"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Sorry Romances Of Bobbie Flavin–“Why Wasn’t I Told?”

Bobbie Flavin had been brought up in a very traditional, middle class home – church on Sundays followed by a sumptuous roast chicken dinner, roasted rosemary carrots, sweet peas from the garden, and creamy mashed potatoes followed by gooseberry cobbler and Indian pudding.  She was never sure which was most important to her upbringing – the food, the Church, her special aunts and uncles from Fairfield, or her eight cousins. 

This was what romance was all about – the eclectic combination of pleasant, predictable events and things; and the promise of much more.

Her cousin Errol, kept at a distance because of sanguinity, but oh, how beautiful he was – black curly ringlets, tall, imposing, confident, and unimpeachable – was the man Bobbie wanted to marry, to spend the rest of her life with, wedded in love, mother to his children, faithful, dutiful, and happy.  If only she could find a boy like him; and try she did, leaving the nuns and propriety behind.  

She became known as Flagrant Flavin, back-seat lover, a hot ticket easy to be punched, always available on a Friday afternoon.  Not that she didn’t enjoy the sex; but she, like all well-brought-up girls of her generation and milieu wanted more – security, longevity; and, if it were ever possible, fidelity – but the road she was on was unpaved and potholed.

Image result for images sex in the back seat of cars 50s

Now, as conventional as the Flavin family might have been, there were breaches in the moral code.  Her father, decorated war hero, bank vice-president, Kiwanis Club and Rotary Club chairman – a man of propriety, probity, and social standing – was a back-stoop Lothario who bedded the Misses Fanning, Weir, and Fannuci every afternoon while their husbands were at work.  The tellers at First National would not stop if he was absent or speed up if he was there, so he left his corner office with smiles.

Her mother had notorious dalliances with the milkman (Mr. Johnson, a mild-mannered Swede who, after years of a dutiful Lutheran marriage, had ‘had it’ and eagerly made love with the woman on Beliard Street who bought three quarts of milk, a pint of cream, and cottage cheese every Monday and Friday).  Her older sister, Henrietta, cheerleader and well-known in the Mt. Justice bleachers as being the ‘It’ girl was never alone on Friday nights.

There was no more sexually befuddled girl in Eastfield than Bobbie, the Church in one corner and family libertinage in the other.  Her mother, however, wanted to set the record straight.

“What about the Billingsley boy?”, she asked, referring to Timmy Billingsley, heir to an old British colonial family which had settled in Providence in the 1600s.  Indeed Timmy was a striking figure whose New England patrimony was evident in his blonde hair, straight nose, and clear complexion.  Why not him, Bobbie asked? Yet she wanted only bad boys – boys like Paul Pante, son of a clothier and numbers runner.

Her marriage with Vauxhall Martin was not quite arranged, at least not in the patrician sense.  The intended groom had indeed been ‘found’  and vetted by Flavin senior, but Vauxhall had more contemporary credentials – Yale crew, Supreme Court clerkship, and summers at the family compound on the Vineyard – than any father could hope for.  How could she resist? Intermediated as it might have been, there was no denying its appropriateness. 

With Daddy’s help, the couple bought a duplex on 83d Street, an easy subway commute to Wall Street for him, and a crosstown bus to her Harper & Row assistant editorship.   There had been none of the fireworks she had expected, the carnival of exciting friends and neighbors, a whirlwind of late-night suppers at Max’s Kansas City or Dame Margaret’s, or group sex in SOHO lofts.  

Sex had been desultory and more suggestive of fidelity than adventurism; and far more marital than she had ever expected. More importantly, did they love each other? Perhaps not exactly, but who these days ever subscribed to fairy tale notions of romantic transport?

Image result for images group sex

Of course, as her mother had once told her, and despite her urgency to get Bobbie married, love was neither here nor there.  You might plan on romance, but best be prepared for disappointment and tedium.  It was good when all the ingredients were right – social match, intellectual compatibility, emotional triggers – and one had a right to expect something special; but if the tumblers did not fall into place, the lock on a good marriage was impossible. 

Bobbie’s  marriage to Vaux Martin was not exactly bad, but who could have predicted that it would be so tepid and predictable?   Why, with all those impressive credentials had he not an original thought in his head? Had his intelligence hibernated?  And where was that needed machismo and unshakeable male ego?  So it was no surprise that she was quick to look elsewhere.  What is good for the goose is good for the gander, she thought.

Yet after a year of this, brought up as she was, despite the flagrancies of both mother and father, in the spirit of fidelity and committed, longstanding love, she knew that a life on her back with no collectibles was no way forward.  She was dutifully stuck with Vauxhall, and getting older by the minute she was caught in the narrow slats of a hickory deck. Yet, like most women, she wanted security, place, definition, and love.

Image result for Images sailboat Heeling Over. Size: 136 x 204. Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Vauxhall meanwhile had become a moral poster boy.  He was uxorious, faithful, and patient.  A man of very modest expectations, marriage suited him.  Coming home to a warm fire, a drink, and dinner was more than he ever could have wanted or expected.  He was a happy man. While he had had his flings, he soon battened down his hatches and reverted to Old New England propriety and fidelity. 

Both husband and wife were now sailing on an even keel.   Marriage might not have been what Bobbie expected; and although smooth sailing and a following wind was preferable to rough running, she was not prepared for a life becalmed in the doldrums.

St. Paul was notoriously critical of marriage.  if you absolutely must, he said, perform your husbandly duties, be fruitful and multiply, but don’t ask for much.

Image result for images st paul

Little was heard from Vauxhall after the divorce.  Rumor, based only on history and family proclivity, suggested that he had gone back to the Main Line, his ancestral home, and his seat on the Exchange, living alone, unmarried, but settled.  

Similar rumor had Bobbie in Brentwood, living with a well-known Hollywood actor, taking care of their two children with the help of a Dominican nanny, and living the free and easy life of Southern California – just like in the movies – but the truth was she was living in Teaneck.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Popes, Chalices, And Incense–Why Did Felicity Marvel Ever Leave The Church? And Why Was It So Hard To Return?

Felicity Marvel grew up in a good Catholic home.  She made her First Communion, was confirmed, and went to Mass every Sunday; but unlike other girls her age, she wondered at the mystery of the Mass. She whispered the Latin words of the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo; and along with the priest, recited the Agnus Dei.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

She loved the Mass and was unhappy when the priest replaced the chalice in the tabernacle, wiped the paten clean and polished it with silk until it shone, genuflected and knelt before the altar and the crucifix, crossed himself, turned to the congregation, and said, ‘Ite, missa est’.  

Most girls of her age heard only summer sounds through the open doors and windows of the church, but Felicity heard the intonement of the priest, the ringing of the bells, the rustle of his chasuble and gown, the soft step of his slipper on the polished marble altar floor, the creaks and chimes of the old church tower, and the procession of congregants to the communion rail.

There was something mystical and unique about the Mass – not the mystery of the Consecration, turning bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ – but the ceremony, the pageantry, the music, the language, the elegant vestments, the urns of flowers on the altar, the sound of the censer on its chain, and the heavy perfumed scent of frankincense.  As the bells rang at the Consecration, and as the priest raised the host and recited the liturgy, she wept.

Domine, non sum dignus
ut intres sub tectum meum,
sed tantum dic verbum,
et sanabitur anima mea

Image result for images priest at the consecration of the mass

The humility of the words and the faith they implied were not simply ritual – every Sunday’s repeated formalities – but expressions of profound faith, a trust in a mystical, intimate, compassionate, and forgiving God. There was nothing  like it – not Puccini nor the symphony; not the Grand Canyon or the Rockies.  It was the combination of mystery, drama, and beauty that made the Mass more exultant, more resonant, and more elating than anything else.

Felicity, like many young women of her age and generation fell away from the Church in the Sixties.  It had become politicized and criticized as a manipulative, predatory, aggressive, and arrogant institution which created a spiritual autocracy – ‘mystery, miracles, and authority’ as Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov called it.  

Christ had betrayed his followers when he said that man cannot live by bread alone, suggesting that only through spiritual faith in him, would the poor, the hungry, and the desolate find peace.  Rather than, in all his divine power, giving them food, shelter, and well-being, he offered only the hope – not even the promise – of salvation, and as such deceived them and made way for the most influential, powerful, and exploitative institution the world had ever known.

Image result for images ivan's devil dostoevsky

This was a lock, stock, and barrel condemnation.  There was no middle ground – an appreciation, say, of the original principles of the Church or the disciplined logic of its early theologians; a respect for the rationale and the careful exegesis of the Bible, while admitting the militaristic geopolitical Crusades.  There was only a re-calibration of spirituality, a removal of intermediaries, and a come-one-come-all communality of interest.  

It was hard to be a believing, practicing Catholic in those days.  Whether one was opposed to the idea of institutionalizing religious experience, or saw the Church through the lens of historicism, or simply could never forgive the geopolitical miseries caused by it, the Church was anathema, antithetical to all that the social revolution intended.

While Felicity endorsed the purpose and meaning of the cultural revolution, she found it tedious.  There was no essential core to radical secularism.  Its outward social purpose had no inward direction.  Even if a Utopian world of social harmony could be achieved, then what? Not only were such expectations unrealistic, idealistic, and denied by the aggressive, individualistic nature of millennia of human settlements, without divine purpose they were, ipso facto meaningless.  

Augustine’s The City of God expressed this best.  As a good Christian who evolved from doubting roots into Christianity’s most influential theologian, Augustine argued for the co-existence if not integration of church and state.  As a good Christian, he believed that nothing was possible without faith – not civil society, not government, not family or community.  Faith precedes logic, civil discourse, laws, and governance, he said.  Without it, mankind would be lost.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas reiterated Augustine’s principles in his dissent on Obergefell:

Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built.

Moreover most Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe that morality as well as dignity have existed since the Law of Moses, the teachings of Christ, and the lessons of Mohammed. The first chapter of the Gospel of John explicates the concept of logos – an eternal, universal Word that has existed even before God the Creator.  The Word is light, reason, and in moral terms, truth.

St. John

It was not long before the tedium of causes, social reform, and radical individualism were edged aside by Felicity’s foundational beliefs; and she decided to return to religion. 

However, she found the Church a much-changed institution.  Singing, hand shaking, brotherhood, an English liturgy, and a happy spiritual communalism had replaced mystery and mysticism.  Sermons were only tenuously Christian.  The young priests spoke more like their Methodist colleagues about social justice and the ethical lessons of Jesus, not his salvational ones.  They had become even more tedious than the secularists of the Sixties.

The Church had also undergone a major scandal – child abuse.  It was one thing for lay men to seduce young boys, another entirely for a priest, a man with a direct descendance from Jesus Christ himself through the sacrament of Ordination. The priest was not only disobeying secular laws, but disregarding the holy, sanctified, spiritual purpose of the priesthood.  Worst of all, these priests betrayed children. 

Image result for tom toles cartoon suffer the children priests

Ivan Karamazov in Dostoevsky’s novel, finds the horror of parental abuse of children the most heinous and evil of human crimes.  Where is Jesus in the face of such human corruption? Man might not live by bread alone, but shouldn’t his hand be stayed from betraying little children?

Yet Felicity was not deterred.  The Pope, cardinals, archbishops and the entire Catholic hierarchy were only human.  Was it not likely that they would commit the same moral travesties as other men? And did these travesties deny the legitimacy and relevance of Christ and the foundational wisdom of the early Church?

But where was Felicity to turn now that the mystery, pomp, ceremony, and operatic ceremonies of the Mass had been replaced or eliminated?  How could she return to a Church which had become as tedious as progressivism? A church of gay men, tepid faith, urgent reformism, and happy talk was not for her; but without the Church, wouldn’t the theology of Aquinas and Augustine be too free-floating and indistinct?

She tried reading Thomas’ Summa Theologica  but foundered on its academic intellectualism.  Augustine’s Confessions were more accessible, but too removed from her own life.  Paul’s Epistles were amusing, anecdotal, somewhat preachy sermons to his churches.  Recovering faith would not be that easy.

Image result for images thomas aquinas

The Church of her youth had made belief easy, and the reasoning of Dostoevsky was never more resonant.  Mystery, miracles, and authority were indeed sheltering in a world of disbelief.  Without the institution of the Church, only spiritual confusion could result – or at best a tepid, inchoate commitment.

This was the tragedy of lapsed Catholics.  Not only was the operatic pageantry gone but also the miracles, mystery, and authority – the rules and regulations, prescribed notions and rituals, received wisdom and approved liturgy, and obligations.  Even if women like Felicity wanted to return to the Church, they could not.  They foundered in their later years, wanting spiritual support, but finding none, facing death like Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich with terror not equanimity.

There was Felicity’s family who loved her and would be with her during her dying; but as Tolstoy wrote, “We all die alone”; and without at least a fingerhold on the divine, it would be a very lonely death indeed.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Biden’s Border Burlesque–What’s A Mother To Do?

At the end of Francis Ford Coppola’s movie, Apocalypse Now, Kurtz asks Willard why he has been sent to terminate his command.

KURTZ  Did they say why, Willard, why they wanted to terminate my command ?
WILLARD I was sent on a classified mission, sir.
KURTZ It appears.. that its no longer classified, is it? What did they tell you?
WILLARD They told me that you had gone totally insane and that your methods were unsound.
KURTZ Are my methods unsound?
WILLARD  I don't see any method at all, sir

The same can be true of President Biden’s border policy – one cannot see any method at all.

Image result for images kurtz and willard at end of apocalypse now

Former President Trump dealt with the immigration crisis forthrightly and unequivocally – illegal immigration must be stopped, he said.  Unrestricted entry to the United States was causing a depression of American wages, a strain on border states’ welfare system, unneeded pressure on the environment, a rise in gang activity, linguistic and culture divisiveness, and unnecessary policing of the southern border.

While legal immigrants were welcome (Trump made it clear that while the United States welcomed talented, trained, and educated foreigners who would add intellectual depth to academia, industry, and commerce), he saw no value added by undocumented workers.  There were legal and legitimate avenues for the unskilled labor needed to supplement American resources, but wholescale, open-door, come-one-come-all policies would be disruptive and dangerous.; and while Trump’s policies overlooked the economic benefits of foreign labor (illegal immigrants paid no taxes and drew down on scarce public resources,  but they also filled jobs that Americans were unwilling to take, and spent their earnings in the American economy, creating jobs and wealth), he was unequivocal about the need for rational, decisive immigration policies.  As importantly, he understood the cultural zeitgeist – rightly or wrongly Americans saw their country overrun by those who entered illegally, worked illegally, took advantage of the social system; and refused to integrate as earlier European immigrants had, and lived within insular minority communities.

Trump’s infamous border wall was never intended to solve the migration problem – it never could, for the border was endlessly porous and the Mexican coyotes infinitely inventive.  It was built to send a message both to Mexico and to Americans – we will not stand for unlimited entry.  Trump’s policy, however explicit, evaded more structural issues.  The business community thrived on cheap, undocumented labor, and American consumers were quite happy with the lower prices and costs that resulted; yet politics prevented any stringent punitive measures on business.

Image result for images coyotes

Yet with Trump, the immigration gauntlet had finally been thrown.  Illegal immigration was a serious problem, and only a coherent, rational policy would resolve it.  Trump’s policies were more Sturm und Drang than rational, objective, and data-based; but at least he was consistent and forcefully so.  He might not have the answers, but it was time the American public realized the seriousness of the problem – ‘No mas!’

President Biden, elected on a wave of progressive sentiment and anti-Trump hatred, immediately acted to display his liberal, compassionate, inclusive credentials.  Migrants from Central America wanted refuge in America for good reason.  Successive civil wars and continuing civil strife; endemic poverty; and corrupt governments all militated against economic and social reform, and the people suffered.  As such, they were victims not unlike American blacks, gays, ethnic minorities, and women.  America needed a foreign policy of compassion and understanding, one which echoed the time-honored “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses”, engraved on a plaque on the Statue of Liberty.

Times had changed, however, and when America opened its doors to European immigrants in the early 1900s, they were needed to run the factories of the Industrial Revolution.  While the spirit might have been one of welcome and compassion, the reason was economic.  America now has all the labor it needs, and if illegal immigration were halted, wages would rise, even low-end jobs would be attractive, and the economy would be more equitable, fair and balanced.

Biden, however, living in a 19th century fantasy and a liberal fairy tale, has called for poetic justice, not Constitutional justice and foundational legal principles.  Open the doors, he has said, and America will take care of the world’s tired, poor, and  oppressed.  We will provide temporary shelter for the undocumented, help them to reconnect with their families, and especially welcome their children.

Image result for Images Mary Mary Quite Contrary. Size: 138 x 106. Source: www.merlinprints.com.au

To no one’s surprise, the border has been inundated with Central Americans who, hearing Biden’s encouraging words, have trekked to the border; and many have sent their children on alone, knowing that they would be given priority entry, and once in the United States would serve as anchors for their relatives who would follow.  Border holding pens became overcrowded, miserable places, far worse than migrants had left.  ICE and other border patrols were overwhelmed by ‘visitors’ who were encouraged to cross any one of the now unpatrolled points on the Rio Grande.

When Vice-President Harris went to Guatemala to discuss the border crisis with its President, he told her in no uncertain terms to send a clear message to would-be immigrants from his country – “Don’t come, don’t even think of coming”.  The chaos at the American border was not the only place for incivility.  The illegal trade in human trafficking, linked with the highly profitable drug trade was already beyond control and destabilizing in his country and those neighboring.  Open borders would mean only an increase in illegal, often violent activity. 

Harris was surprised and non-plussed.  She thought that Biden’s Policy of Compassion would be welcomed.  It was not.  So she quickly called Washington and asked for help.  “Now what?” she asked.  Increased foreign assistance, her handlers in the State Department advised.  Economic development would provide jobs and a living wage in countries of origin and citizens would stop headed for El Norte.

Image result for Foreign Aid Cartoon

Of course that policy has been tried for decades and has never worked.  Foreign assistance in Latin America, just as in Africa and Asia, has been diverted, misused, and misspent.  While the President of Guatemala would of course take American largesse, it would not solve his political problems. 

So, in little more than four months of the Biden presidency, the border is a chaotic mess with no end in sight.  His initiatives are spontaneous, erratic, and useless.  He has quickly found that the liberal, progressive creed is valueless; and only political savvy, self-interested negotiations, and mutually beneficial deals make the grade.

The coyotes are happy, the drug traffickers are happy, Salvadoran gangs are happy, and American liberals are happy – no one else.  Governors of border states both Republican and Democrat are raising their voices in protest.  We are being overrun, they say.  Stop this nonsense. 

Image result for images salvatrucha gangs

But how? asks Biden behind closed doors.  We can’t turn our backs on the poor – and to be honest on the progressive claques who helped get me elected – he says.  Meanwhile Kamala Harris immediately capitulates and tells the Guatemalan president that she in no uncertain terms will honor his request.  “Don’t come”, she says to would-be illegal immigrants. “Help is on the way here”.  Of course that is nothing but political chicanery, for she knows – or should know – that Central American governments, for so long powers of misrule and venality, will do nothing, and that pouring American dollars down the sluiceways will simply go for naught.

Slowly but surely Biden will return to Trump era measures.  The temporary migrant shelters on the border were deliberately harsh and unwelcoming.  Compassion was not an operative term.  Illegals needed to know that if they managed to cross the border, life would be difficult, harsh, and punitive.  Biden, in the name of humanity and good will began to turn these shelters into Hiltons, and once full, found places in Marriotts inland.  Not only would illegals be rewarded by a virtual green card, but their wait for it would be luxurious.  Now, he is not so sure.

Migrant kids at Hampton Inn: US sued by advocates to stop expulsions

Worst of all, the very progressivism which got Biden in office in the first place, is being scrutinized and defied by more and more Americans.  The chaotic missteps at the border have repercussions throughout the canon.  If Biden has been so wrong at the border, so idealistically snookered and blind-sided, then perhaps his other initiatives may be just as frivolous.  Push back against radical transgenderism, teaching the gender spectrum in schools, and indoctrinating primary school children in the value of sex change and the hideous evil of whiteness has begun.  One chink in the progressive wall was always the first of many.

So Kamala Harris will return to Washington more befuddled than ever.  “They don’t want us”, she will tell Biden about Mexico and Central America’s leaders.  “They want Trump back”.

Meanwhile when asked by a reporter why she has not visited the Mexican-American border and reviewed for herself the situation there, she flippantly replied, “I haven’t been to Europe either.  What’s your problem?”

One only has to look back a few decades to see Biden’s political parentage – Jimmy Carter, the president of compassion, goodwill, understanding, charity, and commiseration, a one-term president roundly defeated by one of the strongest, most determined, and most popular presidents in history, Ronald Reagan, a man of principle, clarity, and determination.  “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” will be remembered long after any nostrums of diversity and inclusivity from Joe Biden.

Image result for Images Jimmy Carter in Cardigan Before fireplace. Size: 212 x 204. Source: insightonfreedom.blogspot.com

Biden is in office largely because of anti-Trump hatred; and now that Democratic moderates who voted for Biden have seen what he intends – punitive taxes on the rich, a stifling of American energy enterprise, a re-introduction of restrictive government regulation, an endorsement of the cancel culture, denial of freedom of speech and expression, and give-away treaties and agreements with America’s political and economic adversaries – the progressive juggernaut may be stopped in its tracks at the mid-terms in two years.

“What’s a mother to do?”, asks Biden, throwing up his hands at his disobedient children.  “Why won’t you behave?”.  Suddenly the fairytale storybook-endings he had assumed would be the legacy of his presidency, look far distant.  Of course those who voted for Trump knew all along what was in store for the country.  They knew that Uncle Joe, the reincarnation of sweaters-hearths-and-warm-fires Carter, the dupe of black radicals and young progressive militants, and a man of failing acuity and ability, would stumble and fall; but they were surprised at how soon.  Oh well, better sooner than later, they say, and look with anticipation to 2022.