Fall of Saigon

Today marks the 32nd anniversary of the fall of Saigon, Vietnam, to Communist forces. I commemorate this event for its impact on my own life. As a young college student in 1985 I found myself immersed in Sacramento’s exploding community of Vietnamese refugees. We were classmates and friends. They invited me to their homes, their parties, and their magnificent weddings. At school they helped me with math and science, and I helped them with English and other subjects. I remember admiring the Vietnamese engineering students who carried their huge black and yellow calculus books around campus, and thinking to myself “I’ll carry one of those books someday.” Sure enough, after much struggle with mathematics, I did carry one of those books and met my future wife in Calculus-II. Deo gratias.

I learned much from my Vietnamese friends and their families. The men were masculine, the women were feminine, and the children were innocent; they had large extended families and the children respected their elders; they tended to be religious and pro-life; they listened to classical music; they had incredible work and study habits; they were polite, well mannered, and dressed conservatively; they were anti-communist warriors; they loved America and were proud defenders of the West. In short, they provided me with a standard of “normal” where American culture was failing miserably.

Although politically pro-Western, they were deeply loyal to their homeland and seemed always to be plotting a triumphant return to Vietnam. This loyalty of theirs inspired, in me, a loyalty to my own homeland that I had never really felt before. Doan Van Toi, a Vietnamese exile and author of “Vietnamese Gulag”, ended his book with an exhortation for native-born Americans to renew their love and appreciation for their own culture. He, an outsider, could see the beauty and strength of our civilization, but he was disappointed to find that most Americans took it all for granted and seemed dangerously indifferent to the treasures they inherited. I’ve taken his words to heart.

The Fall of Saigon was an unmitigated calamity. The bloodbath was just beginning. After South Vietnam fell, so went the dominos of Laos and Cambodia. A wave of diabolical persecution swept Southeast Asia. Millions perished attempting to escape the fanatical cruelty of Communism. My father-in-law was himself imprisoned for four years in a secret re-education camp where he was severely beaten and tortured. They told him – falsely – that his wife had married a communist official, but he never believed them and his family never stopped looking for him. He was eventually released, but spies were everywhere, his family was in perpetual danger, and he was always in fear of being arrested again. As an officer in the South Vietnamese Navy he had acquired some maritime skills. In 1981 he launched a rickety boat, in the middle of the night, into the South China Sea and sailed for the Philippines with his own family and several others. By the grace of God they were rescued by a Filipino fishing crew before the pirates could get to them.

Above the Buddhist altar in my wife’s family home is a grainy, shadowy photograph of what appears to be a female figure in the sky above stormy waters. This mysterious Lady was observed by thousands of refugees as they sailed across perilous seas. The Buddhists think she is a goddess of some sort, their divine protectress. Not long after the photo was taken, in a crowded refugee camp in the Catholic Philippines, a young Vietnamese Buddhist girl was asked to play the Blessed Virgin Mary in a theatre production of the Nativity. Little did she know …  

They say that every cloud has a silver lining. The dark, evil cloud over Saigon on April 30, 1975, generated a silver lining that now shines brightly throughout the world in the lives of many Vietnamese exiles and their families – especially one family I happen to know, in far-away northern California, whose members are particularly blessed.

What’s Wrong with the World

A promising new web log has been launched, staffed with formidable talent and edited by my old friend Mr. Paul J. Cella, with the following mission:

“‘What’s Wrong with the World’ is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: The Jihad and Liberalism.

We are happy warriors, for our defense is motivated primarily by gratitude for what our ancestors bequeathed to us. We are hardly what the world calls ‘optimists,’ for our sense of the crisis of our age is robust indeed; but despair is among the more fashionable sins today, and our hostility to it, too, is implacable. We put not our trust in princes, but stand on the Solid Rock, against which neither the tyranny of the Crescent nor the blank negations of Liberalism shall prevail.

Jihad is the Islamic doctrine of aggressive war waged with the purpose of subjugating all non-Islamic peoples to the political and legal authority of Islam. It covers virtually all manner of crime with the shield of piety by blessing massacre, plunder, enslavement and treachery if these are judged necessary in the cause of Allah. There is nothing like it in Christian civilization. Its roots lie in the very antiquity of Islamic civilization, and though it is surely true that not all Muslims have committed themselves to Jihad, it is also true that the doctrine is at least latent in all Islamic societies. As such, it stands as an inevitable threat.

Liberalism is a more obscure doctrine to define. Its grounding, we believe, lies in the assertion of Man’s sovereignty over his own nature and destiny, his brazen defiance of God. In political philosophy its mark is the reduction of all things to some strictly materialist standard, whether openly atheistic or more subtly economic. It collapses the mystery of Man’s dualistic nature. Christianity has taught us, in the common maxim, that man is in the world but not of it. Liberalism posits that he is emphatically of it; and by its logic even the worth of human life is made subject to the whims and calculations of worldly interest. The reductionism also issues in a deep antipathy for natural distinctions of any kind; Liberalism in the end renders men incapable of judgment.

All the world is darkened by these terrible falsifications of the nature of Man and the duty he owes his Creator. For solace we look not to the morbid optimism of the world, but to a hope which was ably captured in a statement of the man from whose short book we shamelessly take our own title, who by his great ‘metaphysical intuition of being’ penetrated to the heart of these falsifications. His words were these: ‘The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.’

Is conversation possible?

As mentioned in an earlier comment, I think we are at a point where the cultural divide is so great that conversation is no longer possible in many cases. The Other Side responds to our arguments with genuine abhorrence: to them, merely to utter something vaguely pro-life is to place oneself beyond the pale. They don’t care what our arguments are, their minds are made up, they simply don’t want to hear it. They react with revulsion rather than reason.

The reaction itself isn’t bad. Some arguments really are repulsive. Some ideas actually do merit derision, abhorrence, ridicule, and contempt. Some things are indeed “beyond the pale”. But here’s what’s interesting: we live in a divided culture where each camp finds the other revolting and intolerable. We are so far apart, for the most part, that we cannot stand one another’s company. We cannot have a simple conversation about fundamental values without going at each other’s throats or storming off in disgust. The abortion debate, for example, isn’t at all like slavery. The arguments for and against slavery were both rooted in a broadly Christian worldview with respect for the same authority and prescriptions. There was enough philosophical common ground to ultimately resolve the question. The same cannot be said for the hot topics of our time. There is no real debate or dialogue happening today: just shouting and emoting. The opposing camps simply do not have sufficient common ground for a rational discussion.

The situation is obviously unsustainable. In the long run it can only be resolved in one of three ways: conversion, political separation, or (heaven forbid) civil war. In the event that it is not resolved – a more likely scenario – the tension will result in persecution at the hands of those with the greatest power and the fewest scruples. Don’t look for scruples in the pro-choice crowd. I leave the details to the reader’s imagination.

Another death

What a crazy ride this week has been. We just buried Cici, the mama goat who gave birth last night, a champion milker and the unchallenged queen of the west pasture. She was doing fine when I checked on her last night about 10:30pm. She had expelled the afterbirth, was eating and drinking heartily, and was beginning to nurse her little ones. When Amy checked on her this morning at 3:45am she was lethargic and unwilling to move from her bed in the straw. It went downhill from there. She seemed unusually large, so we thought perhaps there was another kid inside. But there were never any signs of labor after the second kid was born. Furthermore, late this afternoon a friend came over and examined her thoroughly, finding nothing. One hour later she was gone.

Just kidding!

Last night it happened, and this time we were ready. Angel was tied up and doing penance in another pasture. Amy had all her supplies in a bucket. On Saturday I built a pen in the barn that turned out to be a perfect birthing pen. We had our good friends and goat experts available on the telephone for consultation. The whole family gathered in the barn to watch the birth of two beautiful baby goats.

I’m immensely proud of my daughter Amy, who just turned 11. She did everything with confidence, enthusiasm, grace and intelligence. Other girls might have shrieked “ick!” or “gross!” and shied away from the earthy task, but Amy – who takes after her mother – dived right in and took care of business like a pro! Here are some photos:



What’s Right About Country Music

I listen to a lot of country music, as does most everyone out here. Some of it is immoral and awful, most of it is sappy and mediocre, but some of it really gives me hope for this country. Music can tell you a lot about a people and their culture. As it happens, country music is the only mainstream genre left in America in which fatherhood, motherhood, married love, faith, family, tradition, patriotism, gratitude, and other wholesome themes are not only featured regularly, but are essential to the style itself. Take the scandalously resentment-free, angst-deprived, grievance-challenged ballad “Lucky Man” by Montgomery Gentry:

Got some friends that would be here fast
I could call ’em any time of day
Got a brother who’s got my back
Got a momma who I swear’s a saint
Got a brand new rod and reel
Got a full week off this year
Dad had a close call last spring
It’s a miracle he’s still here.

I know I’m a lucky man
God’s given me a pretty fair hand
Got a house and peice of land
A few dollars in a coffee can.
My old truck’s still runnin good
My ticker’s tickin’ like they say it should
I’ve got supper in the oven, a good woman’s lovin’
And one more day to be my little kids’ dad
Lord knows I’m a lucky man.

There’s also music that should warm the heart of any American traditionalist, such as “A Different World” by Bucky Covington:

No child-proof lids, no seat belts in cars
Rode bikes with no helmets and still here we are,
Still here we are
We got daddy’s belt when we misbehaved
Had three TV channels you got up to change
No video games and no satellite
All we had were friends and they were outside,
Playin’ outside

It was a different life
When we were boys and girls
Not just a different time
It was a different world

School always started the same every day
The pledge of allegiance then someone would pray
Not every kid made the team when they tried
We got disappointed and that was all right,
We turned out all right

No bottled water, we drank from a garden hose
And every Sunday, all the stores were closed …

And it gets even better. The words to “Little Man” by Alan Jackson will resonate with Catholic supporters of distributism:

He pumped your gas and he cleaned your glass
And one cold rainy night he fixed your flat
The new stores came where you do it yourself
You buy a lotto ticket and food off the shelf
Forget the little man
Forget about that little man

He hung on there for a few more years
But he couldn’t sell slurpees
And he wouldn’t sell beer
Now the bank rents the station
To a man down the road
And sells velvet Elvis’ and
Second-hand clothes
There goes the little man
There goes another little man

Now the stores are lined up in a concrete strip
You can buy the whole world with just one trip
And save a penny cause it’s jumbo size
They don’t even realize
They’re killin’ the little man
Oh the little man

But the best thing about country music, for me, are the great songs about fatherhood. Of course the most gut-wrenching of the new fatherhood songs – a piece that makes you want to simultaneously hug your kids and beat the living hell out of someone – is “Alyssa Lies” by Jason Michael Carroll. The song is about a man, his daughter, and his daughter’s young classmate who eventually dies at the hands of abusive parents. A close second in the same department is “The Little Girl” by John Michael Montgomery which, fortunately, has a happier ending:

Her first day of Sunday school the teacher walked in
And a small little girl stared a picture of Him
She said I know that man up there on that cross
I don’t know His name but I know He got off
He was there in my old house and held me close to His side
As I hid there behind our couch the night that my parents died.

There are many other notable country songs about fatherhood, including “My Little Girl” by Tim McGraw, “Watching You” by Rodney Atkins, “A Father’s Love” by George Strait, “There Goes My Life” by Kenny Chesney, and “I Wish I Could Have Been There” by John Anderson. I think my all-time favorite, though, has to be “Daddy’s Hands” by Holly Dunn:

I remember Daddy´s hands, folded silently in prayer.
And reaching out to hold me, when I had a nightmare.
You could read quite a story, in the callouses and lines.
Years of work and worry had left their mark behind.
I remember Daddy´s hands, how they held my Mama tight,
And patted my back, for something done right.
There are things that I´ve forgotten, that I loved about the man,
But I´ll always remember the love in Daddy´s hands.

Daddy’s hands were soft and kind when I was cryin´.
Daddy´s hands, were hard as steel when I´d done wrong.
Daddy´s hands, weren´t always gentle
But I´ve come to understand.
There was always love in Daddy´s hands.

Divine Mercy Sunday

“My daughter, tell the whole world about My Inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet.”

Goats and good neighbors

The day started off with more trouble. It turns out that Sapphire, the mama goat, had another kid inside. After milking her this morning she dropped the kid – but this one was stillborn. What is worse, the kid didn’t make it completely out, and the “sack”was just sort of hanging out behind her. At first I didn’t know what I was looking at, and I certainly didn’t know what to do. After some frantic phone calls I loaded the children into the van and headed over to the veterinarian’s office, which happens to be only about a mile up the highway. They kindly coached me on what to do and sent me away with gloves, some sterilization powder, syringes, and oxytocin.

We rushed back to find Sapphire in sorry shape. I followed the vet’s directions and gingerly removed the fetal sack and the afterbirth with minimal bleeding. I then injected her with 1/2 cc of oxytocin underneath her skin near the top of the leg. Amy warmed up some water mixed with maple syrup: she wouldn’t drink, so I had to hold her head up while Amy fed her with a large syringe. We checked on her every 15 minutes and brought her a little grain or alfalfa. She wouldn’t touch the food for several hours. It was a rough morning, but by sundown she was out in the pasture again and “talking” to us in her familiar voice. She’s usually a little skittish around me, but this time she seemed to appreciate my attention and didn’t want me to leave …


The loss of our oldest steer was a big blow. I knew I would need some help pulling him out of that irrigation pipe, but didn’t know where to turn. We live across the road from a Portuguese dairy family. I thought they might have the equipment required to lift a 600 lb animal out of an eight foot hole. So I gave them a call, and they were over here within minutes. First the old man tied the chain around the thigh of the animal, and then the matriarch of the family lifted the front-end loader of their tractor. Out comes the cow: it wasn’t pretty. Chardonnay, the steer’s mother, had wandered away from the herd to observe this sad spectacle. She seemed beside herself with grief and was making lots of noise and aggressive gestures.

All I wanted was for them to help get the cow out of the hole: I was going to call a rendering service for disposal. But they offered to take the animal to their dairy and take care of the disposal themselves. Gratefully, I accepted their offer. When I thanked them and offered to pay for their services the daughter refused, saying “You’ve had to put up with our animals often enough!” This was a reference to two or three occasions when their herd got loose and trampled our orchard, breaking a few irrigation risers in the process. But they paid the bill I was only too happy to deliver at the time.

Later on this evening their son came by with a home-built metal fence that he had rigged up to install around the danger zone. He asked for access to the pasture and two extension cords. He was out there for over an hour, in the dark, installing this fence for us while we ate our dinner. A gift. Those are some good neighbors.


The latest rash of stories (see here, here, here and here) leaves very little doubt: homosexuality is becoming the catalyst for state persecution of Christians in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, on a worldwide scale. And this still surprises me. Who has ever heard of wars or persecutions in the name of homosexuality? I mean, how do you dress that up as something noble? I would have expected those who want to eliminate all opposition to homosexuality to come up with a more respectable pretext. Furthermore, I tend to think of homosexuality as a vice that mitigates against courage and fortitude. It seems unlikely that anyone who engages in this behavior would have the courage, fortitude, or discipline to carry out difficult long-term goals of any kind.

Obviously, my understanding is inadequate. The homosexual activists and their friends do possess the necessary fortitude – in spades. They have the single-minded discipline that it takes to wage a war, even a long war of attrition. They have the “courage” to be honest about their motives, no matter how shameful. I don’t know where all this tenacity is coming from. We are accustomed to reading about historical persecutions launched in the name of pagan deities, empires, nations, Islam, communism, socialism, and fascism. But homosexuality? It is difficult to imagine a motive more wicked … or more trivial.   

Black Wednesday

Remember that Dexter calf we steered last year? Just found him dead tonight, head down in an open irrigation pipe.

About an hour ago one of the goats gave birth to a kid. Our guard dog, a Great Pyranee, killed the poor thing before we got there. We probably lost $750 – $1000 altogether.