Authority and rebellion

John Adams is one of my heroes. Why? Because he was an American patriot who defied the mob, defending the harassed British soldiers in the Boston “massacre” trials. It is doubtful that a man of his character and independence will ever be elected president again.

Mobs are inherently dangerous and not to be trusted: therefore my instincts are always on the side of authority. Whenever I read a news story about a riot, a protest march, a strike, or an insurgency, the first thing I look for is some kind of moral justification for the rebellion. Increasingly, none is offered. Perhaps journalists think that the mere fact of lots of people desiring a change is its own justification. Desire is enough.

Rebellion can sometimes be justified on moral grounds, but today we live in a culture of rebellion in which justifications are irrelevant. Authority is never given the benefit of the doubt. Majorities are simply assumed to be right by virtue of being majorities. Individuals with power or authority are assumed to be villains, especially when they refuse to kow-tow to popular desires. In such a culture it is almost impossible to distinguish the good rebellion from the myriad of petty, malicious, arbitrary, vengeful, envious, and greed-driven rebellions everywhere.

I pity anyone with authority today. America’s most popular pastime is to hurl mindless criticism and abuse at authority figures (I am not exempt from this damnable habit). There is nothing more popular in America today than standing around the water cooler badmouthing one’s employer, one’s government, or one’s church. For an individual to exercise authority is to risk becoming a martyr in our culture. That is, unless you sell out to the mob, which many do.

On the other hand, there is a sense in which our anti-authoritarian culture delivers a kind of poetic justice. Many of our leaders are themselves rebels and/or usurpers. They use their authority to foment rebellion, are contemptuous of their own superiors, and in some cases they acquired their positions through acts of sedition. Having shown little respect for authority themselves, they receive little respect in their turn. Such men will never seek to create a culture of respect for authority because that would incriminate their own actions. Democracy = perpetual revolution and rebellion.

As a practical matter, the formula for restoration is rather simple. Give respect and deference to the authorities God has placed over you, no matter how unworthy in your eyes – be it your president, your governor, your city council, your highway patrolman, your priest, or your employer. To these we owe obedience in all things lawful. We owe them respect even when they make prudential mistakes. We are to “bear wrongs patiently” when there is an occasional injustice. Granted: at some point there can be so much abuse that rebellion is necessary, even obligatory. That hour may well be approaching fast. When that hour comes, if you have lived a life that is deeply respectful of authority, your “rebellion” will arise from grave necessity rather than habit; it will be meaningful and persuasive, not just another tantrum of the spoiled mob.

Pope John XXIII on Latin

In the light of Summorum Pontificum and the return of the traditional Latin Mass, now might be a good time for Catholics to get re-acquainted with what the Church teaches about the Latin language. Here’s what Blessed John XXIII – the Pope who convened the Second Vatican Council -wrote in his great Apostolic Constitution Veterum Sapientia:

“Of its very nature Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favor any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all.

Nor must we overlook the characteristic nobility of Latin’s formal structure. Its ‘concise, varied and harmonious style, full of majesty and dignity’ makes for singular clarity and impressiveness of expression …

Furthermore, the Church’s language must be not only universal but also immutable. Modern languages are liable to change, and no single one of them is superior to the others in authority. Thus if the truths of the Catholic Church were entrusted to an unspecified number of them, the meaning of these truths, varied as they are, would not be manifested to everyone with sufficient clarity and precision. There would, moreover, be no language which could serve as a common and constant norm by which to gauge the exact meaning of other renderings.

But Latin is indeed such a language. It is set and unchanging. It has long since ceased to be affected by those alterations in the meaning of words which are the normal result of daily, popular use …

Finally, the Catholic Church has a dignity far surpassing that of every merely human society, for it was founded by Christ the Lord. It is altogether fitting, therefore, that the language it uses should be noble, majestic, and non-vernacular.”

The Tuscan Aquifer


Ever hear of the Tuscan Aquifer? That’s the underground reservoir that supplies much of the water for Butte, Glenn, and Tehama counties. The massive “lower” level of this aquifer remains largely untapped because of its depth. A local blogger has a beginner’s course here and here:

“The saturated area of underground substrate (a substrate can be rock, gravel, sand, silt, clay etc.) from which water can be extracted is called an aquifer. The aquifer beneath Chico (and beyond) is called the Tuscan Aquifer. It is named for the ‘Tuscan Formation,’ which are layers of deposits (rock, soil, sand) from ancient streams and volcanic mudflows. (I don’t know who named it the ‘Tuscan,’ though perhaps there is a similar geological formation in the Tuscany area of Italy).

The Tuscan Aquifer is big, though it is hard to be precise regarding its size and shape. Imagine a massive blob of saturated substrate beneath Butte, Tehama, and Glenn Counties, extending to depths of over 1000 feet, containing an estimated 10 times the amount of water as the capacity of Lake Oroville …People move to Chico to go to college, escape the Bay Area, or perhaps to take a job. Other folks might make a list of all the things they are looking for in a town, such as bikeability, sunny weather, a vibrant downtown, attractive city parks, and easy access to mountains and wild areas, and realize that Chico might be the place they want to be. But there are a few folks that move here because of the Tuscan Aquifer …”


Silicon Valley and home

I returned yesterday from a 2-day business trip in Santa Clara. As big cities go, I like the place. The neighborhoods are pleasant, and the people are friendlier than anywhere else in the Bay Area. The first evening I had dinner at a hotel restaurant. My waitress was very young, quite nervous and obviously inexperienced. She tried very hard to smile and to be courteous and attentive. She accidentally spilled my martini, but it didn’t matter. It helped that she looked a little like my own daughter, because that reminded me that she was some other fellow’s daughter, which made me want to make up for the rude and hyper-critical customers who end up sending new waitresses home in tears. By the end of the meal, she was beaming, and I left a thank-you note on the ticket in the hopes that her manager would see it.

The next evening I had my truck serviced at Jiffy Lube, and the young men were just as friendly and helpful as they are here at home. Jiffy Lube has a really good system (in northern California, anyway) and somehow they manage to hire the best. Other services are suggested without any pressure, and sometimes these suggestions are good reminders. A job at Jiffy Lube would be a great place for a young man to get his start in the workforce.

While getting my truck serviced I walked across El Camino Real to OfficeMax for a small purchase. As I was checking out, a woman came in to ask an employee if there was anyone who could help her with an item she needed to return. It was in the trunk of her car, and was too heavy for her to carry by herself. The employees were pretty busy so I told her I’d be happy to do it. She thanked me so profusely for my 2 minutes of help it really caught me off guard. Gratitude for the little things in life: it’s great to see, and it’s infectious.

I was in Santa Clara to attend a certification class for business brokers. Contracts, valuations, financing, and other mundane details were covered extensively. The instructor placed a strong emphasis on business ethics and improving the image of our profession. Unfortunately – this being California and all – much of the seminar had to do with preventing lawsuits from disgruntled buyers after the sale. The business brokers in attendance seemed to be a decent lot. From what I could tell they were well trained and conscientious. The lunches were also excellent, and sure enough, they served fish on Friday. That’s still a common practice in the coastal regions of Catholic California.

It is always amusing when I meet people in the big cities. The first conversation often goes something like this:

“Nice meeting you, Jeff. Where are you from?”


“Orland? Where’s that?”

“It’s about three hours north of here, in Glenn County.”

“Glenn County? Gosh, I haven’t heard of it. What’s the biggest city in the county?”

“Orland. Population 7,000.”

“REALLY? Is it anywhere near Ukiah? Eureka? Yreka?”

“No, the closest real city is Chico, which is about 25 miles to the east.”

“Oooohhhhhhh, I’ve heard of Chico!!!!! That’s where Chico State University is, the party school, right?”

“That’s right. So where are you from?”

In the Silicon Valley, there is a strong sense that one is at the very center of the universe. This, of course, is an illusion, but the people (even visitors like me) can’t help but sense the economic and scientific and technological importance of the place. The median price of a single family home is still over $700K. Everywhere you look you see millions of dollars being spent. Every corporate lobby looks like an ultra-modern hi-tech lounge aboard the Starship Enterprise. People take their laptops and blackberries everywhere. There is an amazing amount of ethnic diversity and relatively little ethnic friction. Many different languages are spoken, but English is still the glue that holds it all together, and it will remain so. The most elevated passion of the Silicon Valley is business. The “all business, all the time” culture is both disturbing and, for me, seductive, because I can see how easy it would be to get caught up in the excitement.

The saddest thing about the place is that children are so scarce.

While driving back home the traffic on I-680 was horrible. I-80 was even more congested. As I headed north on I-505 from Vacaville, the traffic thinned out and the suburbs receded, giving way to unending acres of fields and farmland. Suddenly there wasn’t a Lexus or a BMW or a Jaguar in sight. I was back in the great Central Valley, the land of plain-looking sedans, minivans, pickup trucks, tractors, and ATVs. I located a country music station on the radio just to make sure I was really there.

Driving through dusty old Orland I was glad to see the sign announcing Sunday’s spaghetti feed benefiting the Glenn County Senior Center. Think we’ll stop in for an early dinner after the 2:30 Mass. As I pulled into our gravel driveway I noted the condition of the pasture and the fruit orchard, hoping that they hadn’t browned too much in my absence. Irrigation would be late by a day or two. The chickens were out of their yard, and a few were on the front lawn. Someone must have forgotten to shut the gate last night. I jumped out of the truck and loudly chased the chickens away, exaggerating my displeasure for the benefit of the kids, who always laugh when I do that.

The children came out to tell me, excitedly, that they had a surprise for me. They told me to close my eyes. Two of them grabbed my arms and commanded that I follow them with my eyes closed tight. I obeyed compliantly. A moment or two later I was instructed to open my eyes. When I did so, Amy was holding four tiny black and white kittens in her hands, just inches from my nose.

“Misty had kittens!” they all exclaimed. “You have got to be kidding me!”, I replied in mock despair. That brings St. Isidore’s cat population up to 12, or maybe it’s 15, but either way it is TOO MANY! Nevertheless, it’s good to be home …

Pavarotti Returned to the Catholic Faith

Wonderful news from the Catholic press this morning: The great tenor Luciano Pavarotti returned to the Faith before he died:

“The diocese had received criticisms that it had gone overboard in honoring a remarried divorcee. But Pavarotti’s parish priest, Fr. Remo Sartori, said the twice-married singer had been reconciled with the Catholic faith, reported the Sydney Morning Herald. Pavarotti had received the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick before losing his battle against pancreatic cancer last Thursday, aged 71.”

Religion in the north state

I grew up (mostly) in Butte County, and in those years neighboring Glenn County had a reputation for being much more religious. When we’d visit my grandparents in Orland, it was often mentioned that the town had an unusually large number of churches for such a small community. For many years there was a sign just off the freeway as you pulled into town, welcoming visitors and listing every house of worship – all Christian, I might add, except for the Mormons.

The Association of Religious Data Archives provide some interesting county-by-county statistics. With the data provided I was able to confirm Glenn County’s longstanding reputation. Here are the census 2000 stats for Glenn, Butte, Tehama, and Colusa Counties, in which congregational membership (as opposed to religious belief) was measured:

Glenn County

Total Population 26,453
Congregational membership 13,104
Roman Catholic 6,718
* 50% belong to a religious congregation
* Catholics are 51% of congregational membership
* Catholics are 25% of total population

Butte County 

Total population 203,171
Congregational membership  62,151
Roman Catholic 19,483
* 31% belong to a religious congregation
* Catholics are 31% of congregational membership
* Catholics are 10% of total population

Tehama County

Total population 56,039
Congregational membership 17,639
Roman Catholic 7,778
* 31% belong to a religious congregation
* Catholics are 44% of congregational membership
* Catholics are 14% of total population

Colusa County

Total population 18,804
Congregational membership  6,165
Roman Catholic 3,255
* 33% belong to a religious congregation
* Catholics are 53% of congregational membership
* Catholics are 17% of total population

America Needs a Huong Lan

The legendary Vietnamese singer Huong Lan captured my heart many years ago. I’ve probably listened to this enchanting ballad at least a hundred times. Huong Lan’s amazing voice, so melodical and serene, handles the distinctive intonations of her language with a native ease that always seems surprising. In this voice the Vietnamese soul finds its perfect musical expression, although this particular recording does not do her justice.

America needs a Huong Lan, a similarly gifted singer who is female, feminine, modest, and respectful – an authentically traditional artist who can charm this nation out of the cultural sewer it has chosen to wallow in. Unfortunately our own folk tradition was never fully developed. What we do have has either been eclipsed by the seductive rot of pop culture (jazz, rock, rap, and all the rest of it), or hijacked for political purposes by the imposters of the ’60s and ’70s.

The closest thing we Americans have to genuine folk music is bluegrass and country music. Bluegrass is certainly authentic enough, but due to historical circumstances it isn’t often beautiful. Country music started off with more potential in the beauty department, but today it is over-commericalized and lacking in authenticity. Commercialization isn’t necessarily a problem when people retain a non-commerical culture, but in the land where Herbert Hoover could say “the business of America is business”, commercialization is the death of culture.

Watch this video and catch a glimpse of what happens when a real traditional culture encounters modernity but is not swallowed by it. Apart from the tacky disco lights, what I see is a healthy synthesis. There are young and old in the audience, the men are conservatively dressed and wearing neckties, and Huong Lan herself is dressed in the lovely traditional Vietnamese ao dai. She has a highly trained and disciplined voice, excellent posture, a subtle and graceful manner – perfection, or nearly so. She’s aiming for something elevated and objective – for beauty rather than emotion, novelty, or shock value. It’s reminiscent of an earlier time in America, when popular singers like Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Doris Day, Patty Page and others were artists first and entertainers second.

If you’re hooked, here’s more Huong Lan at The New Beginning.

Fred Reed on “A New Improved America”

Fred Reed’s perspective is always interesting, usually provocative, and often filled with insights only an ex-pat can see. His observations of the latest American social trends (see column 361) are worth noting.

In particular …

“… Powerful domestic hostilities grip the United States. Maybe you have to be outside of it really to see it. I live in Mexico. You can go for…well, five years and counting, without hearing angry talk about this or that group. In America, women hate men and men are getting sick of American women. Blacks hate whites hate Hispanics. ‘Affirmative action’ engenders intense hatred that doesn’t go away. It isn’t the normal friction found in any country.”

“… The bullying of people entering the US. Any country has the right to determine who enters. Fine. If you don’t want them to enter, don’t give them visas. If you issue a visa, try to be courteous.”

” … The increasing, detailed, intrusive regulation of life, the national desire for control, control, control. Everything is the business of some form of government. Want to paint your shutters? The condo association won’t let you. Let dogs in your bar? Never. Decide who to sell your house to? Racial matter. Own a dog? Shot card, pooper-scooper, leash, gotta be spayed, etc. Have a bar for men only, women only, whites or blacks only? Here come the federal marshals. What isn’t controlled by government is controlled by the crypto-vindictive mob rule of political correctness. This wasn’t always in the American character.”

“… Add the continuing presence of police in the schools, the arrest in handcuffs of children of seven, the expulsions for drawing a picture of a soldier with a gun. Something very twisted is going on.”

With respect to government regulations, having just come out in favor of local ordinances requiring people to hold their pants up, I expect to be accused of hypocrisy (or at least inconsistency). But Reed is observing a phenomenon that goes much deeper than “regulations bad, freedom good”.

The point is that we are observing a creeping totalitarianism in those complex areas of life where tradition and common sense ordinarily suffice.

Conversely, in those areas where tradition and common sense are insufficient because of a troublesome minority (the britches thing), the right of local governments to enforce community standards is opposed in the name of “freedom” and/or “tolerance”.

The root of the problem is not government intervention or the lack thereof. The root of the problem is the absence of unifying cultural standards which make community life tolerable. In other words, the demise of inherited customs, habits, and mores both invites government intervention where it isn’t needed, and prevents the same where it is needed. Hence we are left with the twin evils of creeping totalitarianism on the one hand, and ascending cultural babarism on the other.