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A dear friend posted on Facebook a link to this. Saith the New York Times,

A few times each month, second graders at a charter school in Springfield, Mass., take time from math and reading to engage in philosophical debate. There is no mention of Hegel or Descartes, no study of syllogism or solipsism. Instead, Prof. Thomas E. Wartenberg and his undergraduate students from nearby Mount Holyoke College use classic children’s books to raise philosophical questions
to which I answered,

well... it would be philosophy if the kids were learning how to tell it from sophistry, thought from feeling, sentimentality from sentiment, what does from what doesn't correspond in the real world to what they see in a fantasy character. Are they?
I had my doubts, and here's why:

One afternoon this winter, the students in Christina Runquist’s classroom read Shel Silverstein’s “Giving Tree,” about a tree that surrenders its shade, fruit, branches and finally its trunk to a boy it has befriended. The college students led the discussion that followed — on environmental ethics, or “how we should treat natural objects,” as Professor Wartenberg puts it — with a series of questions, starting with whether the boy was wrong to take so much from the tree.
And it had its intended effect:

Most of the young philosophers had no problem with the boy using the tree’s shade. But they were divided on the apples, which the boy sold, the branches, which he used to build a house, and the trunk, which he carved into a boat.

“It’s only a tree,” Justin said with a shrug.

“The tree has feelings!” Keyshawn replied.
Does anyone else guess that if one of those kids had made the points that:

  1. It takes a person to give of herself to others out of love.
  2. The reason Silverstein's tale is a tearjerker and why the reader's blood boils at the ungrateful brat at the end is that, in his story, the tree is a person.
  3. In the real world a tree doesn't give benefits to people out of love. When it throws shade, all it is doing is trying to grab as much sunlight for itself as it can use. When it bears fruit, all it is doing is trying to reproduce itself. When it makes wood, all it is doing is holding itself up and moving its food around. 
the teacher would have referred the kid for therapy? But apparently the need did not arise:

Isaiah was among only a few pupils who said they would treat an inanimate object differently from a human friend.
Silverstein's story is worth considering philosophically. We can indeed draw an ethical lesson from the feelings it stirs in us: to appreciate the persons in our lives who love us and give of themselves to us; to forgo any wish of ours that, to be fulfilled, would require an excessive and unjust demand on them; to love them as themselves more than any possible gifts they might make.

And if we are grateful for trees and the good we get from them, we might begin to think there could be a Giver who has arranged it that, in fulfilling their own selfish purposes, the trees nevertheless benefit creatures beyond themselves. But McCollum forfend that any kid would get that takeaway from a public school program.

Most kids do have Giving Trees in their lives... they're called parents. Will the young philosophers (I almost typed philosophes) go home with a renewed sense of gratitude to them? Or will they only start laying guilt trips on them for using wood products (such as the musical instruments my friend plays and teaches)?

theology of another part of the body?

The following ideas have been kicking around in my head for some time now. I'm moved to put them up here by a chance remark (as we say in Middle-earth) of ephraemsyrus. Holy Thursday would have been a better day, or Corpus Christi.

Of course it starts with the Eucharist. Food and drink changed completely into the Body and Blood of Christ.

Well, don't we change food and drink into our bodies and our blood all the time? But we are not God, so the task is infinitely more difficult for us, yet perform it we must, for we have no other body and blood.

What's the way to accomplish an extremely difficult task? Break it down into smaller pieces. And so we break the task of changing food and drink into our body and blood down into smaller and smaller pieces until we can finally accomplish it, just a few atoms at a time. And even so, we cannot even do a complete job. In fact, it is important to our health that we have sufficient unconverted matter left over. It's part of the design of us.

Compare and contrast to Christ, Who, because He is God, can and does do it all at once, and completely, and without breaking a single chemical bond.

So even the lowly toilet has theological significance, for it atttests to us the truth that we are not God.

The Venerable John Paul II, of course, has written so profoundly of the theology of the body in its reproductive aspects. But the good ol' digestive system could have a theology of its own.

Of course, I am not a theologian and don't even play one on TV. So everything I've written here could be found by a more careful examination to be absolute nonsense. And if it isn't, doubtless one or more of the Fathers has said it already.

Writer's Block: Paint the town green

I was about to write on a similar topic, but Writer's Block happened to provide a hook to hang it on:

Do you plan on celebrating St. Patrick's Day? If so, how? What memories and feelings do you associate with this holiday?

St. Patrick's Day celebrates the life and work of a Welshman who brought to Ireland a religion that had originated among the Jews (but had been rejected by them) and that was governed from Rome.

There is one condition under which such an event would be a Good Thing: if that religion should happen to be true. St. Patrick's Day is a day of celebration for all those of us who believe it is, no matter whence their ancestry derives. (And from this perspective, even the slogan that "everyone is a little bit Irish" has a deeper meaning: we all keep needing to be converted from our favorite idols, whatever they are, to the worship of the living God, as the Irish did in St. Patrick's time. But not just on St. Patrick's Day.)

So I celebrated St. Patrick's Day first of all by going to Mass, by the grace of God (and only so). Yes, later I'll play some tunes and consume a temperate amount of adult beverages, but that's secondary.

But how can those who do not believe Christianity to be true celebrate St. Patrick's Day? To those who hold that the only truth about religion is that each culture has a right to the religion that developed within it (whatever that religion's content) without intrusion from outside, the work of St. Patrick must logically be an outrage, and his day a day of mourning, as Columbus Day is to many Native Americans. (serene_orange touched on this point in his or her Writer's Block response.)

breaking news

From a News-Gazette story today on the University budget:

Ikenberry conceded that chances are slim the governor and legislature will come up with a solution this spring—"probably somewhere above 0 and somewhere less than 1."
Can't go wrong with a prediction like that. He should be doing the weather.

evolution not in action

Sign in the restroom of a bar in which I played music this past weekend:

evolve. use a condom every time.

Given that evolution requires transmission of genes, doesn't the latter preclude the former?

guns and snowballs

When I first heard the headline that an off-duty detective in Washington, DC had drawn a gun at a snowball fight, like most people who heard it I jumped to the conclusion that he was overreacting.

Then I read the story and saw all 5 minutes of the video here. Now I am on Detective Baylor's side.

Seeing the video took me back to my college days. Well, I must have "made a wrong turn" and found myself "in the wrong place at the wrong time," as the saying goes. That is, I was on my way home from an evening playing Irish music, and I just happened to be driving past the frat house on the corner. There they all were on the lawn and in the street, and splat! splat! on the windshield. Instant zero visibility. Instant flight-or-fight reflex, on slippery pavement.

I was taught, by parents and teachers both, never to throw objects, including snowballs, at cars. It was impressed on me that if I did, I could cause a fatal accident as just stated. People standing around throwing snowballs at cars are not having good clean fun. They are a mob of bullies, as is instantly obvious if one of their targets gets out of the car to complain. It would do them good to have the experience of suddenly realizing that they've picked on the wrong person. Unfortunately, they are not likely to get that experience from the DC police.

Had the big, angry, armed black man getting out of his car, which they just hit, been a gangbanger rather than a cop, they wouldn't have continued to stand around jeering. They wouldn't have been interested in taking down his license number. And they most certainly wouldn't have been yelling "F*** you pig!" We evidently live in a culture that respects gangbangers more than cops.

And after watching the video, does anyone else get the impression that this mob was just a little too ready with the chants and the rhymes and the boos? Was there a setup involved?

bad medicine

I think we need a much deeper national discussion on the health care market itself and its hidden axioms before we pass any bill.

At present it is a perverse market, where A receives services from B, who unilaterally decides to provide them and bill for them, C unilaterally decides whether to pay the bill or dump it back to A, and D unilaterally decides whether to employ A and C. For a market to work, and for the system to be consistent with the dignity of the human person as a free moral agent, ideally A would be the one both to control the decision to request a service from B (and be armed in advance with the necessary information about both costs and benefits) and be responsible for paying B for it.

The problem, of course, is that a large number of A's could not afford to pay for all the health care they might need at present costs even when they can afford food, clothing, shelter, and even the occasional pint of (purely medicinal) Guinness. On the other hand, a large number of A's can, and collectively we all can, as shown by the palatial headquarters of health insurance companies, paid for out of the difference between what we all pay and what the doctors, nurses, and, yes, drug companies and malpractice lawyers get. So the real problem is how we can provide for the A's who individually cannot.

The whole model of all health care being paid for by "insurance" tied to payroll employment was not given on Mount Sinai. It actually originated as a compromise to allow employers competing for workers under World War II wage controls some wiggle room. Insurance has a role to play, but insurance by definition is a bet against something not likely to happen. Pre-existing and chronic conditions are not properly part of the insurance paradigm, because for someone who has them, the risk is 100%. They're not something to insure against but simply something to pay for.

Diagnosis before treatment. This is not an episode of House.


At Morning Prayer, the Canticle consisted of Isaiah 2:2-5. The Reading consisted of Isaiah 2:3-4, so the same text was duplicated in both places.

The Canticle comes from Monday of Week III of the 4-Week Psalter. The Reading comes from Monday of the 3rd week of Advent, so this happens every year unless a feast intervenes. Why hadn't I noticed it before in more years than I care to admit saying the Liturgy of the Hours?


annoying police jargon

Here's part of a report on a crime recently sent out by a police department:

Two suspects knocked on the door and entered the victims' apartment with
pistols. One victim attempted to approach one of the suspects and was
struck in the nose causing a laceration. The suspects then removed
various electronic items from the apartment. The suspects then fled from
the area.
No, the people who knocked etc. aren't suspects. A suspect is a person whose identity is known and who is suspected, but not known, to have committed the crime. These guys, on the other hand, are known to have committed the crime, but their identity is unknown. They are therefore the opposite of suspects. They are thieves, robbers, crooks, criminals, and perpetrators, but not suspects.

If the cops pick up two guys who they think are these guys, then they'll have suspects in custody. The trial is what is supposed to determine whether suspects = perpetrators.

Both suspects were black males wearing ski masks. One suspect was
described as tall wearing a green sweatshirt. The other suspect was
described as short and heavier wearing a gray sweatshirt.
Rather, both perpetrators were described as black males wearing ski masks. One perpetrator was described as tall wearing a green sweatshirt. The other perpetrator was described as short and heavier wearing a gray sweatshirt.

I see that Champaign County Crimestoppers gets their terminology right. But I hear the misused "suspects" all the time in the media.



Jerome Colburn

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