One more reason to get “off the grid”

PG&E contributes $250,000 to fight against marriage initiative:

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., California’s largest investor-owned utility, has contributed $250,000 to defeat a ballot measure that would ban same-sex marriage in the state, it was announced Tuesday.

Businesses often steer clear of ballot measures that deal with social issues for fear of alienating customers.

But PG&E officials said the San Francisco-based company’s effort to defeat Proposition 8 on the Nov. 4 ballot is consistent with its long-time advocacy of equality for all.

Darlene Chiu, a PG&E spokeswoman, said in the 1990s the company contributed to efforts to defeat initiatives that curtailed affirmative action and attempted to crack down on illegal immigration.

“PG&E was also the first utility in the nation that sponsored a (lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender) association in the ’80s,” Chiu said.

PG&E serves more than 15 million Californians in Northern and Central California.

Chiu said the money for the campaign will come not from ratepayers, but from shareholder-funded political contribution accounts.

PG&E’s contribution is the largest corporate and only utility donation received by the No on 8 campaign.

Geoff Kors, a member of the No on 8 campaign committee, said the campaign is “thrilled to partner with PG&E to ensure that the laws of our state are not used to treat people unfairly.”

Jennifer Kerns, a spokeswoman for the Yes on 8 campaign, said campaign officials were not surprised by PG&E’s announcement.

“As a heavily regulated monopoly in California, PG&E can make decisions such as this without regard to their customers or fear of boycott,” Kerns said.

The Legion of Decency Test

On the one hand, it is highly unfortunate that Catholics can no longer rely on things like the Legion of Decency or the Index of Forbidden Books. On the other hand, these were only useful in the context of a generally Christian society. Today, pretty much every film and every book would end up being proscribed, so radically has our society departed from Christian norms.

A lively debate over at Inside Catholic, initiated by the rabble-rousing Steve Skojec, has me rather stunned at the degree to which many orthodox Catholics seem to think we can embrace the anti-Christian culture in which we now find ourselves. We’ve been without broadcast television for over 13 years now, but every now and then I get a peek at just how much more depraved television is today than it was when we quit viewing. And so goes the entire culture: music, film, literature, education, art, architecture, you name it, it is all going to ruin, and at an incredible pace. At this rate the arena will not be far behind.

There are a few bright spots here and there, and I seek them out, hoping we can at least patch together a family culture that doesn’t reject absolutely everything produced since 1959. But in general I find it morally impossible to give the prevailing art and entertainment milieu the benefit of the doubt. And I’m simply astounded that otherwise serious Catholics would disagree.

So – we no longer have the Legion of Decency or the Index to depend upon for guidance. Very well. But the principles of Christian discernment have not changed. Here is the Pledge of the Catholic Legion of Decency:

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. I condemn all indecent and immoral motion pictures, and those which glorify crime or criminals. I promise to do all that I can to strengthen public opinion against the production of indecent and immoral films, and to unite with all who protest against them. I acknowledge my obligation to form a right conscience about pictures that are dangerous to my moral life. I pledge myself to remain away from them. I promise, further, to stay away altogether from places of amusement which show them as a matter of policy.

When the Legion was at its most influential, Catholics were forbidden to see “Gone With the Wind” on pain of mortal sin. How much more sinful are 9 out of 10 contemporary films! “Gone With the Wind” looks innocent by comparison! The principles of this Pledge should be applied not only to film, but to music, radio, literature, comedy, and every kind of “entertainment” our media-saturated culture seduces us with. Let every kind of recreation, and every form of amusement, pass “The Legion of Decency Test” before indulging in it. And don’t split hairs when it comes to terms like “indecent” or “immoral”: you know exactly what they mean.

Friday evening

The latest post by Jim Curley at Bethune Catholic is titled “Normalcy, Complacency, and Manhood”. It is well worth reading. Young men, do pay attention. If you act on this knowledge early you will prevent lots of problems in your future. Mr. Curley quotes from an article titled “Are The Suburbs Killing Your Manhood”:

Think about every man you looked up to as a kid. Chances are they continually faced environments outside their complete control. Environments in which there was no guarantee of safety or success. Where one can only hope to influence rather than rule. Firefighters dueling with fire, soldiers battling the fog and friction of war, explorers traversing foreign territories, pilot’s pushing the boundaries of flight, or even the missionary working in inner-city New York. Each learning to thrive without being in control.

I know what you’re saying at this point. “Great, but I am a web designer and father of twins, not GI Joe or Vasco de Gama.” But, placing yourself in an environment outside your control does not necessarily mean changing jobs or even leaving the suburbs. It could be as simple as mentoring a troubled youth, working a few weekends each month at a homeless shelter, learning a hobby that has always seemed daunting to you, or starting the business you’ve been secretly planning during your work breaks for the past 6 years. Something that requires you to leave your comfort zone and step into unexplored territory. No guarantees of success. The hard way.

The suburbs convince us that the pinnacle of life consists of comfort, safety, and control. And the man that finally succumbs to this deadly logic is a miserable creature forced to live off the exhilaration of other men’s feats.


The blogmistress at Catholic Family Vignettes has written a marvelous post about her conversion – to Catholicism, and to the Traditional Latin Mass. An excerpt:

Breathtakingly beautiful…the heady scent of incense filled the air. We were a bit late and had to sit in the back of the Church. No missal, no expectations…just the extraordinary beauty, the exquisitely lovely words that transcend time and space, the “smells and bells” as some would call them.

I wept. I needed no missal. I knew these words. I had heard them in my heart. This was the song, the beautiful love song that time had woven. “Organic development” is so unromantic, but that was exactly what this Mass was. Something natural, something that had grown, developed and yet still maintained the roots of its origin. There were no words necessary. Roger and I shared a single glance and we both knew, we had heard that Voice.


Jim Kalb of Turnabout – a tireless and incisive critic of liberalism – has returned with another series of posts ( here, here, and here ) on the crisis of modernity and some thoughts towards a solution.


The “rural brain drain” is real. But is it a problem? I think so. It wasn’t always the case that the best educated rural and small town dwellers felt compelled to leave for the big city. Orland, for example, once had an opera house and its own college. It is obvious from reading an Orland newspaper of 50 or 60 years ago that the assumed level of readers’ education was much higher than it is today. What happened? There is a brain drain from rural areas because there is a money drain from rural areas. Industrialization, commercialized agriculture, and other factors have combined to create an economy in which wealth is necessarily concentrated in large cities. I’m not sure how to reverse this trend. “Buy local” and similar campaigns are fine and good, but limited in their effectiveness – especially if a town happens to be 30 minutes from a metropolitan area of 100,000 people. It would be nice if small town folks would stay home on principle, but that isn’t likely to happen without better economic prospects.

On the other hand, the “brain drain” has undoubtedly protected rural areas and small towns from the more radical advances of liberalism. For that we can be extremely grateful.


The Church has long reminded us that war destroys souls. The Western Confucian reminds us that war also destroys families. Indeed a strong case can be made that WW-II, for a variety of reasons, was a significant contributing cause of the sexual revolution.


One little mistake – someone fails to shut the freezer door – and a thousand dollars worth of food perishes. Life on a farm. We may yet save the beef; the fruit and veggies appear to be spoiled. All that tilling, mulching, planting, weeding, irrigating, processing … wasted.

At a times like this, nothing soothes like an old “it could be worse” country song:

Homemade jam as “an act of defiance”

From “A Cultural Analysis of Homemade Jam in the Twenty-First Century” by Lynn Houston:

Thus, home jam-making in the twenty-first century breaks with earlier methods of this practice and comes to represent this contemporary historical moment. The practice of making jam at home is counterculture and radical if it seeks to resist the heavily advertised and marketed brand name jams and provide the consumer with a sense of agency and control over the processes of production. Although it may cost cooks more money and take more time than simply purchasing jam at the supermarket, every jar of jam they make themselves is an act of defiance, however small, because it refuses to put money into the pockets of multinational corporations. Here, to use the terms of Michel de Certeau in the Practice of Everyday Life, the consumer unmakes his own domination by developing practices of everyday life that “poach … on the property” of the corporation and factory owners. Making jam at home is one of the “ways of operating [that] form the counterpart, on the consumer’s … side, of the mute processes that organize the establishment of socioeconomic order” (xiv).

We are presently swimming in nectarines. Hundreds upon hundreds of nectarines. My family has been busy helping with the harvest, and my wife has been busy making nectarine jam. I think she’s up around 40 jars now. We’d like to sell the jam, but many folks have told me that an FDA-approved commercial kitchen is required. On the other hand, the owners of the fruit stand up the road are selling their own jams made in their farmhouse kitchen. When I asked one of them – presumably the wife and the cook herself – about FDA requirements, she just shrugged and said no one has ever bothered them about it. So I suppose one can do this on a small scale and get away with it around here. There are lots of “old school” people in this county who prefer their food home-grown and home-made.

I’m still looking into the rules for California and Glenn County – a web search hasn’t turned up anything – but here’s a brochure from the state of Washington detailing the requirements in Clallam County:

Preparation – Product must be prepared in a clean environment. Children and pets are not allowed in the area. Before starting preparation, all surfaces should be sanitized with a wiping cloth that is stored in a solution of one teaspoon of bleach to one gallon of cool water. Hands must be washed thoroughly and good personal hygiene must be practiced. Preparation should not be done by any person experiencing symptoms of illness. All equipment and utensils must be clean. As always, frequent handwashing is very important.

Children and pets not allowed in the kitchen??? How’s that for crazy.

Containers – Each container must be visually inspected to ensure there are no obvious cracks, breaks, sharp points, or other defects. Each container must be sterilized. Lids or seals must be new and may not be reused.

Sealing – Paraffin wax is an acceptable sealing method. Thermal processes, such as hot fill hold process or hot water/steam bath processes are also acceptable means of sealing. (If using a thermal process you must follow approved guidelines such as WSU Cooperative Extension Bulletin EB1665 or other USDA approved and published guidelines for home canning of fruit based products.)

Labeling – It is a good idea to have your label approved by Environmental Health before printing to save time and money in the event of necessary changes.

The label must contain:

  • the common name of the food (i.e. Strawberry Jam).
  • a list of all ingredients, including additives, in descending order of predominance. You may use the term ‘spices’ to protect any secrets.
  • the name and address or phone number of the processor so consumers can contact you if a problem exists. The contact name can be a company name or an individual’s name.
  • a packaging date/batch code. This can be in code form ( i.e. 980630 means June 30, 1998 ) and can include as much information as you want ( time, batch number, etc. ). If there is a product recall, each batch can be recalled instead of a whole product line. An interpretation of your code must be filed with the Environmental Health Division.
  • “Keep Refrigerated” if the product is to be sold refrigerated. This can be on the label or on a separate sticker.
  • accurate information.

The label must be:

  • easily readable. Labels can be hand written if they are legible and contain complete information.
  • written in English, although duplicate labeling in foreign languages is allowed.

Labeling is expensive and time consuming, especially for a small enterprise.

Laboratory Testing
If you intend to sell your product unrefrigerated, laboratory testing must be performed to determine that the product is not a potentially hazardous food (PHF). (PHFs are foods that support the rapid growth of bacteria.)

I’ve never seen jams – homemade or otherwise – sold refrigerated. It seems that most everyone would have to submit their jams for laboratory testing before selling.

Please have your product tested for the following parameters:

  • pH (or acidity level)
  • water activity
  • soluble solids

You will need to prepare a batch for testing, and some labs will require recipes as well as product samples. Please contact the laboratory to determine what needs to be submitted for product testing. Some laboratories will provide only the results, while others may also offer to assist you with recipe modifications if needed.

You may choose not to have your product tested. However, an untested jam or jelly must be assumed to be a PHF, and must be kept and sold refrigerated. In order to sell an untested product, you are also required to have a Food Service Operating Permit from Clallam County.

Registering Your Product
Prior to selling your product, you must register it with Clallam County Environmental Health. Simply fill out the
registration form and provide the necessary information (recipe, label, and lab results if product is unrefrigerated). After County review you will receive a copy of the form with an approval or denial notation at the bottom.

Refrigerated Products
If the fruit-based product is tested and determined to be a potentially hazardous food (PHF), it must be sold refrigerated. If you choose not to have your product tested, it must meet the same requirements as a refrigerated product.

Fruit based products requiring refrigeration must be produced in a County approved commercial kitchen and must be kept refrigerated at 45ºF or below at all times. These products cannot be offered for sale if prepared in the home. To sell refrigerated products, you must register your product and obtain a Food Service Operating Permit from Clallam County.

There you have it. Selling homemade jam is flat-out illegal … at least in Clallam County, Washington.

Containers must be limited to one pint or smaller. Refrigeration of the product must occur as soon after processing as possible. Refrigeration must be maintained until sale of the product. The product must be labeled “Keep Refrigerated“.

Vegetable Based Products
Because of the physical properties of vegetable-based products, they are considered potentially hazardous food (unless scientifically proven otherwise). Vegetable based products must be produced in a County approved commercial kitchen and must be kept refrigerated at 45ºF or below at all times. Vegetable-based products cannot be offered for sale if prepared in the home. To sell vegetable-based products, you must obtain a
Food Service Operating Permit from Clallam County.

If you have someone else sell your product (i.e. your products are available for sale at a retail store), you will be considered a wholesaler and are required to obtain a license from the
Washington State Dept. of Agriculture. If you are a wholesaler, you do not need to register your product with Clallam County Environmental Health.

So much for a home business selling jams, pies, muffins, cheese, or most anything else prepared in your own kitchen!

Happily, there seem to be lots of people around here breaking the rules. I just mentioned the seller of homemade jams at the produce stand up the road. Last month at a harvest fair I bought some homemade jams from another local vendor. Every week a Mexican lady drives up to the house in an old gray sedan and sells my wife her delicious homemade tamales. (At least they taste homemade: we don’t ask, and she doesn’t tell.) We already have customers for our grass-fed beef and goat’s milk if we ever decide to go underground …

Conservatives, Reactionaries, and The Good Life

These days it seems there are two kinds of people: those who embrace labels, and those who eschew them. The talk radio partisans, for example, delight in their “liberal” and “conservative” credentials. The great muddle-headed middle can’t make up their minds so they call themselves “moderate” or “independent”, meaning they are independent of labels I suppose. Among Catholics, some are fond of the categories of “traditionalist”, “progressive”, or “charismatic”, but most prefer to be “just Catholic”, which sounds admirable but can be a lazy way of ignoring important distinctions. On the fringes of political and social categories we have environmentalists, fundamentalists, crunchy-cons, feminists, nationalists, racialists, individualists, capitalists, socialists, libertarians, and so on. All seem to be reaching for a single principle that animates a particular way of looking at the world.

I’m not someone who eschews the use of labels. Labels are necessary. I use them for myself and I apply them to others. It seems to me that communication is really impossible without the use of broad labels and categories. Politically and socially, there need to be labels to describe “The Good Life”, its animating principle or principles, and the means of getting there. In the context of western civilization and culture, I generally prefer, for myself, the term “conservative”, because it implies the preservation and defense of that which has been received. The assumption here is that what we have received is “good” and worthy of conservation.

Yet the idea of conservatism is inadequate for a couple of reasons. Paradoxically, an undeniable component of our received tradition is the constant questioning and re-assessment of tradition. It is the long-established “tradition” of western intellectuals to re-examine everything they have received. Tradition, as such, does not get the benefit of the doubt in our culture. And so if we are going to conserve the tradition we have received, we are going to conserve a powerful force for undermining tradition. In short, conservatism in contemporary western thought contains the seeds of its own destruction.

The second defect of conservatism is precisely what the western habit of re-examination tries to redress: the fact that not everything we have received is good. If we eliminate the habitual distrust of tradition from western conservatism, then we are left with a predisposition to conserve everything we have received. That won’t do either because it leaves a culture prone to stagnation and closed to genuine progress. If implemented today, we end up conservative defenders of the post-Christian barbarism we have inherited.

The best conservatism, I think, has two elements:

1. An habitual predisposition in favor of tradition;

2. An authoritative means of evaluating tradition (the Catholic Faith, which includes the Natural Law) – a set of first principles – so that unworthy customs may be modified, discarded or replaced.

A predisposition in favor of tradition means that, for the most part, only the most egregious deviations from a society’s first principles will be subject to re-evaluation and change. A defensible conservatism therefore requires a common set of first principles that is shared by the majority – something definitely lacking in the United States. And let us emphasize once again that conservatism is defensible only when that which has been received is predominantly and objectively good – a situation that, arguably, no longer prevails in the West, or at least cannot be taken for granted.

What about a society like ours, then, in which there is no unity on first principles, and much of what has been received is unworthy? So much of the good has already been lost; so much of what is now established is shallow, worthless, degrading, objectively false and positively harmful. What’s left to conserve? Surprisingly, there is still plenty left to conserve – but there may not be enough to justify an habitual predisposition to conserve or to give “tradition” the benefit of the doubt. The task of re-evaluation has become too enormous and burdensome.

So here we come to the difference between “reactionary” and “conservative”. The reactionary doesn’t want to conserve what he has: he wants to return to what has been lost. The reactionary has a vision of society – most often, but not always, of an era within living memory – that he wants to revive and restore. For most American reactionaries, that means the United States of the 1950s. For some others, it means the antebellum South. For a few traditionalist Catholics, it means Western Europe before the Enlightenment. For some traditionalist Orthodox, it means 19th century Russia. The reactionary doesn’t need to “re-evaluate” everything in the present age: he assumes it is all hopelessly defective and he wants to replace it wholesale.

On a national scale the reactionary program is an impossible dream. Some things just cannot be repealed, and in many cases attempting to repeal them would involve means and attitudes of questionable morality. Furthermore it must be granted that certain aspects of modernity are positively good: medicine, hygiene, technology (when used responsibly), etc. There have even been social improvements, such as the elimination of slavery and the cruelest forms of exploitation, though some would argue that modernity extended and perpetuated these evils before it eliminated them.

There is some hope for the reactionary vision on a much smaller scale, on the level of families and villages, in a few little pockets here and there. To some extent this is the approach I and many other Catholic families are beginning to take, very modestly and tentatively. It does have an arbitrary nature to it that seems profoundly un-conservative. When it comes to entertainment, for instance, how does one choose where to draw the line? We listen to Andy Williams, Perry Como, and Dean Martin, but others find even these too modern. We let the kids watch The Andy Griffith Show, The Lord of Rings, and The Sound of Music, but other families forbid television viewing altogether. Our daughters wear skirts and dresses and do not even own a pair of jeans, but we allow them to wear short sleeves while other families do not. I have no problem, in principle, with my wife working outside the home, so long as our children are well cared for, but other families draw the line at this. Etc.

The point is that reactionaries are united in only one thing: a rejection of the principles (and practices) of modernity and a desire to return to earlier ways. There is no unified reactionary vision or organizing principle. Much of what reactionaries end up doing becomes a matter of taste or preference. To combat this defect, many reactionaries end up converting non-essential ideas and practices into dogma, further marginalizing their influence. It seems that unity – and therefore any kind of progress towards a common goal – is going to be elusive among reactionaries.

Such confusing times. When society unravels, when tradition disappears or becomes unreliable, we are left too much on our own. For my part, I can’t see the way forward. I vacillate between optimistic neo-conservative and throw-in-the-towel 13th-century reactionary, depending largely upon my mood. The only thing clear, the only reliable “tradition”, the only institution left standing is the Catholic Church. “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis.” The Church isn’t enough to make one feel at home in this world … but maybe that is exactly the point.