Wednesday, October 19, 2016

I Liked Fall before It Was Hip

When we arose for Mass and clambered into the car early Sunday morning (early, I say! it was all of five minutes till eight!), the thermometer informed us that it was a balmy seventy-five degrees.  Seventy-five!  With humidity somewhere closer to the normal non-swampy range and a light breeze to stir the still very green leaves every now and then.  What amazing weather! the natives marveled with us.  Why, sometimes it doesn’t get like this until December!  You’re so lucky you arrived this year.

My mental translation: This is as good as it gets!  Shudder.  Perhaps it shouldn’t be this way, but one of the hardest things about being in Florida is the climate.  Exotic birds, alligators, and armadillos are all very nice in their way; daily skyscapes featuring huge mounds of puffy cumulus that clearly signal the marshmallow fluff to go big or go home; evenings when the whole air turns orange, as if we were bathed in the light of some stranger sun on an alien planet; nearly full moons that hover just at the end of the street, inviting you to walk up and into them like a child in a Pixar film; enormous rainbows every couple of weeks … It’s all great.  In June.

But this is October.  And while some of those features are appropriate to the season (see: moon and clouds) the temperatures are definitely not.  I want COLD.  More specifically, I want it to be cold outside so I can enjoy being warm.  For the past month I’ve been feeling an urge to buy a plaid shirt, never mind the fact that this is the worst time of the year to buy plaid (wait until after Thanksgiving when the markdowns start).  I suddenly want to watch Charlie Brown and the Giant Pumpkin, or whatever that movie it was that I only saw twice as a kid and didn’t really care for either time.  Or maybe Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.  I mean, baby is still in utero, but it would be like booming Little Mozart tapes at him, no?

I’ve made pumpkin bread once, and it was pretty good, but it was NOT the same.  I bought some apples, and they’re pretty cheap now—cheaper even I think than most of the citrus—but somehow baking an apple pie doesn’t feel right either.  I found that marshmallow fluff for the fudge recipe, but … I just don’t have the heart.  It would feel like a violation of some unwritten contract between myself and Mother Nature.

I want to see piles of leaves in front of the neighbors’ doorsteps.  They don’t even need to be pretty leaves, the sort that people drive to see (people are weird) and take scrapbook photographs of (very weird)—the dull brown varietals will do.  (Do the leaves even fall in Florida?  They’ve got to at some point—those ARE deciduous trees that I spy across the swamp.  Right?  Right?)

We got the carseat a few weeks ago, but it still hasn’t been installed in the car.  Every time I think about wrestling with it in the balmy seventy-five degree weather, I recoil back to my air-conditioned chair and suck some more ice cubes.  (Great practice for those ice chips during labor, I’m sure.)

I shudder to think what Halloween will be like.  As kids we always put our costumes over our clothes because you had to in order to stay warm.  The grownups who followed behind wore coats or jackets, depending on the year.  You had to eat candy, just to keep your body heat.  (OK, maybe I’m making that part up—it’s not like we lived in Connecticut or Maine.  But the idea of eating sweet sticky substances on the go while clad in a hot polyester garment … ugh.  Chocolate is supposed to melt in your mouth, not your hands.   Maybe I’m just not a kid anymore?

I think the real problem here is that the weather is getting to be what everyone calls “nice” just at the time when I want it to be getting “nasty”.  Hostile weather is actually something I enjoy; the part of Fall that warms the cockles of my heart because the basement is now Too Cold to Play in (What is this mythical “basement”? the Floridians ask; How do any of them survive with children? is my reply) and the wood stove is about to be fired up, and maybe if we’re really careful Mama will let us heat cocoa or cider on top.  Probably just cider, because we have too many apples on our trees, and it’s homemade and will go bad; and anyway everyone knows that you can’t have cocoa until it’s actually snowing outside.

Snow.  *sniff*

Maybe I am still a kid.

P.S. I thought about putting up a picture of fall or peasants carousing at a harvest feast, but decided it would be too heartbreaking.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Wait, There's More

Apologies to any readers who come here for the scintillating verbiage, the art, the music, the humor, or the (new and perhaps fortunately as yet rare) quasi-mommy-blogger posts.  But I cannot resist politics plus religion, and especially not politics plus my religion.

I wrote a long post about Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” comment, and about why it worried me as a conservative religious person; I wrote a short post yesterday about the Wikileaks revelation that Clinton advisor John Podesta really doesn’t care for conservative Catholics.

Actually, since I only linked to that before and didn’t quote it here, behold the text itself. To:,  
Date: 2011-04-11 21:10 
Subject: Re: Conservative Catholicism
Excellent point. They can throw around “Thomistic” thought and “subsidiarity” and sound sophisticated because no one knows what the hell they’re talking about. 

Jennifer Palmieri <> wrote: 
I imagine they think it is the most socially acceptable politically conservative religion. Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals. 

——- Original Message ——-  
From: John Halpin 
To: John Podesta <>; Jennifer Palmieri 
Sent: Mon Apr 11 18:55:59 2011 
Subject: Conservative Catholicism  
Ken Auletta’s latest piece on Murdoch in the New Yorker starts off with the aside that both Murdoch and Robert Thompson, managing editor of the WSJ, are raising their kids Catholic. Friggin’ Murdoch baptized his kids in Jordan where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. Many of the most powerful elements of the conservative movement are all Catholic (many converts) from the SC and think tanks to the media and social groups. It’s an amazing bastardization of the faith. They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy.

Alas, alas, it is true: no one knows what the heck we’re talking about.  (Maybe this blog would have more readers if I simplified the language?  A grade level somewhere between a Donald Trump speech and a John Kasich soothe should do the trick.)  Yes, having the ability to actually reason and make important moral and ethical distinctions is tough.  I’m not even joking, though there are thick layers of irony coating my (mental) voice.  But my irony is as Pollyanna’s in comparison to the tone used here: “Friggin’ Murdoch.”  Pardonne-moi, mon frère?  And then there’s this: “It’s an amazing bastardization of the faith. They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy.”

Er, um, well, actually no, yes, not in the way you think, and definitely not, in that order.  More clearly:

(1) To be conservative and Catholic is no more a “bastardization” of the Faith than to be liberal and Catholic.  At the very least, the email’s claim is an ad hominem that requires serious argument to prove.

(2) Conservative Catholic are attracted to systematic thought.  So are neurologists and NASA researchers.  This is a problem, John?

(3) Our “severely backwards gender relations,” as far as I can make out, have to do with (a) the notion that children should be cared for by a parent and not a stranger; (b) the idea that contraceptives aren’t hot (while we’re on this topic, check out the secular world’s new embrace of something less distant from NFP); and (c) the notion that male-female romantic relationships are somehow normative (with LOTS of debate—and I do mean that LOTS; I would use bigger caps if I had them—about HOW they are normative).  In other words, our “severely backwards gender relations” have been the norm for human society for the past ... um, well, for most of history.  And we share them with Muslims, which you would think might be a selling point (especially since we also let our women work and wear pantsuits, like me), except that it’s somehow not.

I said I was allowed to wear pantsuits, not that I did wear them.
I do have some native good taste, despite my background in philosophy.
And anyway, the only comfortable pants at month eight-and-one-half
are running shorts, not a suit of armor.  But I digress.

(4) I’m sorry, but we are aware of Christian democracy.  We like to think we live in one, or at any rate that we lived in one, or might be able to live in one in the future.  I know there Catholics interested in a Christian Socialist State (whispered: Tradinistas) and people who would love to see some sort of confessional monarchy; but please believe me when I say that Ross Douthat, Robbie George, Hadley Arkes, and the late great Antonin Scalia definitely had neither of those extremes in mind.  A Christian democracy sounds swell to me, though perhaps the word “Republic” would be more apropos, given our Founding Fathers’ intentions, and all that rot.

Thus much for the first installment of Clinton Campagin vs. Conservative Catholicism.

For anyone too busy to follow the link, here’s the gold from this pair of emails:

“This whole controversy with the bishops opposing contraceptive coverage even though 98% of Catholic women (and their conjugal partners) have used contraception has me thinking . . . There needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church. Is contraceptive coverage an issue around which that could happen. The Bishops will undoubtedly continue the fight. Does the Catholic Hospital Association support of the Administration's new policy, together with ‘the 98%’ create an opportunity?  Of course, this idea may just reveal my total lack of understanding of the Catholic church, the economic power it can bring to bear against nuns and priests who count on it for their maintenance, etc. Even if the idea isn't crazy, I don't qualify to be involved and I have not thought at all about how one would ‘plant the seeds of the revolution,’ or who would plant them. Just wondering . . .”

Oh, just go read the reply too.  It’s not long.

So, what we have here is an expressed interest in engineering dissent within the Catholic Church—which is rich, because we’re pretty good at doing that on our lonesome, without help from rogue political operators.  In any case, this would be sort of like the Arab Spring, with Chicago organizers behind it, except different, because Catholic women will be FREE AT LAST …

Born free!

… to do whatever they want, anytime they want, anyway they want it.

I would say two things to this.  First and most simply, there has already been a revolution in the Church.  We called it the 1960s.  Large parts of it did not go well.  I have no time in this already overlong post to review the history of American Catholicism from the past sixty years; suffice it to say that (a) the “conservatism” in the Church which we are seeing today is largely a reaction to a failed revolution, and (b) the vast majority of Catholics actually DO do whatever they want in these regards (as the email notes).  So really, this isn’t about freeing Catholic women—who rarely even have to hear a homily on the topic, much less receive personal censure.  No, this is about trying to change the Church’s teaching and stance in opposition to the HHS mandate.  Ironically, this notion of fomenting dissent within the Church is actually based upon a desire to silence the Church’s inconvenient dissent from the government.  If you doubt me, go read the emails again.  Chew on that for a while.  If these operatives sound Stalinesque, or Putinesque, that’s because they are.

The second point I would make about their idea of freeing Catholic women is a more psychological one, and addresses concerns of those who are genuinely and understandably concerned that, sans contraception, women cannot enjoy life as fully and freely as men.  For discussions from women who actually don’t feel imprisoned by the Church’s stance on this issue, I would point towards the tremendous zone of the Catholic Mommy Blogosphere (Mama Needs Coffee and Catholic All Year Round are two personal favorites, that will link you up to lots more).  If you want a grittier take from women who’ve had a REALLY hard time of it, but still believe in living by the Church’s teachings, try Simcha Fischer or Callah Alexander.

And to all that cloud of witnesses, I would add my own humble thoughts on the matter.  I’ve never found the Church’s position on contraception inhibiting.  Would it be nice to be able to do what you want whenever you want to (i.e., to be able to rely on contraception, and not have to wait with NFP)?  No, actually, I don’t think it would be.  Look, spaghetti and meat sauce with ice cream cones for dessert is probably my favorite meal.

Grrrrr, pregnant lady, why you talk about food?

But it would not be my favorite meal if I had it every day.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d be sick and tired of it in short order, not to mention ten pounds heavier.  It’s normal to have to regulate eating, exercise, and other less mentionable biological functions.  It’s normal, and it’s actually pleasant, to have seasons of “cleansing” and “fasting.”  It’s weird to think that you wouldn’t have such seasons.  And to this (admittedly personal and perhaps superficially idiosyncratic) opinion I will add the testimony of the villain Syndrome from The Incredibles (paraphrased slightly for relevance):

Chew on that one for a while, and consider whether pornography, Fifty Shades of Grey, and certain comments by an unhappy political candidate may have to do, as much as anything else, with boredom and addiction as with pleasure.  In the words quoted in a fiery speech by one excellent rhetorician (another antihero, who also incidentally provides an excellent example of the sort of community organizing the Clinton camp appears to have in mind):

But at this point, in the words of Lord Peter Wimsey,

I’m blithering.

(Sorry, you’ll have to watch the whole thing.  You can thank me later.  Now, for some pickles and ice cream.)

Honi soit qui mal pense.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

When There Is a There There

Sometimes, I don’t like being right:

On the other hand, it’s also good to know that one’s instincts are to be trusted.  As a student of Aristotle and Thomas, a politically conservative newly SAHM who plans on homeschooling her quite possible ginormous brood, and who happens to be married to a professional card-carrying Thomist philosopher …

It’s OK; we make so little that his other hero’s 
master probably isn’t spinning in his grave.

… I am, apparently, not liked by some influential portion of the Clinton camp.  And knowing that, rather than just suspecting it, is oddly a relief.  It’s like discovering that your teacher or boss really doesn’t like you, or finding that there was an actual cause for those strange sounds in the middle of the night.  You’re not paranoid—or at least not just paranoid—there is a there there.  There really are people who dislike you, possibly fear you, and wish you weren’t around.  Good grief, I’m part of a despised religious and ideological minority!

I don’t know that this will change anyone’s vote in a few weeks.  But I do know that in almost any other election year this could be—should be—a big deal.  In fact, it is a big deal whether it gets acknowledged as one or not.

I used to think predictions (or even diagnoses) of white martyrdom were exaggerated (first link for the modern interpretation of the phrase, second for the original notion).  Over the last few years, I’ve thought that less and less often.  Now—I still don’t know if I can say I’m a believer in the concept.  But as a believer, I may be saying it soon.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Thoughts on the Two Halves of "Metropolitan"

That’s right, the two halves—not that Whit Stillman designed the movie to be seen that way, or that there’s some sort of organic division running through the film.  My husband and I hardly ever watch a movie all the way through—our hourglasses run out right around 70 minutes, making even a standard two hour movie too long for one sitting.  We have been known to swallow eighty-five minute films in one gulp; but that’s about our upper limit.  Maybe it’s a sign of ADD, or possibly the need of nerds to stop and discuss what’s happening (although that need seems to arise every five minutes).

Dare I mention that we related to Charlie?  Laughed at, yes, but also … {Source}

I once told a group of my freshmen about this disability of ours, and they were speechless.  I don’t think anything I said that semester shocked them more, not even my affirmation of the male pronoun.  (Well, possible their first paper grades—such is life.)

But returning to Metropolitan: one of the highlights of the first half was the Lionel Trilling moment, when Tom tells Audrey all about Lionel Trilling’s criticisms of Mansfield Park.  As it dawns on her that Tom hasn’t actually read Mansfield Park, she expresses astonishment, disbelief—and Tom is nonplussed.  He’d rather read good criticism than fiction, he says; with fiction, he can never forget that it isn’t really happening.  And let that be a lesson to all academics right there: this is not how you win the girl’s affections.  (Not that Tom is trying, not consciously, anyway.)

What makes it particularly funny is that Lionel Trilling is in fact a good critic, if to be a good critic means to have insights which often enlighten readers into what they feel and why they feel it during their reading.  He’s also a beautiful writer.  Tom’s not wholly wrong to enjoy his work; but that does not change the fact that some of Trillings opinions are, as Audrey says, strange.  And in this regard, Trilling could stand as a representative for a number of critical characters in the film.

Nick’s role—St. Nick? Old Nick? he shares characteristics with both, being the purveyor of jollity and temptation, most obviously for Tom—is especially central here.  Like Trilling and many another literary critics, he makes no bones about harshly critiquing what he can’t seem to tear himself away from; he is nearly always right but nearly always shocking; unlovable, but impossible to tear one’s ears away from; in an odd way, the center of the group of friends around which the movie circles—and yet, like many a critic, he seems to be responsible for creating an illusion of unity where none in fact may exist.

If I’m being cryptic, that’s because I don’t want to give spoilers.
Just go watch the movie, and then come back and tell me I’m right.

But Trilling and Nick are not the only critics in the film.  Stillman himself is his own character’s critic, alternately deflating their opinions and expectations, and (less often) showing their surprising moments of humanity (in the redeemable sense).  One glorious example of this is during the final twenty minutes of the movie—a twenty minutes which lived up to and in fact surpassed all my (admittedly low) hopes for the conclusion of the plot—

What can I say?  I’m a melancholic.
Expect the worst and you may be pleasantly surprised.

—when two characters find themselves on an unexpected mission.  Stillman’s preferred soundtrack, an upbeat jazzy business which has briefly given way before to more explicitly Christmassy tunes (including, briefly, a Bach Christmas chorale) changes abruptly to “With Catlike Tread” from The Pirates of Penzance.  I laughed so hard we had to stop the tape and have an explanation: at the particular point in Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta when that song is sung, the Pirates are stalking “quietly” through the night (their jackboots pounding the stage boards with every percussive punctuation) to “rescue” some “damsels in distress.”  In Metropolitan’s new context (which I won’t spoil with more particulars here) the irony is doubled over: rich, delightful … but also humane.  Perhaps I am wrong about this, but I think in this film at least Stillman turns several pervasive ironies on their heads and leaves us—those of us who can understand—with a feeling that, despite the rocky, putrid waters in which we generally have to swim, there can be moments of light in the modern world.

That secret feeling of being “in the know” which so delights the intelligentsia?  I think I’m tasting its thrill as a conservative for the first time.  It might not be healthy for the superego to dip into such waters too frequently, but once in a blue moon it is a tonic: delicious, and restorative.  God bless Whit Stillman.

Should you see Metropolitan?  Well, I’ll point out it’s a nineties movie.  Expect a more-than-forties level of language, undress, topical reference, etc.  But if you can look past that, Metropolitan will be the best two hours you’ve wasted in recent memory.