Monday, October 15, 2007
Friday, October 5, 2007
Update: Well, I had posted a response to Mr. Baker's rather nebulous attack on Christianity, but I see that he has not allowed it to post. Let me place my response here.
Why here? Because this is the blog of a Catholic father. Catholic apologetics is a very important activity and skill; I should engage in it and I should teach my children how to do it. Further, simply knowing how to argue and to counter bad arguments is a critical skill! From time to time I will place examples here to show how to make a point, how not to make a point, and how to spot faulty thinking.
For a little background on this particular bit, I tend to spend time going to anti-Christian websites and engaging in apologetics. If you are not familiar with the term 'apologetics' it means 'defense and promotion of the faith'. In an earlier writing Mr. Baker had claimed that terrorism is, effectively, an outgrowth of religion (I will skip some of his other errors in the piece). When I pointed out that atheist terror organizations had easily killed many more people than any religious extremists, he became a bit defensive.
If you visit that first piece and read through the comments you will quickly see that Mr. Baker engages in two tactics that can be seen as dishonest. the first is something usually called 'moving the goalposts'; Mr. Baker begins the thread of discussion that leads to the post that links here with the question
As for atheist terror organisations: they exist, but do they harm people on the scale of the religious G3?While Mr. Baker had made other claims and queries, this is the statement the rest of the thread discussed. This is actually a very good question: can the deaths attributable to religion and religious groups be quantified? Can the same be done for atheists and atheist groups? If both are possible, then a comparison is possible.
Actions such as the Crusades, the Inquisition (as a whole), the Wars of Religion, and the Protestant with trials are some of the most intensively studied aspects of history. At the same time, atheist groups are relatively new and are mainly well-documented aspects of the 20th Century.
In other words, the data is there for comparisons. The results are unambiguous - atheism is a much more prolific killer than religion. Total deaths for the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the Wars of Religion, the witch trials, etc. combined reach a maximum of no more than about 8 million people. And 8 million is certainly a high guess - the real total is probably about 6 million people. But I can be cautious and round up to 10 million. Since this begins roughly with the year 1000 AD, that is roughly 10,000 per year. While not a small number, it is less than 1/6th the number of people who died of the flu in America in 2003.
The death toll of Communism and Anarchism (both atheist ideologies) in the 20th Century was about 100 million. But since some sources differ, let us round that number down to make this sporting and cap the death toll of Communism at90 million. This also make the per-year math a touch easier since we are only looking at the 20th Century from about 1910 forward, meaning Communism killed people during that time at the rate of 1 million people per year. To put that in perspective, this means that for 9 decades Communism was, effectively, killing every man, woman, and child in modern-day Dublin every year (you can substitute Fresno or New Orleans if you are more familiar with those cities).
In other words, even a cursory glance at the data reveals that the actions of atheist groups has easily been no less than 10 times as lethal as the actions of religious groups, If you factor in the time element, atheism is 100 times more deadly than religion.
After I pointed this out Mr. Baker was kind enough to state (unwittingly) his second major false argument. Mr. Baker made these statements,
The people who committed those murders were deluded, they [did] not kill because they were atheists.and, later,
I accept communist organisations, such as the Maoist Shining Path, have committed murder on a large scale. But did they do this because they were atheists? Clearly the answer is no. In the same way that most murders by religious fundamentalists often are not done because people believe in this, that or these gods.
This is good. Mr. Baker seems to be on the verge of realizing a major fault with his basic position, which is 'religion causes more deaths than anything else' The problem with that is that he, ultimately, associates any violence performed in association with religion as both illegitimate and the fault of religion. This ignores the historical facts of many events condemned by modern people (the Spanish Inquisition, for example, was about people breaking the laws of the Spanish King, not the laws of the Church; the Crusades were a counter-attack in an attempt to regain lands taken by armed might; the Wars of Religion were as much about the birth of the concept of nation-states as they were about religion; etc.). In other words, the very basis of Mr. baker's position contra religion is so broad that it is largely meaningless. More critically, if you respond in terms as broad (as Mr. Baker pointed out, not all deaths caused by atheists are because of atheism any more than the corollary is true for the religious) atheism 'loses' anyway.
Do these statements mean that Mr. Baker is going to realize that the topic he has chosen is much more complicated than he initially admitted?
No. See, he also says this,
The problem is that the religious G3 (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) through their acceptance of horrific Bronze Age texts actually condone these actions.Ah, well. He was close.
What is the problem, you ask? Let's skip any potential errors in Mr. Baker's hermeneutics; let us also look away from any analysis of what various religious leaders and theologians have said. No, let us focus on the core "argument" he is making, to wit 'by accepting scripture religious people condone these acts of violence'. Let's also skip how he is continuing an earlier fault (some of that violence may have been legitimate) and ask a simple question.
How do atheists condone their actions? After all, Mr. Baker claims that these 'horrific Bronze Age texts' we religious adhere to allow us to justify past atrocities. I have shown very clearly that atheists have been engaged in similar or worse violence on a much more massive scale - how do atheists sleep at night?
Simple - through the acceptance of horrific 19th and 20th Century texts. The Communist Manifesto and the other writings of Marx and Engels; Mao's Little Red Book; Foundations of Christianity; these and other Communist works explain in stark, explicit terms that Communists are to oppose religion (the atheist element) and to export violent revolution.
As you can see, Mr. Baker's statements are both unsupported and unsupportable.
Books on Topics in this Post:
A look at the costs of Communism in the 20th Century
A solid look at what the Spanish Inquisition was really like - I own it
There are more books on apologetics, debate, and reason in my Amazon store.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
This time I also decided to begin the first in a series of wilderness navigation and survival lessons as part of homeschooling. I was in the US Army for 8 years and spent most of that time at tactical posts. Which means, really, I spent a lot of time in the forests, swamps, deserts, and mountains of the US and a few other places. I used to teach land navigation at my unit on Ft. Bragg and, to be honest, love simply being in wilderness.
200 yaards from your grill might not count as 'wilderness', but it is the right place to teach people the basics before you get there. I took my compass so that the boys could learn the first lesson - be ready. If you are planning on going into the wild, even just a 1/2 mile hike through forests to the lake, make sure you have at least the basic stuff you need, like real shoes and a hat.
The second lesson was - compasses don't lie. When I was teaching land navigation the #2 reason people got lost was they were sure that they decided they knew better than their compass. It sounds odd, but people tend to assume they know where they are going. When the compass disagrees with them, many people ignore the compass as 'wrong'.
After that, we settled into basic movement through the woods. The first 'trick' I taught them was to use the compass to pick a marching point. This is pretty simple; use the compass to decide which way you should go, then pick out an object that is in that direction and walk to it. This means you spend most of your time actually paying attention to your surroundings and very little time staring at a compass. The best type of compass for this is a lensatic compass. If you are new to using compasses, I suggest a cheap lensatic, like the military marching compass (link below). If you want a more rugged lensatic, then pick up the Brunton Classic (also linked below). The Brunton is twice the cost of the Military Marching, but it is easily 5 times tougher.
When we reached our first marching target (a tree, of course), I showed them the seond trick - routinely pause to look behind you. This isn't fear of zombies, this is to familiarize yourself with the return route. Many people do a good job of getting to somewhere then get lost coming back. This is more psychology; people assume, subconsciously, that they already know the terrain and are less careful when attempting to retrace their steps. In fact, if you don't stop to look around and to specifically look behind you, you have little idea what the return trail looks like.
This is closely related to the number one reason people got lost in land navigation training; they simply weren't paying attention. They were looking at their compass; they were looking at their map; they were looking straight ahead. Then, when something distracted them (and something always does), they had no idea where they actually were. When travelling in the wilderness, look around. Pay attention. Notice funny-looking trees, deadfalls, and patches of sun. Check the time of day, the position of the sun, and the slope of the land. It sounds like a lot, but humans are very good at remembering this stuff - if they bother to look.
The next lesson was blazing a trail. No, this doesn't mean storming through at high speed, or even being first; in the wilderness, 'blazing' means 'marking a trail'. Sometimes obstacles keep you from following a compass bearing exactly. As a matter of fact, even in the desert you usually have to move in something rather unlike a straight line. To make sure you can retrace your route, you mark where you changed directions. This is also a help if you end up lost or hurt - others can follow your movements until the point you stopped marking your trail.
There are three rules to blazes: make them visible; make them clear; and make them for the worst.
Make them visible means to put them in the open. I once saw someone put a mark at ground level 4 feet off the trail!
Make them clear means indicate clearly what direction you were going to go when you made the mark. An X on a tree means very little. An arrow means a lot.
Make them for the worst means make them so they are there when you come back. A line of leaves on the ground is not a blaze; one light breeze and they are all gone.
These simple things were all we covered this time. We were able to travel about 1/8th of a mile through trees and brush and then retrace our path virtually exactly. While this may sound simple, it is the best way to start; simple and short.
More to come!
Products Mentioned in the Article:
A good starter compass
A Rugged Compass - I own one
Books Related to this Practical Homeschooling Topic:
A Great Resource - I own it
Maybe the Best Book on Navigating Without Tools - I own it
Thursday, September 27, 2007
After a few questions I learned that he had cried that he didn't know enough. I joined him in his room and asked him what the problem was. The conversation went like this.
Me: "N4, what's wrong?"
N4: "I don't know anything!"
Me: "Well, you are still very young. As you get older, you will learn more and more. For a kid your age you know quite a bit."
N4: "No, Dad! There is so much to know! How will I ever learn even half of all there is? Dad, no one knows anything, really!"
I really couldn't argue with him. Knowledge is important and can point to God, but - in the end - all of our knowledge is as a match next to the sun.
I just never expected my 4 year old to see it so soon!
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
This is a very lightly edited version of one of my all-time favorite satires. Please enjoy.
The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook
We have recently been lucky enough to discover several previously lost diaries of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre stuck in between the cushions of our office sofa. These diaries reveal a young Sartre obsessed not with the void, but with food. Apparently Sartre, before discovering philosophy, had hoped to write "a cookbook that will put to rest all notions of flavour forever." The diaries are excerpted here for your perusal.
Spoke with Camus today about my cookbook. Though he has never actually eaten, he gave me much encouragement. I rushed home immediately to begin work. How excited I am! I have begun my formula for a
Still working on the omelet. There have been stumbling blocks. I keep creating omelets one after another, like soldiers marching into the sea, but each one seems empty, hollow, like stone. I want to create an omelet that expresses the meaninglessness of existence, and instead they taste like cheese. I look at them on the plate, but they do not look back. I tried eating them with the lights off. It did not help. Malraux suggested paprika.
I have realized that the traditional omelet form (eggs and cheese) is bourgeois. Today I tried making one out of a cigarette, some coffee, and four tiny stones. I fed it to Malraux, who puked. I am encouraged, but my journey is still long.
Today I again modified my omelet recipe. While my previous attempts had expressed my own bitterness, they communicated only illness to the eater. In an attempt to reach the bourgeoisie, I taped two fried eggs over my eyes and walked the streets of
I find myself trying ever more radical interpretations of traditional dishes, in an effort to somehow express the void I feel so acutely. Today I tried this recipe: Tuna Casserole.
Ingredients: 1 large casserole dish.
Directions: Place the casserole dish in a cold oven. Place a chair facing the oven and sit in it forever. Think about how hungry you are. When night falls, do not turn on the light.
While a void is expressed in this recipe, I am struck by its inapplicability to the bourgeois lifestyle. How can the eater recognize that the food denied him is a tuna casserole and not some other dish? I am becoming more and more frustrated.
My eye has become inflamed. I hate Camus.
I have been forced to abandon the project of producing an entire cookbook. Rather, I now seek a single recipe which will, by itself, embody the plight of man in a world ruled by an unfeeling God, as well as providing the eater with at least one ingredient from each of the four basic food groups. To this end, I purchased six hundred pounds of foodstuffs from the corner grocery and locked myself in the kitchen, refusing to admit anyone. After several weeks of work, I produced a recipe calling for two eggs, half a cup of flour, four tons of beef, and a leek. While this is a start, I am afraid I still have much work ahead.
I feel that I may be very close to a great breakthrough. I had been creating meal after meal, but none seemed to express the futility of existence any better than would ordering a pizza. I left the house this morning in a most depressed state, and wandered aimlessly through the streets. Suddenly, it was as if the heavens had opened. My brain was electrified with an influx of new ideas. "Juice, toast, milk" I muttered aloud. I realized with a start that I was one ingredient away from creating the nutritious breakfast. Loathsome, true, but filled with existential authenticity I rushed home to begin work anew.
Today I tried yet another variation: Juice, toast, milk and Cheetos. Again, a dismal failure. I have tried everything. Juice, toast, milk and whiskey; juice, toast, milk and chicken fat; juice, toast, milk and someone else's spit. Nothing helps. I am in agony. Juice, toast, milk, they race about my fevered brain like fire, like an unholy trinity of cruel denial. And the fourth ingredient! What could it be? It eludes me like the lost chord, the Holy Grail. I must see the completion of my task, but I have no more money to spend on food. Perhaps man is not meant to know...
Camus came into the restaurant today. He did not know I was in the kitchen and before I sent out his meal I loogied in his soup. Sic semper tyrannis.
Ran into some opposition at the restaurant. Some of the patrons complained that my breakfast special (a page out of Remembrance of Things Past and a blowtorch with which to set it on fire) did not satisfy their hunger. As if their hunger was of any consequence! But we're starving, they say. So what? They're going to die eventually anyway. They make me want to puke. I have quit the job. It is stupid for Jean- Paul Sartre to sling hash. I have enough money to continue my work for a little while.
Today I made a
Today was the day of the Bake-Off. Alas, things did not go as I had hoped. During the judging, the beaver became agitated and bit Betty Crocker on the wrist. The beaver's powerful jaws are capable of felling blue spruce in less than ten minutes and proved, needless to say, more than a match for the tender limbs of
I have been gaining twenty-five pounds a week for two months, and I am now experiencing light tides. It is stupid to be so fat. My pain and ultimate solitude are still as authentic as they were when I was thin, but seem to impress girls far less. From now on, I will live on cigarettes and black coffee.
Sartre died in
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
OK, time for a public confession.
I am a geek. Indeed, I am the King of the Geeks. I have played Dungeons and Dragons for more than 30 years and have had D&D books published.. I can speak a little Elvish from the Tolkien novels and was able to recognize the dialects in the movies. I am working on making my own language. I think micronations are fascinating. I got a degree in systematic theology because I thought it was the most fun thing I could study!
It should be no surprise that I once collected comic books. I started with the usual – Superman. I loved the old TV series and started getting the comics. Before too long I had learned to go to the local comic shop and troll through the quarter bin to find old issues I had missed. I moved on to Green Lantern and the Fantastic Four. In 1975 I discovered the X-Men (with about, oh, every other comic book reader on Earth) and began to read X-Men and Alpha Flight.
I enjoyed comic books for the same reasons I enjoy Edgar Rice Burroughs and the pulps – action, clear morality, heroics. If I want boring, I’ll re-read The Catcher in the Rye (I loathe that book), if I want moral ambiguity I’ll read crime novels, and if I want anti-heroes I’ll read Moorcock. Burroughs, pulps, and comics share in the simple joy of having fun. Bad guys are bad, good guys are good, there it is.
Don’t get me wrong – there is more complexity to comics and the stories than a 1930’s singing cowboy serial (which I also love). While critics complained that the movie The Hulk was ‘too cerebral and not enough like a comic book’, the comic book is actually pretty talky with the main theme being the anger and violence inside all men. The X-Men are used as a metaphor for race relations; Spider Man is about the transition from childhood to adulthood, etc. In the end, though, they all get to punch evil people in the face, which is fun fiction.
As young as I was, though, I started to realize that many comic books had a political and social agenda, too. This was the worst in the old Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories of the 1970’s. When your attempts to promote a liberal agenda is so transparent and ham-handed that a 7 year old tires of it, you’ve gone overboard! I eventually quit collecting comics entirely in 1988 – in addition to the more overt liberal bias in so many comics, the rush of dark, gritty comics in the ‘80’s sucked the fun out of them. I quit collecting about 15 years ago.
Anyway, this long exposition/rant leads up to this point – I am excited about the upcoming Iron Man movie. Despite the overwhelming majority position of liberals within comic book writers and artists, Iron Man has remained conservative. Sure, that means he is often portrayed as a jerk by his liberal editors and writers, but the character (like the Hal Jordan Green Lantern) remains a law and order type with a respect for society and tradition. Originally one of the “anti-commie” heroes of the Cold War early 1960’s Iron Man remains a successful business man and inventor. Iron Man has always been my favorite superhero character, though never for reasons of his politics. He is my favorite because, in the end, he is uniquely normal. Spiderman? Changed permanently by an accident. The Hulk? Just like a ton of others, altered by radiation. Batman? So obsessed he is off the deep end and so highly trained in everything he must be 90 years old. The X-Men? Mutant DNA. Superman? He’s not even human.
Iron Man is, in the end, a smart guy with a good education. He builds his super powers. He turns around and makes a ton of money and employs thousands of workers from the inventions he uses for his super powers. Superman might give hope to the world, but Iron Man gives thousands of working men their paychecks! Iron Man is, like almost every superhero, a metaphor. In his case, he symbolizes Mankind’s creativity and drive to build things. He is the stand-in for people who build and expand civilization by working with their hands and their minds.
Listen to the King of the Gooks – go see Iron Man next Spring.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
The sister blog to AAD, Aquinas Academy, recently told the story of the Giant Spider Invasion. Here is the picture.
I don't mind killing spiders. Heck, I don't like them, either! But there is something here that wigs me out a little. Please click on the picture to enlarge it and look at the spider itself. Go ahead, I'll wait.
See that little light on the spider? That is the camera's flash reflecting back from one of its eyes, just like with Rosie the cat. That's right - this spider was so big I could tell it was looking at me! That was a little weird.
Friday, August 10, 2007
I had a friend-of-a-friend who was becoming a personal friend named Keith also at Bragg. On this day he called me up and we had the following conversation.
"Hi, [Aquinas]! My fiancee is in town!"
"Oh. That's pretty cool."
"Yeah, and her best friend drove down with her."
"Ooooo-kaaaaaay. Uh, I, uh..."
"So we'll be over soon to pick you up and go to dinner. You are really going to like her!"
"So, you set me up on a blind date?
"I sure did! See ya', [Aquinas]!"
I then had the following conversation with my neighbor in the next room,
"Keith set me up on a blind date with his fiancee's best friend?"
"Dude! I'll get the car!"
"Let me shower and we'll get out of here"
And I hit the shower, rushing to get out of there before a blind date arrived.
I finished quickly (I thought) and was just pulling on some jeans when there was a knock at my door. I opened it to see... Keith, a really short red-head I recognized from picture's as Keith's fiancee, and a girl standing mostly in shadows.
I invited them in, put on my glasses, turned around, and feel in love.
That's right - right then, the minute I could actually see her. Love at first (clear) sight.
We ended up going to a cheap Mexican place for dinner. She was brilliant, beautiful, charming, and a Smithie. We had a nice time and we had a chance to meet one more time over the weekend.
After she left i asked Keith to get me her address. I left for the War just 4 days later and never got the address from Keith. She, however, did get my address. We ended up writing to each other throughout the war and she surprised me by meeting me on the tarmac when my plane home landed - Keith was there and we have a picture of our first kiss!
Wow. Seventeen years; more than 15 years of marriage; four kids. Hard to believe that I might have missed it all if I had simply not taken a shower!
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Hello, all. One of the toughest things for me as a father is that very core of fatherly duties, bringing home the bacon. Why? Well, because I must leave the home in order to fetch said bacon.
Don’t get me wrong; I love my work. Indeed, I love working. I’ve been a janitor, a soldier, a security guard, a fireman, a librarian, a manager, computer technician, a cook, a salesman – almost everything. So its not earning the bacon I mind – its leaving the house to do it.
Once more, don’t mistake me. I do not suffer from agoraphobia or social anxiety or anything. Indeed, I love to talk. I talk a lot. And I speak very fast. I have friends from
Worst of all, however, is the impact it has on homeschooling. My Dear Wife ends up doing the majority of direct teaching. I assist, of course, especially with religion, history, and political science (and math when there are tears). I strive to discuss important topics at the dinner table and to look for ‘teaching moments’ everywhere. I am building a course on survival skills (which I will write more about) and I do a lot of ‘practical example’ work with the boys, as well.
This seems to be what my homeschool dad friends focus on, too. A few topics they either assist in or teach on the weekends/after work, impromptu discussions, dinner table talk, and catch as catch-can lessons. We especially seem drawn to “real world” stuff, like having the kids help calculate how much mulch you need to get, our looking up what plants do well where you live (guess what project the
Since homeschooling is, to me, about acknowledging the reality that life = learning and that the core error of compulsory schooling is to separate the two, how else can we use what we do in, out of, and around the home to teach? Here are some of my ideas; please feel free to add your own!
If you get to take your kids to work from time to time, do so. In addition to showing them what you do, it allows all sorts of educational opportunities. If not, take some examples home! Regardless, this will probably be a rather slim source for education simply because, since you work outside the home, it will seem far removed from your kids.
Math: You can use your budgets to show how algebra is, actually, part of everyday life! Expense calculations, payroll estimates – all are great examples of how math is important and really used.
Science: I am lucky enough that there is a little science involved in my job. I get to explain electricity in relation to what I do for a living
There are tons of cool things you can do around your house. I am sure there are tons more you are already doing.
Math: As I mentioned, measuring the area for a project is a great way to demonstrate ideas like area and volume as well as using algebra to solve practical problems. Calculating the costs of projects is a good multiple-number problem that can include some algebra, too, with plenty of chances for estimating, rounding, even factoring. Calculating sales tax can be a demonstration of percentages, too (darn it). Use measuring tapes to measure the length of a kid’s shadow and the length of a shadow of the house, then measure the kid’s height and demonstrate how to figure out how tall the house is using algebra.
Science: In addition to learning about the bugs, birds, and critters in, under, over, and around your yard learn about the geology of the region, the weather patterns, and the closest rivers and lakes –then look for the bugs, etc. while mowing, collect rocks while picking up, and keep an evening weather log to se if you can eventually predict the next day’s weather based on the conditions the previous evening. Planting or caring for roses can lead to a discussion of Ph and a demonstration of how to test Ph levels in soil and water. A few rocks and an online almanac can help you place markers in the yard for astronomical events, like a solstice or equinox.
I stuck to math and science this time because I plan to write on history and other topics soon. But almost everything we do can be a touchstone for education. Trimming weeds? Talk about how the plastic filament is made. Pruning trees? Explain the difference between iron and steel. Weeding a garden? Talk about how corn and potatoes changed European agriculture. Having a catch? Talk about aerodynamics and how the stitches on a baseball make it move when thrown properly.
Sure, you can over do it; sometime you just gotta’ throw the ball, catch the ball, and hit the ball. But by using these moments to pass on even a few bits of knowledge we not only add to the education of our kids, we show them how rich and full every element of life truly is and prove learning is part of even the most mundane of tasks.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
As the name of this blog indicates, I am the head of the family of the Aquinas Academy Adventures blog. In keeping with internet safety and privacy guidelines, you may call me Aquinas Dad (or AD), husband to MamaJen (the DW) and father to J1, A2, S3, and N4. DW has done a wonderful job of providing depth to the family description here.
I hope that I can teach you something, whether it be about homeschooling, parenting, religion, or just the human condition. So please, pull up a chair and let's talk!