Thursday, September 29, 2005

I Can't Believe I'm Posting About This...

...because I hate women who talk about nothing but diet and exercise. But here goes.

Last winter I bought the Callanetics exercise DVD (it is a copy of the 1986 videotape) after I read positive reviews of it online. I also read the Callanetics book, first from the library and later from a thriftstore-purchased copy. I tried the exercises, and I could do the warm-up and stretches fine and the pelvic and the standing leg exercises without too much difficulty, but the abdomen and the hip exercises were another story. The abdomen ones were even harder than ordinary crunches. The hip exercises were hard to understand and when I got in position to try them, I found myself looking down at my leg, unable to move it at all. I tried the tape a few times, and just kept finding myself staring down at my immovable leg. Until the last time, when I found if I leaned over more than was really right I could just get my leg up and move it, barely. But by that time I was frustrated with the whole thing and gave it up as too difficult for me. (To be fair, I was also entering yet another off phase in my twenty years-long on again/off again relationship to exercise, and everything else got dumped too.)

Fast forward to last week and the beginnings of my annual pre-birthday insanity (an Auntie Suzanne tradition since the age of twelve.) I decided to start my short routine of upper body strength exercises again on MWF, but I need something for TTS. Why not try Callanetics again--when it doesn't work out I can go on to something else.

Since I'd figured out how to lift my leg, I managed to get through the tape--sort of. A day after my first session I was passing the mirror and thought, "something looks different--aah, just my imagination" and kept walking. After the second session, I thought my hips looked smaller, but of course that was impossible, so I told myself I must be imagining it. Still they do look a bit smaller... Immediately after my third session I looked in the mirror, and they were smaller. It seemed unbelievable, but I was sure I wasn't imagining it.

So then I thought, well why not prove it, get the measuring tape; I'd measured myself for a skirt last week, so I had a day or two pre-Callanetics measurement. I put the tape around my hips and it read two inches smaller than last week. I stared in disbelief for a moment. That is utterly impossible, I thought. I must be doing something different, I'm standing funny or holding the tape wrong or unconsciously sucking in or something. I adjusted the tape slightly, slumped slightly, and blew out to make extra sure I wasn't holding in and re-measured. The tape moved a little. It now read almost two inches smaller. Which is still very hard to believe.

The idea that any exercise program could take more than an inch off your hips in only three sessions is amazing. And I can't even do the whole routine! My abdomen is too weak to even think about doing the full number of reps on any of the belly exercises, and although I can do the hip exercises now, I'm not doing them perfectly or doing the full count. So it's doubly amazing.

The Callanetics book and video slogan was "ten years younger in ten hours". That's a pretty silly claim of course, but maybe after I've done ten sessions I'll post again about what it can do in ten hours. (For the record, it doesn't actually take a full hour to do a session.)

Give Me the Good Old Days

This past Sunday there was an article in the Telegraph that I'd like to say is unbelievable, but which, given our degraded modern society, is all too believable: Women bypass sex in favour of 'instant pregnancies'. According to the article, an increasing number of fertile women in their 30s and 40s are turning to technology to get them pregnant, either as their first resort,or as their almost-first resort when the good old-fashioned way doesn't work immediately. Seems they're too busy to "diary in" frequent sex or, in some cases, any sex at all. At no point anywhere in the article does anyone ask how people who are too busy for sex are going to have time to take care of a baby, or how people unwilling to rearrange their schedules the small amount necessary to allow for extra sex (an activity with immediate payoffs for both people) are going to handle the constant disruptions a baby brings (disruptions that often have no immediate reward.)

Shake That (Coded?) Stuff

EWTNs World Over has its interview with Clare Asquith, author of Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare up on its audio page. (When the sound file comes up, skip forward just over 8 minutes to get to the interview.)

I heard about Asquith's book just over a month ago, and while there does seem to be some evidence to support the speculation that Shakespeare was Catholic, any talk of hidden codes in Shakespeare sets my brain on "Suspicious". I participated off and on for years in a Usenet discussion group about Shakespeare, and between that and my other reading, I'm well aware of the phenomenon of nutcakes and their conspiracy theories about Shakespeare, which often do involve codes hidden in the plays. The author of the plays is secretly Edward DeVere and everyone in England knows it but no one is allowed to say it, so there's a massive number of coded references to DeVere's authorship concealed in the plays (presumably so everyone in the audience can nod knowingly); the author of the plays is Marlowe, the author is Bacon, the author is Queen Elizabeth's illegitimate son, the author is Queen Elizabeth's lover, the author is Queen Elizabeth, etc. Many of the people who hold these views are out-and-out fanatics--can't change their mind and won't change the subject--and are sometimes rather too much like the other conspiracy theorists (for example, Area 51 or obsessive JFK assassination people) for comfort.

Asquith, however, sounds surprisingly sane and well-balanced. She says part of what opened her mind to this view of Shakespeare's plays was seeing how seemingly innocuous plays were used to convey dissident political messages in the Soviet Union. (Other reasons were her own English Catholicism and the new, non-Protestant takes on English history of the time.) She makes the idea of discreet Catholic references seem reasonable. I still don't wholly buy it, because, besides the danger of publically supporting Catholicism over Protestantism (which meant questioning the legitimacy--in both senses of the term--of the Queen), I just don't think playwrights work that way. There may be a little something to what she's alleging and, even if there's not, her book may provide an interesting look at Catholic sympathizers in Elizabethan society, so I am open to reading it--not buying it, but reading it.

For a World Over program about Shakespeare's possible Catholicism, listen to the interview with Dr. Paul Voss (production date 8/17/01.) It provides an easy, enjoyable introduction to the subject and also explains in passing why Calvinists never wrote tragedies.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Cultural Tourism

The Reuters story yesterday about an Israeli couple fined for kissing during their wedding ceremony in India amused me in a mean-spirited way. The couple, who as far as I can tell are not Hindu, decided they wanted a traditional Hindu wedding in Pushkar. They proceeded to embrace and kiss while the priest was chanting vedic hymns, which outraged the presiding priest and other priests as well--one called their public kissing "cultural pollution". I have no problem with PDAs, but good for him.

I don't usually go in for the lefty cries of "cultural theft" or "cultural appropriation". Healthy cultures adopt things that are useful or even just likeable from other cultures, they always have done, and no one called it theft until recently. But when Westerners decide to pick up spiritual things from other cultures because they're oh so quaint and picturesque and closer to nature than us, etc. and then do it in a shallow way that mocks the tradition, I cringe and start considering using the t word myself. The most notorious example of what I'm talking about are the people who go to a weekend workshop, come home with a certificate, and proclaim themselves "genuine Native American shamans." But I think wanting a picturesque Hindu wedding when you're not Hindu or even willing to respect the mores of the local people who are comes pretty close to the attitude.

Hurricane Rita

Hurricanes can highlight our selfishness. I confess my main feeling toward Hurricane Rita is one of relief; I don't wish anyone in Texas or SW Louisiana any harm, but I'm glad it's not coming for my area. Viewed from the national level and from a purely practical standpoint, it would be better for Rita to hit here again--this area of the country is already messed up, why add another messed-up area to the national burden?--but I'll bet nobody on the Mississippi Gulf Coast or SE Louisiana is looking at it that way. I know I'm not.

Wall Street to the Contrary, Greed is Not Good

There's some interesting discussion of price-gauging over at Caelum et Terra. I don't know as much as I probably should about economics. It seems to me that things work better with a free (or mostly free) market, but I think it's crucial that we have decent people in the marketplace. The internal restraints that people trying to be decent put on themselves can check capitalism's excesses without having to resort to the nearly always doomed government controls on economic freedom.

I'm reminded of something I read by William F. Buckley:

Every ten years I quote the same adage from the late Austrian
analyst Willi Schlamm, and I hope that ten years from now someone will remember
to quote it in my memory. It goes, "The trouble with socialism is socialism. The
trouble with capitalism is capitalists."

Maybe that doesn't mean what I think it does, but I think it means that if we let our greed and self-interest dominate us we create the ugly side of an economic system that generally works pretty well. Capitalism works because it allows for human nature (our desire to seek our own self-interest, to take care of our own family, to have our own stuff, to keep the fruits of our labors) more than socialism does, but then the trouble with capitalism becomes fallen human nature (greed, selfishness, desire for power over others, choosing temporary goods over longterm goods, general sinfulness.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Home-schooling Bestsellers

The WSJ recently had an article on what homeschoolers are reading.

Home-schooling is sort of like a college student's virginity:
People figure it's a mark of religiosity, but nearly as often it's just personal
taste, or a lack of better options. The majority of families who home-school are
conservative Christians, to be sure. But another sizable portion are secular
counterculturalists, and then...anyone far from a school.

I'd argue that conservative Christians are counterculturalists, but let that go. What's interesting is that book choices overlap. Both groups favor books about children behaving in a self-sufficient way, both like the Narnia books and love Laura Ingalls Wilder and George Alfred Henty.

I've never read Henty, although I've read some praise of him, but I really enjoyed Wilder's Little House books when I was a child. Much better than the TV show, which I also liked. When I wasn't reading the books, I would look again and again at those wonderful pencil illustrations by Garth Williams. If I'm ever blessed with a child--not likely, as, to quote Raising Arizona, my womb is a barren and rocky place where Uncle Pookie's seed can find no purchase--the complete Little House set goes on the Books for Baby list. I figure they'd not only be fun to read aloud but would help reinforce my "you don't have to have lots of expensive toys like the other kids to be happy" indoctrination. (I have a little bit of Calvin's dad in me.)

Pro-choice or Faux-choice

Before I became a Catholic, I was pro-choice. I would not have become Catholic had I not been able to accept the Church's views on this matter, so obviously my opinions have changed a lot; I am now sorry for my attendance at the one abortion rights rally I attended and for any influence I may have had on anyone else's views. But one thing I can say in my defence (sort of) is that at least I was genuinely pro-choice. I believed that only the pregnant woman herself should have the right to decide whether or not to end her pregnancy, and I believed that only the individual in question should determine whether he or she would be sterilized. Forced abortions and sterilizations horrified me.

I make a point of saying I was genuinely pro-choice, because some people in today's society say they are pro-choice, but really aren't. The most obvious example is people who claim to be pro-choice, but who refuse to condemn China's coercive population control program or, worse, approve of it--people like Molly Yard, former president of NOW, whom the Associated Press is reporting has just died. But there are others. Parents who say they're pro-choice, but who force their teenage or college student daughters to abort. Judges who offer convicted women time off sentences if they agree to sterilization or insertion of Norplant. People who claim to be pro-choice and then grumble at who gets and stays pregnant. Or who talk only about the boons of not having children, while seeming to find it hard to fathom that many women would prefer to keep their children. Or who talk as if people who choose to have large families are doing something wrong. Or who don't want to hear others talking about abstinence or Natural Family Planning (or, in extreme cases, even the Fertility Awareness Method). Or who don't want pro-life people to be allowed to talk at all.

People who are genuinely pro-choice may not be where they should be in their views, but at least they're not forcing or subtly bullying women onto operating tables.

(For some interesting listening on China's population control program and American responses to it, listen to Steven Mosher, author of A Mother's Ordeal: One Woman's Fight Against China's One-Child Policy, talking to Marcus Grodi on EWTN's The Journey Home. The episode is dated 4/28/2000.)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

"Defenestrating princesses are a little unusual!"

This website is mostly sewing related, but if you click on the "Assault on Dragon Castle" page, you can see the greatest toy I have ever seen in my life!

Teenage Pregnancy

The bearing blog (a pretty cool blog I found a while back--an engineer turned SAHM and homeschooler writes about whatever takes her fancy) has a post with a couple of questions about sex ed programs that "work". Just a taste: "It isn’t self-evident that the programs that best reduce teenage pregnancy are the same programs that best reduce STI rates..."

Just a quibble on my part--and it would be a quibble with nearly everyone who discusses this subject, not just with bearing blog--but teenage pregnancy is not necessarily a problem. Unmarried teen pregnancy is a problem. Teenagers used to get pregnant all the time; the difference was that they got married--either before pregnancy or, hastily, after a pregnancy but before the birth*. At least one of my grandmothers married in her early teens (first baby arrived one year and one day later) and went on to have a long, apparently happy marriage. Go back far enough and we all have teenaged mothers and fathers in our family tree.

Of course, many people would argue that teenagers shouldn't get married, because they're too young or because it's hard for people who haven't been to college to support a family. To the first I say "bollocks". As to the latter, I think there's something wrong with a society that makes it so difficult for a young man to support a wife and child. But it's only hard, not impossible, especially if the couple have the support of their extended family.

*Cute story: My mother reports that her grandmother told her that, "When a couple get married, their first baby can come at any time, but after that it always takes nine months." This was coming from an elderly, Victorian-era woman in the 1950s, in the backwoods of "socially conservative" Mississippi, in a family with multiple Baptist ministers. Hasty marriages have been around for a while.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Our Lady of Sorrows, Pray for Us

Today commemorates Our Lady of Sorrows, patron of Mississippi. Women for Faith & Family have a couple of nice pictures and the words (Latin & English) to the Stabat Mater Dolorosa.

Misc. Observations Spurred by Hurricane Katrina

Not everything about losing power is bad. It's easier to get to bed on time when there's no electric lights and a dozen forms of electricity-dependent entertainment waiting for you. People sleep better without LEDs all over the house lighting things up and street lights pouring through the shades.

Then there's the fact that situations like this bring out the best in most people and we get the opportunity to see neighbors and strangers doing good.

And then there's the greater family togetherness when everyone's not in different rooms pursuing separate hobbies. On that front, check the papers nine months from now for news of a baby boom in the affected areas.


In the '90s I started making a solar cooker after reading how in The Tightwad Gazette; I made the mistake of starting before I had all my supplies gathered, and I ended up abandoning the project. Every summer since, when I'd ponder whether having some particular dish was worth heating up the oven (and thus the kitchen), I'd wish I'd finished it. While we were without electricity, I really wished I had a solar oven. With one, we could have had normal meals; had our tap water been contaminated, we could even have used the solar cooker to boil water, instead of relying on bleach.


I discovered that, when cooking on the grill, I could get two meals from one portion of charcoal. When I took the cooked food off the grill as usual, I put a lidded, all-metal pot with food inside in the grill and shut the lid. Four or five hours later, the food was cooked. You're a bit limited in what you can cook this way (especially if you only own one all-metal, lidded pot), but any hot food makes a change from peanut butter sandwiches or summer sausage and canned fruit.


I learned that if you paint the sides of a can of soup with non-toxic black spray paint and put the can in the sun for a few hours in the middle of the day, you can have hot soup without cooking.


I was surprised how quickly the human body adapts to heat. Mississippi writer Jack Butler once described our summers as a hundred days at a hundred degrees and a hundred percent humidity; trust me, we usually make abundant use of the air-conditioning and electric fans, and I've never gone more than a few days without electricity--that time was from Hurricane Frederick, when I was a child. Tuesday and Wednesday sweat poured off me all day (Monday was relatively cool because of the storm), but on Thursday I felt much more comfortable and on Friday I was perfectly comfortable. It has made me rethink our use of air-conditioning and my reluctance to walk anywhere during the day in summer because "it's too hot".


In our society it's easy to live cut off from your community--not participating in local events, shopping outside of your area, preferring national or world news to local news--most of the time, but in a natural disaster local news and resources become highly valued.


It's amazing how used we are to having news--local, national, & international--available at the flip of a switch. Lying in the dark Wednesday night, I felt very cut-off. No long-distance phone service, no cell phones working, no electricity for internet or TV news, some area radio stations down, no newspapers, no mail. At that point people were sending messages with people driving out of town--a bit like runners or troubadours carrying news. Things quickly began normalizing--a satellite phone was found, more people bought generators as they came into town, the local newspaper got out an edition, the long-distance service came back on Friday, and so on. But for the first couple of days, we were in a more old-fashioned state, and it felt odd.


I gained a newfound appreciation for the electric washing machine--specifically its ability to wring out the water from clothes.


It's odd to go into a grocery store and all the refrigerated sections are empty and there's no produce (or only cabbage and a small amount of fruit), nothing but non-perishable food. It wouldn't seem odd if we weren't such a prosperous country that we have been able to take stores full of all the food we want, whenever we want, with no waiting (other than the line to pay), for granted. It is so ordinary to us that I sound dorky for mentioning it, but it really is an amazing thing to waltz into a grocery store any time we want and know it will almost certainly have everything we want. It beats the heck out of waiting in line to buy bread, a la the former Soviet Union.


Unexpected pleasures are even better than they would be usually. When you weren't expecting to have tea at all, sun tea (I prefer brewed) made from inferior quality tea and poured over the last of the ice from your rapidly thawing freezer can be more enjoyable than good tea is usually.


I've changed a lot with age and becoming Catholic. Two things recently brought that home to me. We went through distribution lines several times to get ice (you couldn't buy ice at the store), and one of the centers was set up to get people through as quickly as possible, so we couldn't tell them we only needed ice, not food, without stopping the line. I felt bad about taking food other people needed more, but once upon a time it would have hurt my pride even to take the charity ice.

Second thing was that, after I found out about the horrible things that had been happening in New Orleans (when long-distance service returned Friday), I was able to offer genuine prayers for the souls of the people terrorizing their fellow citizens. I've always been a little more attached to the "some people need killin' " school of thought than befits a Catholic and, as I'm not a naturally forgiving person, my prayers for my enemies have usually begun with a prayerful request that I be able to mean the prayer. People who prey on other people after a natural disaster are the lowest of the low and I think they should be dealt with harshly to discourage others from doing the same, but they, like all of us, are souls in need of divine mercy and I'm glad that I was able to mean it when I prayed for them.


I know it's fashionable to criticize capitalists, but there's nothing like having no stores open for two days (and then only a few open for another few days) to give you an appreciation for them. And as for the ones who opened up here before they got generators up and running and had to let only a few customers into their darkened stores at a time and "ring them up" by writing barcodes down on a piece of paper for later entry into their computer systems, it's hard to think it was a purely monetary decision on the part of the managers. I may sound naive, but considering how inconvenient the whole thing was for the stores and how their regular sales were diminished by only being able to allow a few people in at a time, it's hard not to think there was some idea of providing a service behind it.

I know the idea of service inspired the local radio station, which operated for a week without advertisements, just so people could hear local news--things like whether we need to boil water, a local nurse is driving to a dialysis unit north of us and can carry passengers who need dialysis, that sort of thing.


MREs are wonderful! I'd only ever heard of them in the context of complaints, but having sampled a couple, I think that either the quality has improved greatly or the complaints were coming from soldiers who got tired of having only MREs for too long. Each MRE has an entree, a snack (such as bread and cheese or peanut butter and crackers), a dessert, an instant drink mix, salt, sugar and creamer if the instant drink was coffee, a tiny container of hot sauce or packet of pepper, two pieces of breath-freshening gum, a high-quality plastic spoon, paper napkins and a moist towelette. The entree is heated in an ingenious little pack, just by adding a tablespoon or two of water to the bag; if your instant drink was a hot drink, you also get a bag for heating the drink. Everything is vacuum-packed in high-quality plastic, and it's lightweight and relatively small in volume. The main bag everything comes in can double as an emergency water carrier. Our military must be the best-fed in history, and as the old saying goes, an army travels on its stomach. Can you imagine how the Roman generals would have loved to have had MREs for their men?


There are exceptions, but I usually only go to mass on Sundays or holy days of obligation. During the time since the hurricane, I went to First Friday mass and a couple of daily masses, and it was good to know that, even during a time when everything else is different from your usual life (no traffic lights, for instance) the liturgy is still there, the same.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

A New Fantasy Author on My "To Read" List

Ignatius Insight has an interview with Tim Powers:

I've heard the name before but never come across any of his books. But his novels sound interesting and one comment of his made me suspect I might like the man:

I was on a panel once in which a woman said, "Dracula is
actually about the plight of 19th-century women," to which I replied, "No,
about a guy who lives forever by drinking other people’s blood – don’t
take my
word for it, check it out."

Our public library is still closed and its online catalogue is down, but I'll be checking for Powers as soon as I can.

In Memoriam: 9/11/01

Michelle Malkin has, as expected, an excellent collection of links:

And here's a collection of pictures:

The Real Lesson

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from Hurricane Katrina, most of them related to preparedness, but I think the real lesson is what I found in Thomas a Kempis' The Imitation of Christ Friday night:

It is good for us to have sometimes troubles and adversities: for they make
a man enter into himself, that he may know that he is in a state of banishment,
and may not place his hopes in anything of this world.

God gave us the good things of the world to enjoy, but ultimately they're not what we're here for. All of the things we spend our time and energy on--jobs, homes, possessions, hobbies--can all be taken from us in a matter of moments or days. Even our loved ones can be snatched from us, though their immortal souls live on. As the whiskey priest in The Power and the Glory realized nearing death, in the end nothing matters but being a saint.

I'm going to try to remember this more often.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I'm Baaaack!

Auntie Suzanne and Uncle Pookie are safe and sound, possessed of home and health (physical anyway), and are currently reveling in the newly acquired presence of things like electric lights, fans, and washing machine. Some men visited our house half an hour ago and restored power. This time last week we were still being told it would be four to six weeks before we got power, but things have been returning to normal pretty quickly; then again, we live near a hospital, so we're among the first to get power.

Three cheers for electricity!