Boston Unveiled

Boston Unveiled is the default setting book for Mage: The Awakening. These books serve a couple of functions. The most obvious is to provide a developed setting for chronicles, to save storytellers a bit of time. The other is to provide examples of the ways that the rules can be used, and the sorts of characters you might create. On the whole, I think they are more successful in the second role.

This book is no exception. As a collection of example mages and cabals, it does a very good job. It fills in the details of what the Awakened might do with their time, or want from their power, and, naturally, makes them all slightly tainted, because the series is essentially a set of horror games. The non-mage ideas are also good; I particularly like The Prince of 100,000 Leaves, an imaginative and terrible horror. That’s an idea that I immediately want to steal.

However, I’m not sure that they work so well in the first role. The problem is, I think, inherent to the form. They fix the broad outlines of the chronicle, but leave most of the details to be filled in. However, designing the broad outlines is the fun and easy part; it’s filling in the details that takes time and effort, at least for most people. On the other hand, it’s very difficult to do the details without the broad outlines.

I think the Tribunal books we do for Ars Magica are a bit more useful, because they provide a lot of information on the history and medieval myths of the area, and that saves storyguides a lot of research. But, fundamentally, they suffer from the same problem; they run the risk of cramping the storyguide’s style without saving him a lot of time.

This is not, therefore, a criticism of this book. I think it’s a good book for Mage, and very useful for people playing the game. I’m just not sure that it actually achieves, or can achieve, the ostensible aim.

Ante-Natal Class

Yesterday we had another antenatal class, this one at the clinic where Yuriko will be giving birth. As a result, it had a very different focus from the ones provided by the city. It had almost nothing to say about post-birth child rearing, focusing on the final stages of pregnancy and the birth itself.

I learned quite a lot from this. Apparently, Yuriko has to keep her feet warm, and thus should be taking baths and wearing socks. She is evincing a certain level of resistance to this idea, probably because the ambient temperature is about 30 degrees. The doctor also says that she should be aiming to walk for about two hours per day, fairly briskly, to build up her strength for the birth.

The clinic has three basic policies about birth. The first is that it should be as natural as possible; this is one of the reasons for the emphasis on weight control and exercise beforehand. If the mother is well-exercised, there is more chance that the birth will go smoothly without medical intervention. Obviously, if medical intervention becomes necessary, they are set up to do that.

The second is that the mother and baby should be together as much as possible. The baby goes in the same room as the mother right from the beginning, unless there are medical problems.

The third is encouraging breast feeding from the first day, even from immediately after birth. They avoid giving formula unless there is a serious problem, which apparently leads to crying babies in the first day or so as the milk comes in.

From what I’ve read, all three of these seem to be good policies. There’s another one that doesn’t get listed as a basic policy, but which is just as important from my perspective; they are very positive about getting the father involved. While I shouldn’t have to deliver our baby, I will, apparently, have the chance to cut the umbilical cord.

We were shown the birthing room, which has quite a lot of medical equipment in in case of emergency; the impression given was that most of it is not normally used. After birth, the baby is first put on the mother’s chest, so that she can say hello, and then briefly whisked across the room (about two metres away) for all the immediate post-natal tests. Then it is given back to the mother, who has a couple of hours to recover in that room before moving to her own room. The father is allowed to be there throughout, and to take photos and videos in the final bit. They discourage filming during the birth; he’s supposed to be supporting the mother, not taking photos.

They also provided the very useful concrete information on when, exactly, you should go to the clinic. For first babies, it’s when the contractions are five minutes apart, or if the waters break. There’s also a list of emergency situations in which you should make contact immediately. That’s very good to have; it’s not like we know instinctively, after all.

At the end of the session the midwife confided that the doctor in the clinic is quite strict, and that she’s not heard the “walk two hours per day” instruction anywhere else. This is, however, to make sure that the mothers get through birth safely. And, in these cases, I think that strict doctors are better. After all, the result is not decided by how angry the doctor is or isn’t; it’s determined by the medical reality. Thus, if the strict doctor gets you to take the necessary steps to avoid problems, that’s good.

There was one other surprising thing. There were four couples at the class, and there was another foreign father. Not only that, but when I spoke to him afterwards, he turned out to be English. They live quite close to us (maybe twenty minutes’ walk, and right on the main bus route), so we’ve swapped contact information. I imagine that we’ll have a lot of issues in common. Our due dates are only a week apart, as well.

Kawasaki is one of the most international areas in Japan, but still, I think that having half of the fathers at an antenatal class be foreign is rather unusual. The midwives’ comments suggested that it was a bit unusual; we had the usual “You do both speak Japanese, don’t you?” questions. So, not only was the information in the class useful, but we also made a potentially very useful contact. A good day.

The Confessions of St Augustine

The Confessions of St Augustine is, of course, one of the great classics of western literature. It’s also one of the earlier classics of African literature, although it doesn’t seem to get put into that category very often; Augustine was born in North Africa, spent his youth there, effectively went to university in Italy, and then returned home. Of course, one could legitimately argue that if you are trying to broaden the literary canon, Augustine doesn’t count. It’s not like he hasn’t been in the canon for about 1600 years.

Having now read the book, I can see why it seized and held on to such a place. It is really very good. Apparently his Latin style is also excellent, but as I read it in translation (I’m such a lazy person), I can’t comment on that. The content, however, is very interesting. Some of the scenes are very famous, such as the “take and read” scene in the garden, or Augustine’s prayer: “Lord, grant me chastity… but not yet”.

It’s clear from Augustine’s account that he was a Christian, and a religious one, from birth. Even when he was a Manichee, he thought that he was a Christian, and arguably he was right, no matter how much he came to disagree later. However, he did a lot of anguished soul-searching, before finally deciding on celibacy and a particular version of Christian doctrine. It is tempting to label that version “orthodox Catholicism”, but a large part of the reason that position is orthodox is because Augustine held it. Within limits, there’s a pretty good chance that any position Augustine had taken would have ended up orthodox.

While the earlier sections of the book are largely autobiographical, there are philosophical and theological elements throughout, and the final sections are dominated by such discussions.

One notable feature is that Augustine was wrong on most of the important factual points he made. In his discussion of time, for example, he argues that only the present exists; that the past and the future do not. That position seems now to be untenable. Special and General Relativity mean that “the present” is not uniquely defined, so both the past and future must exist if the present does, because the present for some observers is part of the past and future for others. In his discussion of Biblical exegesis, he argues that Moses wrote so that everyone could understand, and interpret him in all the ways possible, consistently with truth. We now know, of course, that the opening of Genesis is, at the very least, highly misleading. It misled everyone who read it before the mid-nineteenth century, and continues to mislead a significant number of people now. It is possible to interpret it metaphorically so that it isn’t inconsistent with the known facts, but, basically, in any other context there would be no question about saying that it is simply false.

And that raises possibly the most important problem with his position. Augustine never questioned the authority of the Bible, in part because he believed that it was believed throughout the world. He appears to have been completely ignorant of the states of affairs in India, China, and sub-Saharan Africa. That may be forgivable, as the late Roman Empire had few contacts with those places, but there is a more serious point.

In Book Six (6.5.7), he says “Thus you [God] persuaded me … that I should not listen to any who said to me, “How do you know that these books were given to mankind by the Spirit of the one true and truthful God?” That fact was to be believed above all[.]” I have no problem forgiving his ignorance of relativity and evolutionary theory; Augustine was brilliant, but it’s asking a bit much to expect him to manage several centuries of science all by himself. I’ll even forgive his ignorance of the state of most of the world he lived in, because communications were difficult. However, his response to this question is unforgivable. Once that problem has occurred to you, it is deeply intellectually dishonest not to try to come up with an answer, and “I’m not listening! Not listening! La-la-la-la” is not an answer.

I find it very difficult to believe that someone of Augustine’s intellectual acumen and personality was not profoundly bothered by this issue. I know it used to bother me, back when I was a Christian, and I ceased to be a Christian when I decided that there was no good answer to that question. Some people are not inclined to worry about such things, but Augustine was the sort of person who writes a whole chapter on the nature of time, and the problems of trying to pin down what it could possibly be. He has discussions of epistemology in some of his other works.

In short, if he was preaching as he did while as unsure about the Bible as he should have been, he was intellectually dishonest. If he did not harbour the doubts, despite confronting the questions head on and having no answers to give (because I am fairly sure that he would have given them had he had them), he was culpably negligent, and probably lying to himself. It is somewhat disappointing to find that even Augustine falls in this way.