken kids, they just might have to come to the conclusion that most experienced educators reached by Christmas break of their first year: It can’t be done. You can’t teach everything and you can’t fix everything. You have to decide what’s possible and try to do your best.

And you have to do what’s appropriate.

What’s appropriate in a classroom setting, no matter what grade?

Respecting the diversity of your students and their home lives.

Respecting their and their families’ privacy.

Respecting the fact that you have no idea how your well-intentioned actions get translated and remembered in a students’ mind.

Respecting the undeserved power that you have, especially in the younger grades.

And finally – being deeply aware of your own Stuff, and being careful not to impose that Stuff on the kids. It’s called professionalism.

One of the problems with contemporary pedagogy, though – and just contemporary epistemological assumptions in general – is that since we have dispensed with the objective and the transcendent, what we are left with is the interpersonal. This is one of my constant themes in relations to Catholic Matters, and it holds here.

Why in the world is it seen as so essential for teachers to be able to “be themselves” and share details of their personal lives with students?

Partly because this has become the essence of knowledge – passing on, not cultural wisdom, but my personal experience to you. Witnessing, not educating.

In a sense, there is nothing new here. In my experience there are a couple of basic types of teachers – at least at the high school level – those who are in the business because they love their subject matter, and those who are in it because they “love the kids.” And, sorry to be cruel, but it always seemed to me that a great many of the latter were simply determined to never leave the high school experience behind.

And so it seems to me that in this present moment of educators frantically and aggressively insisting on the vital importance of them being able to center the classroom experience on their own personal values and lives, we’ve got the worst of the worst, since the “subject matter” cohort has been driven out, not only by the pedagogical trends, but by standardized curricula and testing regimes which have rendered them little more than test-prep robots.

So here we are.

Finally, consider your life as an adult, as an adult who presumably has interactions with children and young people.

Do you or any of the adults that you know want to talk to other people’s kids about either sexual matters or even your own personal lives? Is making sure that any kids in your circle understand you or even know what you did last weekend important?

Is it even normal for a 40-year old to want a bunch of 11-year olds to “know who I really am?” much less to want to dig into their personal lives?

Um, no.

It would seem to me that after decades of discussing how the “fun mom” and the “cool coach” and the “drama teacher who lets us hang out at his apartment” and the “priest who drinks beer with us” are all basically emotionally arrested groomers and often abusers – we would be determined to insist on more walls between the adults who care for and educate young people and their charges, not fewer.

As I said before, we can moved – and moved to action – by a deep concern for young people, but the way those issues are addressed and those young people are helped?

The classroom, with its particular power dynamic, is not the place to do it. And people who aggressively insist that it is are strange.

Education can certainly have a personal dimension, but it is – and should be – a dimension that is characterized by tension and self-awareness because young people are vulnerable and educators have power.

Part 2

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If you wear a suit…

Elliot Page, 35, who looked like an uncomfortable 13-year old boy at his parents’ anniversary party at the Oscars, said wearing a suit to the event was an experience of “trans joy.”

Someone tell Lady Gaga, the same night:

Or, you know…almost any woman, present or past:

My intention is not to make light of Page’s struggles – self-acknowledged and obvious. It is just deeply unfortunate that whatever trauma and issues she is seeking to sort out, the price she’s paying is of biological integrity and ultimately her physical health.

(Based on the growing evidence of the long-term consequences of women taking testosterone. Which she’ll have to do for the rest of her life.)

My intention is simply to point out one more way in which gender ideology is regressive and rooted in stereotypes.

The UK’s Will/Lia Thomas?

Zach/Emily Bridges is a 21-year old cyclist who has been undergoing hormone therapy for year (that’s it – no surgery, obviously because he wouldn’t be producing testosterone if he didn’t still have testicles) – and competed on a men’s team as recently as last month, will be racing this weekend (pending final approval) in an important woman’s cycling race:

British Cycling updated its transgender policy in January ‘based on objective scientific research, driven by a desire to guarantee fairness and safety within the sport’.

It said that ‘testosterone levels remain the primary method of determining which members are eligible to compete in the male and female categories’.

But Ross Tucker, of the Real Science of Sport podcast, said: ‘There is no good evidence that suppressing testosterone removes male advantage because the biology that is created by testosterone in males is not undone – performance advantages are likely to persist too.’

Fiona McAnena, of group Fair Play For Women, added: ‘British Cycling say they want to promote greater female participation, so why would anyone think it’s a good idea to add males to female events?’

An opinion:

Prepare then for the women’s omnium this weekend and the possibility of Emily Bridges beating Laura Kenny. Kenny is the most decorated British female Olympian of all time; Bridges has never before competed in a women’s race.

Bridges is a transgender athlete. She was so highly rated when she was coming through the junior men’s ranks that she was selected to join the British Cycling senior academy….

Two years ago Bridges set a junior men’s record over 25 miles. Last month she won the men’s points race at the British Universities’ Championships. She is that good in the men’s ranks.

When a transgender athlete has had her testosterone level reduced to below the required level and has kept it there for 12 months, she is permitted to compete in the women’s races. That is the point at which Bridges is now.

So get this: While “transitioning,” Bridges has cycled with men’s teams and in men’s events. There is no indication that he suffered any rejection from males. It seems as if in cycling, at least, men can be welcoming of gender non-conforming men.

Keep it up, I say.

Update: Nope!

Not yet, at least.

The trans woman cyclist Emily Bridges has been blocked from participating in the British National Omnium Championship on Saturday after cycling’s governing body, the UCI, ruled she was ineligible.

Bridges – who set a national junior men’s record over 25 miles in 2018 – had been due to compete against several British Olympians, including Dame Laura Kenny, in her first race in the women’s category. However the UCI ruled the 21-year-old, who began hormone therapy last year to reduce her testosterone levels, was currently not compliant with its regulations as she is still registered as a male cyclist – and therefore cannot compete as a woman until her male UCI ID expires.

The UCI’s decision came amid a growing backlash from within the sport, with the Guardian understanding that a number of female riders were talking about boycotting the event in Derby because they felt that Bridges, who was on the Great Britain Academy programme as a male rider until being dropped in 2020, had an unfair advantage.

As I keep reminding you, this isn’t just about one odd incident. It’s about material reality and definitions rooted in reality.

If a male can be considered a woman simply by lowering testosterone levels and nothing else – then that question of last week must still be asked, over and over: what is a woman?

Is “woman” – a natal male with testosterone below a certain level, then? That’s it?

Do you get it? A human being with testosterone-producing testicles can claim the identity of “woman” as long as the testicles he still has on his male body are producing a bit less testosterone.

What does that make post-menopausal women?


Hope not.

Many of you have probably already seen this – but a comedian trolled the Plano City Council with a plea to be allowed to swim in a women’s league. When he holds up a photo of Lia Thomas and says, “We have champions like my girl Lia – my sister!” – maybe, just maybe – the absurdity of it all becomes crystal clear, if it wasn’t before.

Again, mental and emotional health issues are real.

But inviting people into a lie is never healing. Ever.

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Wednesday Really Random

I say that because, seemingly randomly, this post – What Basil the Great Wants You To Know About Fasting, published on March 3, has received thousands of hits this morning and for the life of me I cannot figure out why or the source of the referrers.

Okay, fine, but buy some books after you leave, okay?

Update: Answer to the mystery in the comments…thanks!

This clearly an attempt to completely reinvent Macbeth so it doesn’t feel like Macbeth. Except that no it is not coherent in any way and we are left what looks like a high school theater dress rehearsal that Daniel Craig stumbled in.

The set consists of two folding tables and some fog machines. The “Witches” were making what I thought was tacos at the start of the play but my friend who stayed said it turned out to be a stew.


See it if you crave a parody of a pretentious, derivative junior college project, (or parody of a REHEARSAL of same), headed by a movie star.

Snort. I mean, too bad.

I will wait and see what happens with this, for I am certainly not against re-visionings of Shakespeare, but this just sounds like a mess. Yes, it is in previews and will be tweaked, but this director is known for his particular point-of-view, so I doubt much will change. Well, I do have Music Man/Hugh Jackman tickets, so there’s that. Maybe I’ll turn my focus to Kathryn Hunter (the witches in Denzel’s Macbeth) in King Lear at the Globe.

So, from Kierkegaard’s standpoint, whether Will Smith (or Chris Rock or Jada Pinkett Smith) is the “hero” in this debacle is beside the point. What matters is that our media-driven society craves moments such as this one, when comments sections and Twitter memes soak up the hours of tedium. For awhile, we seem to have meaning and purpose, until the controversy passes. And then we wait for the next one to come.

From this perspective, one striking feature of our techno-social milieu is that it has become increasingly difficult both to receive the attention of our fellow human beings and to refuse the attention of the machines.

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The other night, we watched the film Harakiri, now streaming on the Criterion Channel. No, it’s not a Kurosawa, but a Kobayashi – as my Film Guy son writes:

Masaki Kobayashi was a great Japanese filmmaker who’s been overshadowed by Akira Kurosawa over time. He worked in the samurai genre several times, much as Kurosawa did, but he was far more political. His work functioned as scathing critiques of contemporary Japanese life, in particular the propensity for people to set aside their own desires and rights for the efficacy of the larger system around them. What Kobayashi does so well is to generalize that point thematically and wrap it in the package of the samurai movie. Samurai movies, like any genre, have a lot of room to tell very different kinds of stories. Kobayashi used his in a particular way that differed rather greatly from the more entertainment focused Kurosawa, but they still firmly sit within the samurai genre, embracing certain tropes like calls for seppuku, the intricacies of the shogunate, and katana-based duels.

And that’s what happens in Harakiri. Summary:

Following the collapse of his clan, an unemployed samurai (Tatsuya Nakadai) arrives at the manor of Lord Iyi, begging to be allowed to commit ritual suicide on the property. Iyi’s clansmen, believing the desperate ronin is merely angling for a new position, try to force his hand and get him to eviscerate himself—but they have underestimated his beliefs and his personal brand of honor. Winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize, Harakiri, directed by Masaki Kobayashi is a fierce evocation of individual agency in the face of a corrupt and hypocritical system.

I found the film just a little talky, but other than that, no complaints.

The plot is a nested egg, with motivations for actions being only gradually revealed to the point at which the emptiness and inhumanity of the system is starkly revealed.

The question, finally, is – what is your system actually upholding? At what price?

It’s a vital question at any time, one that we’re challenged to ask, even ourselves, in the small-scale systems of our lives, habits and households.

I think a lot about evangelization and faith and the presence of the Church in the world, and so of course, in reflecting on this film, I thought about those things.

There are any number of issues and obstacles one could focus on in the task of evangelization and ministry, but it seems to me more and more that one thing we can’t ignore is the crisis of trust in institutions and self-proclaimed authorities.

And the price paid for these fictions.

It’s a decades-long process which has only intensified in the years since the Iraq War to a point of crisis in the present moment.

Can we trust any institution to tell us the truth about anything? No.

Can we have any accurate sense of what is behind events and movements? Probably not.

Do we feel as if we have any actual control or role to play in these events or movements? Hardly.

Do we suspect that we are not much more than cogs, data sets and funding sources for entities that seem to be strolling, untouched through the events and crises that hit us so hard? Perhaps.

Are more people that we suspected who are in positions of power and influence in the public square, with public voices motivated less by values and beliefs than by pride, fear and profit? Definitely.

In other words: We live in a time of exhaustion from institutional distortions of truth, constantly changing assertions about the “truth” and subsequent gaslighting assertions that yes, Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia – and the not surprising resultant distrust of every word and image that surrounds us – including from the institutional Church, by the way.

When life in the world has evolve into an assertion of power in which We’ve (or they’ve) declared this is for your own good, so just do it and don’t ask questions about it or about us, heretic – why should anyone believe that the Church, in any of its forms or ministers, is any different when it presents “truth” and kindly requests your support?

Acknowledging this landscape is key, it seems – not assuming that those hearing Christian claims are hearing it differently than they hear the claims of government entities or corporations.

And then perhaps engaging in self-criticism and examination and asking the uncomfortable question.

Are we so different than the rest?

It’s a moment, to be sure. A moment in which the presentation of simple truths, offered in simple ways that respect human freedom and particularity, that admit the weakness and flaws of the one speaking, that invite attentiveness and presence without threats or manipulation, that offer courage to stand up when all the powers are telling you to stay where you are – might just have not just an important, but a life-saving role.

Healing, you might say.

From today’s Gospel:

Now that day happened to be the sabbath, so the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; you are not allowed to carry your sleeping-mat.’ He replied, ‘But the man who cured me told me, “Pick up your mat and walk.”’ They asked, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Pick up your mat and walk”?’ The man had no idea who it was, since Jesus had disappeared into the crowd that filled the place.

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Monday Digest

We will return to digesting today, rather than random. Randomness will certainly return tomorrow.

Writing: Don’t ask.

Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.

Reading: I read 2.8 books this weekend.

Abigail Favale’s forthcoming title from Ignatius, The Genesis of Gender


Kathleen Stock’s Material Girls which is still available for .99 as a Kindle version as of this writing.

This is the book that got Richard Dawkins into trouble with the Trans Gang.

I’ll be writing about Favale’s book closer to its publication date (5/1) and Material Girls later today.

Then I got about 80% through the novel Ocean State recommended to me by a commenter over the weekend! It was available via our library via Hoopla, so I didn’t even have to spend $20 to go drive to find it!

I read what I read last night but then just conked out at a certain point. I’ll finish it today. It’s intriguing.

Watching: Two films over the past few days:

Design for Living


Harakiri, both via the Criterion Channel. More on both coming later, probably.

I started to watch The Tourist – an Australian show on HBO Max. It has great reviews, but I was put off by two points in the first twenty minutes: First the inability of a little car to outrun and outmaneuver an 18-wheeler in the Outback (I mean, a few hairpin turns and it seems to me you’re outta there), and secondly, a nurse leaving a man in a wheelchair outside a hospital to “get some air.” I mean, maybe they do things differently in Australia, but it still struck me as absurd and obvious in terms of plot mechanics.

To be clear: I accept a lot of absurdities (MAGNETS!), but when the question comes – is this going to be worth a few hours of my time? – my tolerance is lower and it takes more for me to suspend my disbelief.

If you’ve watched it and think it’s worth it, make your case!

Listening: The usual. Piano-based jazz and classical. I do love piano transcriptions of orchestral pieces and so this got airplay this week.


Pork and Poblano Stew – fabulous as always

Pizza dough.

(Ahead of time – I find that it’s at its peak 2-3 days after making it. So I used part on that day, and then froze the rest)

The pork shoulder I bought was too big for the stew so I only used about 2/3 of it and ground the rest in the food processor, and I’m going to try my hand at wontons this week.


After an initial rush of planning our England/Scotland trip a few weeks ago, I have let it sit – I wanted to get accommodations in a couple of places I know are popular, so that was done. I’m thinking I might want to pick up those threads again, though….

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The end of the Gilded Age

Okay, okay, so I finished it. I did.

Nothing about this last episode changed my general assessment of the series: Enjoyable on a very superficial level, some good performances, some irritating performances, a lot of very formulaic, predictable plotting and writing, pretty clothes.

I’m mostly interested in the historical aspect, something brought out, as I mentioned before, in an engaging way by this Instagrammer.

I want to bring up two points – one specific and one general.

First, about the finale. And it’s about writing.

As the episode begins, we have a planned elopement. But – a family friend has espied the man doing something unfaithful and bad the night before the planned elopement. She rushes to communicate this to the woman in question. The initial emotional arc that we’re invited to get involved in is: will she get there in time? We’re led to assume that the elopement will, indeed, take place, so it is important for the possible future bride to be made aware of her possible future husband’s duplicity.

But, wait! As it turns out, the possible future husband doesn’t even show up to elope, wasn’t planning to, and was spending the day figuring out how to communicate his change of mind to possible future bride.

Do you see the problem, dramatically speaking? The piece brings us into what we think might be a disastrous situation: a young woman marrying a man who is predisposed to cheat on her.

But it turns out….as we’re stressing about this, the guy is in his office, formulating a Dear Jane letter anyway.

Lazy, almost deceptive writing.

But here’s my bigger issue with The Gilded Age.

It’s really no different than what I’ve expressed before: essentially, these people’s “problems” are not really important problems, and there are darker shadows of this period that are being completely ignored.

And before you try: No, this is not even at the level of “It’s okay to feel the pain of your cut finger while there’s starvation in the world. Don’t feel guilty.”

Because no – Bertha Russel’s struggle to break into New York City society – does not matter. There are other tensions and struggles experienced by people of that class and that period that have more universal human resonance, but honestly – this ain’t it.

Which is where I end up.

I find it absolutely, deeply fascinating that in a time – the present time – in which our culture is quite interested in identity politics and a view of history which emphasizes class and identity struggle, Pop Culture Eyes are rather uncritically fixed on a television show centered mostly on the problems of the most upper of the Upper Crust of a particular historical period, in which there is absolutely no serious attention paid to the work and exploitation of the working classes that made the Gilded Age possible, in which the primary center is the social climbing drama among the richest of the rich. Who got where they are because of the poorest of the poor.

This is the 1880’s we’re talking about. A period of exploding immigration and slums, of racial tensions and oppression in the South, of exploitation of Chinese immigrants in the West – and we are invited to engage with the problems of the uber-wealthy as if this is what was definitive and essential about the period.

Will Mrs. Astor attend Gladys Russel’s coming-out ball???

I’m not saying that can’t make a good story.

I’m just saying that in a time in which we are supposed to be all about marginalized identities and the stories of anyone but the powerful, how ironic that The Gilded Age, with its unironic, non-satirical take on the stories of the powerful is unironically offered up as comfort food, Prestige TV.

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Friday Random

A few quick notes:

I’d last seen him in concert back…sometime..in Jacksonville, I’m almost certain. We’re all a whole lot older now, but Dwight still has the energy, if not the smolder – plus it was *loud* so not much sonic space for smoldering. A great concert in our beautiful Alabama Theatre. (Lovett was in the smaller, but still beautiful, Lyric across the street.)

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What is a woman?

The question of the week, it seems.

I’m going to invite you one more time to consider how interesting it is that this is always the question. What is a woman? What do you have to do or be to be considered a woman? Who should be admitted into women’s spaces?

Where’s the agonizing about what is a man?

Why is the central, burning question:

How can we define “woman” to include men?

Of course this movement is misogynistic and male supremacist. I’ve been pointing that out for a while:

A movement that is based on:

  • Convincing young women that they would be better off male
  • Enabling males to be accepted as girls and women
  • Western gender stereotypes that emphasize female submissiveness and appearance

No…that’s not misogynist at all.

The essential takeaway from Kentaji Brown Jackson’s unwillingness or inability to define “woman,” I think, is not so much about her, personally, but about shedding yet more light on the ultimate illogic of sex agnosticism.

As many have (gleefully) pointed out – if Jackson can’t define “woman,” is there any grounds for pride in the accomplishment of possibly being the first Black woman on the Supreme Court? If we can’t define it, it doesn’t exist as a useful category any longer.

If we can’t define it – if it’s open season, if feelings define membership in the category, then what’s the point of Women’s history, women’s schools,, women’s groups, women’s prisons, women’s shelters, women’s teams or any accomplishment of this undefinable thing called “Woman.”

It’s gone. Just like that.

Which is where your traditional feminists come up hard against transactivism, only they either don’t or won’t see it yet.

So what is a woman? Here’s the simplest definition you’ll probably find, and one that avoids the minefields of infertility, the absence of pregnancy or birthing in a woman’s life as well as physical variation, either congenitally or in the course of one’s life:

Male and female are basically (and unromantically) just the bodies that house one of the two gametes required for sexual reproduction.

And a “woman” is an adult human female.

Credit: a discussion at Ovarit. Can’t find the specific one right now, but it was in a thread over there.

And that’s it. For let’s face it: once you allow the self-definition of “gender” to replace sex, you have removed human beings from the “mammal” category.

The reason that this is essential is not because of abstract definitions. It is because women – as women – as adult human females – have certain experiences in life, are vulnerable in certain ways – that are unique.

There is a reason women and men are housed in separate prisons.

There is a reason why abused women, most of whom have been abused by males – need single-sex shelters.

There is a reason why girls entering puberty and navigating the beginning of menstruation need privacy from males.

No, you do not need to be a biologist to figure this out.

Further, when it comes time to restrict certain human beings from going to school or forbidding them to drive or put them in burkas or performing genital mutilation – seems as if, globally, there’s not much ambiguity about the matter.

To prioritize subject, self-discerned gender identities over biological reality and the privacy, safety and dignity of women and girls is absurd, wrong and the fruit of narcissism run wild, which it will do, every time, if not checked.

Interestingly, Matt Walsh announced a new project today:

The TERFy boards and discussions I follow are generally torn about this, not surprisingly. For Walsh is, of course, a Very Bad Guy, but as is the case with this issue, progressives and liberals, even liberal feminists, have sold out completely to transactivism. Actually “torn” is too mild. At wit’s end, is more like it, deeply and profoundly frustrated at the political homelessness they feel and disgusted that they’re put in a position of finding more in common on this fundamental issue with the likes of Matt Walsh than Kenjati Brown Jackson.

One more point, perhaps edging up to conspiracy-land. This may be too tin-foil hatty for you, but here you go:

One of the life skills that females learn early is to be on our guard against males. Sorry to bust your idealistic bubble, but it’s true. Not all males, of course, but let’s put it this way: you’re in a public restroom or locker room and another woman enters, you don’t even notice, even though this is a space in which everyone is doing intimate things. It’s nothing.

A male enters?

You tense up.

You’re walking alone on a street, especially at night – a woman approaches? Again, nothing. Maybe you greet each other, maybe you don’t. No fear.

If it’s a man?

Different story.

Sitting a coffee shop and a woman strikes up a conversation? Perhaps a little annoying, depending on your mood, but probably not threatening. A man? Could be nothing, could be me anodyne human interaction, but you never know. You tense up, just a little.

Women have defenses against males for a reason. There is no denying that most physical violence against females is perpetrated by males, and always has been.

But now, what if women – especially young women – are being gaslit and conditioned to repress their own natural defenses, their own instinct to protect themselves…. for the sake of “kindess”….to men?

Who benefits?


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So, I gave a talk on Catholic Church history – an overview, a quick hits kind of tour. Instead of trying to actually go through a lot of dates and events, what I focused on the Catholic understanding of history, contrasting it with the secular view – which is the view most of us, Catholic or not, assume is the normative paradigm.

What is that secular view? That the human journey on earth is one of progress and advancement.

It makes sense, in a way, for one of the major features of human life, especially since the Enlightenment is obvious technological and material progress and betterment. And expansion of our sense and experience of human rights and civil liberties. It is not surprising, then this has become our dominant paradigm for comparing past and present.

Given spice, of course, since Marx and through to the present, with the paradigm of class and now identity struggle and conflict.

But that’s not the Catholic paradigm. I really can’t do better than to quote this:

It is important to note that the Christo-centric view of history is fundamentally different from the ideology of the progress of man. Those who exclude the Incarnation from the story of man preach a different gospel: that man, through his continued “enlightenment,” will eventually make sense of suffering—or even eliminate it. On the contrary, in this fallen world there will always be sin, sorrow and suffering, and only through Christ do these mysteries find meaning. Christ, the Prince of Peace, turns the human story upside down by defeating sin and death on the Cross, and by sanctifying suffering.

And then B16, from Spe Salvi:

That is, Church Fathers such as Eusebius and Augustine understood God as speaking to his people through history, and not simply Church history proper. The rise and fall of nations were to be understood in terms of God calling his people to himself.

At the same time, two categories become increasingly central to the idea of progress: reason and freedom. Progress is primarily associated with the growing dominion of reason, and this reason is obviously considered to be a force of good and a force for good. Progress is the overcoming of all forms of dependency—it is progress towards perfect freedom. Likewise freedom is seen purely as a promise, in which man becomes more and more fully himself. In both concepts—freedom and reason—there is a political aspect. The kingdom of reason, in fact, is expected as the new condition of the human race once it has attained total freedom. The political conditions of such a kingdom of reason and freedom, however, appear at first sight somewhat ill defined. Reason and freedom seem to guarantee by themselves, by virtue of their intrinsic goodness, a new and perfect human community. The two key concepts of “reason” and “freedom”, however, were tacitly interpreted as being in conflict with the shackles of faith and of the Church as well as those of the political structures of the period. Both concepts therefore contain a revolutionary potential of enormous explosive force.

On this subject, all we can attempt here are a few brief observations. First we must ask ourselves: what does “progress” really mean; what does it promise and what does it not promise? In the nineteenth century, faith in progress was already subject to critique. In the twentieth century, Theodor W. Adorno formulated the problem of faith in progress quite drastically: he said that progress, seen accurately, is progress from the sling to the atom bomb. Now this is certainly an aspect of progress that must not be concealed. To put it another way: the ambiguity of progress becomes evident. Without doubt, it offers new possibilities for good, but it also opens up appalling possibilities for evil—possibilities that formerly did not exist. We have all witnessed the way in which progress, in the wrong hands, can become and has indeed become a terrifying progress in evil. If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man’s ethical formation, in man’s inner growth (cf. Eph 3:16; 2 Cor 4:16), then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for th
e world.

And now to apply this to Church history specifically:

Our stance towards the Catholic past just cannot be to point and laugh at how ignorant they were and how enlightened we are today.

No, our paradigm is to recognize that we all – past, present and future – share a common stance: on our knees before the Cross.

The Catholic view of our own history is one of humility and openness. We can learn, and we must learn – it’s required, since our faith is rooted in both Revelation and Tradition, of course.

But we can take it in another direction, as well.

To engage with the past means to engage with human beings who might live in material circumstances, and social, political and economic landscapes that are quite different than ours, but who are still, at the beginning and end, human beings who were born, suffered, struggled, were in communion, and faced mortality under the same mysterious stars.

Encountering their traditions, ways and thoughts, we would do well to engage, rather than scoff, we would do well do dig deeply and ask why did they do this? What moved them? What do I share in common with those motivations? What do I do in the present that meets those same needs? Do my actions and choices make any more sense, in the end, than theirs do?

In other words, our instinctive reaction to some Catholic moment from the past might be: Wow, that’s pretty crazy. And it might have been! But we might consider a follow-up as we consider our own lives: Wow, that’s pretty crazy, too, to be honest.

As I said, ours is not to point and laugh and bask in our superiority. Because we don’t have anything to brag about.

That is not to argue that the past is golden, ossified and preserved in amber for our devotion and emulation. The Catholic past is a riotous dynamic which includes moments worth reverencing and moments worth critiquing.

For the history of the Church may not be properly understood by the secular definition of “progress” but it certainly has the dynamic of reform baked into it – that is indeed, our history: Establishing a thought or practice or other reality that is faithful to the Gospel, and then, invariably, that moment drifting, corrupting and being an example, no longer of love, but of human pride and folly. And so we pray, discern, perhaps painfully tear down what have become idols, and begin again.

Again and again: rooting ourselves in the beauty and truth that has sprouted in the past, and then being completely open to the needs of the present moment, and then discerning, with the help of the Holy Spirit, what that moment calls for.

But never, ever laboring under the hubristic assumption that that our awareness of that Spirit represents any sort of necessary “progress” just because it’s now and that was then.

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