Work

January 30, 2010

Work is an old thing, as old as our exile from Eden. It is a good thing, too, and fills our day with something other than existential dread.

I’m joking, of course.

I’ve been doing too much of it, lately.

Work, that is.


Something Old Stirs In Massachusetts

January 17, 2010

Something is stirring in Massachusetts. It is something old, and I believe something very good.

Scott Brown is a popular fellow. So popular that if he stuck a feather in his cap, we’d call it macaroni.

It’s not Scott Brown, per se. He’s a state senator of modest achievement, a good looking fellow to be sure, with a good looking daughter who can sing the hell out of a show tune. He is, as most Republican legislators in Massachusetts are, a nice guy who is more concerned with taking care of his constituents that he is in getting to a national stage. Massachusetts Republican state senators — and there are only five of them, so rare that if they were a species in Middle Earth they’d be the Istari — are a humble group — more Radagast (the Brown!) than Saruman, if you take my meaning.

Scott Brown, everyman, is on everyone’s lips, because he is a fairly ordinary man who has been placed at an extraordinary juncture in time and space. The people of Massachusetts are waking up, and to paraphrase the most famous of the Istari, are finding that they are strong.

My wife occasionally dines with a little old lady, an old Massachusetts Yankee. The little old lady expressed to my wife the other day that she is quite fond of Scott Brown. She also rather likes the lady from Alaska, Mrs. Palin, and doesn’t know why others do not. She also thinks Glenn Beck makes more sense than most people on the radio or TV.

My wife and I were leaving church this afternoon, and a different little old lady expressed to us that she hoped we were voting this Tuesday — this, after the pastor in mass reminded us that next Friday is, at the bishop’s direction, a day of fasting and penitence to help remove the scourge of abortion from the land (God help us, I think the church is beginning to awake). We knew exactly what the little old lady at mass was saying to us. She did not have to mention any names. Conspiracies against the crown are best done with a minimum of words. I told the little old lady at mass that I would be out of town on Tuesday, but that I had already voted absentee. I didn’t even need to wink.

“Bless your heart,” she said.

Massachusetts has a reputation as a liberal state. It is. But while our people might be liberals, they have never been fond of royalty. And while John F. Kennedy might have been seen as Richard Coeur de Lion, nobody ever saw Teddy as much more than John Lackland. Mitt Romney was elected Governor here as much by way of apology for his defeat in a Senate race against old Ted as anything else.

If we dislike royalty, we dislike pretenders even more. Martha Coakley is a pretender. No one liked that she assumed the job was hers, that she stopped campaigning. And believe me, we noticed that in an ad attacking Everyman Scott Brown, she misspelled the Commonwealth’s name. We noticed that she didn’t know who Curt Schilling was. We didn’t forget her role in keeping Gerald Amirault in jail. We didn’t forget her harrassment of the little old ladies in the garden clubs. We didn’t forget a certain politically connected police officer who almost got away with child rape. We didn’t forget that while Scott Brown was shaking hands, his voice going hoarse from talking to us, Martha was in Washington, D.C. taking money from lobbyists while a campaign advisor was shoving a man to the ground who had the temerity to ask her a question about terrorism.

Make no mistake: Massachusetts is a liberal state. But we don’t like phonies, and we already have one of those in the Senate, the ersatz JFK who married his money and who prefers Swiss cheese on his steak sandwich. We’re not about to elect another of those.

It is not beyond a doubt yet — the Democratic machine in the Bay State is a formidable thing, and enough cities, and, dare I say, graveyards, are so far in the Democratic bag — or, if you prefer, the sinking trunk of the Oldsmobile Delmont — that we might wake up on Wednesday with a new Senator of the same sex as Hillary Clinton but not nearly the charm.

But when the little old ladies in this state have turned on you, you have a problem. I suspect that on Wednesday in Massachusetts, we’ll be smiling at each other — and pointing out to our friends that in their haste, they left a little of the Indian warpaint on their faces from the night before.

Something old in Massachusetts stirs. In the nighttime air, I can almost hear the sound of fifes.


Hunting and Fishing

January 3, 2010

Hunting and Fishing are two old things — ancient things really, things which predate the written word.

I thought a lot about hunting and fishing last year, as I began to consider the possibility of a complete societal collapse. While I think a complete collapse unlikely, I do not see it as beyond the realm of possibility. There are a few unlikely but possible things that could trigger it. To name three:

1. Economic collapse due to a hyperinflated dollar.
2. Plague and/or pandemic virus.
3. An Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) from an airburst nuclear weapon causing a Compton Effect blackout of electronics for a sufficiently large sector of the United States.

There are others, to be sure — nuclear war, a sufficiently large ecological disaster, crop failures, etc. One need not even include the traditional Biblical stuff to get to a place where we could be looking at very hard times, indeed.

Should something like that happen, knowing how to hunt and fish would be an asset. But beyond that, it is a traditional thing, and therefore something by default to be considered a likely good.

Hunting and fishing are traditionally skills passed down from father to son. My father took me fishing only a few times, and we never hunted — my father was a thoroughly modern man, and did not see hunting — or fishing, for that matter — as a particularly necessary or even utilitarian thing.

But there is more to it than that. Hunting and fishing are primarily about an older man teaching a younger man about responsibility. It is at heart teaching a young man about the very core responsibilities a man might have to face, for back in the days when fathers were honest with sons and leveled with them, it was an assumption that a young man might have to go fight a war, and have to face decisions of life and death. Hunting and fishing are at the nucleus of societal responsibility for males, who are the traditional combatants in war, the traditional police and firemen, the traditional judges, juries and executioners. Hunting and fishing are a way of teaching about life and death decisions. Son, you must learn that there are times when life must be taken — whether that life is a largemouth bass, a whitetail deer, or a fellow human being arrayed against you in battle. The lessons of hunting and fishing are the first of these lessons that must be learned. The animal, with whom we sympathize, loses his life after a battle of skill. The results is that people are fed. From what is at some level a violent act comes survival. A father teaches his son, because his own life is not eternal — he must pass these things on, because some day the father must pass, and then who lives to run the society?

My father died when I was seventeen. He left me with a reverence for the Catholic church and a strong sense of right and wrong — a sense that is never stronger than when I am doing wrong. These were two great and precious gifts for me, from him. He did not teach me of hunting and fishing; these are lessons I have set out to discover and learn for myself.

Last fall I took up fishing. I read a few books on the subject, bought some equipment, and experimented. I learned a lot. I did not seek to find an old mentor to teach me — at my age, learning anything from older men — or indeed, other men — is somewhat humiliating. So with books and equipment I set out to learn. My early experiences were humbling, and often I returned with nothing. By trial and error I got better, and on my last day of fishing last year, in late November, I caught eleven fish. Better yet, about six of those were worthy of being keepers; but I opted to let them all go. I’ve found three or four very good spots to fish; I learned how to load my reel with line; how to employ bobbers and split shot, and what bait works best with which fish. I cleaned my share of fish, and feel pretty good about my skill. I have no children, but should a nephew or niece wish to come fish with me, there is now enough for me to teach. The unknown thing, fishing, becomes for me a good thing, a recovered thing.

Hunting is next year’s project. I have guns — last spring and summer saw the arrival of three long guns — a .22, a .308, and a 12 gauge shotgun. I learned firearms in the military, and was always a good shot, but there were a few things I did not learn — such as mounting and adjusting a scope. Again, books are invaluable, but more than books experience is the true teacher. A hundred rounds of .308 and a sore shoulder later, and I now have in my safe a very good tool for hunting game. In March, I take hunter safety classes, and I will get a hunting license for the first time in my life. I am reading a good book on the subject and will try to bag some game next year.

Will society collapse? Almost certainly not. But nevertheless, knowing how to hunt and fish are good things. Not learning them when I was young means I have to learn them when I am old. But that is OK; I have more patience now than in my youth and am confident I will learn. They are good things worthy of recovery.


French Cooking

January 2, 2010

French cuisine is a good thing, a thing which must be recovered.  You can tell a good thing when our culture must pay it a nod; consider the recent film Julie & Julia.

Julie & Julia

But French cooking does not begin and end with Julia Child; Julia Child’s role was to popularize French cooking in America.  That was a necessary and important role, to be sure.  But before Julia, and more important in the architecture of this thing called French cooking, stand two other books — the Larousse Gastronomique and the Escoffier. 

Larousse Gastronomique

The Larousse is not so much a cookbook as it is an encyclopedia of cooking, with stories biographical entries to complement its many recipes.  It is a reference guide to French cooking, though it also touches briefly on other styles of cooking.

The Escoffier Cookbook and Guide to the Fine Art of Cookery: For Connoisseurs, Chefs, Epicures Complete With 2973 Recipes

The Escoffier is a cookbook, but it is geared for professionals.  It may tell you how to make a certain sauce, but it does not necessarily give you the exact proportions of things or delve too deeply into technique.  It is a cookbook written in a kind of chef’s shorthand.  It is also a cumulative work — if you are preparing a dish that includes, for instance, a Bechamel sauce, it will give you the number of the recipe for a Bechamel sauce from several hundred pages previous.  So you need to read into the Escoffier and experiment with it.  It assumes you know the basics.

My point here is not to criticize Julie and Julia, or to be a curmudgeon.  Julie and Julia will doubtless send many people on an expedition to recover, in their own lives, French cooking.  This is a good thing, a valuable thing.  But the journey does not end with Julia Child.  That is merely how prepared the culture is prepared to walk in the direction of the good at this time.  Beyond Julia lie the thousands of recipes in the Larousse and the Escoffier.  Julia Child’s work is old and good.  The Larousse and the Escoffier are older and better still.


Auld Lang Syne

January 1, 2010

When I speak of recovering the old and the good, I am not speaking in the sense that these old things are dead.  At New Years, one may sing  Auld Lang Syne, but I think of the Old and the Good not as past things, of reminiscences, but of things which must be actively recovered.   Consider civilization as an expedition through a forest.  If one has taken a course that has led the expedition into peril, the best way out is to retrace one’s steps to a point where one is not in peril.  This means turning around and heading backward for a time until one’s course is recovered and corrected.  One looks at past decisions and makes a verdict — “we took a wrong turn.”  Then one persuades others to go back.

But this is not easy.  People become accustomed to the wrong path, and to make them turn about requires an act of self-renunciation.  “We took the wrong path” must become, for the individual, a recognition that “I took the wrong path.”  This is a very hard thing for most people to do.


How To Recognize Good Things

December 31, 2009

A good thing is something that is being driven out of our current society.  Christianity, even in its most debased forms, is a good thing.  But the good thing that I miss — that is becoming increasingly hard to find — is pipe tobacco.


On Decadence

December 31, 2009

I was considering recently whether our culture is decadent anymore.  In thinking about it, I have decided that we might no longer have the capacity to be decadent, having no virtues or position of strength from which to decay.  I think we are merely depraved. 

Decadence would, in that sense, be an improvement over what we have today.


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