California blues

According to what is perhaps only a half-serious website called “Californiality”, there are statistics somewhere showing that 75% of all marriages in California end in divorce:

The California divorce rate is now at a staggering 75 percent. Three out of four marriages in the Golden State end in divorce.

For many years, California has been known as the Divorce Capitol of the World, but today’s marriage dropout rate is shocking — even by California standards …

Divorces are skyrocketing in California among Christian, Jewish and Muslim couples. Senior citizens are divorcing after decades of marriage. Couples who have built successful businesses together are throwing in the towel.

A marital State of Emergency needs to be declared. Divorce is California’s most destructive epidemic.

Upon a brief Google search, I found the 75% stat for California on a few other sites but no references to an original source. The U.S. Census Bureau compiles a report on divorce by state, but recent California numbers are omitted due to a lack of reliable data.  In any case, I find 75% to be entirely plausible. Even in the most conservative parts of the state divorce is utterly commonplace, a source of bumper-sticker humor rather than sorrow or regret. And there is no remaining legal protection for marriage here: married couples are on their own.

In other depressing California news, a slate of tyrannical new laws forcing just about everyone to make accommodations for perversion will take effect on January 1. These include:

California Gay Bullying Law (Seth’s Law)

Combats bullying of gay and lesbian students in public schools by requiring school districts to have a uniform process for dealing with gay bullying complaints. Mandates that school personnel intervene if they witness gay bullying.  Law effective July 1, 2012.

LGBT Equality and Equal Access in Higher Education Law

State universities and colleges must create and enforce campus policies protecting LGBTs from harassment and appoint employee contact persons to address on-campus LGBT matters. The law includes community colleges statewide.  Law effective 2012.

Domestic Partnership Equality Law

Corrects inequalities between domestic partnerships and heterosexual marriages, including domestic partner health benefits sharing.  Law effective 2012.

Protection of Parent-Child Relationships Law

Allows courts to consider the relationship between a child and a non-biological parent when considering child rights cases involving birth parents, adoptive parents, and gay or lesbian guardians.  Law effective 2012.

Transgender Non-Discrimination Law

Provides public accommodation and protection in education, housing and employment for gender identity and expression.  Law effective 2012.

Transgender Vital Statistics Law

Makes it easier for transgender Californians to get a court petition to change their gender on official documents.  Law effective 2012.

LGBT Equal Benefits Law

Requires an employer with a state contract worth more than $100,000 to have non-discrimination policies in place for LGBT workers and their partners.  Law effective 2012.

Judicial Applicant and Appointment Demographics Inclusion Law

Includes gender identity and sexual orientation of potential judges into the state’s Judicial Applicant Data Report to ensure that state courts are diverse.  Law effective 2012.

Gay Divorce Law

Provides that if a gay couple got married in California but lives in a state that won’t grant them a divorce, the California court will have jurisdiction to grant them a legal divorce. The case will be filed in the county where the gay couple got married.  Law effective January 1, 2012.

California Gay History Law

Governor Jerry Brown signed the Gay History Law, which mandates that school textbooks and social studies include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender accomplishments.  Law effective January 1, 2012.

Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

There is a real crisis brewing here. We may be outnumbered, but California is home to literally millions of people who will find compliance with these laws extremely burdensome, if not morally unconscionable. Some of us may be able to escape the worst of it in our little enclaves here and there, but what kind of a home will this be for our children and grandchildren? Increasingly I wonder just how long we’re going to hold out …

Hidden lives

When I was in my teen years in the early 1980s, I had a lot of fun with amateur radio as General Class licensee N6KLV. One of my local radio friends was an 80+ year old hermit by the name of Ray. He lived alone in a remote mountain cabin, completely “off the grid”, on a homestead where he had a lively garden and a few farm animals. He was always up well before dawn – a habit he acquired in the military – and I tried to wake around 3:30am now and then to chat with him on the radio. That was the only time anyone could talk to Ray: once the sun was up and he finished his coffee, he was outdoors working. He had a raspy voice, was unfailingly cheerful, and despite very little education he was surprisingly articulate. And, yes, he was a little bit on the cranky and opinionated side, as you might expect a mountain man to be.

We both belonged to the “PDQ” radio club: I don’t remember his call number but I was PDQ 138. These radio clubs provided “call numbers” for those of us who operated on “illegal” (but largely unmonitored) frequencies.

Ray lived this way for many decades, but he wasn’t always alone. He had a wife, whom he loved dearly. She died tragically as a result of a violent robbery. Several young thugs invaded the cabin, tied both of them up, and abused them badly while demanding gold, for it was known that Ray had also mined for gold on the property. They survived the home invasion but his wife was traumatized somehow. She died in a hospital shortly thereafter. Ray would sometimes get choked up talking about her many years later.

After I left home and went off to college, I gave up ham radio and lost track of my radio friends. Once, while home visiting my parents, my dad told me about a news story he had just read. An octogenarian living on an isolated homestead above Yankee Hill set his cabin on fire, from the inside, and then shot himself to death before the flames consumed him. It was reported that the man was depressed about a newly diagnosed health condition that would have prevented him from living independently. He refused to leave his home. His name was Raymond Somebody, but all I heard was “Ray”, and I knew it was him.

I thought about Ray again when I read this story yesterday:

FOREST RANCH — The body of a man missing since Dec. 5 in the Forest Ranch area, but not reported missing until days later, was found about noon Thursday in a canyon off Doe Mill Road, not far from his isolated home.

Deputies with the Butte County Sheriff’s Office identified the man as Lowell Everett Sutton, 85. The cause of death is under investigation, but authorities suspect either a medical emergency or death from exposure. He was located by search and rescue crews using cadaver dogs.

Lowell’s wife, Martha Rowe, 60, said she and her husband had resided in a homestead in the canyon for 42 years. It includes multiple structures — basically tree houses — they built themselves, but have no electricity, running water or phones.

She said she didn’t see her husband on Dec. 6 or 7, but heard him calling to her from somewhere in the canyon on Dec. 8. She reportedly heard him calling again on Dec. 9. When he hadn’t returned by Sunday, Rowe said she hiked two miles to the nearest phone and called the Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies searched the area for hours Sunday and found nothing. They went up Monday in a helicopter equipped with a Forward Looking Infrared heat detection device, but had no success.

“We knew we’d have to get more people involved in this on the ground, and knew by this time we were likely conducting a recovery operation, not a rescue,” said sheriff’s Lt. Al Smith.

Rowe said her husband was wearing a windbreaker when he disappeared, but wasn’t dressed for repeated sub-freezing overnight temperatures in the canyon. He apparently survived at least five days on his own.

Smith said their were no signs of trauma to Sutton’s body, and foul play is not suspected. An autopsy will be conducted.

The couple moved to the canyon from Santa Clara County decades ago, and lived “completely off the grid,” Smith said.

He said it may not have been unusual for the couple to not see each other for days, and often left notes for one another along trails to communicate.

They reportedly walked up to two hours on a steep trail to get to Doe Mill Road, the nearest place they could park their vehicle. They walked another two hours to get back to their homestead.

Deputies participating in the search Thursday said there were spots on the trail where the couple had placed ropes to keep from slipping into the canyon.

Canyon view from Doe Mill Road.

Savage Model 24

 It’s true: if I weren’t the father of sons I would have little interest in firearms. Give me a garden, a dozen fruit trees, and a good library and I’m a happy man. But some boys ought to have guns in their lives, and my 13 year old is one such boy. We gave him an inherited Savage Model 24 for his birthday. It had been sitting in my mother’s garage for years, and probably belonged to my step-father.  This is a very unique firearm: a dual-barrel .22 rifle on the top and .410 shotgun on the bottom. These have been out of production since 1988.

We broke it in this afternoon, out in the pasture on a stunningly beautiful day. The gunsmith had it sighted perfectly. I had never shot a .410 before, but somehow I had this idea that it was probably a weak, toy-like teenager’s shotgun. Well, it turns out that the .410 has a powerful kick to it and can shoot clay pigeons for as far as I can throw them. And Christopher’s a good shot, too, once he gets warmed up!

The advantage of the Model 24 is that you can quickly shift from rifle to shotgun mode, or the reverse, without having to switch firearms or even load the ammunition. Perhaps you’re hunting for pheasants, but then you spot that coyote that’s been after your chickens: all you have to do is flip a switch and fire the .22 bullet. The disadvantage is that the Model 24 is loaded one bullet or cartridge at a time – no magazines accepted – so I suppose one needs to be adept at re-loading quickly when necessary.

For my sons: On the virtues of a gentleman

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman:

“He makes light of favours while he does them, and seems to be receiving when he is conferring. He never speaks of himself except when compelled, never defends himself by a mere retort, he has no ears for slander or gossip, is scrupulous in imputing motives to those who interfere with him, and interprets every thing for the best. He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage, never mistakes personalities or sharp sayings for arguments, or insinuates evil which he dare not say out. From a long-sighted prudence, he observes the maxim of the ancient sage, that we should ever conduct ourselves towards our enemy as if he were one day to be our friend. He has too much good sense to be affronted at insults, he is too well employed to remember injuries, and too indolent to bear malice. He is patient, forbearing, and resigned, on philosophical principles; he submits to pain, because it is inevitable; to bereavement, because it is irreparable; and to death, because it is his destiny. If he engages in controversy of any kind, his disciplined intellect preserves him from the blunder.”

“… ye have done it unto Me.”

Over at W4 we’ve been discussing, rather clinically, the virtues of a free market economy and the need for “non-market interventions” when the mere price of things fails to account for certain human realities. Despite some disagreements, I think we would all prefer that private organizations were capable of filling the gap, and that public assistance were much less necessary.

This morning I delivered a pick-up load of discarded family clothes to a place called The Well Ministry of Rescue in Chico. This is a local organization that helps men recover from homelessness, incarceration, and various addictions while learning valuable job and life skills. It gives them a place to live for one full year, and operates several businesses in which the men work and receive training. If needed, the ministry also provides for the men’s children and their children’s mothers, who live in a separate facility. The men are required to abstain from alcohol and drugs, maintain the buildings and grounds, and attend certain mandatory religious activities.

I’ve been taking our family automobiles for regular service to one of these businesses for a couple of years, and I’m always impressed at the staff’s professionalism, clean-cut appearance, and uninhibited Christian faith. Some will indeed make terrific employees once they leave the program. The ministry partners with local businesses to transition these men to full-time employment in the community.

The Well Ministry of Rescue is now in danger of losing its housing facility due to a loss of state funding. I spoke with one of the managers this morning, and he indicated that the situation is grave. They are not giving up, however, and are hopeful that increased support from private citizens will keep the program going.

I just wanted my readers know about this worthy organization. They are doing things right: personal accountability, daily work, skills training, and an important spiritual component. I’ve seen the hope it gives these men and their families, and pray this good work will be permitted to continue. My friends, they need a miracle this Christmas. If you are able to help them financially – perhaps even with a monthly commitment – please get in touch with them. May God reward you.

Another tattoo rant

Msgr. Charles Pope on the website of the Archdiocese of Washington: “Neither shall you tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD.”

“Sometimes I admit to feeling very old. I am only 50, but I find myself horrified by so many cultural trends. High on my list are the freakish (according to me) ‘body art’ trends which involve piercings that make me wince when I see them. Lips and noses, tongues, cheeks, eyebrows (and other body parts I cannot mention on a family blog) are disfigured by unattractive ‘hardware’ that interferes with their God-given purpose, and which also must be horrible breeding grounds for bacteria and infection. I wince when I see it.

Tattoos as well, once thought of as the implements of drunken sailors and tramps, have become the common fare of many people. They remain to me (apparently an old fogie at a mere 50), a sign of grave immaturity and make me question the person’s judgment. I also find them disfiguring and disturbing in that they cannot (until recently) be removed. What a terrible thing to disfigure one’s body permanently in a moment of poor judgement and youthful folly …”

Tattoos and the rise of neo-paganism

Since Theodore Dalrymple penned this review more than ten years ago, the tattoo phenomenon – so far as I can tell – has continued to expand through every sector of society. Indeed the explosion of tattoo “art” and its grotesque cousin, body piercing, has proceeded with a eerie, frightening swiftness that defies natural explanation. Dalrymple writes:

The tattoo was once a resolutely proletarian form of body adornment which the middle classes regarded as symbolic of lower-class savagery, bad taste, and irresponsibility (the decision to be tattooed was, indeed, often taken while drunk in the company of other drunks). A middle-class person who had himself tattooed was thereby at once déclassé: a slide down the social scale more precipitous and serious than that brought about by a mésalliance, insofar as tattoos last longer, and are more difficult to obliterate, than marriages contracted in haste.

The tattoo is now seeping through society like ink through blotting paper. I first became aware of this seepage when I noticed an increasing number of young women in my hospital ward who bore tattoos, the tattoo having been until then an almost exclusively male embellishment. At first, women’s tattoos were small and on parts of the anatomy that were usually covered by clothes; gradually these tentative essays in the direction of male proletarian savagery have been replaced by larger, more prominent and brazen declarations of allegiance to it.

Having crossed the gulf between the sexes, the tattoo then began its creep up the social scale. Young celebrities sported their tattoos when they were photographed for the newspapers, and before long I noticed that a number of university students among my patients also bore tattoos. This was unthinkable only a few years ago. Perhaps the ne plus ultraof this trend occurred when a young member of the British royal family exposed her pierced tongue (body piercing being a closely cognate phenomenon to tattooing) to the public.

According to Ms. DeMello, however, the middle-class tattoo differs from the proletarian variety. The latter is formulaic: when self-inflicted with a needle and India ink, it usually consists of simple symbols or acronyms, for example (in England) the letters ACAB, which stand either for “All Coppers Are Bastards” or “Always Carry A Bible,” depending upon whether the person is asked about the meaning of the tattoo before or after an arrest. Proletarian tattoos done by professional tattooists are similarly formulaic: the customer simply choosing a well-established pattern from those on photographic display in the tattoo parlor.

If proletarian tattoos are ready-made, tattoos for the middle classes are individually tailored to their requirements by those whom the author insists upon calling “artists.” It is perfectly true, of course, that tattooists sometimes display an astonishing skill in the production of images on, or in, their clients’ skin, which are of photographic verisimilitude, and many even hold university degrees in fine arts, but skill alone, no matter how advanced or refined, does not make an artist. To think so is to confuse a necessary with a sufficient condition; indeed, there is very little more appalling than great skill in the service of bad taste and barbarism.

In any case, the individuality of the designs chosen for their tattoos by the middle classes is strictly relative. The iconography is limited and depressingly reminiscent of the “art” produced by prisoners, which is violent, crude, garish and pagan, however well-executed. It is a visual exhibition of modern superstition, the superstition of people who have strong emotions but weak minds and a very limited cultural and historical frame of reference.

Why do members of the middle classes now adorn themselves in this savage fashion? The author draws not only on her own experience, but also upon that of tattooists and their customers. She believes that tattoos have philosophical meaning for those who bear them. The philosophy in question is a witches’ brew of new age “spiritualism,” ecological paganism, elevation of the primitive, and vegetarianism. It is the kind of philosophy that emerges when religious feeling is no longer disciplined by religious ritual that is established by tradition and upheld by social pressure.

It is perfectly possible, however, to be a vegetarian, or even to believe in witchcraft, without resort to the tattoo parlor. What makes individuals choose to undergo the painful, expensive, and virtually irrevocable process of tattooing? Having listened to an unspecified number of tattooed members of the middle classes, the author identifies several motives, all of which struck me as unflatteringly revealing of the soul of modern man.

First there is the assertion of individuality. One of the author’s informants says,

“[Being tattooed] separates me from anybody else. No one else has anything like what I have. I feel a little bit different from Joe Shmoe in the street, and I guess it makes me feel special.”

This is infinitely sad. That a person’s individuality should be made to depend upon so crude an outward sign as a tattoo is in fact an indication of the fragility of that person’s identity. He must feel simultaneously overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people around him who make it so very difficult for him to differentiate himself from them, and an urgent necessity to do so. This necessity is all the more imperative in an age of celebrity, when fame and public notoriety are to so many people the only goals worth pursuing: indeed, when public adulation itself seems almost the sole guarantor of true personal existence. But their reach exceeds their grasp.

Of course, such outward signs of individuality as tattoos are inherently self-defeating. It cannot ever be long before someone has himself tattooed in a yet more startling, more “original” fashion (indeed, tattoo conventions regularly offer prizes for the “most unique”tattoo). But there is a deeper reason why such efforts at asserting one’s unique individuality are pathetically bound to fail: for true individuality does not arise from a decision to be an individual. A man who decides to be an eccentric, and therefore to behave eccentrically, is not an eccentric at all, but an actor, and usually a bad one at that. A true eccentric is a man who behaves eccentrically because it simply does not occur to him to behave otherwise.

“Personal growth” is cited as another important motive for having oneself tattooed. It is said to be “empowering.” A woman who had a bad marriage had herself tattooed with a wolf.

“I ended up getting this wolf, which to me was power and strength over all the abuse and all the things that went on in my life. It was a sense of freedom… . I wanted it … to become myself.”

Another woman said that her tattoo was something she did, that she brought into being, as if the fact that it was hers were a sufficient guarantee of its worth.

What is striking about these “tattoo narratives” (as the author calls them) is their vacuous egoism. The interlocutors speak, and appear to think, in pure psychobabble, that debased and vague confessional language that allows people to imagine they are baring their souls when in fact they are exposing their shallowness. This is something the author does not notice because she herself belongs to the psychobabble culture. One cannot but feel sorrow for people who think that by permanently disfiguring themselves they are somehow declaring their independence or expressing their individuality. The tattoo has a profound meaning: the superficiality of modern man’s existence.

The author entirely misses the cultural significance of the spread of tattoos into the middle classes, even though one of her interlocutors, a teacher at a university, gives her a strong clue:

“I was saying, ‘F— you, school, and I don’t really care if you know I have a tattoo.’ I also at this time started getting pierced because basically I’m taking my anger out on this school… . I knew it would freak them out, which gave me no small amount of pleasure.”

Here we see the bodily consequence of an intellectual climate that has long extolled opposition and hostility to what exists as the only honorable and ethical stand to take towards it. Of course, such an attitude is fundamentally ahistorical and lacking in respect for the achievements of the past, and only people who live in an eternal, egoistic present moment could adopt it. (The eternity of the present moment is, of course, the key to modern shallowness.) The tattoo is thus the art form of the cultural vandal, and it is no accident, as the Marxists used to say, that the cultural vandal’s views should almost always be expressed with inarticulate sub-demotic vulgarity.

It is also no accident that some members of the middle classes should have adopted a typically proletarian form of bodily adornment as a badge not only of independence, but also of liberal virtue. A tattoo establishes them as tolerant, open-minded, and sympathetic towards those below them in the social scale: the highest virtues of which they can conceive. The tattoo thus appeals to the kind of modern bourgeois who believes that foulness of language is a token of purity of heart, or at least of sincerity. The tattoo, like the constant resort to the swearword, is an attack on bourgeois propriety, and as such a demonstration of largeness of heart and generosity of spirit …

Besides, the bourgeois who has himself tattooed is, as this book indicates, at least as anxious to distinguish himself from the real proletarian as he is to identify with him. The tattoo is thus to the modern bourgeois what playing shepherdess was to Marie Antoinette. The woman whose tattoo was supposed to say “F— you” to her university did not really want to become the janitor of her faculty building, and probably would have very little to say to him. Egalitarians usually have a very strong sense of hierarchy.