Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pancake Lady

One of the obvious hard things around here is the level and amount of suffering. We all know poor people suffer many types of pain without recourse. Without the experts and the systems and the channels of access and information and the, the --- I don't know, the language, perhaps, even? Whether that means fluent English or just not sounding crazy enough for long enough to present your position reasonably articulately to someone, to be unfreaky for just the required period and at least for the specified time, and then to understand sufficiently how to proceed from the plan the person suggests to you? And then attempt to implement those suggestions somewhat coherently, somewhat promptly, somewhat... sanely? It's just not possible, in so many cases.

We have one member of the extended community, a regular diner, a lady I am absolutely in love with. The last day she was here, Tuesday, she came in pretty early in the morning, still wearing her sleeping clothes. Which is to say her sleeping clothe - a long tee-shirt. I don't presume to know how much was underneath, but I suspect rather little, and appearances suggested the same. She had to have been thrilled not to have to wear 97 layers of clothing to sleep in, if only for one day: the weather had warmed up on the one hand, and she had asked us to give her a couple blankets the day before when she stopped by in the evening. We did, and even though one got stolen (or else someone asked her for it and she gave it to him because that is how she is and just thought that theft would be the preferred explanation), she still had a fairly serious blanket that had kept her warm. So she stopped for breakfast, coffee and conversation in her nightshirt and slippers. Just as it should be, in a civilized world: if we can begin the day naked, stripped of all our pretenses, emptied of all but our beautiful souls, then just imagine what we can do later.

And that is what she gave us. The ability to continue walking naked for a while. She is crazy, and she seems to be developmentally disabled, as well, and therefore in some sense she is always naked. And yet she further bared herself at breakfast time, her ruined legs, her bulging veins, her age, her sex, her whole history writ and lisible and palpable and plaintive on her broken, beautiful body - and this gift she freely gave first thing in the morning.

How crazy is she? So crazy that every blessing she so graciously offers seems like the first blessing I ever received, like I am new baptized. So crazy that no matter which version of her story of her life she tells I see equal parts Christ the priest and Christ crucified: what is true remains true, and what is extraneous falls away; what remains is her inner light, and her beautiful human dignity, the divine birthright that no one can strip away, regardless of the hour, or the day, or whether she slept by the train tracks or at the Hilton. Being crazy in the way she is crazy is her ministry: He is right there for us in her; of that I have no question. It is not symbolic, and it is not a stretch. She suffers so that the rest of us can learn who Jesus is through her; she suffers so that the rest of us can know what humility means. And if we don't learn anything from her, that is our fault. The amount of love she has for God - her father and friend and brother and mother and book and blanket and security while she endures the latest robbing or the most recent Sorry We Can't Help You - as she understands Him, and for any person she encounters any day, ever, in her life, is astonishing. --And she is such a piece of trash that more than 99 per cent of people would not even see her as they went through their day. She is not a blessing to them; she is either invisible or a hindrance to something or other. Some of them someday will speak to a poor person; others will continue to send 50 bucks every six months to United Way or the Red Cross; and some will always continue to believe that there is something special about them that keeps them rich and others poor. In my opinion, it is something nowhere near as special as the thing which keeps our dear lady of the pancakes poor, and keeps us all hoping she'll show up again soon for breakfast and bless the beginning of our day with all the reminders of God and love she keeps tucked inside her heart, her shoes, her pants, her head, her sweater, her jacket, her cart, her blanket, her plastic bags, and her diminished expectations. She already knows where God is: where you can't see him so easily. She already trusts all day, every day. If only we could trust that we could meet a lady like her today.

Fr Tom's Funeral

Today I went to the funeral Mass for Fr Tom Kraft, OP (see his Caring Bridge page here and a lovely tribute to him on the Catherine of Siena Institute blog here) at St Dominic's in Benicia. The funeral was absolutely beautiful, and the great love which so many people from so many places have for this gentle and loving man was palpable. He will be missed terribly, but we can all hope that just a fraction of his generosity and loving kindness has rubbed off on those he touched. There was a lunch after in the parish hall, and the only people I knew weren't in there, so I was sitting by myself. An older, retired Dominican, Fr Vic, sat down by me, and we had the most beautiful conversation, and I hope I get to see him again around here! He was at Blessed Sacrament in Seattle back in the 50s or so, and he has retired three times so far, but it looks like this last one 'took.' He was a lovely man, and he also gave me a bit of Dominican history here, which was nice because it so easily gets eclipsed by the Franciscans'.

Before I left for the service, a guy, Eulices, delivered a washer for 50-. A couple weeks ago, our washer and water heaters stopped working in the same week. The dryer was already extinct by that time and, actually, one water heater was still functional, but our new volunteer, Terry, a retired union guy and still a card- (and hat- and shirt-) carrying Wobbly, told us it was a lost case, as well, and that we might only have a few more days of any hot water. We bit the bullet on the water heaters, as he said there was no point in buying used ones. He got a company to donate one completely and give us a reduced price on the second, and then he donated all the labor to move and install them.

That, however, allowed showers and dishwashing to continue, but none of our guests is employed, so using the laundromat is not feasible for them, and I've tried washing jeans and towels in a bathtub before, and let me assure you: it doesn't work. Enter me and Craigslist, and Eulices' ad wherein he mentions that he could deliver in the area! Thank God! So he came this morning, and he also said he would bring by a bike sometime for our earn-a-bike program for day laborers! It turns out he is unemployed himself, laid off three weeks ago from being a hotel manager. He has gone to many interviews with no luck, and now changed his resume (dumbed down, he called it) to sound less qualified - and therefore cheaper.

We also received an enormous TV yesterday out in Castro Valley, with two futons, a little table, lots of linens and various other stuff. The lady even rented a UHaul to move it in! Thursday happens to be our day to pick up at the food bank, and then after that our food-distribution day (we topped the last two weeks of 145 people with a total of about 160; last year at this time it was about 50 people a week), so we had extra volunteers around to help us move the stuff into the truck and then into the house. Michael set the old TV on the sidewalk, and it took about 30 seconds for someone to ask if they could take it.

All in all, yesterday was a long, busy day, but a great one. Today was sad buy joyful, and it was so good to see Fr Daniel and Jesson from Blessed Sacrament. Jesson is the amazing liturgist for the parish, but he also spent years working with the dying with the Missionaries of Charity in India, and he used that gift and experience to take care of Fr Tom in his last difficult weeks. Fr Tom's suffering is over, and he is gone, but there are many deeply, deeply beautiful people at Blessed Sacrament, and Fr Tom's charity, goodness, and profound gentleness of heart lives on in them. I hope they know how special they are, and how special a community they have made.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Murray the Catholic Worker Dog

Monday, November 3, 2008

Fast Forward to Today

Well, that was a long time of no posting, but there were many reasons. One amongst them was my temptation to get lost in the overwhelming emotions of this political campaign season and say things in a tone I might later wish I had not used. However much we may disagree with the positions of certain (or all, for the more cynical among us) the candidates, and to whatever extent we may even find some of their actions, stances, or tendencies morally repugnant, they are, after all, humans just like us, however difficult that may be to grasp in soundbites and newschannel recapitulations of soundbites. A person who is a celebrity, or an ideologue, or a tyrant or a guru is still a person - with all the frailties and handicaps that ontological fact guarantees. I still regret that I am forced by political events to wear my hair in a ponytail or a tightly-wound chignon these days, but that is about as far as I want my snarkiness to take me.

What I will say about this race is that I cannot imagine how joyous it must be for the few surviving centenarian sons and daughters of slaves to see an African-American on the ticket for the highest office in the country.

I admit I became rather obsessed with the election. Then a sage coworker remarked the other day that what was weirdest about it all and most difficult to comprehend is that it will actually be over. And soon. No more heat, no anxiety, no minute-by-minute minute changes in arcs on graphs of Probable Iowa Voters. The end of a race, a change of face, and back to our lost jobs, wars, and debts. Put the party dresses back in the closet, and say a quiet prayer that at least something or other will change.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Dream of Obama

I have too much going on to do much blogging, but I needed a nap after the soup kitchen today, and since the debate was on after I got home, I had to wait until after that to go to sleep.

Timing being what it was, I dreamt of Barack Obama again. And, no, not that kind of dream. I dreamed I got him in trouble with his apartment managers while I housesat for him as he went out campaigning for a few days.

It turns out that (in my head) Mr. Obama lives in a large, average, stunningly bland apartment complex. He also has a very messy downstairs bathroom with ugly navy blue embellishments, including a shag rug and a shag-carpeted toilet-cover-thing on the seat cover and back of the toilet. The bathroom wasn't dirty, just crammed with stuff in the manner of a closet, since it was close to the door. The stuff included miles of audio cable of varying gauges, since (in my head) Obama also runs his own audio in debates and while campaigning.

Anyway, while there, I brought a couple dogs to stay with me, dogs I don't actually own in real life. And I and the dogs stayed downstairs on a couch, and in between shifts at work watched a lot of political news on the big TV and drank a lot of Diet Coke. The latter is relevant, as when Mr. Obama returned a few hours earlier than expected, I was still in the midst of recycling the bottles and newspapers in the recycling alcove of his place (known in other contexts as a 'bay window') (which also contained more boxes of audio cable).

He was very calm about it, but his place looked a bit trashed, so he helped me put everything into the right bins so that his wife wouldn't return to a messy house. He went out for a few moments and when he came back, he said in the manner of a disappointed (but eminently calm) father that unfortunately it turns out that something called the 'noise abatement' squad or committee had been turned to when a water-utility worker attempted to get in and do some repairs: the dogs, it seems, had become a bit proprietary about their temporary home and been rather vocal about their displeasure with the intruder. There was an official complaint, he said, and he disheartenedly lifted the official paperwork.

Of course, the problem with my dogs' enthusiastic protection of the Obamas' apartment would be all but irrelevant were he to win the Presidency, and in all likelihood workmen would abide by landlord-tenant law at the White House, but for the moment I figured that consoling him with potentials and possibilities was an imprudent tack, so I just focused on making the newspapers very geometrically arrayed inside the recycling bins. Mrs. Obama came home, in aubergine and a single strand of pearls, while I was compulsively re-arranging the audio equipment next to the bins. As she walked through the door I had the sinking horror of a teenage babysitter who's eaten all the crab and brie and hopes desperately not to get found out until money has changed hands and some days have passed, but after a quick look around, she didn't seem unduly disturbed by the apartment's (now vastly-improved) appearance. At that point the noise from the recycling truck outside my window was too great, and I woke up.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Both Kinds of Hacks

In news today, Blogrolling was hacked, and the NY Times is cutting out the IHT's Internet presence. I had no idea it was its readership was that small compared to the Times. It will be truly sad when its print version disappears in the next year or two, likewise assuredly not for any sort of financial reason.

In other news, people of all political stripes in all corners of the world declared that John McCain said 'my friends' 22 times too many in Tuesday's debate. Convenience stores predict a continued sharp decline in sales, with many customers so horrified at the price of gas they are no longer venturing into the stores after fueling, and C-store visionaries urge a change toward the European model of offering value on staples along with convenience to blunt the blow of gas costs. And apparently even the price of plastic is up 40% (from when exactly I don't know), further hurting soda pop sales.

Although the Seattle area has been less affected by the recession than most other areas, many industries have seen significant layoffs and restaurants from low to high end are feeling the effects. On the other hand, oil is below 88 dollars a barrel and expected to continue to decline. Until producers pout and cut production. It is also Fashion Week in Athens, where many of the clothes looked like someone's acid-trip version of Jacqueline Kennedy, and Zimbabwe's inflation is at 231,000,000 %.

Camp Pendleton, the only area on the California coast with a view of the sea not blocked by luxury condos and McMansions, and the site of the federal government's last brash land grab, is on fire, with 1000 acres already in flames, and the fire 70% contained by early Thursday. The national debt clock has run out of digits sufficient to display the full amount, so the dollar sign was replaced by a number when it hit ten trillion. Three hundred undocumented poultry workers were arrested in South Carolina for stealing crap jobs from Americans. Dowsing is up as drought continues to ravage the California agriculture industry, and here in Washington, many employers in the same industry, as well as state workers charged with connecting guest workers with employers, are protesting that new federally-imposed fact-checking strictures are impossible to comply with, and that were the federal government to cut funds as punishment for failure to comply fully, that would simply make matters worse for the state, its employees and their already-too-great workloads, private employers, the job-hunting guest workers, agriculture, and residents of Washington and the United States who rely on Washington agricultural products for eating purposes.

Also a photo on Seattlest was featured on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish. Wild.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Chief Rain-in-the-Face, 1835-1905

You, Me, Joe Biden and a Punt

Well, I tell you what.

I read a lot of different things. That separates me not only from Sarah Palin (stop, now, you: I mean because she reads 'all of them, any of them'), but also from people who recycle well, since because I hate to walk that far I try to read them all online (the rest I drive around with in my car until I can surreptitiously dump them in the appropriate bin at my favorite gas stations while the nice man is checking the oil over on the blind side of the hood). And from Madrid to Macchu Pichu, Ankara to Akron, and Birmingham to Bristol Bay, all of a sudden on that side of the political divide (which currently seems to be about 97 percent of the global population), Joe Biden is a lateblooming heartthrob.

Wow, eh?

'Joe Six-Pack' qua hottie. Who knew?

He has a nice smile, apparently. And something about masterful, or statesmanlike or manful manhandliness of taking things in decidedly masculine order or whatnot. At any rate, there are many ladies of a certain age worldwide who would, were he stranded in a punt on a slow-flowing river, not hesitate to request a row out in order to ask were he okay or not. And then offer him sandwiches.

Here's what I know: despite his years as an 'insider' (who is he expected to be -- as a Vice-Presidential candidate of a 200+-year-old republic -- Oscar Romero? Czeslaw Milosz? Deborah Harry??), he is not a billionaire. He's not a millionaire. He is not close even to the latter. In terms of financial planning, if nothing else, and for good or ill, Joe Biden is deeply representative of the Average American, few of whom, it seems, for the past thirty years or so, have managed to sock away anything of substance for the future.

What this means, for those nice older ladies with crushes, and for you and me and Joe Biden, too, is that when everything plummets to its most horrific nadir, our stocks will not be affected! Our mutual funds will remain unscathed! Our 401Ks will remain largely as they were: nonexistent. Our children will have precisely what we had bequeated them last year, and the year before: good wishes, much love, and a solid love of learning and of the world and their brothers and sisters in it. And an inherited stiff upper lip.

I'll tell you about investment: I just returned to working in restaurants. (It seems even the working rich can't afford a private chef.) Last night, the new dishwasher in the ill-fated (only at this place; it's not actually an endemic issue, so don't give up your career plans!) weekend dish shift gave (no) notice that he was leaving to pursue greater riches with a cousin in Brooklyn. Sadly, he wasn't going to receive a check from that workplace before his cross-country trip - but he did have a car to sell.

Enter real economics, real 'Joe Six-Pack,' real individuals controlling their own financial futures. The line cook, who had been bicycling to work happily for months through spring and summer had only recently begun to revisit his transportation priorities. (Seattle has less-than-ideal bicycling weather at times, noticeably at 12AM in January.) The dishwasher had a car and a concrete plan, the cook had money and a vague longing: move 300 dollars in one direction, and one person is on a plane to destiny and another in a heated car toward bed. One guy gets five or seven dollars more an hour, and the other guy gets, minimally, two hours more free time per day. And, if that's too much idleness to deal with, the opportunity now to cut it back a bit with the chance for a second job.

For me, particularly since I'm so terribly depressed about everything lately, it was heartening, even exciting. The grey market will endure, and at least that is something. I hold up restaurants, and particularly kitchens, as paragons of many things (some undeniably glorious; others less than stellar, but not least of which is as a bastion of concrete, visceral, sometimes aching reality in a postsurreal world), but what made this even more brilliant was that, at the finish of the night, the security guard who has been living in an unplumbed van finalized the deal with one of the salesmen (by then drunk) for the papers to the Class C motorhome, on the basis of which he can now finish selling his second van to a guy who wants to use it for hunting and camping, and at the end of the day (literally, or I couldn't bear to say it; it was 11 at night, we had our aprons off and were washing the olive oil and beef fat off our forearms; I am at peace in my soul calling that 'the end of the day'), at least four people were happy with the real transactions they had completed.

Unless of course the whole 'Dollar Up Euro Down!' storyline doesn't entirely pan out for the long term and we all, along with the purchasers in these happy narratives, end up pushing barrelcarts of ABD Yaşli Dolarlar through whatever 'Main Street' is handiest for the 'Joe Six-Pack' under question looking for the one Dollar Store left that will take 4 million $ for a 4-oz. tin of non-metric kippered herring.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Joe Six-Pack 4, Cunning Chinaman 7

'The Common Man' sounds too nineteenth century. 'Everyman' sounds too medieval. 'Working Class' sounds too Marxist, and 'The Average Man' sounds boring and vaguely insulting.

Enter 'Joe Six-Pack.' (And exeunt all those of us with weak stomachs.)

I reason that it's because there are not as of yet literal corporate Presidential Campaign sponsors; otherwise 'Willy Wal-Mart' would have been employed and a special logo created. But while I am uncertain as to how ballot-happy the Ralph Cramdens, Fred Murtzes, Hank Hills, and Stanley Kowalskis of the world (the nearly-extinct demographic of typical-blue-collar Americans I believe Ms. Palin is attempting to evoke) actually are, I do know that however few remain of their species, owning a foam-fronted John Deere cap does not perforce make one a beer drinker nor, conversely, is beer drinking diagnostic of familiarity with power tools.

This makes it a stupid thing to say.

Let us breeze through Prohibition and run headlong into the First Great Depression. In 1933 a grape farmer in the San Joaquin Valley, mired in debt and no longer able to sell his grapes, shoots his wife and then himself. Two of his sons, Ernest and Julio, with less than $6,000, rise from this tragedy, start a winery and change drinking in the United States. The Gallos were successful from the start, owing as much to their complementary skills and temperaments as to their mutual willingness to devote all they had to the enterprise.

The Depression ended, but the 'misery market' remained. In 1957, Gallo introduced 'Thunderbird,' a sweet, fortified, citrusy white wine sold at a low price and, at 17.5 alcohol by volume, rather more tailored toward rapid intoxication than slow savoring. Legend has it that after sales took off, Ernest Gallo, the business and marketing wizard of the pair, would assess the brand's fame and success in its target market by being driven to bad parts of town and yelling out part of Thunderbird's slogan to people drinking from paper bags on the street. 'What's the word?' Gallo would yell, to which the legendary happy hobo would shout back, 'Thunderbird!' 'How's it sold?' 'Good and cold!' And thus arose the first chink in the elitist-wine-snob vs. earthy beer drinker binarism: it doesn't get much more earthy than strong hooch with a screw-top in a paper bag being drunk by a guy with toenails longer than my hair.

But the Gallo revolution didn't end there. Nor were its effects confined to their brand. By the 1970s all sorts of jug red wines, and sweet wines like the Gallos' fruit-flavored Boone's Farm (with real plastic fruit around the neck!) and Ripple were drunk happily all over the US by millions of (often heretofore beer-drinking) middle-class citizens wanting something 'special' with dinner but fearing tannins, texture, and strong flavor. 'White Zinfandel' emerged, as did peach-flavored wines, strawberry-flavored wines, then 'wine coolers' in bottles, and the 'wine spritzer' in bars. Anyone could drink wine -- and it could go down smooth like a soda pop, too!

Meanwhile, as wine lost its elitist status thanks to the foresight and hard work of the Gallos, two other things happened: California emerged as a world-class center of serious viniculture and winemaking, and artisan beermaking took off. Most American supermarkets now have reasonable wine selections, and a US consumer can walk away with a brilliant bottle for under fifteen dollars (or stick with a Mondavi 'White Zin' at probably half the price). Likewise there are now millions of beer bores and beer snobs whose soporific conversational tendencies and level of affectation could rival that of any beret-wearing oenophilic epicure.

So: may we please let Joe Six-Pack rest in peace, along with Scarlett O'Hara, Rosie the Riveter, Ward and June Cleaver, the Femme Fatale, the Simple but Wise Peasant, the Hooker with a Heart of Gold, the Lazy Mexican, the Crafty Jew, the Cunning Chinaman, the Effete Englishman, and the Drunken Paddy? Please??? And someone hand me my Gueuze, please: I can't stand young hops, and I can't bear anything but wild-fermented beers, you know.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Cat Fleeing Debate Mid-'Shout-Out'

Politics for Grownups

This autumn night
Dawns, yet unaware
An insect sings on-
Just as am I,
Is he sunk in sadness?

Another thing that struck me in the brief Jon Stewart-Peggy Noonan interview was Mr. Stewart's visceral frustration at politicians' meretricious use of slogans, catch-words, and symbols as stand-ins for defined terms, argument, truth, or clarity. I believe two examples he gave were Conservative pack-mules 'legislating from the bench' and 'strict constructionist.' These could mean all sorts of things, but in practice are code for rather specific anathemas and goals. As Stewart pointed out, rather than risk alienating some groups of voters by railing against gay marriage, a candidate can remain in good stead with both his more Conservative core and moderate voters by espousing his distaste for the first and his fondness for the latter. A major point in Noonan's book is that the bulk of the American populace, regardless of political views, is as angry at being talked down to in this fashion as is Stewart.

And I think this is part of Sarah Palin's appeal. Unlike 'managed' and 'handled' long-time 'insiders,' she says what she thinks. She may get flustered, she may not always make sense, but until recently, when her logorrhea and lack of self-censorship became blunted by those same managers and handlers, she could be relied upon at least part of the time to say what she meant. I don't mean to say that she any more than the rest of us always acted in accord with her values, but she was largely upfront about them and the extent to which they informed her decisions. Nor do I mean that she was entirely unsophisticated politically or did not sometimes choose her public words judiciously, but her back-country candor, her physical expressiveness, and her fitted pink jackets undoubtedly do seem fresh, and more 'real' than the blandly and painstakingly contrived 'brands' of other national figures.

Perhaps tonight in the VP debate, with Palin's recent intensive training and the 90-second limit on responses, she will say as little of what she means as anyone else. She may even have a new more 'professional' haircut and style. Perhaps those ghastly faltering interviews with their exaggerated expressions and gestures and the incoherent strings of 'talking points' were a necessary intermediary step between her original shoot-from-the-hip/ take-no-prisoners/'Joe-Six-Pack' upfrontness, and she will now be ready to respond to any and all questions in a perfectly-clear and meaning-bereft coherent iteration of the same populist 'talking points' minus the nose-wiggle and the finger-licking, but with added 'y'alls' and more consistently dropped terminal G's. Should she remain on the national stage, whether the point is reached tonight or later, she will eventually be able to say as little in as many words as anyone else -- but succeed in doing so with appropriate punctuation and breath stops.

I enjoy subtlety in the right places as much as the next person. But this isn't Edo Japan, and foreign policy can hardly be confused with a lone heron on a foggy marsh. Evocation is not called for: clarity and direct speech are. I don't want synechdoche or stand-ins; I want facts, actual positions, and exposition! It doesn't matter to me in the slightest who pulled whom up by whose bootstraps -- or whether there were bootstraps involved in anyone's 'narrative' at all. I am not a medieval Japanese, and neither are you, so a symbol-ridden terse tanka is of no use to me whatever in parsing your actual stance on a specific issue. God help me, I, as much as anyone else, support 'freedom,' 'democracy,' 'democratic values,' 'rights,' and wish the best for the 'American taxpayer' and the 'American Dream' - but from my espousal of these abstract concepts here you still have no idea in what way I believe they are to be defined, pursued, implemented, or served. Like a bugling stag weary in the browned bush-clover, or a departing goose calling a distant farewell, the autumn mountains echo with my mournful cry: Say something, one of you, any of you, that isn't fully, patently, abhorrently inane!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Peggy Noonan and St. Paul

Well, my love affair with Peggy Noonan continues. She is that all-too-rare combination: a lady, a Conservative, a human, demonstrably non-insane, and a thinker (although I disagree, and quite vigorously so, with several positions she has held), something nearly as hard to find as 'small town values' in small towns.

Tonight Ms. Noonan was on the Daily Show to promote her new book, Patriotic Grace: What It Is and Why We Need It Now. The title will be disturbing in some quarters for its inclusion of the term 'patriotic,' syllables which, when mispronounced, rhyme rather effortlessly with volk and kokutai (国体). I, however, would advise those naysayers to notice the second word, grace, and reflect on what our country, its politicians, and its political contests, might look like were grace, alongside its parents maturity and reflection, to be employed more widely.

Nor did Ms. Noonan's performance belie her espousal of grace as a virtue. She was calm, soft-spoken, persuasive, and did not once wink, wrinkle her nose, lick her finger and stick it in the air, or escalate her pitch to shrill or girlish levels. She spoke, reasoned, and comported herself like an adult, something which one should hope might pass unremarked, yet cannot for its rarity. And despite Ms. Noonan's recent still-on-microphone gaffe in which she used mild profanity and dismissed the wisdom of the Palin nomination, her ladylike demeanor and reasonable speech helped stifle almost all of John Stewart's customary swearing.

Part of Sarah Palin's gut demagogic appeal, I suspect, is that she acts like a girl. She is unintimidating, even when she resorts to the crudest, most puerile sarcasm. But girlishness, or childishness, does not engender respect, nor does it facilitate rational conversation or debate. I entertain grave doubts that the Corinthians wore red peep-toe pumps or bobbed their heads coquettishly while pursuing the Vice-Presidency, but Paul nonetheless saw fit to caution them thus: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became a man, I put childish ways behind me”(1 Corinthians 13:11). Would that the majority of American politicians follow Peggy Noonan and do the same thing.

'Shall I teach you what knowledge is? When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it;-this is knowledge.' -Confucius

Logovores Unite!

For various reasons I hate to make this blog a blog about Sarah Palin but, God help me, she is genuinely frightening as a candidate for national office. It is equally frightening that there are people -- millions, it would seem -- who find her not only not frightening but a good choice for the office. Millions who would put their lives and their futures partially (or fully, should McCain's age or health become relevant) in her hands. And, more shocking still, millions who find her inability to answer simple questions appealing, and comforting rather than disturbing.

I am currently obsessed with her refusal or inability to name which papers and magazines she reads, which periodicals she feels have helped to shape her worldview.

Katie Couric: ''When it comes to establishing your worldview, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this, to stay informed and to understand the world?''

Sarah Palin: ''I’ve read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.''

Couric: ''Like, what ones specifically?''

Palin: ''Um, all of them, any of them that eh, have been in front of me all these years.''

Couric one last time: ''Can you name a few?''

And Palin: ''I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn’t a foreign country, where it’s kind of suggested, it seems like ‘Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking and doing when you live up there in Alaska?’ Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.''

Or, at least a microcosm of the part of 'America' that can't recall which newspapers, journals, or magazines it reads. My problem with this is that it sounds an awful lot like she doesn't read any. I can recall five titles for myself from yesterday, some local, some national, some international. Now, perhaps it is not true that Ms. Palin never reads any media at all, but that the reticence was a moment of panic: she simply wasn't sure if the Anchorage or Matanuska Valley papers would make her sound too provincial (although lack of worldliness, sophistication, or knowledge of foreign affairs has not seemed a concern thus far, so I find the theory not terribly plausible), whereas to quote national or international papers would endanger that same perception of provincialism and make her seem like an elitist egghead - -like the rest of 'em, sittin' up there in their political insider machine in Washington and readin' their elitist newspapers (through monocles, no doubt, while they sip espresso or sherry with upturned pinkies and debate whether the Camerata Fiorentina proves that Conservatism is either ultimately conservation or innovation).

But whatever may prove to be the explanation for her inability to be specific I am inclined to doubt that it will have anything to do with her being accustomed to reading 'most of them, any of them,' nor, assuredly, 'all of them.' I am fairly certain that, well-informed and well-read though he was, even the late Conservative William F. Buckley did not, in fact, come anywhere near to reaching Palin's claimed print profligacy.

She even had an easy out: she is an executive, as she repeatedly reminds us. As such, she could well have said that her position keeps her far too busy for as much reading as she might like and necessitates a focus on regional issues, such that much of her reading is taken up with official documents and Alaskan newspapers. Maybe she really can't see Russia from her porch, but she most assuredly can see Alaska, and simply asserting a single-minded focus on the concerns of her constituency would have saved her from the embarrassing absurdity of claiming to have read 'all' of the periodicals that 'have been in front of me all these years.' I don't even think it would have been a lie -- at least nowhere near as big a one as claiming to be the world's most voracious print consumer.

Monday, September 29, 2008

I Can Has Cheezburger

But let me say this: whether it is McCain or Palin - de facto, de jure, (de la subida más alta es la caída más lastimosa, de haut en bas, de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum, or de gustisbus non disputandum, or de la O, the great mixed-martial-arts trainer and fighter) - who ends their arranged marriage, and no matter what I think of Mrs. Palin's political views, historical knowledge, or geopolitical vision, and regardless of how dirtydirtydirty I think it is to just plunk AWomanAnyWoman into a vacant hole,

Because I am a dork, and because I am a woman, and because I think that, whatever her weaknesses, she was used callously and nastily, and then left to the wolves like an overeager bush pilot in a moribund and cranky Land-O-Matic,

I do hope her exit or concession speech consists of this and nothing more:

All Your Bases Are Belong To Us.

[BTW: Fail.]

(As though 'women' were indeed the monolithic voting block some chucklehead McCain Campaign Advisor advised McCain.) (Or maybe one didn't; maybe these people do not consult the candidate but act unilaterally, in 'the best interests of the Party.' I really have no idea. I no longer understand any of this. Ever.) (Although I did make venison pizza the other day at the soup kitchen, which seems somehow postmodernly ironic.)

(And then, okay, that from that solipsistic defiance emerges someone on the conservative side who isn't totally ill-equipped to convince those legendary 'Bases' that it doesn't totally suck, or prove cowardice or a moral lack, occasionally to recall that the U.S. is situated on the same globe as {what should be} a rather cautionary amount of other more-or-less confirmedly sovereign political entities.)

(That would so rock.)

(And then we can forget that whole Paraguay thing. K?)

Like Lipstick on Schadenfreude

I don't know how people like Andrew Sullivan or Ariana Huffington do it, how they write opinion about the state of politics day after day after day. I can still get my head around the idea of a print - including electronic print - reporter amassing and distilling facts from wire services and colleagues in the field to come up with 'Polls Show Prohibition Costing Hoover Crucial Votes' or 'Hearst Deal Likely to Solidify Roosevelt's Lead.' But as truly insane and lamentable as things (what things? nearly all of them! pick one, and just see if it's not insane and lamentable!) are now in this country, and this election, I am incredulous that anyone with an analytical, rational, or even humane bent can be calm enough to render opinion on all this obscenity. Admittedly, I don't get paid for it, which might well be a great tonic for wordlessness, but I'm verklempt. Vollständig. I can't begin to think about it properly in its entirety, let alone take an opinion.

That being said, as the Sarah Palin circus grinds on twenty-four hours a day, the one thing I am absolutely certain of is that I feel sick for her, and I also feel sorry (although more mitigatedly so) for McCain. When her nomination was announced, my first reaction was that it was patently a slick and dirty tactical move: the Democratic Convention seemed very successful, galvanizing millions of exhausted and angry voters. So the Republicans timed this bizarre announcement to take a bit of that attention away.

And that succeeded. She was a crazy pick, an unknown who had figured nowhere on McCain's short list. Plus, unlike those (Above-) Average White Guys McCain was considering, she was a woman, a (rather fertile) mother, a hottie, an elsewherian, and politically quite distinct from McCain. Like Reagan or Bush II, and unlike McCain, for Palin there is a set of ideas on which she will not compromise, and which undergird all her opinions, and which must always be beyond discussion or negotiation. We have seen that there are plenty of voters who can relate to that, if, admittedly, sometimes in the 'I don't know nothin bout art, but I know what I like' manner.

My first reaction was that, being ostensibly a tactical move, it would be short lived. It would serve its purpose of notoriety, exultation, hairstyle commentary and scandal, and then when the attention had died down in a couple weeks, the McCain campaign would find a way to release her back into the wilds of Alaska and settle down with a more predictable, truly marriageable partner. Rural grassroots support for Palin would carry over to the new VP candidate easily, provided a convincing exit narrative had been contrived and managed adroitly. The new candidate would continue to mention Mrs. Palin and her values, and she would continue to be a presence in the campaign, heroic, lionized, as though she had actually died for the struggle. He would promise to uphold her - and 'the American Public's - ideals as he took up her mantle. She would live on as a Photoshopped patron saint, her all-too-human imperfections fallen away effortlessly in post-mortem hagiography and cable-news apathy.

But that didn't happen. Or it hasn't happened yet. And while I do not for a second believe McCain should have picked her (nor that it was McCain who did), nor that she should have accepted, her precipitous rise to stardom based, apparently, on looks, maternity, domestic oil production, and an antagonistic relationship to northern fauna, has, in addition to showing how little news is actually possible to unearth on a 24-hour news station, catapulted this very average madonna-executive into the vicious world of international sarcasm. Every aspect of Sarah Palin to which we have access has been vilified ad nauseum. Even her pregnant daughter and her jock boyfriend/sudden fiance are global laughing-stocks. I may find the boyfriend an atrocious little boy personally, but that is of course irrelevant for very many reasons (just to start, neither of them are running for anything except cover, and neither are responsible for the choices of their elders, let alone the Republican Party), and I would have known nothing about him, his (18-year-old's) stance on matrimony, his sporting preferences, his measurements, his academic record, his misogyny, or his apparent willful ignorance had McCain's handlers not proposed this wild scheme to Palin, nor she accepted. We are all idiots, sinners, bad friends, worse enemies, and only cautious good-doers: that two average rural high-school students are now in the position of being lampooned and excoriated globally for being two average rural high school students is disgusting, and something that should trouble us all.

***Break in the middle of this long post: Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Atlantic said something similar and different here, so if you are tired with my position, or my crappy way of expounding it, you can go there, and have a different exposition of a different argument which comes out to a similar injunction: to not be so bloody mean. Or something. Close.

Part of my point is that we're all imperfect, and we all do stupid things, immoral things, and tasteless things. The majority of us are fortunate in that usually only about twenty other people know about them. And while I do not think Mrs. Palin is without culpability in any of this - she is an adult; she could have said no - whatever it is that motivated her assent does not mean that what she is experiencing now, as arguably the most famous person on earth, is to be relished. It is as lamentable as the rest of the heretofore unimaginable crap which daily assaults us.

For me, it was terrible to see her with Katie Couric. She looked at times like she was going to cry, and she was so nervous that even with her notes she frequently couldn't form complete sentences. Instead, she strung together repetitive dependent clauses and catch-phrases that had nothing to do with the question asked. For me it wasn't sport; it was rather like canned hunting. She may be a nice lady, or she may be an execrable human; she may be bright, and she may be utterly incurious; she may be both, always, at the same time. And it may be the case that it was nothing but hubris and a thirst for self-aggrandizement at any cost that drove her to accept the nomination. Manifestly, however, whatever her innate and cultivated aptitudes, and however much one agrees with or loathes her values, she is not ready for Vice- or real Presidency.

McCain is old enough to have said,' What, wait: --who??' and insist that the Party let Palin's family, her political experience, and her global curiosity mature a decade or so before inviting her into national politics. And McCain, as the Presidential candidate for the Party, the person who would have to work with the Vice-President for up to eight years, would, under ideal circumstances, have been able to, expected to, and insistent upon, personally vetting all potential candidates. She, likewise, could have reiterated the famous 'thanks but no thanks' and gracefully suggested that she had a few years more of study, and a few family matters to attend to, before taking the national stage. But, as fame now consistently outscores looks, smarts, and likability in polls of what Americans would prefer to have, her acceptance of the nomination is well within the bounds of normal American behavior. It may be sad, but it is hardly counter-cultural.

And it is because of that fact, the fact of her more strident, obvious, palpable, and less Photoshoppable humanity (especially as versus 30-year political veterans) - not because I agree with her on international or domestic issues, not because I see myself in her womanhood or motherhood, not because I, too, have a complex family, have made mistakes or misjudgments, have succeeded at some things at the expense of others, or have neglected to cultivate parts of myself - that I deeply empathize with her and her family right now, being the brunt of jokes no normal person (even a gorgeously postmodern, outlandishly cynical, Liberal one) could ever have never imagined, every detail of her life scrutinized in absurd fashion, her sartorial choices alternately mimicked and lampooned, her marginal, symbolic, token, silent role as envisioned, extrapolated to its (not entirely illogical) end as potential Ruler of the Last Great Empire.

I hate the whole thing. She shouldn't be there. She is suffering, her family is suffering, friends of friends of her family are suffering. And the country, all the millions and millions of us who are doing no-so-very-well-thank-you-at-the-moment-already will suffer tremendously should someone of so little curiosity and rationality end up as head cook, let alone Captain, of this blighted Narrenschiffe. -- Look, Margaret Thatcher was unique. Indira Ghandi, Golda Meir, Benazir Bhutto, Tansu Ҫiller, and Megawati Sukarnoputri were unique, and I'm only picking up the notable notables. There doesn't have to be a woman, or a black guy, or a gay guy, or an ex-bishop, or a prole, or relative of a prole, or a person with a disability, or a person with a large family, or no dependents, or a preference to baklava over awamat -- or a Poodle-studding business or a temporary obsession with lapidary. There just has to be a truly exceptional, historically grounded, ethically centred, utterly visionary, multiply capable, unfailingly prudential and unwaveringly calm individual of whatever genetic or gonadic makeup.

Do I think it was a brilliant cynical move? Sure: it got them what they wanted, which was attention. Do I think we all suffer when those in power think tactically rather than strategically, and of Party rather than country or world? You bet. And I'll see you in Paraguay!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Larger Issues Not Addressed

I Can't Stop!

Again from, this is a word cloud for Seamus Heaney's 'Death of a Naturalist.'*

*Eh, and another one, too.**

**(Em. Look? FROGS!!??)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Blog Word Cloud by Wordle

(I like it, but I know I have never used 'Godmutter' in here.)

Swearing in French in Guerrero

We'll get back to Marie de l'Incarnation soon, I hope, because her story is nuts. She was a powerhouse, a dynamo, a great teacher, a prolific letter-writer, and a nun-scholar-philologist in the wilds of old Canada. In the meantime, here is a story about swearing like a (Québec) Frenchman while wintering south of two borders.

Québecois swearing is justly famous for its outrageousness. If the offense or inconvenience you are suffering is not too great, you can of course just mutter a clipped 'marde' under your breath and have done with it. If, however, the flurry from your neighbor's souffleuse just blew your tasty string of tire d'érable (I remember loving that as a kid; thank God those teeth were temporary) right into the bits of hair sticking out from under your tuque, your ire is unlikely to be fully vented after a mere monosyllable (we think our four-letter-words are handy stress relievers: imagine having ten or fifteen syllables to let off that steam). Instead of a tiny clenched fistful of choices and one short puff of air, Québec Francophones have at their disposal the vast vocabulary of four hundred years of North American Catholic history from which to fashion not merely obscene, but elaborately, flamboyantly, nonsensically obscene multi-part jurons/sacrés combining every religious term conceivable. In English, people sometimes murmur 'Oh, God,' or 'Jesus,' (whether knowingly/deliberately or completely unconsciously) whereas in Québec the would-be swearer has the entire Mass, the Old and New Testaments, two thousand years of saints, all entries main and sub- in the Catechism, and every last detail of ecclesiastical vestments, architecture and ornamentation from which to choose his sacrés.

Now, baptism records notwithstanding, no one is actually Catholic anymore in Québec. That stopped in the 60s, but it doesn't change the fact that it is still objectionable in polite society to yell a series of religious words interspersed with terms alluding to the body's copulatory and excretory functions. So there are euphemisms. Plenty of them. Calvaire (Calvary) and câlisse (chalice) can become calette, calvette, caltour, calvasse, calverasse, câlif/caliphe (caliph or qaliph), câlique and, with a dig at reference to the Huguenot Protestant portion of the province's settlers, Calvin, Calvinasse, Calvinisse, Calvinouche, and so on.

In order not to offend old ladies by saying 'tabarnac' which is what you would say if you were a Québecois trying to mutter 'tabernacle' while frustratedly searching for the nearly invisible
Rue Calvin in Québec City,

you might instead grumble tabarnache, tabarnouche, tabarniche, tabarnane, tabaslac, or even tabarouette (= ta barouette).
(Sa Barouette.)
(Jean à de longues moustaches. Je répète: Jean à de longues moustaches.)

If, however, you were less worried about people overhearing and being offended by your swearing because you were somewhere no one would understand the polite words, either, such as frustratedly searching for the nearly invisible Calle No. 2 in Acapulco, you might be less inclined toward restraint and let all three real syllables fly, giving yet another reason for Mexican resort workers, street vendors, and taxicab drivers to continue to refer to loud Francophone Quebeckers as 'tabernacos,' via analogy to 'nacos'

NaCo T-shirts

which is the Mexican version of 'chav' and 'joual' and just as classist as these, but with the advantage of having a fair bit of racism mixed in, as well.

('There is no racism in Mexico. -Said this câline of a tabarname of a calvénousse of a baptême of a naco.')

But, just as other vicious words have been retranslated and refurbished in the past few decades as emblems of pride rather than vehicles of derision or hate, so, too, has naquismo as an identity been reclaimed and self-consciously turned on its head in all its garish glory. For the past decade there has been a NaCo clothing company (which was even quite trendy a couple years ago in distinctly non-naco circles with t-shirts such as the designs in this posting and 'Ser Naco Es Chido' and 'M is for Mojado' ['wetback']), with outlets in both Mexico and the U.S., not to mention online.

According to cultural critics such as Carlos Monsiváis and others, however, the word is simply too nasty from its very origin to merit rehabilitation. Most agree the word comes from 'Totonaco' or, possibly, 'Nacohuatl/Nahuatl,' and thus always contains a racial element when used by comparatively cultured, educated and light-skinned Mexicans to refer not only to those with less refinement and schooling, but more indigenous blood. 'Naco' for Monsiváis is 'proletario, lumpenproletario, pobre, sudoroso, el pelo grasiento y el copete alto, el perfil de cabeza de Palenque, vestido a la moda de hace seis meses, vestido fuera de moda. Naco es los anteojos oscuros a la media noche, el acento golpeado, la herencia del peladito y el lépero, el diente de oro. Naco es el insulto que una clase dirige a otra.'

Now, I for one am about as sick of feigned folksyism as I could be, but it is one thing deliberately and inconsistently to drop one's G's from the present progressive in an attempt to get the lumpenproletariat to vote for you ('Guysngals, our regulatory system is outdated...there's somethin that's goin on in our world, in our nation...that needs some shakin up and fixin') and another altogether to be at ease with and proud of all the sweat, callouses, and disapproving looks your naco or joual heritage has earned you. Had someone suggested to me a few years ago that there would be a Democratic presidential candidate of African ancestry, to which the Republican response was going to be Class War, I would have suggested to the speaker that he perhaps 'didn't inhale' a great many more times than Bill Clinton - and quite possibly didn't do that inhaling very, very recently.

Monday, September 15, 2008

An Arquebus That Was Used at Waterloo

Maybe I'm just really a conservative in everything and resistant to all change, but I think this all looks wretched with the new font, which normally doesn't to me seem tremendously different from Times (although I admit to being one of the seven people in the world that reads the little page in every book about fonts and typeset and the lonely man who does it).

It does seem a great deal easier to read, though (check out the now-totally-garish but still-as-sad-as-ever Counter below! yipes! it makes my failure at fame the much more obvious; all the more it could do would be to blink the sad stats in a glitter-ridden pink!), and as I was just telling the mother, some time in the next five or ten years I'm going to consider applying for corrective eyewear (ooh, wait, convene strategists and deliberate: not if Sarah Palin is just beginning her second term as President; although waitwait, I should by then have adapted to a different updo or shaved These Ebon Locks (As glossy as a heron's wing/Upon the turban of a king) (which o'erspread my youthful neck/ my cheeks a bashful red) altogether, and everyone will be as appalled with her as they are of any second-term incumbent, even if they voted for him/her twice, so no connection will necessarily be made between my deteriorating eyesight and the former governor of Alaska's accessorizing and grooming tendencies).

Anyway, I think all the words look really big, as though I mean what I say and wish to be aggressive about putting it forward.

All I wanted was a bloody cedille. Not a revolution. Of course the fact that the links list is now so obstreperous makes me feel as though I have to address the fact that some don't even link to the main page but some 'August 2005' recap of something or other that was well and duly settled by March of that year if not before.

I want this blog to be pleasing to the eye much as my home is, but with my home I bring in or take away stuff, or move a stuff to place it didn't use to be and in which its presence will be more felicitous than previously. I am not, in other words, reduced to 'formatting' in the case of stuffs and house. In the case of this accursed blog, in marked contrast, I do not have the option of simply moving a jardinière or flower arrangement closer to the screen and a bit to the left or right; I have to do all sorts of soul-destroying things to the code of the copy of the image of the photo of the vase (or something equally geneological and even less-well understood), cross my fingers, cross myself, feveredly pound a glass of a dangerous Barolo, and stare at the screen in abject and unholy fear while holding my breath and pressing 'enter,' 'save,' or another similarly ridiculous copulatory or soteriological command, none of which verbs I particularly wish to engage in with a computer.

I feel in matters technological not unlike Noël Coward's beleaguered Colonel Montmorency felt with regard to his Home Guard troops' lack of necessary materiel. Except there is no superior to whom I might even vainly address my petitions. There's just me, and some really huge type. And the song is admittedly a lot better when sung, and most particularly when it's Coward himself doing the singing. But if I can't even format a blog to conform to my wishes, I most assuredly cannot conjure Mr. Coward sitting at my piano and killing me softly with his stirrup-pump.

'...Poor Colonel Montmorency tried, at infinite cost to time and pride
To tackle his superiors again;
Having just one motorbike, fourteen swords and a marlin spike,
He wrote the following letter in the following urgent strain:

Could you please oblige us with a Bren gun?
We need it very badly, I'm afraid.
Our local crossword solver has an excellent revolver,
But during a short attack on the fort, the trigger got mislaid.

In course of operations planned for Friday afternoon
Our orders are to storm the Hippodrome,
So if you can't oblige us with a Bren gun
The Home Guard might as well go home.

Could you please oblige us with a Bren gun?
The lack of one is wounding to our pride.
Last night we found the cutest, little German parachutist:
He looked at our kit, and giggled a bit, and laughed until he cried.

We'll have to hide that armoured car when marching through Berlin;
We'd almost be ashamed of it in Rome.
So if you can't oblige us with a Bren gun,
The Home Guard might as well go home.'

Wedges and Edths

As part of my continuing quest not to be the dumbest person ever, I started wondering how I might be able more easily to insert foreign characters* in here. When the Character Set would offer me selections in the default font (Arial) (which it turned out was not even the one the post font was set to) (Times) (but why would I know that? They came out with serifs on the blog!), I would have recourse to some that I needed, like E's both aigu and grave, but for C-cedille I needed to Google some Froggy or Turkic word that contained it, use an entry where the character was not in bold (because Blogger would retain that formatting, and I am not smart enough to know how to remove it when obvious steps do not), and then cut and paste it into the entry because the character set in that font does not have it except in majuscule which, despite my low standards, looks every bit as stupid in the middle of 'faÇade' as I think it does.

My solution, when cutting and pasting seemed too labourious, was to use a terminal sigma and call it done, as with faςade. You probably didn't even notice.

But what I don't understand is why different commonplace fonts would have differing selections of diacritics and/or languages' alphabets from others. (I.e., were there some definitive studies done showing that Courier users consistently need letters that Georgia fans do not?) Not to mention wondering why in Arial I can get access to a capital C-cedille, not to mention a Latin C with both an acute and a cedille and a 'Latin Small Letter Sideways Open O' but be barred from what seems to be a far more regularly used character than either of those? So now everything will be in Georgia (allegedly), wherein I can not only use C-cedilles as liberally as I please, but also toss in a few 'Greek Small Letter Iota with Dialytika and Tonos' when I want.

So here is a final goodbye to Final Sigma. You've been good to me, but just like the loden-green wedges the thieves stole 1/2 of from the car, you were never quite right, anyway. And leave off the hissing; it's unbecoming.


*By which I mean more of the sigmas-and-edths type and less the Louis-the-Fourteenth sort.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Monastic of the Day!

(Not him, obviously. But weren't the 80s ghastly, though?
Leggings and miniskirts, oh my.
And a headband, no less!)

In what seems to be becoming a regular feature here, today's featured religious* is the Venerable Mère Marie de l'Incarnation, 1599-1672, who started out this life in Tours and departed it in an Ursuline convent in New France, which is alot like Québec only with a great deal fewer Frites-Alors, much less poutine, and not even close to as much or as many habitant and habitants.

Both sides of my family, the French ones and the English ones, came over to North America early. This could mean they were desperate, adventurous, bored, reckless, in danger of incarceration, excessively fond of lengthy boat travel, or all these in varying measures. I know a lot about the English side: they fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and sent letters telling about this. I know less about the earliest French arrivals, and I suspect it is because they are the ones who gave the women in our family the facial hair, and the less known about them, the less rancour towards the dead will arise. Still, though, I love the history of Québec/New France/Nouvelle France as much as I love that of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, so while rummaging around online for stuff about the former, I was reminded of the story of the Filles du Roi, in which the above Mother Marie played a part.

(The Roi Whose Filles We're Talking About.
Somehow this style never caught on in Trois-Rivières.
They were still probably wearing headbands.)

Firstly, it should be said that Filles du Roi are not at all the same as filles de joie, who figured in earlier posts and had far better wardrobes, not to mention restaurant choices, even after Escoffier, than the habitants of the Canadian wilderness.

(As you can see from the rug and the furniture
in this painting by honorary Canadian Cornelius Krieghoff,
imported spouses were also forced to endure shopping at Ikea, which was
even more horrific when Karl XI

was in charge of Sweden
than it is now.)

Unlike filles de joie, Filles du Roi were not career women; their job - once they moved to the New World and found a husband (which tended to happen within a month or so after disembarkation) - was to be a wife and mother, which, alongside religious and camp-follower, was one of the three main career trajectories available to women at the time. Despite the arduous passage across the Atlantic, New Franceian Hausfrau could well have seemed the middle-ground option for marriageable girls with a moderate, though not overweening, sense of adventure and a similarly underwhelming set of marriage prospects.

The Filles du Roi were recruited and imported from 1663 to 1673, beginning in northern cities like Paris, Rouen, and New Rochelle. The purpose of the programme was to populate the colony, which would eventually provide new soldiers to defend France's holdings against Iroquois and English alike. Moreover, having a wife, family, house, land - not to mention livestock, two barrels of salted meat, and dowry from the King - would in theory serve to keep more of the colony's male population where they were instead of following the trend of leaving New France to return home after their three years of service. Though there were only 700, or 852, or 1000 women shipped in during those years, the French population of New France was itself only about 2500 in 1663 (as contrasted with English North America, which already had 100,000 inhabitants), with only 1 percent of New France territory being used by the settlers, so the resulting marriages and considerable progeny (you only got a 300-livre annual pension if you stalled at 10 children, but 400 if you made it past a clean dozen) could indeed eventually constitute a relatively significant bulwark against English encroachment once the children reached soldiering age. In 1671 alone, about 700 babies were born to the new families, and by the end of the ten-year importation of Filles du Roi, the sex ratio in Nouvelle France was more or less even. By 1754, at the start of the Seven Years' War, or the Fourth Intercolonial War, or the Guerre de la Conquête, or the 'French and Indian War,' the 'Indians' at least had some Frenchmen to fight alongside them.

All that notwithstanding.

Some of the girls were not as ready for the privations of Canadian homesteading as were others. They got a quick remedial education in whatever practical domestic arts they lacked while awaiting introduction to suitable suitors, plus a ration of pins, needles, thread, taffeta, and scissors among other things. They did not, however, receive a pair of Sorels or experience in wood-chopping or fence-building. Just as the Filles preferred garçons who already had une habitation set up and ready for move-in (look, I love the Canadiens as much as you do and, honestly, probably more so, but that really is the boring reason they're called The Habs: steady settlers with land and a cabin. Homesteaders. Pea soup. Stability and stoicism, not high-sticking), the male colonists were in need more of a sturdy helpmeet than a piano-playing bourgeoise.

Enter Marie Guyart the Ursuline.

(And also another entry, since this one got away from me.)

*And for the irreligious among you, 'religious' in the nominative way is different than the adjectival version. Flat-earthers, for example, or snake-charming charismatics, no matter how ardent their faith in their faith, would only be adjectivally religious, i.e., religious people, a religious population, rather than 'a religious' like Mother Marie, who took vows/joined an order/consecrated her life. It's not biased language, I assure you, and it certainly doesn't prove the earth isn't flat.

A Wretch Like Me

In the Weekend Journal, Lee Siegel gave a much more dignified and historical view of the U.S. 'culture wars' than I ever do, blinded as I am by the undignified results of the historical process he outlines. In his piece Siegel asserts that part of the communication gap is the product not solely of the two sides' differential weighting of 'culture' in their political reckonings, but their distinct ways of defining it. For Liberals, culture is a Vermeer or a Mahler symphony, while today's Conservative cannot but view culture, as Siegel says, in the anthropological manner, as 'the practice of getting through life.' Culture is thus what you do with your season tickets for Liberals, and how you live your life for Conservatives. While the Left has long asserted that 'everything is political,' it might now be equally true to claim that for the Right 'everything is cultural.' I'd say the two mean the same thing, but I can't hear myself think over the blaring Shostakovich or the stream of messages from church about the fundraising.

I suspect I agree with Mr. Siegel's view of the two sides' perception, or definition, of culture, but disagree with any hint that culture, however construed, does not markedly influence our political stance or voting decisions. For example, liberal or conservative, 21st century or 18th, certain values are implicit in Western culture. Those values then condition not merely our decisions, but what questions we are even capable of asking en route to taking decisions on one issue or candidate. If this is true, not knowing who Mahler is does not invalidate the many shared assumptions, or cultural inheritance, the non-Mahler-knowing individual has in common with his operagoing, Irigaray-reading, International-Herald-subscribing counterpart.

And this brings me to a post I aborted when it went off in so many directions. One of my points was going to be about the insipidity of the Left's unceasing plaint that the Right always want to 'legislate morality.' In the name of all that is Magna Carta, children, that's what laws do! We may believe that a given legislation legislated morality wrong, or that a candidate poses a threat to what we believe is right, but to the extent that we are not in fact discrete, isolated monads but rather members of a polity - a culture, perhaps, even - with assets, concerns, needs, streetlights, highways, and social institutions (and whatever else you want to throw in there) in common, proscribing first-degree murder or grand larceny has rather more in common with the Decalogue than with a text on descriptive economics.

Laws against murder, theft, rape, and child abuse reflect legislators' and governments' (and, we hope, under a representational system, their constituents') moral stances on those issues. (Yes, they are also expedients toward a society's stability, security, and continuity, and it wasn't in hopes of cultivating a God-fearing, Republican citizenry that Hammurabi promulgated his set of suggestions) but when Liberals assert that single, low-income mothers should have access to social services, medical care, parenting resources and financial assistance, they are as much taking a moral stand about a society's responsibility toward bettering mothers', poor peoples', and childrens' lives as are religious Conservatives with regard to the same society's responsibility toward embryos and fetuses when they argue that we as a society have some responsibility for the unborn. Either is an attempt to 'legislate morality' just as is enacting laws against domestic violence or armed robbery.

Obviously the Left has come to grasp this to a greater extent than Siegel gives them credit for: in many states as fully as at the national level, a candidate from either major party with any hope of winning must, for example, trot out his religious credentials and attempt to convincingly portray his personal friendship with Jesus Christ as the most important and influential relationship in his life (I don't remember sola φιλíα from any theology I've ever studied, but that's politics for you!). He must conjure up a spiritual rags-to-riches story to entrench the narrative of the relationship in voters' minds not only as the bedrock of his views, obviously, and as guarantor of good, clean, ethical behavior if elected (his party represents God, after all, and he is the current incarnation of his party), not to mention proof of his just-like-us faith, falls, and redemption (literally, too, for those of you somehow outside the reach of American media), but also as an arc that will be replicated in his saving us and the country, as well, just as he through grace was able to save himself. Religion becomes theatre, however heartfelt it might actually be in some candidates, and we end up with a bunch of agnostic aspirants and speech-writers falteringly inserting Martin Luther alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. into word-heavy but content-free campaignspeak.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I'll Just Have a Salad, Thanks.

It used to be my custom to order a nice blue/saignant petit filet about twice a year, but due to the current subprime perfect storm of red meat in battleground states between enemy combatants on the ground, at the end of the day I think it will likely be some few years before I have the stomach for another one.

Thanks for ruining my diet and my hairstyle, guys.

-'Red Meat with a Side of Mean'
-'Sarah Palin: Red Meat for the Masses'
-'More Red Meat'
-'Minnesota Delegation Gets Red-Meat Talking Points'
-'No Red Meat from Warner Speech'
-'McCain's Ex-Rivals Throw Out the Red Meat'

Et cetera. And just so we're on the same page, that was only the first one of a search for 'red meat campaign.' We still don't know if John McCain hit it out of the park with his Hail Mary Pass when he threw a bone to theoconservatives in an effort to energize the base which may or may not steal Hillary's thunder should the chickens come home to roost.

And, because I do care about the state of your palate but can't pour you a glass of Brunello from here, here's a bit of Myles to take away that bad taste:
''Keats's Irish terrier, Byrne, failed to come home one night. Chapman found the poet playing the violin, and remarked on his composure. "Keats smiled . . . 'And why should I not fiddle,' he asked, 'while Byrne roams?'''

The Tribulations of Ti

Not to be excessively bloggy, but for those of you who don't believe in a God, here's your proof He exists: the crazy, *******tent-as-he-is-*********iacal executive director of Fort Ticonderoga (yes, Virginia, there is a Fort Ticonderoga!) is finally announcing he is finally stepping down, having estranged himself and thereby the Fort from the friendship, largesse, and presence of benefactors and former board president and member Deborah Clarke Mars and Forrest Mars. Fort attendance is down overall (except for this year, which had 250th-anniversary events for the Capture of Fort Ticonderoga [July 8, 1758] in the 'French and Indian War' [1754-63]), charitable contributions are way down due to the departure of the Marses, the Fort's largest donors, and, with recent media coverage in the Washington Post and New York Times, Mr. Westbrook's plans to sell off the Fort's artwork (banned by New York law, by the way, under the Fort's charter) reached a wide audience.

And if you have any question as to why such a nice fort would have kept switching hands, it is apparently because a candle and a groggy wife do not a sound defensive strategy make.