Friday, August 31, 2007

Belated answer

I forgot to include the answer to the question I posed earlier this year. The answer is: England in the 1800's, as described by a Muslim writer.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Eldest daughter called last night to remind us of the eclipse, and we went out to see. When we came back in, we were loudly reminded that a cricket had somehow migrated to our bedroom. It must have entered when flood-damaged rugs were being dragged out of the basement. We'd spotted the critter earlier, but the wiley beast got away. This time, though, there was a stack of unused homeschool materials handy (they were too workbook-y for our kids). There was no escape from the flying LifePAC of death!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Covenant Marriage

Sunday School was a little unusual at the church we visited. The teacher is a very talented raconteur, telling the old stories in new ways, heavily relying on The Message. But the talent in the class itself is even greater, with retired pastors and missionaries and seminary professors; so it seemed a little odd to have no to-and-fro.

The lesson was from Malachi; first addressing the priests who didn't take their job seriously (and then where does that leave the people who relied on them?--but we didn't get into that question), and moving on to divorce.

At which point the talk went straight into fog. Was she referring to the command to put away foreign wives in Ezra? To the injunction not to divorce unbelieving spouses if they were willing to stay married? She didn't say, though perhaps these things had come up before and the class knew what she meant. And then came a reference to “the one God meant for you,” which only seems relevant in Genesis (“Madam, I'm Adam”). And then a reference to “covenant marriage.”

The phrase was new to me, and set off the old alarm bells. Marriage is a covenant, and except for common-law marriage is an explicit one; so what's with the coinage? I get nervous when people start qualifying words like that; the result often stands on its head: like “People's Democracy.”

Wikipedia is your—well, not “friend,” exactly. Acquaintance? Covenant marriage is a marriage that requires premarital counseling and limits the grounds for divorce (abuse, adultery, felony with jail time). In other words, something rather like what we thought marriage was in the first place. Although in practice all you have to do to evade the provisions is go to a state that doesn't recognize it (47 don't) and dump your spouse there.

”No-fault” divorce was advertised as a way to keep lawyers out of a painful process that few would want to try. Both clauses seem to have been lies: lawyers are still involved and the divorce rate is now staggeringly high. The word marriage stayed the same, but the legal definition changed under it to make marriage the most easily abrogated contract we have, so long as you don't argue about property or custody. (Although it is sometimes easy to cancel a magazine subscription.)

For someone who wants a binding contract, there aren't many options.

I think the name “Covenant Marriage” is less than ideal. The “covenant” part certainly got some people's underwear in knots (they seem terrified of any hint of religion). Perhaps the coinage “Real Marriage” would be more accurate. Or maybe “Marriage Classic,” along the lines of a famous soft drink.

”Hard cases make bad law.” No doubt some people's lives were better thanks to no fault divorce, but it seems to have been an overwhelming disaster nonetheless. I'm not sure that enacting the possibility of “covenant marriage” is going to help the national divorce rate much, and if it does it will take decades. On the other hand, repealing no-fault is by now politically impossible. Even logical mild modifications, such as a probationary period (longer if there are children), may be out of reach. The culture has ratcheted its understanding of marriage into a paradigm of “rights” rather than one of union, and people hate to give up anything they conceive of as a right.

I started puzzling this out deeply suspicious of “covenant marriage,” and I still think the name is misleading, but perhaps this is a good idea. Perhaps it can grow a grassroots alternative to the semi-marriage the laws have left us.

I know there are objections that this reflects a Western, and thus Christian, and thus “unacceptably parochial” view of marriage. But even in the land of triple talaq marriages are not so unstable as here; even in France there's a probationary period. Our current situation is a mess. We have to choose some standards for family law; why shouldn't we permit one with extensive precedent and cultural roots, that was the standard within living memory?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Hot hiking

We reserved time at Turkey Run months ago. Since we're unlikely to be going back anytime in the near future, we had to take advantage of it while we could. No way will I sit in the cabin and watch TV (??), even if it is air-conditioned (ahhhh!). Sleep, yes :-) So we went hiking in the cool of the morning (85) and the evening (95), and just after we got there the first day (98). True, we were under tree cover, so the sun didn't bake us, but those temperatures are “in the shade” values. I wore a cloth hat to keep the ticks and sun off, and squeegeed a half teaspoon of water from the chin-strap. Was it the haze or delirium that made distant objects fuzzy?

The place is beautiful, the trails well-laid-out, and when they say Very Rugged they don't mean wheel-chair accessible: they mean you have to climb on a ledge or wade in a V-shaped rock stream-bed. No machetes required, and kids can handle it; but I took it easy and only got a few twinges from the knee. The runs are microclimates unlike the surrounding countryside, with trees you only find farther north.

We saw caves and a coal mine and fossils and walked a stream bed underneath a rock ceiling. The bird feeder at the nature center gathered about 20 hummingbirds, goldfinches, a squirrel and chipmunk and a couple of groundhogs, a tufted titmouse and juvenile cardinal, pigeon and lizard and some other things I didn't recognize. A microphone picked up their sounds so we could hear them indoors. I got a shot of 4 hummingbirds all sitting still at once on a feeder.

Rain soaked the place the day before, but left only a little mud in strategic ledge locations and a small trickle in the streams to remind us. The ladders were a little muddy too. In high water trail 3 would be a very tricky walk—demanding some kind of walking stick to keep you from slipping.

Much of the work was done by the CCC, just like Lincoln's New Salem. In fact, Lincoln's New Salem only lasted a few decades, and was reconstructed a hundred years later. Which means the CCC reconstruction has lasted almost 3 times as long as the original, and in a few more decades will date from longer ago from us than New Salem was from the CCC. If the Republic lasts, we'll probably see chunks of the walls they built sitting in museums.

A covered bridge (go through “at a walk”!), ravines and ledges, a suspension bridge, a sign saying “70 steps” down to the river (actually only 67), a young fox trying to catch a squirrel (must have been desperate), and dozens and dozens of “unofficial” trails. It is close to Indianapolis—must be swamped on weekends. (The outdoor pool is only open on weekends this late in the season.)

Delirium daydreams: what would people wear for hats in Eden? Birds, of course! Trained to spread their wings to shade you, or fan you when needed, bred with smoother claws for a gentle scalp massage, and ready to eat any ticks that landed on you...

Nice breakfast, even if some finicky people wouldn't touch sausage that had been on the same plate as eggs....

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Barry Bonds breaks Aaron's record

making him the home run king. At least in America. He has a long way to go to reach the Japanese record.

No, I'm not a big baseball fan, but we hear enough of it in the house that it seems appropriate to take notice of events from time to time.

From the family Cubs fan, who is 90% scar tissue (to borrow a line from George F. Will), and who was born during Hank Aaron's 1957 World Series:

Barry Bonds was the best all-around ballplayer in the game when he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He could hit, field, steal, make tough plays look elegant and easy. He very likely would have been ticketed for Cooperstown before he decided to turn into a slugger, and he would have been a shoo-in. With no asterisk in sight.

Now he's a surly s.o.b. with a permanently sullied record. If he didn't cheat, he's gone way out of his way to look like he has.

Meanwhile, Sammy Sosa has cleaned up his act. In 2004, Sosa managed to squander years of goodwill in Chicago: the corked bat, the steroid rumors, the boombox driving his teammates crazy, the entourage, the ego as big as Lake Michigan. In Spring 2005, the Cubs unloaded Sosa on the Orioles. He endeared himself to Orioles fans, all right: his first public performance in Baltimore was a snit because the team didn't send a limo for him at his hotel. It went downhill from there, and the Orioles dumped him. Nobody touched Sosa for the 2006 season. Nobody.

He stayed in shape, he kept knocking on doors, and finally the Texan Rangers let him come to 2007 spring training with the following stipulations: no steroids, no corked bats, no boom box, no entourage, and leave his ego at home. He is earning somewhat more than a journeyman infielder would. In Texas, Sosa has been respectable on the field, if not spectacular. He hit his 600th career home run (against the Cubs) in July. He may yet get to Cooperstown.

Mrs James

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Do they speak English?

Fliers stapled to phone poles sport a cross with HOPE emblazoned. Across the top it reads "Homelessness Outreach Prevention Effort." A clever acronym, but it doesn't quite mean what they think it does...