Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Again with the publishing industry's buttered bread!

My fatheads! It's happened again. Third modern book in a row, plucked at random from the local library's shelves, whose early pages show an author knowing full well on which side the modern publishing industry's ideological bread is buttered.

Very well, I didn't pluck this one entirely at random. I wanted to start some research on olive oil. Nevertheless, what are the odds? First we found the novel with the two adolescent boys kissing on page 64 of 800. Then, the novel whose Russian monarchist emigre in London in 1979 bothered to slam "that awful Thatcher woman," page 16 out of 470, something one doubts a real Russian monarchist emigre would do. Now, in a book on olive oil, we have an author who finds it necessary to invoke "Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him," on page 9 of 238 (Extra Virginity, by Tom Mueller, Norton 2012). Mind you, this is only the Introduction. Why on earth? Is it that Mr. Mueller, like the others, knows what he must say to get past twenty-five-year-old copywriting interns wearing rainbow pride/Che Guevara t shirts? Or is he sincere?

Admiring his picture, one regretfully guesses he is sincere. He looks "sweet and slender," as a no doubt hairy-chested eastern European editorialist couldn't help but comment on the young German men who did not know which way to look or what to do when Muslim gangs in Cologne abused German women on New Year's Eve. (I tried to google the exact quote but I can't find it. When you search the keywords "very sweet and very slender" you get porn.) He looks, our olive oil author, like he would think throwing a sop to the gangs will spare him the fate of the infidel. While we're at it, sorry but I also don't believe some of the scene-painting he indulges in. "Francesco and Marina were waiting for us beside a large olive-wood fire, Francesco resting his head in his sister's lap as they ate pickled cima di Mola olives from a small porcelain bowl and tossed the pits onto the coals." Bull. Too perfect. The first page's chronicle of his witnessing the tasting panel in action in their clean scientific cubicles at the Corporazione Mastri oleari in Milan, rings much more true.

And while we're on the topic of young people, what is it with them? Yesterday was primary day here in Illinois. I had to wait in line -- for primary voting! -- which is encouraging. Civic participation and all. The man in line behind me was actually on the phone to his congressman, asking what to do because the election judges had no record of him as a registered voter, even though he had done what he was supposed to do to register months ago. Before I went to vote at all, a young person at work, who had cast his ballot before his shift, remarked with a similar wonderment that he had seen two teenagers at his polling place. Teens voting is unheard of, never mind in a primary. "I think these young people can tell," my coworker said. (He is thirty.) "The revolution is coming." He was very serious. He means they are voting for Bernie Sanders, septuagenarian socialist. They want change.

Really? The revolution awaits its time? In what sense is the lord of the revolution, Barack Obama, not President? By what measure has he not achieved everything he wanted in two terms in office, with the pending exception of his first announced Change in January 2009, which was to make wounded combat veterans pay for their own hospital treatments? He can always rectify that, with an executive order in the next nine months, and no one any the worse or wiser. Otherwise I should say gay marriage, nationalized health care, bow-from-the-waist abasement abroad, and no southern border constitute a revolution humming along nicely. Granted, if you the voter are eighteen now, you would have been ten when it all began, so to you it may look as though "nothing's changed."

But I decided something else too, as I stocked shelves and ruminated. Two things: one, "the Revolution" is aesthetics-driven. It's just cool to be opposed to stuff. It shows you have a beautiful soul. And as long as there's still stuff to oppose, you'll have a chance to be cool. Cultural historians may trace this back to Rousseau and Voltaire, who discovered sometime around 1760 that the status quo isn't necessarily very good -- what a shock! -- also that aristocrats aren't necessarily very kind -- I know! -- but at this late date, it hardly matters who first got the idea that cool people hate whatever is usual or non-shocking. It doesn't matter about what. Avant garde artists in the 1920s were cool because they were opposed to stuff (representative art). Rock music is cool and it's mostly about being opposed to stuff. (I await the sighs and head-shakings we'll have to hear from our local classic rock station's deejays -- who still smack their lips over "the dark days of 1968" -- should the peasants vote badly this November.) Planned Parenthood is cool because it's opposed to stuff (birth). It's also opposed to people who oppose it, mostly, but still. So definitely you can be cool outside aesthetics, outside the arts. The point is you want to be cool-souled everywhere. Movies are cool. The best of them are about being opposed to stuff, and they get awards. The internet is totally cool and the main guy who is the billionaire from it, Mark Zuckerberg, is opposed to stuff -- he's progressive, open borders, everything. It's those with nothing to say, when surrounded by the righteous beautifully opposing stuff, who seem aesthetically soulless. The old word square still applies to them. Notice that's an aesthetic word, a shape you can see. They just don't seem to care.
So I decided also: item two: no political or economic policy or action even matters much. Deep down, as long as one shred of Western civilization remains, it will be cool to oppose that shred. This is what Limbaugh means when he says "the left never gives up." It's personal aesthetics, the art of the beautiful soul. The revolution will be always bearing real fruit very soon.      

I haven't decided if I'll finish reading the olive oil book. It seems to contain some good information, especially about what fraud the phrase "extra virgin cold-pressed" masks, but do you agree there comes a time when you don't want your intelligence insulted on page 9 of 238, no matter what follows, just because the author needed to prove his cred to his masters? I'll bet I can find some equally good book on olive oil, maybe out of copyright and available at Project Gutenberg. Maybe written by some shrewd scholarly lady in 1910 or so, who had three names and wore pearls even at her writing desk. And who bothered to, oh I don't know, spell out "he would" for he'd and "she would" for she'd. Every time. This disciplined modern sloppiness is annoying on top of everything else.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Three odd new ideas, and the ancestral castle -- Llantilio!

Here are three strange new ideas: which I will try to summarize as clearly as possible, because although I read politics, when I try to write it, I turn unoriginal and merely end up repeating other people. These ideas may not be altogether correct, but they are certainly startling. Namely,

  • that global "free trade"*** is a bad thing, while nation-by-nation protectionist tariffs are better for the nations that enact them. Free trade, it seems, may be a kind of free-for-all craft fair, where no one pays an entry fee to set up a booth. The result is that most of the goods for sale are junk hawked by the impoverished, who have few other job choices because borderless "free trade" has also prompted their old employers to close up shop and reopen only in the cheapest sections of the vast fairgrounds. Protectionist tariffs, on the other hand, are like the fees charged by any self-respecting town (or park district or hotel ballroom manager) to vendors to get in and sell. The fees fill the host's treasury let's hope, vendors have reason to stay in town, hire good help, and mind their and their neighbors' booths -- and the quality of goods rises above stolen shampoo and razor blades;
  • that capitalism** is all very well as far as economic liberty is concerned, but once it married the modern state (which had already destroyed the medieval church and its curbs on human folly and sin) it helped birth the modern man; the modern man who does little else but buy stuff, and obey the authority that swept into the vacuum of religion: government, down to the last license plate renewal sticker and to the baking of correct cakes. Now I deny part of this dreary old complaint. There is nothing wrong with the pleasure of owning nice things. Queen Victoria, a great moral character, posed all hers and photographed them so people could see what she owned, art and knickknacks and such. Besides, if you turn righteous about the tragic emptiness of mere possessions, pretty soon you're leaning over your neighbor's fence and deciding he owns too much crap. That way lies, Georgie Pillson who loved his bibelots would say, mere "Bolshy" (Bolshevik, communist) attitudes. As to the other, the vacuum of religion filled by government diktat, yes, I see that. We seem to obey just about as readily as the medieval serf trudging his grain to the lord's mill. What has capitalism done to our inner life, to the soul that read Milton and said no to kings? 
  • and third and most startling of all comes the idea that Abraham Lincoln*  -- Lincoln, I say -- was a bad apple very much responsible for the pitiless, authoritarian nanny-state that is Washington, D.C. At first it's hard to know whether a person who believes this resides in the far-left or the far-right fever swamps. It almost seems an opinion outside even those bounds of sanity, unless you are a Southerner, since they of course do have special issues about A.L. Coincidentally or not, the scholars who don't like him also refer to the Civil War as "the War for Southern Independence." What they seem to be saying nowadays, politically, is not that slavery was good, but that when Lincoln harnessed the power of the federal government to stomp out Rebellion, he also stomped out the Constitution which took its legitimacy from the people ratifying it --or not -- not from "demigods" in Philadelphia who, through it, had bestowed upon us in 1787 perfect, inescapable rule. After Lincoln, no more secession talk. You're in. The nation is all, and if you disagree you are overwhelmed and killed. The same scholars who dislike him note that Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and threw newspapermen in jail. And yet he always gets the benefit of the (incidentally, liberal) authoritarian's excuse, that it was all for a higher cause. He felt compassion.             

There are our three odd new ideas. I trowel them in here, thinking they might serve as mulch for our mental gardening project, Blogging the Gospels. For it is to the Gospels that we return, in answer to the challenge of these ideas. (Re: Lincoln. "The first shall be last, and the last, first"?) Do these short books have answers for the business of buying and selling, for the purpose of life outside business, do they have answers about government or liberty? If we, as modern people, seem to be so strangely unfree, what did freedom once mean and where did it come from? And can the Gospels civilize the hordes invading America and all Europe, against our will and at our governments' beckoning?


Above, please note a building which can seem even more haunting than it looks, if we think of it as dating from a time of strange freedoms we no longer know. Oh, I don't say it wasn't built to supervise a conquered population. I don't deny that circa 1216 dental care did not exist and Jews were too often expelled from too many towns. But it is possible to gaze at those towers and vaguely, vaguely imagine a time when something liberating overlay all. It may only have been as simple a fact as that even the lords of castles then, even kings, acknowledged an authority source, and a potentially punishing one, above themselves. I think it might have been the Gospels. Now, in our liberated West, no more of that.

A bleak but powerful late winter view, isn't it? The photo is of White Castle, in Wales, and comes from the blog Codlins and Cream. I have mentioned her before. She took a day trip there recently.

I have decided that this is my ancestral castle. Well, why not? You have only to go back a few generations before your family tree spreads out exponentially to include scores and hundreds of people, and then thousands and millions. "Arithmetical ancestors," Henry Adams called them in Mont St. Michel and Chartres. Your own, private four grandparents may recognize you and be enchanted to see you when you all meet in heaven, but after that all bets are off. Who knows but your many-times-great grandparents may shout in delight, and rush to take upon their knee as it were, people whom you would have been horrified to know in life. Is there jealousy beyond the veil? At any rate why not claim as your own, then, this pile once echoing to the commands of Hubert de Burgh? Its Welsh name is "Llantilio." Can't you just see that word as the title of a middle-aged-ladies' medieval romance novel? It's splashed in white script across the cover. The background painting is all rich sunshine, beautifully perspectived green hills, a towering pile, and a girl with flowing hair and royal blue kirtle on horseback approaching it at noonday. Llantilio!

I can. It's the year 1216. (My teeth probably hurt. I have been taught the Jews are a cursed race. I don't live in a society such that a daring man "pleasures" me in a side chapel during Mass.) I am sitting on the companion slope to the one before me in the picture, leading down to the river. Or no, that must be the moat, and I stand on a bridge overlooking it; overlooking it, and the tower and section of the wall -- my father's wall -- opposite.

Everything is freshly built. I marvel at the gleaming whitewash, and at the depth of the foundations that must have been dug to support those walls. It will stand a thousand years and more. Of course I'm in love with Gryfyth ap Summat, the foreman in charge of all the works, he with his deep brown beard and brown eyes. But I am the daughter of a march lord, and so I may not look at a vile person however handsome ... (is this what they call flash fiction?). And I can't possibly trace my ancestry back to the cook or the tenant farmers plowing all around, because what's the pleasuring in that? As an aside, do I also know freedom, because I know the Gospels?

Curiously, I happened to find -- it's me again, not the medieval miss of White Castle -- in the library yesterday a novel which is essentially male historical romance fiction. The House of Special Purpose, by John Boyne (Doubleday, 2009). Even the cover glows with a sort of male equivalent of the flowing-hair-and-horses art given to Particia Bracewell and Elizabeth Chadwick. We see an off-center detail shot of a real nineteenth-century oil portrait, all dark blue and olive-gray: some man in military uniform, and yellow and red roses below. I've gotten well underway reading the story. It seems good, if simple. (I'm sorry but I don't believe in the scene of the young girl chancing to look up while disembarking a yacht at dusk, to espy the hero in a distant third floor window.) Scanning a bit ahead, I think the plot is actually going to concern the hero's memories of guarding the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia during the reign of the last Czar. The romance publishing industry belonging so very much to women, it's interesting to see what a man writer does when given his head.  

Also. This is the second modern novel I have plucked, at random, in the last month from the shelves of a nice suburban library, in which it seems to me that the authors -- whatsoever their subject matter -- clearly prove early on that they know on which side the publishing industry's ideological bread is buttered. In the first, Death and Mr. Pickwick, we already have two teen boys kissing on page 64 of an 800 page book; in this of Boyne's, we have an elderly Russian monarchist refugee in London, in 1979, bizarrely slapping down "that awful Thatcher woman" on page 16 out of 470. I can't believe the two snippets (and that's all they are) are coincidence. I believe these writers know they have to get past their share of twenty-five-year-old editorial interns wearing Che Guevara t-shirts, who have utterly rigid ideas about what liberation is. And just imagine "pitching" them a book idea on blogging the Gospels -- on what the Gospels have meant to the West. Incomprehensible. They think all that nonsense is done, and their ideas will last a thousand years.

*** "Trump is right on trade," by Patrick Buchanan, Feb. 16, 2016.
**"Capitalism: the conservative illusion," by Jack Trotter, Chronicles Magazine, Feb. 4, 2016.
 *"The Strange Case of the Missing Constitution," by Clyde Wilson, Chronicles Magazine, Nov. 1, 2007.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

My Maxillaria sanguinea is blooming!

Happy Leap Day to all. The Maxillaria sanguinea is an orchid, by the way. The first that I have coaxed to bloom, and I bought it, sight unseen -- as far as the blooms go -- for its grassy foliage, which I hoped the cats would not eat. They didn't.

And I had a thought today, while "resetting" the German wine aisle. (To reset means to make the bottles look tidier and more attractive, and to fetch more of them from the back room to stock the shelves.)

My thought concerns Leap Day. I get annoyed when people don't know what it is, don't you? One of my coworkers has a birthday today, February 29. When she told us, a few weeks ago, another coworker, a young man, looked confused and said, "Oh, so your birthday is just February 28th, right?"

No! I wanted to shout testily on her behalf, it is not just February 28. She was born on February 29, Leap Day in Leap Year. It is unusual and special and delightful. Better than being born on Christmas even. What are the odds that any person will be born on that day, or that a woman who finds the date delightful and intriguing will also have a baby on that day? The dismissive word "just" should never be applied to it. No parents granted such a delightful and intriguing arrival should "just" celebrate the child's birthday on March 1. That is an entirely different date. Nor should they celebrate on the last day of February, which is not "just" February 28 either. People with an ounce of curiosity or appreciation for the delights and intrigues of life should make some sort of effort in this situation. At least give the child two birthdays, or have a midnight party on the eve of March 1st. When the true birthday comes around every fourth year, do something splashy. Dress up as Julius Caesar for example, who first put the day into the Western calendar, apparently during his leisure hours when he was not governing Rome, visiting Cleopatra, or fighting the Suevi. (Resetting the Germans, you might say.) And be sure to play lots of Rossini, also born on this day.

I get annoyed about people like the young man not knowing what Leap Day is, not because I stew at ignorance (we are all ignorant) but because I stew at lack of curiosity -- lack of any comprehension that any natural occurrences outside ourselves could have any impact on our lives. Except the weather. (Maybe that's why newscasts obsess over it?) Miss Read put it well if more softly, in The English Vicarage Garden (1988):
The problem for the city dweller is that the only form of life he knows is human. So it is the contribution of the rural theologian to speak of the natural world as he finds it, alive with his own life, and playing its own part in the vastly complicated inter-relationship of the cosmic order.
I'm not a rural theologian. Am I? Anyway it's not all his fault. I can't help but think that the problem for the young city dweller is not only that the only form of life he knows is human, but that his schooling and culture both have added the presumption that there is nothing worth knowing even about humans, except that they endure injustice requiring mostly leftist-state remedies. All that aside, however, I have had this new thought -- and now I think I won't get annoyed in future by people slighting Leap Day. I've hit on a way to explain it that may not make young coworkers' eyes glaze over at the yammering about how the Sun revolves around the Earth every 365 days, or is it the other way around.

The way to explain it is through the analogy of the time clock at work. Even as the earth revolves around the sun one full circle every 365 and 1/4 days, so if you punched in at your job every day as normal, but punched out fifteen minutes late one day a week, you would be "adding extra" to what you expected from your paycheck. Half an hour per pay period, two paychecks a month, equals an hour a month, which is twelve hours a year, or a day and a half of labor. If your pay did not reflect this accumulation, you'd be fuming about a lost, extra day, about "working a day and a half for free."

In the same way, a calendar that only allows 365 days a year will, by the fourth year, be missing a day, because the earth consistently takes longer to make its yearly circuit around the sun than we on paper allow for. It takes that extra one-fourth of a day per year, literally a bit over five hours. Like the employer paying you for your extra time, we insert Leap Day into February every fourth year, so that this extra time is accounted for. The earth, to phrase it whimsically, is paid back for its extra work. If this were not done, nothing about the sun or sky would change, but fixed dates like holidays would start to "back up" through the calendar; we would be always running five hours' more late every year. For instance Christmas would start to back up into warmer, sunnier seasons. It would be exactly as if your paycheck "backed up" to hourly rates that are correct for your fixed schedule, but not for what you actually did.

There, what do you think of my analogy? Do you think the young man's eyes will still glaze over, if I stun him with this the next time it matters, in February 2020? How does the rural theologian even give the city dweller the pleasure of notifying him of his existence?

Their faces move

It pleases me to imagine that, in a very small way, I understand the experience of St. Paul in the agora -- that is, in the public square, b...