Thursday, June 19, 2008

Welcome to the (Concrete) Jungle

This Summer, I have been working in beautiful downtown Wilmington for American Life Insurance Company, whose parent company is AIG (It's kind'f like being in the College of Science and, at the same time, a member of the University of Notre Dame). I'm an intern in the Corporate Actuarial department, and it's, well, corporate (I'd say more actuarial than corporate, in terms of personality, but still corporate).

The people are nice, the office is in good shape, and I've got a cubicle; at the same time, the work is very hard, very demanding, and very time-consuming. And the bottom line is money, corporate money (and if any of you read financial news, AIG needs some corporate money), so there are all sorts of higher-ups demanding results, and quickly.

Right now, I'm working for an actuary who is currently responsible for evaluating all of the expenses a particular country's insurance agencies made over the last several quarters. My job is to complete the data map that my boss and a computer programmer started and rectify this database, which was made in Microsoft Access, with a comparable database organized in a very different way in Microsoft Excel, and both of these with a grid table set up in a different way that is probably an Excel print-out. Unlike school, there are few patterns, and no short-cuts.

But to get a little bit more interesting. As boring as this probably sounds, I'm making the most of my Summer. I'm not home much during the waking hours of the day, but I get to spend most of the ones that I am with my family, which is awesome. Since my day is really structured, I have time to say Morning Prayer on the bus in, and pray a rosary on the bus out. And there's a really nice Mass downtown that has made the lunch hour very rewarding.

I'm about seventy pages short of three-books-read, I've been out to eat a few times, been to the pool once, seen my close friends from home, visited my grandparents, and am going to a Phillies game on Friday.

Granted, these are not the lazy days of Summer, which I miss, but I'm offsetting some college loans and am putting myself to some use, even if it is not in pursuit of the highest things. But there is a particular grace, I am told, in offering up one's work ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

Let's hope He's praised.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Don't forget the grad students.

The subject of Notre Dame as a research institution has brought about a bit of discussion at the Rover. I wrote an article last year on Father Jenkins' spoken desire for Notre Dame to join the AAU and the result of such changes on the strength, or at least the breadth, of the undergraduate education. I know Matt wrote a similar article last year as well. I'll be upfront about my bias: I am involved in undergraduate research (that's why I'm hanging around campus this summer) and believe it has been a valuable part of my undergraduate education. I also do not believe that the Biology program is at risk of creating technicians instead of well-rounded and well-read scientists. However, avoiding that overspecialization does not mean avoiding everything with the word "research" in it.

I agree that undergraduates should be the University's focus and that the administration should look after their interests over anything else. But a part of that discussion, which is often overlooked, is the place of graduate students on campus. Emphasizing undergraduate education does not mean neglecting or shortchanging graduate students regarding money or resources. The health of a department depends on the health of all of its parts. I'll speak about the Biology department because that is where I have experience – and graduate students in the humanities may play a different role than those in the sciences.

The bulk of the research in university labs is done by its graduate students. This is true across the country. They are the ones doing the grunt work, getting data, and running many of the experiments that interest their professor. But if graduate students are slighted in favor of undergraduates by, for example, not paying for their health insurance, the strength of the graduate program on campus weakens. This causes fewer good graduate students to choose Notre Dame. Right now, the University's reputation among graduate students is not wonderful, with controversies ranging from football ticket lottery exclusion to not paying for health insurance to having some of their funding redirected to other areas around the University.

But a strong pool of graduate students is essential for undergraduate education. A weaker pool of graduate students impedes the hiring of good, new faculty and can also push current professors away. Although I have no way of knowing their motives, I know that one of my favorite Biology professors has already left Notre Dame, one is going to leave after next year, and another is considering leaving. Losing three professors would be a huge hit for the department and the University cannot replace professors as quickly as they are leaving. This, in turn, negatively impacts the undergraduates because the quality of teaching faculty decreases and there are fewer openings for undergraduates to work in labs. Like it or not, all of the best Biology teaching faculty are here for research as well. Cutting back on research funding will cut back on the quality of undergraduate teaching.

Because of those cyclic effects, cutting back on funding for graduate programs, in the interest of avoiding overspecialization and focusing on undergraduates, is counterproductive. The best undergraduate education requires the best specialized faculty in the country each sharing his knowledge with the undergraduates. This requires a strong pool of graduate students. "Becoming a research institution" is many times nearly synonymous with "improving undergraduate education" because of the role research professors and graduate students play. And that requires not forgetting the graduate students.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Age of Entitlement

Sitting in family court yesterday for four hours, and having a deliciously small attention span, I starting jotting down thoughts on the disintegration of family at hour 2.5. Here they are. Almost every person I've met at this firm has baggage in a density I have never before encountered, with divorces, cheating, child custody battles- and these are the attorneys and their staff, let alone the clients... I have yet to meet someone with a stable family.

Every child has a right to be born into a family consisting of a father and a mother and to be conceived in an act of self-gift.

Professor Charles E. Rice taught us this during his class [Morality and the Law] which I thought obvious. Now, sitting in court, I understand how painful the effects are, since society stopped supporting this crucial right.

The grandmother, of children removed, believes that all their mother needs is another adult (in this case, herself) to provide support. If only the mother had a stable marriage, she would not need to work and could provide all her children's needs without any conflict of interest. Welcome to the real world, Kelly.

One hundred, two hundred years ago, women managed huge households, children in the double digits, servants, and various additional family members. They had support from aging parents living with them, and a spouse, with whom they had no cause to fear separation. De Tocqueville wrote about an independent, and fortified femininity which he observed, particular to the American woman, a strength they drew from their own upbringing. They had different evils to deal with, especially sickness, infant mortality, etc, but perhaps that was better than the pervasive sickness of heart, manifest in destroyed families today?

Better yet, as St. Therese demanded, can we too state, "I choose all!"? Is it possible, now, to retain value for the true rights of the human person, like those at the top?

I've read philosophers' and theologians' discussions on the distortion, the root of the decline of Western Civilization and the family unit. Of three bold and obvious culprits, contraception, the disrespect of the feminine genius and the rise of the Age of Enlightenment, which is the lynch-pin, and then how do we right our attitude?
Did disdain for women's particular gift, nurturing life, lead to acceptance of contraception, or was the latter instrumental in fanning flames of feminism?

Removal of Reason and Objective Truth during the Enlightenment imparted a paradigm (fyi, that word is the result of Thomas Kuhn's book Structures of Scientific Revolutions - once applied to shifts in the way scientists viewed the world, it was adopted into general situations) through which contraception and distortion of gender roles could be accepted readily. Once culture assimilated "I cannot know through my senses or through rational processes that which is true, or even if there is a Truth," objective accountability, standards of inalienable rights, and duties disappeared.

This set up acceptance of contraception, remarriage, the dissolution of the family unit, situations where women could, or would not nurture their children at the expense of a career, men not held accountable to provide security for one wife and their children- all of which lead to revolting situations like the one explored in court today - overwhelmed single mothers - children ripped from parents - a perpetuating cycle of people brought up without stability or supervision at home- children in daycare from 8-6 - that's 10 hours away from the people who are the most influential to their happiness and future success.

In an ideal world, every parent could have attended Harvard or Penn, or at least college, have the emotional stability and reservoir of affection to enable their progeny to grow up confident, intelligent and loved - We are trying to achieve this through No Child Left Behind, Title9, etc, but this energy should be channeled into having their critical rights protected. Fair sports teams do not balance against family stability. Focus not on symptoms.

Is there a way to promote societal encouragement for women to nurture their children? (Disclaimer- I'm all for women working, but there is not enough support from the workplace for child rearing during critical times. We are not happier people since women started working, so we need a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too solution) Women need support for this gift; the lack thereof has increased in tandem with the growing lack of respect for true masculinity.

I heard an analogy of a locked gate to illustrate the misconstrued perception of masculinity: The guy who swaggers up with his -insert fascinating weapon here- and blasts the lock wide open is hailed as the hombre du jour. He is destructive. Another guy walks up confidently, but without affectation, examines the machine's intricacies, using his intellect to work with his surroundings opens the lock with a tool he creates. He is working in the tradition of his maker and completing his nature. This is the work JPII expounded as fulfilling in Laborem Exercens. He has masculine dignity.

Society must hold as normative the young man who 'ties himself down', who commits to one woman, who intends fidelity and labours to provide for his children. This man is not destroying, he is creating order and happiness.

Self-gift is undervalued. A woman putting on lipstick when her husband pulls up is not quashing herself under the fat foot of chauvinism, submitting to objectification or regressing into inferior times- she chooses to give him delight.

The man choosing a family, instead of sowing his wild oats (that expression is ridiculous) and marrying his career until he secures the luxuries to which he feels entitled, is not tied down. He freely serves and labours for souls depending on his life for their own. His creations sustain more than himself, fulfilling his purpose.

We recognize heroes, men and women who give self-sacrificially - now, marital fidelity is elite, and publicly rewarded (Martin Sheen, anyone? The best justification for his Laetare Medal was 40 years of marriage in Hollywood).

We desire to be Love and Beloved; while education distorts this, the inclination pervades.

Christopher West states that in any frat, you observe a desire for Marriage and the Eucharist- sex and booze, baby. Passionate pursuit for happiness is strong, but therein is distorted so virulently.

Statically, individuals confidently accepting only true forms, not distortions, of the fulfillment of these desires are happier. Through their security, they can pass on this overflow of other-centered love to their children.

Divorce, contraception and this recent particular unhappiness of women (Have you ever met a feminist who exudes joy?) all stem from the vulnerability of enlightenment, society no longer feeling accountable to a higher judge. This bequeathed dissolution of the child's rights.

While perhaps obvious to an Intellectual Catholic, the ramifications hit hard in the real world. I hear distressing and repulsive stories every day; I'm realizing connections I take for granted are illustrated with horrendous clarity when I hear about babies who began life in a lab, the product of a sperm bank and a mother desperate for a child years after a divorce, husbands cheating, mothers committing suicide... so much pain.

* Disclaimer- My job is actually quite lovely, the people are friendly and funny, and this is only a tiny part of my observations on life at a law firm - the underlying sadness just surprised me.

Summertime and the livin's (not so) easy

I am spending all my time this week reading furiously in preparation for the ISI summer conference next week (Kelly, I'm sure you can relate). It should be really interesting, as it is called "Civilization and Civilizations: The West in Context." Hopefully the weather won't be lousy so I'll be able to explore Quebec City in my free time! There are about 25 participants, and 3 of them (including myself) are Domers!! Woohoo.

In the next 6 days, I have to finish:

Christianity & Culture, T.S. Eliot
Lament for a Nation, George Parken Grant
Democracy Without Nations?, Pierre Manent
The Aeneid, Virgil
Visions of Order, Richard M. Weaver
Family and Civilization, Carle C. Zimmerman

Any thoughts/comments as to interesting tidbits I should focus on as I read them? Or speed-reading tips in general?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Happy Father's Day

Realizing that I was up to post on this blog, I became a little worried when, as I struggled to think of something witty or meaningful to discuss, my brain failed to successfully cogitate anything that would be worth your while to optically absorb into your cerebrum (Work with me here, my first major is psychology). So, the natural balm for any problem in today's modern world is to go to any Internet search engine to find an answer made especially for you. For my conundrum, I, in the same manner that Luke Skywalker seeks the guidance of Yoda, sought the guidance of Youtube. It soon dawned upon me, as the sun does upon the day, that today is a very important day. What day is that, you might inquire? Well, Dear and Gentle Reader, that today is happy father's day, of course.

If you were my father, your response to such a declaration would be, "Psh, you silly little girl, everyday is father's day!" And then you would flash an Orbit-Smile. (No, that picture is not of my father, nor is it any likeness thereof.)

That is why I, like a mosquito to a bug-zapper light, was so drawn to the below embedded video. Filmed in 1934 and entitled "Everyday is Father's Day with Baby," this skit is a parody of sorts on the statement that "every day is father's day" in its humorous 'explanation' of the meaning of said statement.

While it is true that every day should be father's day (in the sense that fathers should daily attend to their fatherly duties), I guess it is also a good idea that once a year we set aside one day in our busy and hectic schedules to buy dad a present and/or a card to say, "Thanks, Dad, for all of the great and hard work that you do and for putting up with all of my antics. Keep it up. See ya next year when I give you this update again."

So, yeah, a very Happy Father's Day to all of the the dads out there.

[[Disclaimer: This post was written by a very tired person and the author hopes it is not offensive to any reader. Nor is it in any way reflective of the author's relationship with her father]]