Monday, March 31, 2008

Who Says Opera is Dead?

Making Fun of the Scientists

Mateo (see sidebar) found this on Uncommon Descent. Very Funny. "If I was dyslexic I'd also hate dog." And the linking of raw avarice and misogyny to the Darwinist movement is spot on. The Darwinists are certainly worthy of this ridicule, but we should never forget that they are very dangerous.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Update: Homosexuality and the Natural Law

What follows is an update to this post.

There has only been one substantial reply to my long post on Homosexuality and the Natural Law, this was by the man named Anthony.

Here is what he wrote:

"There are many things in this post that I do not agree with. I'm sure much of my disagreement comes from my lack of belief in a god of the type that is described in the post which is a difference I have with the great people referred to in the post. I'm sure I would disagree with many of them on many things.

The one clarification I wish to make is this: Matt, you seem to believe that same-sex relationships are entirely based on sexual relations. I will admit that many young homosexuals are a bit promiscuous and like to have sex. This is in great part because they hide their sexual preferences until they are older and then explore them while heterosexuals explore their sexuality earlier. Anyway, most committed same-sex couples are no different than opposite-sex couples. The actual sexual congress happens infrequently and is not central to the relationship. I spend most of my time in bed sleeping not having sex. You stated that I could choose not to give in to temptation and choose not to act on my homosexual desires. Well, I could. I could live my life celibate if I chose. I could kill myself if I chose. I could eat human flesh if I chose. I could even worship a god if I chose. I choose to participate in a loving partnership with a wonderful human being who, unlike me, has great conviction in his religious belief. I choose to be a good person who donates to charity and works to help those less fortunate than myself. I choose to lavish gifts upon my niece and love my mother, father, their parents. I choose not to judge people based on their beliefs and would wish that people not judge me on mine.

We disagree on many things and I don't think that any online conversation (or face-to-face conversation) will resolve our differences. You are obviously a well read individual and have great faith in your beliefs. I respect that. I disagree with many of your views but I hope that we can continue to participate in our courses respecting that we disagree and that our disagreement is not likely to be resolved."

Below is my reply, and I think it will be the last thing I say on the subject.

"I reiterate: I am not enjoying this conversation at all, and wish it were not happening. I bear no animosity toward you. I do not think the acts you commit make you any worse than me, or any one else. And as I said, I did not expect to convince anyone, but you said two things that I think are not true:

1. "Anyway, most committed same-sex couples are no different than opposite-sex couples. "

I take it that by that stamement you mean everyone, regardless of who they sleep with gets up in the morning, goes to work, takes out the trash, pays their taxes, etc. I agree that far. But on a deeper, cosmic level, what you said is not true.

When men and women form a marriage there is the sacrifice of self. By this I mean there is on the part of the male, who is an expression of Masculinity, an embrace of the Feminine, and on the part female, who is expression of Femininity, an embrace of the Masculine. Each must be willing to admit that they are not, in themselves, holistic pictures of Life. And in that admission, like a seal of approval, there is the hope of procreation.

This is not the case with homosexual unions. In them, the male is enthralled with Masculinity, unwilling to cede self to the Feminine. Likewise, the female is seeks self-reflection in another expression of the Feminine. Essentially, it is existence in a hall of mirrors. And that, as the tale of Narcissus, he who was enrobed in self-love teaches us, is the way of death.

So, to put it succinctly, homosexual couples are indeed, "different" from heterosexual couples. The latter affirm reality and life. The former negate reality and embrace death.

2. "I'm sure much of my disagreement comes from my lack of belief in a god."

I don't think so. The Natural Law is not the same as Divine Law. Thomas Jefferson was a deist. Plato was an atheist. The Dalai Lama is an atheist. Yet all of them see the Natural Law and all of them are in agreement that homosexual acts are fundamentally disordered. And they reach that conclusion, not by investigating Divine ordinances, but by observing the world (in the case of Plato, probably, experiencing homosexuality) and by applying reason to the observations. Lack of belief in a god is no excuse.

I am willing to stop this unhappy conversation and move on to other things. As far as I am concerned, everything has been said that should be said."

7 Deadly Sins: A Project for School

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Two For New Orleans: A Soundtrack Saturday Post

I was a 7 year old boy in 1976, the 200th year of the American Revolution. It was quite a party. In my neighborhood all the fire hydrants were painted red white and blue. We sang patriotic songs in school. We memorized the Preamble of the Declaration of Independance. We learned about Valley Forge. But more than anything else that happened that year, I remember hearing these song on the radio. The first was recorded by Johnny Horton in 1958. The second was recorded by Arlo Guthrie in 1972. They made me love America. With this post I am doing something a little different. Instead of posting videos of the performers singing their songs I have selected fan videos.

Homosexuality and the Natural Law

In one of my classes we are discussing what makes a community. I do not know why but the professor is requiring us to talk about homosexuality in the context of community. I wrote something. Many people responded. One man responded at length. The professor asked me to answer him. This is what I wrote.

There is much in what Anthony said that begs for a reply. I won't get to all of it. But before I get to any of it, I want to say how sorry I am that this conversation is even happening. According to the theology of my church, the Orthodox Church, the evil I struggle against, and which usually defeats me, is several orders of magnitude greater than homosexual activity. Sodomy is a sin against oneself, but gluttony is a sin against oneself and against the poor, who, as you might know from reading the Bible are under God's special protection . The Bible never says it would be better for a homosexual to kill himself, but the Bible says exactly that (in Proverbs 23:2) about gluttony.

Right now, during the Orthodox Church's Lent, several times a day I prostrate before an Icon and pray the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian which says:

"O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother; for Thou art blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen."

I am not supposed to be thinking about anyone's sins but my own (which are plenty), so, please know that what I am about to write is not born of animosity of judgementalism. I certainly do not think I smell more pleasing to God than Anthony does. But I have been asked what I think, so I shall say what I think is true. It is my goal to inform, not offend, though I am sure offense will be suffered.

First I need to address the idea of rights. What are they? What is their origin? At one point in his argument, Anthony appeals to nature. So it is only fitting that I address natural law, but not only because of Anthony's appeal to nature, but because natural law is the basis of the political, commercial, and civil rights I mentioned in an earlier post.

Every American is familiar with the idea of Natural Law (it is usually capitalized) since they have to memorize these lines sometime during the childhood, (in California it is in the 6th grade):

"When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

But Thomas Jefferson did not pluck those words "Laws of Nature and Nature's God" out of then air. He could, and did look back through thousands of years of legal and political thought to understand exactly what that phrase meant. In a bright line that is seen running from Plato's "the Laws", though Aristotle, through Cicero, through Augustine, through Aquinas, through Blackstone's Commentary on the Common Law, and Locke's Two Treatises on Government, and right into those words of Jefferson's quoted above.

Without going into great detail of their arguments, I will simply state that all of them were in agreement with the idea summed up by Cicero thusly: "True law is right reason in agreement with nature.” That is, in the fabric of the universe there is built in Law which by observation and reason can be discovered by human beings. It is for this reason that for centuries when a judge did what we now call "making a law" he was said to have "discovered a Law". But what of laws that violate the Natural Law? Well, as Aquinas wrote, "Lex malla, lex nulla". They simply are not law.

Perhaps, you don't believe all of this stuff about Natural Law. Maybe, following Jeremy Benthem you think law merely whatever people say it is. If so, then I say the burden is on you to prove it. But beware! On my side are the giants of civilization, while you will have to find support from the monsters of history. Do you really want to rely on de Sade's hideous justification of rape on the grounds that it brings about the most happiness? Do you want to find an ally in Mao's assertion that power comes from the barrel of a gun? That is where legal positivism (the technical name for Benthem's idea) leads. After a couple of years of living in that kind of society you'll be begging for old books to be opened again, for Amos to give instruction on how to treat the poor, for Jesus to tell you how to treat women, for Aquinas and Locke to set limits on the state. Men like de Sade and Bentham and Mugabe and Pol Pot and Stalin chaffe under the yoke of Natural Law, but as the old saying goes, lex praesidium libertatis, law is the safeguard of liberty.

I wish I could just put here the text of John Locke's Two Treatises on government, but that would take you several days to read. So, to be brief, I will explain that one of the rights arising out of Natural Law is that people may form governments to secure the natural rights. In forming those governments, they actually cede some of their rights and some of their powers. (Waging war, a species of the right of self-defense, is an example of one such right that individuals cede to governments.) Those governments may, and as far as I know, always have created certain concrete rights through statute. A right to vote is one such right. It does not exist as a natural right. It is a man-made political right.

Under the laws of the United States there are three kinds of rights. Some are also rights arising from the Natural Law (In the lists that follow I will mark those rights clearly arising from natural law with an "N"), and none of them violate the Natural Law, as far as I can tell. Under U.S. law none of these rights is absolute and they are all regulated to various degrees. I think you will agree with me that homosexuals are not denied any of these rights.

Only two political rights that are given to non-office holders:
The right to vote
The right to run for office

There are civil rights:
The right to peacefully assemble
The right to seek redress for grievances (N)
The right to bear arms (N)
The right to speak freely (N)
The right to print freely (N)
The right not to be forced to quarter soldiers in your house (N)
The right to exercise freely your religion (Traditionally, this is a religious right not a civil right, but in the U.S. it is termed a civil right.) (N)
The right to form or not form associations with other people (N)
The right to legal counsel (N sometimes)
The right to be tried by a jury (Blackstone argues that it is a Natural Right, but I am not convinced)
The right to not be tortured into a confession (N)
The right to not incriminate oneself (N)
The right of habeus corpus
The right not to be decapitated for crimes committed
The right not to be cruelly punished for crimes committed
The right not to receive an other than usual punishment for crimes committed
The right to have the governments laws equally applied to all people(Interstingly, this is a reveled Divine Law that might not be a Natural Law)
The right to be secure in one's person, home, and papers from government invasion (N)
The right to legal due process before being deprived of life, liberty or property

There are commercial and property rights:
The right to buy, own, encumber, redeem, lease, hold, sell, bequeath, pledge, and enjoy real and chattel property (N)
The right to negotiate the terms of and make contracts, (N) and have those contracts enforced by the state
The right to sell and be paid for labor (N)
The right not to suffer trespass (N)

Anthony mentioned several items, and I will take them in order.

Anthony mentioned organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America which do not allow homosexual members. Anthony was right in pointing out that they are private organizations. As distasteful as some organizations are, they do have a right to set the terms of their membership. Women's health clubs do not have to admit men. The Augusta Golf Club does not have to admit women. For some reason I do not understand, the government does discriminate between clubs, political parties, churches, and other non-profits on one hand, and most for-profit businesses on the other. The laws of the United States are not consistent in this area. As far as homosexuals are concerned, most for-profit businesses want as many customers as they can get, regardless of what their personal habits might be.

Anthony equates homosexual acts with heterosexual acts and homosexual marriage with heterosexual marriage. In the course of his argument he says that the United States treats homosexuals unfairly because it refuses to let homosexual soldiers marry, while encouraging heterosexual soldiers to visit whores. ( I want to say that the military should not be encouraging soldiers to use prostitutes. I am more than a little bit surprised that that is going on. When I was a soldier in the 1980s it was a punishable offense and I saw sergeants in my unit become privates because of using prostitutes. And though they were not dishonorably discharged, their careers were ruined and they were barred to re-enlistment. I am very disturbed to read about this change. Especially since I have a son who is in the Army. ) But appealing to the existence of another wrong, does not make homosexual behavior right. It merely points out the fact that the policy makers are operating in something of a moral vacuum. Perhaps the military authorities see prostitution as military expediency. If so, they would not be the first to recommend violation of the Natural Law for the sake of military expediency. Plato did the same. In his book "The Laws" he explained very clearly how homosexual behavior violates the Natural Law, but a few years later the "Symposium" recommended the creation of homosexual military units. This isn't unlike Thomas Jefferson insisting the Natural Law forbade chattel slavery while owning slaves. It just goes to show us that it takes great effort, not just education, not mere knowledge to resist evil desires.

I think I need to explain common law marriages. Anthony seems to think that they exist "Solely on the length of time a couple has lived together". Common law marriages are inherited from of the law of contracts in the English Common Law. (Interesting fact: Because California law is based on Spanish law, and Louisiana Law is based on the Napoleanic Code neither state has common law marriages.) There are two parts to the law on common law marriages: 1. That the couple hold themselves out to the public as being married. 2. That the contract be licit. The first part means that it doesn't matter if the couple has children and grandchildren; if they haven't held themselves out to the public as a married couple, they are not married. The scond part goes to the nature of the contracting parties. It is important to remember that the right to make contracts is a right under the Natural Law. But can anyone make the contract? No. Siblings may not. Neither may parents and children. Nor grandparents and grandchildren. These are violations of the Natural Law (Aquinas develops this.) and as such they are not licit contracts. The maxim applies: Lex malla, lex nulla. Such marriages do not exist. They cannot exist. When taken before a judge there is no divorce, for a divorce ends a marriage. Instead of a divorce decree there is a judgment of nullity, which means there never was a marriage. Now here is the question, can homosexuals contract for marriage? No. It isn't possible. Lex malla, lex nulla. Well, what if the state makes it legal? Still no. Lex mallus, lex nulla. The state can not make laws that violate the Law of Nature.

But who say's homosexuality is a violation of the Law of Nature? Well, remember all those names, the giants of civilization I listed? They say so, and our western liberal democracy rests on their words. Well, to be fair, Aquinas didn't speak to homosexuality per se, he only described how it is that only monogamous heterosexual marriage fulfills the requirements of the Natural Law, saying everything that was monogamous heterosexual marriage was illicit. Of course, this settles the question of inheritance, too. Where there is no marriage there is no next-of-kin relationship.

Anthony raises two points that I think can be dealt with together. They are the ideas of "committed", "loving" homosexual relationships and the double standard that exists vis-à-vis heterosexual marriage. This might seem strange, but there is no double standard. Men are only allowed to be married to women. Women are only allowed to be married to men. It doesn't matter to which sex they might want to be married. You might think, oh, how horrible to be married to someone you don't love, someone to whom you are not physically attracted. Well, truth be told there are many marriages in this world that are sexless, many marriages in which couples endure with clenched teeth the society of their spouse. According to Mother Jones Magazine (Jan 2005) Only 38% of wedded Americans say they are “happily married.” Marriage is not really about cuddly romantic feelings. Those warm fuzzy feelings are not love. Well, they might overlap a little with eros (desire), but they are not phileo (friendship), and they are very far removed from agape (selfless and self-sacrificing servitude for the good of the beloved). But marriage is not even about phileo or agape, though we hope those two loves develop over time and are the fruit of many years lived together. No. Marriage is traditionally about two things: Children and property. (In my Church it is also about salvation but that doesn't come into play for people outside the Church.) We see in the divorce rate the result of people thinking marriage is about love and happiness.

Anthony said, " If I had had a choice, I wouldn't have put myself through all of the extra pain and confusion being gay causes."

You do have a choice. You can say "No, I will not act on my desires. I will not give into temptation." It won't be easy. You will fail often. But you can get back up and start over again every day. I can tell you from experience that resistance is not futile. Slowly, but surely, you can gain control over your passions. And having sex is not like drinking water. You must drink to live. And though I have seen people die from having sex, I have never seen any one killed by chastity.

Having said all of this, I do not think I have convinced anyone who hopes I am wrong. For as Julius Caesar said ," Libenter homines id quod volunt credunt", which roughly translated is "people believe what they want." But I have written what I think is true.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


My friend made these movies. Watch them. They are nice.

Now I have to ask, are there any Orthodox in Fresno?

Escape and Evasion

“I believe in the culture war. And you know what? If I have to take a side in the culture war I’ll take [the conservative Christian] side. Because if you give me the choice of Paris Hilton or Jesus, I’ll take Jesus.”
--Alexandra Pelosi in the NY Times (yes, her mom is the Speaker of the House)

I used to be a petty strong beliver in the culture war. But now I don't see it the same way as I did then. THen I used to think that if we just electedd the right people, passed the right laws, and appointed good judges we would "win". I thought all Christians (and sympathetic Jews) should band together and just take over in one big social movement. It was kind of the frontal assault, heavy cavalry charge version of the culture war. Now I think about it differently.

In wars the movements and actions of individuals ae very important. Especialy to the individuals. Now I think of the culture wars as more of an escape and evasion experience. I've been set free from the enemy's prison by Jesus. He's pointed me toward the friendlies, and given me the equipment I need to get there. It is my main job not to get captured again. On the way to safety I am to help others who want to escape, too. It isn't my job to overthrow the enemy. If I do that I'll be heading in the wrong direction. But by helping others escape I can not help but weaken the enemy, because the enemy's captives are who the enemy uses for soldiers. They are an army of slaves. Every slave set free is one less fighter for the enemy. Now, if I can just keep from getting caught and make it all the way home...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tales of Beedle the Bard

J.K. Rowling has a new book out. Those who have read the HP series might remeber it being mentioed in those stories. Check out the Amazon announcement.

The Perils of Obama's Popularity

Obama Quote: "They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives, something that will relieve a chronic loneliness or lift them above the exhausting, relentless toll of daily life. They need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them -- that they are not just destined to travel down a long highway toward nothingness."

I think this explains much about the current thrall in which many people (even ordinarily right think people) find themselves. They are looking for "meaning" in a politician. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the Constitution does not give the President the power to give meaning to our lives. What powers does the President have? To wage war, to negotiate treaties, to appoint officers, to enforce the laws, the propose leislation, and to veto legislation. Nothing in that list is even remotely like the hopes many of Obama's supporters seem to have for his prospective presidency.

I feel sorry for them. Obama won't be ale to make a person less lonely, or excuse them from the burden of daily life. They will be so disappointed if he is elected and flower don't bloom, if universal meaning and love don't sprout up everywhere the shadow of his government falls. What will they think of their hero when he turns out to not have the supernatural power to "change"? I am not being sarcastic. I really will feel sorry for them.

But I will feel much more sorry for those of us who love liberty. As pleasant a man as Obama seems to be (How con you not like him?) it needs to be remembered that he will not be coming into office alone. He will bring with him the trial lawyers who devastate small businesses and terrorize doctors. He will bring with him the teachers unions who seek to outlaw homeschooling at every turn. He will bring with him the pro-aborts who never see a fetus they don't want to kill. He will bring with him the socialists who will bankrupt the country, and more importantly try to replace the attitude of thanksgiving with the attitude of entitlement. And, amzigly, and this might be the hardest thing for his suporters to understand, he will bring with him the militarists who see force of arms as the solution to every diplomatic problem. Let's not forget that most American wars are started by Democrats, the people who like exercising government power. (GWB is an abberationin the war waging department.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

My Review is Published

My Review of Mystic Street has been published at the Orthodox Book Blog. The responses to my review have been interesting. I thought I gave it a good review, but 2/3 of the commenters seem to think I gave it a bad review.

Missionary Activity in Serbia, Kosovo, and Albania

There is some worry on the part of Orthodox Christians because of protestant missionaries spreading trough Serbia, Kosovo, and Albania. Being a former Protestant myself, I am well acquainted with the unfruitful ideas that were born in the Reformation. What follower of Jesus in his right mind would want the denominationalist fruit of the Schizm to spread through the Balkans? But I also see an opportunity in the stealing of Kosovo from Serbia. A pernicious and persevering hindrance to the conversion of the Kosovar Muslims to Holy Orthodoxy has been the perception that to be Orthodox meant to be Serb. That one would have to cease being Albanian to be a Christian. If we are smart,we can use this division of Serbia to the advantage of the Kingdom of God, saying to the Muslims in Kosovo, "We don't want you to be Serbs. Serbia will someday pass away. But we want you to live forever in God's Kingdom. Let us help you do that." I do not think this is naive. God converted me, didn't he?


Here is an article about Orthodox missionay activity in the Balkans that I found on Facebook.

Answering the Call
Fr. Luke A. Veronis

I remember performing one of the most beautiful baptisms I have ever done as a priest when I was serving as a young missionary in Albania. In the Church baptistery was a crowd of 30 people, 25 of whom were Muslim. It was the first time for most of these people to step inside a Church. They came for the baptism of Luljeta, a 45 year old Muslim woman with Muscular Dystrophy. For 23 years she has been unable to move anything but her head and hands. She has lived in a hospital room for the past seven years.

Two years earlier she had met Daniel, a second year seminarian, in the hospital. Daniel spent hours talking about the hope he derived from his own newfound Christian faith. He also came from a Muslim background. Through their friendship, Luljeta came to believe in Christ.

This baptism touched me not only because of the path with which Luljeta came to Christ, but also because her baptism offered a witness to 25 non-Christians. I carefully explained all that occurred throughout the service, and by the end, several of the Muslims expressed their gratitude for attending such a moving ceremony.

This is one of countless opportunities in Albania to share the good news of our Savior. But the saying of Christ resounds true here: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few." Albania is a country with 3.5 million people. Possibly 700,000 identify themselves as Orthodox, but few fully understand their faith. The Church reopened in 1991 after 50 years of militant atheism, and positive changes have occurred. There are only a few missionaries, however; together with the new indigenous Albanian leaders, they are struggling to serve the Orthodox community, while also reaching out to the 65% of the country that is non-Christian.

Statistics worldwide reveal that more than 400,000 foreign Christian missionaries served cross-culturally last year. A very generous estimate of Orthodox missionaries could be 500. Why is it that Orthodox Christians make up approximately 12.5% of all Christians, but Orthodox missionaries make up only 0.00012% of all missionaries? Is God not calling the Orthodox to fulfill His Great Commission?

St. Paul writes, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:13-15).

We are either consciously ignoring or disobeying His Call; maybe we’re not even in the proper spiritual condition to hear His Call.

Three indispensable elements of hearing God’s Call are 1) striving to live a faithful life within the Church by actively partaking of the Holy Sacraments and obeying His commandments; 2) being open to whatever God asks, without placing limits on what we are willing to offer; and 3) consciously seeking out the will of God through sincere prayer, fasting, study of Scripture, and a life of repentance.

After hearing the Call, we then must find the strength to overcome our fears by trusting in the grace of God. Answering the Call can be scary. And yet, this is when we must, as Archbishop Anastasios often says, “Make the sign of the Cross, and go forth.”

Yes, God is asking some of us to answer His Call to go forth to all nations. It isn’t a call only for missionaries of past generations. It is also a call for us today! May some of us open our hearts, accept this holy mission, make the sign of the cross, and go forth!


I am a member of several libraries and am a liberal user of them. Libraries are some of my favorite places. Not the new libraries that are all open spaces with lots of frosted glass and computers, but the old libraries. The libraries with tiny wooden doors leading leading to unexpected rooms stacked floor to ceiling with books; libraries with long wooden reading tables, stone floors, enormous globes, orreries, map rooms, busts of Plato, Flaubert, and Charles II, and card catalogues.... and skylights.

Among my favorite libraries is the main Boston Library on Copely Square. There is, or there was the last time I was there, a reading room above the main front doors, from where, if one was inclined to push open the wooden door on the window, one could get a lung full of fresh air (there was no glass in the rectangular interstice) and look out over the square and across to the Episcopalian Church; the one where the man who wrote "O Little Town of Bethlehem" used to be the rector.

There are other libraries I love. The Mechanics Institute Library in San Francisco, the West wing of the Greene Library on the campus of Stanford University, the old Carnegie Library in Paso Robles, California are some of them. Though the latter is no more a library; the collection being housed in a modern building which I deplore.

The Public Library in San Francisco has two examples of library buildings which stand at opposite extremes. First, but not in affection, is the new Main Library near City Hall. When one enters one wonders if it is a library of a convention center. There are no books visible, unless one leaves what seems like the main parts of the building and looks about in the edges and corners. All of the spaces are enormous, reading tables are rare, though there are plenty of computers. But one of the neighborhood branch libraries (It is itself, a Carnegie Library)is a beautiful superbly-windowed Romanesque style building rounded at one end with an apse, entrances are through doors centered on the Green Street side of the building. Just inside the doors is a smallish wood paneled vestibule, beyond which is the reading room. There are shelves on the walls all the way around the inside of the building, with tall windows above the shelves. The ceiling is beautiful plaster work with pilasters and arches. To the right, if you face the interior of the building from the vestibule is the children's book area. To the left is the adult section. Dead ahead is the circulation desk. With the walls lined with shelves the center of the floor is dedicated to long reading tables. The only bad thing about the building is that some time ago, the lighting was changed to florescent tubes, and cheap aluminum and plastic fixtures on those beautiful ceilings are not only out of place but are devastatingly ugly.

Well, all of that is merely introduction to something I saw in the New York Times website. I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Lenten Cocktail Recipe

Does Lent have you in a funk because you can't end your days with the traditional Martinis at six? Do you miss your Gimlet, your Cape Cod, your Americano Hi-Ball, and your Harvey Wallbanger? Well, fear not my friends. I am here to help.

Professor Matthew's Lenten Cadillac

1. Half fill a pint glass with ice cubes (not crushed ice)
2. Pour 5.5 oz can of V8 juice over ice
3. 1 dash of Tabasco Brand Pepper Sauce
4. 1 jigger clam juice
5. Fill glass with San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water
6. stir and garnish with a carrot stick

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Blind Boys of Alabama

I nice thing about my wife's job is that she gets tickets to see performances in the various venues at Stanford University. Lat night she took me to see these amazing men.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Often I am stressed over money, housework, nap times, lack of sleep, school, meals, shopping, etc. But I have been watching my youngest son, Basil, play with a garden hose. He is watering all the outdoor plants. It reminded me of when I was a boy, how much fun I had playing with a garden hose. It made me very happy.

My 5 year, Anselm has been learning how to tell time. For the last two weeks he has been working in a Kumon work book. Today he completed the whole book and is able to read an analog clock. I am very proud of him. (I do recommend the Kumon workbook for teaching kids to tell time. It isn't perfect but it works.)

These boys make me so happy.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Interesting Houses

Cute Quonset Huts

For hobbits who like stairs

some of the prettiest and most comfortable houses I've ever been in.

not a house but interesting nonetheless

Are gender categories biological?

For school I had to answer this question: Are gender categories biological?

Answer: Sex which is biological, is a physical manifestation of a deeper reality. I think we English speakers tend to lose sight of it since our ancestors got rid of the gendered word endings in our language centuries ago. Perhaps, French, Portuguese, and German speakers have a better grasp of this than do English speaking people.

But even though our language is benighted, if only in this one regard, we nevertheless have access to ancient literatures that can help us understand gender as a deeper, more elemental property in reality. For example, Wisdom, is always feminine in literature. But it is not the weak femininity Rosalind Coward portrays in her book “Female Desires”. Nor is it the passive and objectified femininity decried by Sandra Lee Bartky (And while I am mentioning her I’d like to point out that, of course Calvin Klein’s female models look like 14 year old boys. He is a homosexual man. Duh!) and the Marxist John Berger. It is strong and confident. It is supplicant but also austere. It seeks to help but upon being rejected becomes an enemy.

Wisdom is a spirit, a friend to man, though she will not pardon the words of a blasphemer... (Wisdom 1:6)

Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, [saying], How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. (Proverbs 1:20)

But the feminine is also erotic. Though the haters of humanity such as Berger, and Bartkey and Coward seem to despise femininity for this attribute, I do not even want to begin to contemplate the joylessness life would hold if the feminine were shorn of her eroticism.

Returning to the Book of Wisdom, we read “Wisdom is bright, and does not grow dim. By those who love her, she is readily seen, and found by those who look for her. Quick to anticipate those who desire her, she makes herself known to them.” (Wisdom 6:12-13) This is precisely the woman described in the selection by Bartkey. As she sits waiting for the train, she does not show herself to strangers. Her face is bright. She is not hiding. She is noticed. But she does not spread out like a man when she sits because the vision of her beauty is reserved for her lover…

“I am my Beloved’s,
and his desire is for me.
Come, my Beloved,
Let us go to the fields.
We will spend all night in the villages,
And in the morning we will go the vineyards.
We will see the vines budding,
If their blossoms are opening,
If the pomegranate trees are in flower.
Then I shall give you my love.”

What do we see here? We see the same femininity in this woman (in the poem she is called the bride) that we saw in Wisdom. Here is the opposite of being scorned. Here the feminine is embraced and both the beloved and the bride find joy. The war between masculinity and femininity seen (or imagined for their own nefarious purposes) by the feminists is not necessary. But gender is necessary.

“Both bodies were naked,and both free from any sexual characteristics, either primary or secondary. That, one would have expected. But whence came this curious difference between them? He found he could point to no single feature wherein the difference resided, yet it was impossible to ignore. One could try – Ransom had tried a hundred times – to put it into words. He has said that Malacandra was like rhythm and Perelandra like melody. He has said that Malacandra affected him like a quantitative, Peralandra like an accentual, melody. He thinks that the first held something in his lands like a spear, but the hands of the other were open, with the palms turned toward him. But I don’t know that any of these attempts has helped me much. At all events what Ransom saw at that moment was the real meaning of gender. Everyone must sometimes have wondered why in nearly all tongues certain inanimate objects are masculine and others feminine. What is masculine about a mountain or feminine about certain trees? Ransom has cured me of believing that this is a purely morphological phenomenon, depending on the form of the word. Still less is gender an imaginative extension of sex. Our ancestors did not make mountains masculine because they projected male characteristics into them. The real process is the reverse. Gender is the reality, and more fundamental than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply one of he things that have feminine gender, there are many others. And masculine and feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary, the male and female of organic cratures arerather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine.” == C.S. Lewis, Peralandra

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Saturday Soundtrack: Papa Was a Rolling Stone

The Temptations had a big hit with this song (it won a Grammy in 1973), and theirs is the version most people are familiar with. But they weren't the first group to release it. Another Motown group, the Undisputed truth released the song first.

I first heard the song coming out of my cousin Rick's bedroom when I was about 6 or 7 years old. (I thought he was cool. He wore Hai-Karate.) This song is unusual, not only for its length (anywhere from 8 to 12 minutes) but also for being entirely in one chord, B-flat minor. I can only tinkof one other pop song that can make the same claim, Night of a Thousand Dances, which, I think, only used E-minor.

Anyway, here is my favorite version of Papa Was a Rolling Stone, by by Lee Ritenour on his 2003 album "A Twist of Mowtown". This particular video clip is from the Overtime DVD and features Lee Ritenour (guitar), Melvin Davis (Bass), Oscar Seaton (drums), and Chris Botti (trumpet). Enjoy.


Protestants Converting to Holy Orthodoxy...
The ministry is a calling, but it is also a career, and, in 1987, a Baptist minister named Wilbur Ellsworth was given the career opportunity of a lifetime. After nearly two decades of pastoring modest congregations in California and Ohio, Ellsworth, at the age of 43, was called to lead the First Baptist Church of Wheaton, Illinois--one of the most prominent evangelical churches in what was then the most prominent evangelical city in the world. Often called the "Evangelical Vatican," the leafy Chicago suburb is home to Wheaton College--the prestigious evangelical college whose most famous graduate is Billy Graham--and a host of influential evangelical figures, a number of whom worshipped at First Baptist. "I was now preaching to these people every Sunday," Ellsworth recalls. "It was all sort of heady and exciting." (Read the whole Article in the New Republic)

Bishop of Kosovo and Metohija warns of "severe sanctions" on collaborators...

"In view of the fact that documents cited above are in contravention with Resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council, as well as the Constitution of Serbia, they are illegitimate and illegal and, consequently, non-existent in the eyes of the law,wefind and so order...(Read the whole letter at the diocesan website)

International Orthodox Christian Charities Expands Work in Kosovo
"International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) today announced an expansion of its work in Kosovo to provide immediate assistance to isolated minority communities and long term development projects aimed at providing stability and cooperation. The expanded initiatives in Kosovo will provide continued support for families, including household items, support for agricultural projects and family gardens, and school supplies. The IOCC response will also offer assistance for schools and community centers in isolated communities." (Read More at IOCC Website)

Holy Synod Says Bishop Nikolai on Leave Pending Outcome of Investigation
[The members of the Holy Synod] received many letters of serious complaint from deaneries, clergy, and faithful of the Diocese of Alaska... Not relying on hear-say, yet acknowledging the seriousness of these letters, at your suggestion, all your brother bishops were contacted; and they unanimously agreed that the best course of action for you is that you be placed on a temporary Leave-of-absence (OCA Statute, Article II.1; II.7.a,f,I,j; Apostolic Canon 74, and 34). (read whole sad thing here.)

Governor Sides With California Home Schoolers
"Parents should not be penalized for acting in the best interests of their children's education. This outrageous ruling must be overturned by the courts and if the courts don't protect parents' rights then, as elected officials, we will."(Read the article at Time Magazine)

Family Looks Forward to Rite of Forgivness
In the last three days my two youngest sons have caused a fire in the kitchen, broken a brass and oak toilet seat, spilled a quart of milk on a carpet. The oldest one threw a knife at the youngers face. The younger one attacked the older one with a garden spade while cackling "I Captain Hook. I kill you, Anselm. I kill you. Ha ha ha ha". And, of course, parents always need to be forgiven for scores of failures everyday. And spouses also need to be forgiven for many infractions of the law of love. The whole family is looking forward to the beginning of Great Lent and rite of forgiveness tomorrow. (Read about one woman's experience of the Orthodox rite of forgiveness at Beliefnet.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Home Schooling in California

Well, it seems that all of California's home schoolers are in an uproar over this decision. The decision bans all homeschooling, even the school district sponsored ISP program that my children are involved in.

"A California appeals court ruling clamping down on homeschooling by parents without teaching credentials sent shock waves across the state this week, leaving an estimated 166,000 children as possible truants and their parents at risk of prosecution." (Read the whole SF Chronicle story here.)

Here is a link to the Court of Appeals decision.

Below is the letter I sent to the Governor today:

Dear Governor,

On Feb 28 the California Court of Appeals in Los Angeles banned homeschooling. This is of great concern to me because I was home schooled, as is one of my sons (as part of my local school district's ISP).

Specifically, the following items in the opinion are very grievous to me:

1. The opinion says "...parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children." I hold that it is a natural right to educate my children. California didn't give them to me. God did. The state should not attempt to abridge it.

2. Three of the reasons the court gave for saying home schooling should not be allowed are three of the four reason I choose to home school my kids.

3. There is in the decision a bias in favor of state credentialed teachers. It is my firm belief that schools of education, where teachers earn their certification are enemies of morality and incubators of Marxist and atheist thought. I do not want my children exposed to teachers produced by those schools.

4. "Parents who [do not enroll their children in schools with credentialed teachers, or hire credentialed tutors] may be subject to a criminal complaint against them, found guilty of an infraction, and subject to imposition of fines or an order to complete a parent education and counseling program." Of the entire disgusting and reprehensible and vile decision it is this last part that makes me tremble with anger. The very idea of the state daring to instruct parents in the subject of raising children is so over the top that I can barely contain my vitriol. Not only is it abhorrent and beyond any semblance of right government, but is stinks of Communist re-education efforts. Who is the state to tell me what I can think? May God damn that court and its judges.

I will not comply.


Matt Karnes

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Fascism in the Golden State

A California appellate court ruled last week that a family's religious convictions do not guarantee a right to homeschool their children.

"California courts have held that under provisions in the Education Code, parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children," wrote Justice H. Walter Croskey for California's Second District Court of Appeal. (Read the whole thing here.)

I'm joining the HSLDA today.

Class blog

My media class has a blog.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The World is Round. Interior Corners Should Be, Too.

I have observed that the most beautiful interiors are in buildings made before the Second World War. The walls look more solid, the corners not so sharp, door jambs tend to be framed and when they are not, they are often rounded at the top instead of square. Even very expensive custom homes built recently in the bary area, I have noticed, look cheap in comparish=on to those older houses, simply because the angles where the walls meet each other are too severe.

I also noticed that there are hundred year old houses in San Francisco Miami that have withstood earthquakes and hurricanes; the worst fallen nature has to hurl against us, aside from volcanoes and tornadoes, which powers no man made thing survives. But I have seen new construction crumble or be blown away. Why?

I think it is because of dry wall. Beginning in the 1950s builders abandoned lath and plaster in favor of dry wall. Today, many builders use dry wall for structural support! Yes, it is true. They have abandoned the heavy beams in favor of drywall, as though dry wall is sufficient to hold up a house, as though drywall can withstand the horizontal pressure of powerful winds or the lunging and toque of an earthquake. This is part of the reason Homestead Florida was blown away by hurricanes - shoddy building.

I've also been thinking about the slums into which the large section of newly constructed American suburbs are turning. It has been noted that the construction techniques of the last 50 years will not stand up to the neglect and decay experienced by pre-WWII urban centers, and thus will not experience a revival as formerly decrepit areas of New York, Chicago, Cleveland, and San Francisco have. No one is going to gentrify garbage. One of the major reasons Chicago and The Mission are gentrifying (and aren't the leftists who oppose it cute in their little yipping dog way?) is because the houses are supported by thick treen beams and and the walls are lath and plaster. (there is also the issue of plumbing. The lead pipes of earlier times are better than the galvanized pipes used from WWII though recent times.)

I have trouble believeg that we will ever get the constuction industry to build with good craftsmanship sensibly sized houses, out of quality materials. They are selling to people who are not looking inside walls but who are measuring floorspace and toilet to bedroom ratios.

In the meantime, if you have a newer house, one built with drywall instead of plaster, I think that there are some cosmetic options worth considering. I like American Clay. They claim they are more than cosmetic, and though I am skeptical of the claim, I do think their product is beautiful. Also there are Venetion Plaster, and stucco interiors that are worth considering.

Of course, these cosmetic solutions won't solve the underling drywall problem; that must be addressed by builders not homeowners, but at least they can help mitigate the stark angularity of drywall interiors.

Is this a problem?

I have heard some Orthodox Christians say that the theory of the evolution of life on this planet is not incompatible with the Orthodox Christian Faith. They seem to base this accomodationist belief on St. Basil the Great's Hexameron, and the idea that the entire Old Testament is primarily about Jesus and that it is purely accidental that it talks about how things were made, what king stole who's wife, who rebuilt a wall, etc. They seem to hold that the Old Testament is only a mystery revealing Jesus.

So, I wonder what those Orthodox Christians who think the theories of biological evolution are compatible with our Faith think of this?

"When Christ died on the cross, He took upon Himself the sentence of sin, while being Himself totally sinless. By taking upon Himself the sentence of sin, which is death, He redeemed men from death. Thus, the idea of evolution over billions of years undermines not only the Patristic teaching of the creation and the first created world, but also the Orthodox understanding of redemption. It makes no sense to say that Christ died on the Cross to take away the sentence of sin, which is death, if you believe that the world is billions of years old. If the world is billions of years old and if the evolution of man from the swamp really occurred, there had to be millions of years of suffering, sickness death before man even came on the scene." (You can read the whole thing here)

Do they have a problem with that? If so, maybe they need to remember that the bread and wine that reveals Jesus to us, that become Jesus, never stop being bread and wine. Likewise, the Old Testament which reveal Jesus to us, never stops being historical and prophetic, and poetic. It is what it is but, in a way similar to the bread and wine on Sunday morning, becomes Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Saturday Soundtrack: Leaving on a Jet Plane

I first heard this song in the late seventies, though it had been around since the mid sixties. I remember hearing it for the first time while riding with my sister in her orange Volvo. I must have been about 7 or 8 years old. I didn't know what the song was about. Still don't. I've been told that back when Peter, Paul and Mary were regularly performing most people thought it was about people leaving their loved ones here to go fight in Vietnam. But that doesn't sound to me like what the song is about. It is a beautifully sad song.

This recording is of one of their reunion concerts in the late 1980s. If you have never Peter, Paul, and Mary before you are in for a treat. Try not to cry.


This isn't a political ad.
This is idolatry.
This isn't about electing a president.
This is about raising up a god-king.
The Pharaoh is about to be reborn.
Where shall we hide?