Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

The White Dove of the Desert


The tragic fire that destroyed much of Notre Dame de Paris will be regarded by some as the loss of a museum, or a historical site, but it is much more than that. The structure of a church is made of stone and wood, but it has a heart and soul. That heart and soul came to life when the builders and artisans began to build something that they would never see completed. They could imagine the completed cathedral, but it would be later generations that would see the fruits of their labor.

France has been called; “The First Daughter of the Catholic Church”, but she has been a wayward daughter – seduced by the French Revolution she has never quite found her way back home. Fire can be a terrible thing, but not all fires start with matches. Ideas can spark conflagrations that can destroy nations, and consume millions of lives. Just as the secularist that does not believe in God, but believes in Heaven, so do some in churches believe their mission is to establish Heaven on earth. They only get as far as replicating the misery of Hell.

About 30 miles south of my home the Mission of San Xavier del Bac occupies a place in the Sonoran Desert. The White Dove of the Desert is not as magnificent, nor as old as Notre Dame, but the builders were just as dedicated. San Xavier del Bac was no stranger to turmoil, but has survived and is still an active mission.

Mission San Xavier del Bac is a historic Spanish Catholic mission located about 10 miles (16 km) south of downtown Tucson, Arizona, on the Tohono O’odham Nation San Xavier Indian Reservation. The mission was founded in 1692 by Padre Eusebio Kino in the center of a centuries-old Indian settlement of the Sobaipuri O’odham who were a branch of the Akimel or River O’odham, located along the banks of the Santa Cruz River.

The mission was named for Francis Xavier, a Christian missionary and co-founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuit Order) in Europe. The original church was built to the north of the present Franciscan church. This northern church or churches served the mission until being razed during an Apache raid in 1770.

Today’s Mission was built between 1783-1797; it is the oldest European structure in Arizona; the labor was provided by the O’odham. An outstanding example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States, it hosts some 200,000 visitors each year.

The present Mission building was constructed under the direction of Franciscan fathers Juan Bautista Velderrain and Juan Bautista Llorenz between 1783 and 1797. With 7,000 pesos borrowed from a Sonoran rancher, they hired architect Ignacio Gaona, who employed a large workforce of O’odham to create today’s church.

Following Mexican independence in 1821, what was then known as Alta California was administered from Mexico City. In 1822, the Mission was included under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Diocese of Sonora. In 1828, the Mexican government banned all Spanish-born priests, with the last resident Franciscan departing San Xavier for Spain in 1837.

Like the French revolutionaries, the Mexican government would try to sever the Church from Mexico in the Cristero War – 1926 to 1929.

Left vacant, the Mission began to decay. Concerned about their church, local Indians began to preserve what they could. With the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, San Xavier was brought under U.S. rule as part of the Territory of Arizona.

The church was re-opened in 1859 when the Santa Fe Diocese added the Mission to its jurisdiction. It ordered repairs paid for with diocesan money, and assigned a priest to serve the community. In 1868 the Diocese of Tucson was established. It provided for regular services to be held again at the church.

In 1872 the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet opened a school at the Mission for the Tohono O’odham children. In 1895 a grant of $1,000 was given to repair the building. More classrooms were added in 1900. The Franciscans returned to the Mission in 1913. In 1947, they built a new school next to the church for the local children. – from Wikipedia

Tucsonans still respect Father Kino and the Mission has a place on the City of Tucson Seal.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Weld Launches Primary Challenge for Trump: Seriously?


The Spectator USA piece “The Curious Candidacy of William Weld” asks what, to me at least, is most worthy of consideration at this time when the Democrats are filling their clown car with, well, clowns: “The former Massachusetts governor is entirely a figure of the past. Why is he running?” I preface the following observations […]

Join Ricochet!

This is a members-only post on Ricochet's Member Feed. Want to read it? Join Ricochet’s growing community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Am I the Only One Who Hates Small Talk?


Words are both precious and powerful. They can create; they can destroy. We can use them to deepen relationships or damage them. We can use them to comfort or wound. When we engage in small talk, we have the opportunity to do a great deal, or very little. We take for granted our gift to use words.

Let me start by saying I’m an introvert. Talking only interests me when I am with people I appreciate, find interesting or know personally. I can get on a roll if you ask me about a topic I’m especially interested in (and you seem genuinely interested in hearing from me), but otherwise I’d just as soon sit in solitary silence.

During my life, I’ve discovered that people like small talk far more than I do. They use it as a means to break the ice, to strike up a conversation, over usually unimportant or random topics. Sports, shopping, the price of anything—all these are topics that people indulge in, just to be connected. They can go on for hours (yawn) and I generally look for an escape route. I’ve received the message that deep, meaningful conversation is either a mystery in that environment or undesirable. Time to move on.

I have qualifiers to my perceptions of small talk. When I was my husband’s arm candy—er, partner at company functions, I grudgingly engaged in a lot of small talk. It was my job. Eventually, I realized that I was getting pretty good at it. I even discovered that some conversations went deeper, talking about values, religion, ideas. But most of the time we covered the basics: how many kids they had, their hobbies, the weather, where they lived—you get the picture. When my husband and I retired, I had even less incentive to engage in small talk and found that as my introversion deepened, I was primarily interested in conversation that I found enriching. I guess that makes me a snob.

Now my attitude may have something to do with my being an introvert. I don’t crave talking with people. I don’t mind it when I’m with a small group of acquaintances who enjoy being together; I just listen. Usually, I limit my time, though. I wonder if extroverts enjoy or at least tolerate small talk better than I do.

I do engage in small talk in one particular environment: as a hospice volunteer, especially if a patient has dementia. It is a challenge to find things to talk about when a patient often has limited memory of the recent past. Sometimes they remember old stories, and we explore them together. The most important thing for me to remember is to meet them where they are, and sometimes to find alternatives to conversation.

Don’t misunderstand—I do share small talk with close friends. Often, we start out with small talk, like a person who takes the time to turn on the heater for a while in a car in cold weather before leaving home. But at some point, we usually go deeper. And all my friends have a sense of humor! So we must laugh together; silliness is acceptable small talk.

I think a big part of my preoccupation with small talk is that I will be 70 years old this fall. I’ve done many things that have enriched my life, and have known some special people, but I’ve lived more years than I have ahead of me. I want the years ahead to be meaningful, to not be wasted in the trivial, to be fun or enriching or in deepening relationships. I hope that’s not too much to ask or expect of life.

How do you feel about small talk?


Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

A Message from God?


I am a Catholic Christian. I was raised in a Catholic home and went to Catholic school from Kindergarten through high school. In college, I became involved with evangelical and charismatic groups and eventually became an Episcopal priest. After a few years, I returned to the Catholic Church where I have remained the past 22 years and I have no plans to leave.

I write this in order to give the reader some idea of my theological beliefs (orthodox and conservative). I am not given to readily accept signs from God or prophecies–although I believe God does send them sometimes. For example, in the mid-1980s, when I was a young man, I was teaching at a Catholic high school in a well-known southern city. A friend who taught with me was from a mid-sized midwestern city–I’ll call it Peoria, though it wasn’t Peoria. His parents were aging and wanted him to return home and take over the family business. He was torn. He was a serious Catholic Christian and very much wanted to do whatever God wanted him to do. He prayed for God to give him wisdom; he needed to make a decision, but he wasn’t sure what course to take. One day he opened the newspaper and there was a full-page ad that read “Come Home to Peoria.” That was it. He was sure that was God’s message for him. That was more than 30 years ago, and it seems that it was indeed “what God wanted.”

I’m wondering if the burning down of Notre Dame in Paris is a message from God. I do not insist on it. Bad things happen in this vale of tears. Nothing lasts forever in this world. But I have an idea that there’s something more here. Notre Dame is a symbol of the West–the Catholic Faith, Western Civilization, the rule of Law, the dignity of human beings made in the image of God, the knowledge that we are flawed sinners who cannot save ourselves–“poor, banished children of Eve”–yet objects of God’s love and mercy and grace, who can experience redemption and live lives of love, purpose, meaning and sacrifice. When I watched the steeple fall I felt like weeping; I had a sense that it was symbolic of some greater fall–a collapse, almost an apocalypse.

In the late 1970s, I used to go to a meeting on Monday nights in Washington DC. It was called “Take and Give,” or TAG. There was glorious worship of God followed by some of the best Bible teaching I have ever heard. I remember one night the speaker saying “Folks, it’s madness!” referring to the deteriorating social situation in those days. There were indeed troubles 40 years ago, but who could have imagined the lunacy we face today? “Same-sex marriage” and transgenderism top the list perhaps, but the lemming-like march to socialism and the continuing breakdown in social discourse are perhaps equally alarming. It seems likely that what someone has recently dubbed “The War on Reality” will continue unabated.

Today I was reading the recent message from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. His account of the sexual revolution is horrifying, but it shows us how we got to where we are now. Also, over at First Things, there is an article by a writer named Jacob Williams–an English-born former Anglican–who tells why he became a Muslim. I suspect you’ve never read anything quite like this piece. I think he has made a big mistake becoming a Muslim, but he has tremendous insight into the emptiness of our dying culture. It is definitely worth reading and pondering.

Is the burning of Notre Dame a warning from God? I don’t know, and we have enough warnings of the consequences of rebellion against God’s ways in the Bible and in the writings of popes and saints and the great writers if we will only heed them. But it sure looks to me as if our society is coming apart. The burning of Notre Dame seems somehow to illustrate the catastrophe that is engulfing us.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Why Do Men Have to Buy Gifts for Women?


I dread any occasion where gift-giving is expected: birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, and, worst of all, Valentine’s Day. I’m no good at it. I come up blank when trying to think of what present to get; I don’t enjoy shopping; the whole experience is stressful and I resent it. Of course, I have failed to persuade my wife that this is a reason to abandon the practice.

After all, women expect to get presents from their men. But why is this so important to them, and why does the kind of gift matter so much? How can it be that something in a box from a store shelf is somehow a better sign of our love than the way we treat them every day? We know that TV commercials show touching moments when a man gives a woman a piece of jewelry and she throws her arms around him, but in reality, that kind of moment has nothing to do with it. I think I have it figured out, and the main point is something else entirely.

It starts with women’s lack self-confidence. I don’t know why this is, but they can’t seem to be simply ok with themselves – they are always seeking reassurance from other people: Do they look all right? Are they making the right decision? What did it mean when someone said something? Women’s magazines are chock full of self-help articles. Women love nothing so much as a make-over. “Yes, change me! Fix me!” (Ask most men if they want a make-over and the response will be, “Hell no – I’m fine the way I am! I’m awesome.”)

But the reassurance women need can’t come from men, because women have no faith in men’s judgment. “Are you really going to wear that tie with that shirt?” If a woman asks a man which dress she should wear, and he ventures an opinion, she will wear the other one. Married men quickly learn that their opinions are always wrong.

So a woman has to get her approval from other women. And this isn’t easy, because women are incredibly harsh judges of each other. Most of the meanest, cruelest, lowest things I’ve heard said about women were said by other women. It shocks me sometimes. There’s a reason the idea of a “pecking order” came from observing hens, not roosters.

But here’s something men can do: they can give gifts that their women can then show to other women! This is what women need, to have something that will make them the center of attention and gain approval from the women around them. Something that will make them the “winner” for that moment, and to bump them up a notch in social standing.

This is why jewelry is a better gift than a blanket or a blender or anything practical.

And, above all, this is why giving a woman a wedding is the best thing! She becomes the queen for as long as the preparations and wedding and reception last, and all her women friends have to compliment her nonstop. That’s why brides turn into bridezillas and make sure to humiliate their bridesmaids with awful dresses. When will they again be at the top of the pyramid? (Well, maybe when they have a baby.)

So when buying a present for my wife, this is what I ask myself: “What will it be like for her when she tells or shows her friends what I got her?” If it makes her the star, if the other women will ooh and aah, then it’s good. If it’ll embarrass her to have to tell, then it’s bad.

True story: My wife was flying home from a conference along with some other women she worked with. On the way to the airport to pick her up, I bought some flowers. When I handed them to her, she immediately grabbed them, spun on her heel, and showed them to the other women. “I got flowers!!” Only then did she get in the car and thank me. None of the other women got flowers. Boom! Sometimes I get it right.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Saturday with the Unicorns


This year I gave up coffee for Lent. I didn’t talk about it much because I’ve been in an “I shouldn’t speak loudly about these things all the time” mood. When people noticed me drinking tea, I’d explain why, but I didn’t volunteer the information like a cross-fitting atheist vegan who never watched Game of Thrones. Last […]

Join Ricochet!

This is a members-only post on Ricochet's Member Feed. Want to read it? Join Ricochet’s growing community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Great Comment On Venezuala And Statism


Seriously, this is perfect rhetoric, but no one ever talks like this.  #Socialist policies have run #Venezuela's oil industry into the ground, destroying capital stock, and ravaging the economy. Well run private companies invest in and maintain capital. State-owned enterprises consume and destroy capital. pic.twitter.com/pb5JITuRAo — Prof. Steve Hanke (@steve_hanke) April 16, 2019

Join Ricochet!

This is a members-only post on Ricochet's Member Feed. Want to read it? Join Ricochet’s growing community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

On the Loss of Cathedrals

Hagia Sophia without the minarets.

On May 28, the guns were silenced, and the troops were given a rest in preparation for the final assault. Inside the city, the besieged inhabitants, knowing that no relief was coming and that they were no longer capable of resisting another determined battery and push, held a holy procession through the city, a procession which ended at the Great Church. There, they all set aside their own sectarian differences and held the liturgy one final time.

In the early morning hours of the 29th, the Ottoman guns sounded, the armies breached the walls, and Emperor Constantine XI died with his men. By the afternoon, the city had fallen, and the citizens of Constantinople endured three solid days of looting, rape, enslavement, and pillaging as the city was desecrated. In the aftermath, Mehmet II The Great turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque, destroying or covering over the nearly 1,000 years of frescos and mosaics that adorned the great cathedral. It would remain a mosque until Ataturk turned it into a museum, which it remains to this day (though it should be noted that the accursed Erdogan has recently threatened to turn it back into an active mosque).

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is still smoldering, though it appears that the shell of the building remains. I am certain that it will be rebuilt. I mourn as does all of France, of course, for the terrible losses for one of the greatest Christian buildings of the high Middle Ages. But France is wealthy and will be able to rebuild if it has the will (and I would say it does). It will not be quite the same, I know, but it will still be a church. Or at least that choice is still open to France. Many of Germany’s cathedrals, and some of England’s too, were bombed into oblivion during World War II, yet most of those have been rebuilt (those that were not were left as ruins deliberately, as war memorials). The Frauenkirche of Dresden was left as rubble by the Soviets, who would not allow it to be rebuilt. In 1993, when I saw her, she was but four broken pillars and a field of charred stones, yet today she is rebuilt. If France wants Notre Dame back, then she will return.

That choice is forever lost to the Orthodox for Hagia Sophia and numerous other churches, not only in Constantinople, but throughout Anatolia. In the aftermath of the Greco-Turkish war of the early 1920s, millions of Christians were forcibly deported from western Turkey, and the cathedral of Nicea was blown up in the war. The many hidden Cappadocian cave churches were looted and defaced as the Turks found them, with frescoes going back to the 800s chiseled away and defaced before the Turkish government seized them for their own protection. Many surviving churches of the Middle East have been destroyed over the past two decades by the ISIS barbarians too. We mourn their loss deeply, but we carry on anyway.

Nothing we make with our own hands can last forever. Neglect, accidents, war, and deliberate destruction await for all things, despite our best efforts, and what is preserved somehow is only preserved for a time. Time will claim everything in the end; it always does. Doubtless, the Athenians hoped the Parthenon would last forever. Certainly, the builders of the Pyramids thought their temples to their dead pharaohs would stand for all eternity, as Percy Shelley wryly wrote in Ozymandias. Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem rivaled the Great Pyramid in its sheer scale and wonder too, and it too is lost. But we have no cause for despair (mourning, of course, is warranted and good, but not despair). We create anew, and we go on creating because this is what our own Creator has made us to do, so long as we have breath in us and life in our bones.

I’ll close with this, a scene from the film Andrei Rublev. Andrei has survived a massacre and desecration within a cathedral he had painted and is despairing. Yet he is visited by the shade of his old companion, Theophanes, who like him despaired years before. Theophanes has learned the folly of his own prior despair and tries to tell Andrei that Andrei is himself wrong now. Andrei will go on, and will eventually find again that he too can create anew, even with the ever-present threat of destruction.


Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Dealing with Childhood Anxiety: A Radical New Approach!


This is my shocked face. No, really. I am shocked. From, of all places, National Public Radio, a report on a new approach to help kids with anxiety suggests that the best thing to do might be to–wait for it–“let them face their fears.” I about choked on my coffee when I read that.

Of course, there’s therapy involved. But what is different about this approach from such previous, rather rational (one would think), approaches and conclusions is that in this version of the cure, the child is not part of the behavior-changing conversation, and is not part of the therapy. The therapy is for the parents:

“The parent’s own responses are a core and integral part of childhood anxiety,” says Eli Lebowitz, a psychologist at the Yale School of Medicine who developed the training.

For instance, when Joseph would get scared about sleeping alone, Jessica and her husband, Chris Calise, did what he asked and comforted him. “In my mind, I was doing the right thing,” she says. “I would say, ‘I’m right outside the door’ or ‘Come sleep in my bed.’ I’d do whatever I could to make him feel not anxious or worried.”

But this comforting — something psychologists call accommodation — can actually be counterproductive for children with anxiety disorders, Lebowitz says.

“These accommodations lead to worse anxiety in their child, rather than less anxiety,” he says. That’s because the child is always relying on the parents, he explains, so kids never learn to deal with stressful situations on their own and never learn they have the ability to cope with these moments.

“When you provide a lot of accommodation, the unspoken message is, ‘You can’t do this, so I’m going to help you,’ ” he says.

Lebowitz wondered if it would help to train parents to change that message and to encourage their children to face anxieties rather than flee from them.

And it did!

The key to doing that, Lebowitz says, is to make children feel heard and loved, while using supportive statements to build their confidence. Parents need to “show their child that they understand how terrible it is to feel anxious,” he says. They need to accept that their child is “genuinely anxious and not just being attention seeking,” he adds.

The next step is to tell children that “they can tolerate that anxiety and they don’t need to be rescued from it.” This helps give them the strength to face their fears, Lebowitz says.

The conclusion of the Yale-sponsored study is that “parent training has a lot of potential to advance childhood anxiety treatment,” and that, according to Columbia University psychologist Anne Marie Albano:

“You coach the child a bit but don’t take over. It’s helping the child stumble into their own way of coping and ride whatever wave of anxiety they’re having,” she says. “That ultimately builds their confidence.”

Clearly, the term “childhood anxiety” is a term covering a multitude of conditions which may stem from many different causes, and no doubt this “new approach” won’t work every time. But crimenutely, it’s a very good start.

As young Joseph himself says:

. . . he no longer feels anxiety about being alone. He doesn’t enjoy it, “but I’m OK with it,” he says. He has learned to banish the frightening thoughts that would come when he was by himself and that kept him up at night. “If I get a nightmare, I just change the subject to something happy,” he says. “Then I’m fine.”

New fears come up from time to time — like a recently discovered fear of heights. But with his parents’ support, Joseph says, he’s learning to face these too. “I think I’ll be OK,” he says. “I’ll just try to do it.”

Good for you, young man. And good for your parents for recognizing a problem, finding out what to do about it, and helping you cope.

I was particularly encouraged to read the above story at almost the same time I ran across this one, detailing a bias complaint filed against a Michigan University student by his roommate. The alleged offense? The roommate awoke from a nap to find the target of his complaint — oh, the horror! — watching a Ben Shapiro video. I can’t even. (Full disclosure: I’m not exactly sure what that last phrase means, but I use it as often as I can because I think it makes a privileged old baby-boomer look woke and with it, and this seems like a perfect opportunity to show off my chops.) Apparently, the young fellow’s gripe is that “MSU has roomed me with someone who supports hate speach.” [sic]

Now, we just have to figure out how to enroll almost every college administrator and faculty member in Dr. Lebowitz’s program, and we might really get somewhere…

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

The All-Importance of Abortion Explained


Listen for 50 seconds and you will completely understand why abortion is absolutely critical to the left.

To sum up, the biggest difference between men and women is that women can get pregnant and men can’t. This difference cannot stand. The incredibly short story Harrison Bergeron explains this impulse better than anything I have yet encountered.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

I Love My Community


I have known for a long time that Baltimore is special. The achdus (unity), the tolerance of Jews who come from different backgrounds or make different choices, the incredible avoidance of loshon hora (gossip) have all impressed me ever since I moved here 14 years ago.

But what I did not realize was how much deep and profound kindness, true love for fellow Jews is found within our community. In large part I suppose this is because my family did not need to rely on the kindnesses of others – so while we knew Bikur Cholim and Chai Lifeline (among others) and good people existed, we did not really understand how these institutions and individuals can make all the difference for someone who needs help, who may be in a dark place and in need of ahava (love).

My personal saga started some weeks ago when my mother passed. I knew I would be spending a few days sitting shiva here in Baltimore, but I had no idea what it really meant to be a mourner sitting shiva beyond the formal technicalities. Baltimore showed me what it means to comfort the mourners: it started with Misaskim taking care of so many details and all the people who sent meals and helped with minyanim (prayer quorums). Most of all, people came and sat with me, and listened to me, and humored me. Misery shared is halved, and because, thank G-d, my mother lived a long and full life, I was able to talk about all that she accomplished and created in her lifetime. It was not a tragic shiva, but it was actually made sweet by all the people who came, sometimes multiple times, to sit and talk and listen and share. And it worked to comfort me, far beyond my expectations. People here care. And it really, truly matters. I had lost my mother, but you made sure I never felt alone.

Our lives have been a little … busy of late. While my mother was near the end of her life, one of our sons, a 16-year-old, was diagnosed with a non-cancerous tumor in his jaw. Thankfully, we live in an age where there are good solutions to these problems. The solutions are long and quite traumatic – but there are solutions. He went in for major surgery; in all, over 24 hours of surgery under general anesthetic to remove the jaw, replace it with a piece of his hip, use microsurgery to sew the blood vessels together… and then deal with all the complications.

This community was right with us every step of the way. Bikur Cholim sent meals, sometimes delivered by friends, sometimes by complete strangers. Chai Lifeline helped entertain the three younger children who were at home while their parents were switching off to ensure that one of us was always in the hospital. A friend of my son came to the hospital to read megillah for my wife so she did not have to leave the PICU. Others sat with her and me during the long surgeries, the waiting, and davening, and worrying.

People offered to help in any way they could, and it changed our entire understanding of how beautifully people in a community can love each other and support each other. Help with a minyan during shloshim with my wife in the hospital with the son in PICU? Sure! Help babysitting children so that I could even go to minyan during the shloshim? Absolutely! Meals for the family … wow. I am moved to tears as I write this, with appreciation and gratitude to each and every person who was involved, who gave.

Along the way, my son, in an entirely-unexpected side-effect, lost vision in one eye, becoming legally blind in that eye. This was discovered while he was still in the PICU, still dopey from the drugs, still valiantly trying to put a good face on the situation. The neural ophthalmologist on the case told us that because of likely damage to the optic nerve, there was a 90% chance that his vision would never improve beyond 20/500 with two huge blind spots in that eye as well.

Maybe she was right. I don’t much care. Because something miraculous happened: his eyesight started improving… the blind spots started shrinking, and the vision started improving. We credit this entirely to the prayers of the community, to a dedicated psalms group that davened for him during all of his surgeries, to all the blessings in shul, to the learning dedicated to a complete recovery.

We did not do anything medically (there was nothing to be done). But people prayed, deeply, and from their souls. Jews in our community and in the broader world (some we know, and many we do not) took time out of their own very busy lives to pray that my son should recover his sight.

So far, it has worked. We went from a 16-year-old who was told that he would be blind in one eye for the rest of his life, to a boy who is improving day by day, who is now told by another neural ophthalmologist that there is reason to be optimistic that he can recover his sight entirely. We went from a life-threatening surgery that lasted many hours with many more complications than we (or the doctors) ever expected… to a boy who is starting to go back to school, to recover his strength, and who, in the next year or so, is expected to be fully recovered.

We only made it through because of you. Because of your thoughts. Because of endless acts of kindness and consideration. Because of your prayers. Because of the institutions we have created and nurtured in this community that try to think of everything, of every way they can possibly help someone in time of need.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Omar’s Comments Need Context


Whenever you quote someone, it is important to provide context. For instance, assume someone says, “I wish Germany would have won.” Are they talking about a soccer game or World War II? Knowing that context matters.

Many Democrats are coming to the defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s recent comments by claiming she was taken out of context. So let’s look at the context on some of her recent comments.

First, a lot of people (including the President) have called out Omar for her “some people did something” comment. To many, “did something” sounds like an awfully cold way to describe Islamic fanatics getting on planes, slitting the throats of stewardesses, taking control of the planes, and then intentionally crashing them into buildings filled with people. One would think she could have found a better word than “something.” Maybe on that starts with a “T.” But let’s look at the context.

As you can see in the video, she is not having a discussion about 9/11. Instead, she is merely creating a lie about why and when the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) was founded. While CAIR states that they were founded in 1994, Omar is trying to convince people that is was created to fight against the loss of civil liberties felt by all Muslims after the attacks on 9/11/2001. Who can forget the Muslim internment camps and … oh wait, that was the Japanese. The point being that the victims of 9/11 were not just those killed, but also people who had to put up with looks and awkward questions like, “You don’t really believe what those guys did, do you?” So you see, the context is she was trying to promote a lie, not commenting on a terror attack.

Another example that needs more context is Omar giggling like a schoolgirl while talking about al-Qaeda.

Here you can see that she isn’t laughing at al-Qaeda. She is laughing at people who react to the name “al-Qaeda” in a different way than they react to “America.” So in this context, she isn’t so much laughing about a terror group but laughing at people who do not see al-Qaeda and America as morally equivalent organizations.

Lastly, she has been criticized for making anti-Semitic remarks. There are too many of those to go through one by one, but I think we can understand that the true context of those remarks is simply that she doesn’t like Jewish people very much.

Remember, before you jump on the bandwagon and start criticizing people for their comments, make sure you understand the true context behind those comments.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

The Fourth Sunday of Lent: The Ladder


The fourth Sunday of Lent commemorates St. John Climacus (John of the Ladder), a sixth-century abbot at St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai, and the remarkable book he wrote, The Ladder of Divine Ascent.Abba John, even before writing his book, led a rather remarkable life as a desert ascetic, and his book, which was written chiefly for the benefit of his fellow monastics (and at the behest of the abbot of another monastery), nevertheless is one from which lay-Christians the world over continue to benefit.Moreover, The Ladder is that rarity among such works of being approachable.St. John, for all his remarkable life and service, was still very human, and his humanity and senses of humor and compassion shine forth throughout the work.For this book, and the wealth of spiritual advice it provides to Christians struggling with their passions, St. John Climacus is commemorated on the fourth Sunday, and his book is very frequently read by many during the Lenten season.

It is said that John entered into monastic life at the age of 16, when he arrived at the monastery on Mount Sinai and took orders at that time under the abbot Martyrius.According to the traditions, Martyrius took John with him on a visit to St. Stephen the Cappadocian, who on their meeting immediately washed John’s feet, to the scandal of those present.Stephen declared that he was but washing the feet of the Abbot of Sinai, though John would not rise to that assignment for another forty years.Shortly after this, John chose to live in solitude as a hermit in prayer, occasionally traveling to visit other monasteries.During this time he acquired a reputation for spiritual wisdom and counsel, and was frequently sought out by other monastics or pilgrims.Again, according to the traditions, his fame eventually roused the ire (or jealousy) of others, and in response John took a vow of silence.After a year of this, at the many requests of others, John broke his silence and again was sought out for his advice.

And after forty years, he was asked, upon the death of the prior abbot of St. Catherine’s, to become the abbot and spiritual elder of the monastery where he had first taken his vows decades before.Traditions tell of miracles surrounding John while abbot, but the most famous one tells how, during the feast the followed his ordination, a young man in obviously Jewish garb was seen helping to serve the hundreds of monastics and guests, and directing things in the kitchens.After the feast, he could not be located.John said that this man would not be found as he was Moses.“Let him go.The lord Moses did nothing strange in this same place where he has served before and which belongs to him.”

At some point after his elevation, John was contacted by the Abbot of Raitho, another monastery elsewhere, to ask John of Sinai to write back with advice for struggling monastics.John, in turn, wrote The Ladder of Divine Ascent, a work wherein John, based on Jacob’s vision centuries before, spoke of a ladder of 30 rungs, each representing a different spiritual discipline necessary for living out one’s life in faith and repentance.Some of these should be familiar to any Christian, while others on their surface apply more to monastics, but even these can be taken as lessons for Christians on what a life of prayer and repentance entails.As such they are considered valuable lessons and disciplines for the life of sacrifice and restraint, and the mastery of one’s passions, for all Orthodox Christians.

The lower rungs of the ladder are the basic masteries: Renunciation (of the world), Detachment, Banishment (Living as a Stranger), Obedience, Repentance, Remembrance of Death, Lamentation, Liberty from Anger, etc.These are seen as the first steps one must master in monasticism, and here the emphasis is on living in the world while keeping one’s mind on Heaven, and remembering that we are all eventually doomed to death.The chapter on obedience can make for especially difficult reading as monks are exhorted to obey even seemingly capricious elders because doing so teaches them to set aside their own will in things — after all, if one can obey flawed earthly elders without question, then one will find it easier to obey God himself in all things and truly live out that part of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done”.

As one ascends the rungs, John turns to more physical issues: loquacity, lying, despondency, hunger, chastity, love of money, poverty, apathy, and so forth.John’s chapter on hunger is rather amusingly titled (depending on the translation) “On The Boistrous, Yet Evil Lord, The Belly.”John is frequently honest in his own daily struggles with these matters.

We have been struggling with ourselves in everything which we have discussed, and this is particularly so when we speak about the belly. For I doubt if anyone can free themselves of this lord before resting in their tomb. Gluttony is the belly’s hypocrisy. Because when it is gorged it protests of scarcity, and when it is full and close to bursting it complains that it is hungry. Gluttony is the master of garnishes, the origin of tasty dishes. You plug one spurt, and it appears somewhere else. You plug that, and another one appears.The Ladder of Divine Ascent (p. 65). Kindle Edition.

John is equally frank when discussing Chastity, and quick to remind his readers to never judge the struggles of another on these matters, as we ourselves are as apt as they to likewise fall.

In the final rungs of The Ladder, John turns towards spiritual matters.The renunciation of vainglory and pride take two chapters on their own, and John considers Pride to be among the worst of all sins, and therefore the one that most will struggle with (himself included) all their lives.From there he discusses matters of the heart and soul, only touching on prayer quite near to the end.These chapters are often quite meditative and philosophical, and discuss difficult matters such as spiritual discernment, and how to judge properly when one must weigh one’s struggles against the needs and expectations of others, and how to properly discern truth.

Saint John’s commemoration on the fourth Sunday of Lent is meant as an encouragement as Great Lent has passed its halfway point by now.The Lenten fasting and the added services can begin to take a physical and spiritual toll on the faithful, at a time when we should be joyfully anticipating the coming Resurrection.Two more weeks yet remain, and it is rather an easy temptation at this point to be anticipating the feast instead of Christ.John Climacus and the Ladder of Divine Ascent remind us that the struggles against our sins and passions should always be ongoing, and to keep the faith as the remaining weeks progress.

O holy father John, truly has thou ever carried on they lips the praises of the Lord, and with great wisdom has thou studied the words of Holy Scripture that teach us how to practice the ascetic life.So has thou gained the riches of grace, and thou hast become blessed, overthrowing all the purposes of the ungodly.(From the Vespers of Saturday Evening – The Lenten Triodion, page 353).

The icon of The Ladder shows many monks attempting to ascend the ladder, while demons try to hook and tempt the monks to fall off, some to their own destruction in the maw of a great black face representing satan.Other monks cheer their brethren on from below, while Christ Himself waits at the top to receive those who triumph in their life’s struggles.


Alfeyev, Hilarion (Andrei Tepper, translator), Orthodox Christianity: Volume IV, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Yonkers, New York, 2016

Farley, Lawrence, A Daily Calendar of Saints, Ancient Faith Publishing, Chesterton, Indiana, 2018

Kidd, David (ed) and Ursache, Gabriella (ed), Synaxarion of the Lenten Triodion and Pentecostarion, HDM Press, River Junction, Michigan, 2005

Poulos, George, Orthodox Saints: Volume 4, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Brookline, Massachusetts, 1992

Author’s Note: You can obtain The Ladder of Divine Ascent for the Kindle (and perhaps elsewhere) for just a couple of dollars. There is also a very nice cloth-bound edition which contains a nice history of John, and the correspondence the abbot of Raithu. The translations are fairly easy reading, and are not at all what one might consider “High Theology,” but they are at times peculiar for modern readers. The desert monasteries of 1,400 years ago are essentially a foreign culture to us today, but the monks in them were still very much human, and it’s clear that John loved them as brothers and friends, just as it should be clear to us that for all our advances, human nature itself has not really changed.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Blacklist! Hollywood Communists 4


“Stars Face Blacklist” screams the headline. Most people who’ve heard of the blacklist will immediately think of Joe McCarthy in 1954, of witch hunts and ruthless right wing inquisitors. But look again: the headline is from 1945, the earliest known use of the term in Hollywood. It’s the Hollywood Left threatening to boycott non-striking actors—in other words, it’s the opposite of what you’d think. A lot of what people know about that period just isn’t so. Communist writer Lillian Hellman later called it “Scoundrel Time”. But a far better writer, Mary McCarthy, famously said of Hellman, “Every word she ever wrote is a lie, including “and” and “the””.

This is the second half of the story begun in Hollywood Communists 3. In The Road to the Blacklist, we described how Party-backed union leadership tried to push out workers from other unions, and how those bloody labor wars turned most of Hollywood against them. It was a genuine case of revolt, led by the actors, and it caused a generation of liberals to break with the Reds who presented themselves as friends and allies before and during the war. By 1947 the mutual process of kicking out the infidels was in full swing on both sides of the Red line. Mere lily-livered socialists not up to backing tough new Party policies were expelled. On the anti-Communist side, union members who’d proven themselves faithless to IATSE had some explaining to do. It was not always a gentle process but it was overdue.

The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA) was created in 1938 by Samuel Dickstein, a New York Democrat, the only paid Soviet agent in the history of the U.S. Congress. Even his Soviet paymasters held him in such disdain that his secret code name was “Crook”. J. Edgar Hoover credited HCUA with useful work uncovering German influence here and in South America. After the war, it investigated Communists, turning on its original role. It became associated with Democrat John Rankin, a virulent anti-Semite who was, roughly speaking, the Westboro Baptist Church of his day. After the GOP sweep of the 1946 congressional elections, the new and inexperienced Republican team leading the HCUA announced they would hold hearings in the fall of 1947 to investigate Hollywood. Fact is, at that time the GOP didn’t have much experience investigating anybody, as they hadn’t held power in a generation. It showed.

Their first mistake was reaching for the headlines, recklessly condemning the whole industry. Simply put, they didn’t know who the good guys and bad guys were. The industry thought it was already well along in the process of separating the Reds from the liberals and wanted the Washington outsiders to butt out. That feeling was shared by most, though not all, of the growing number of Hollywood people lining up against the hard left. Anti-Communist leaders like Roy Brewer and his allies, who’d stood up to death threats for years, were considered unfriendly witnesses; after all, they were Democrats. 45 congressional subpoenas were issued, many of them to famous names. Others, puzzlingly, went seemingly at random to very minor figures in the Hollywood left. HCUA investigators just didn’t know the territory. They could have gone much higher on the talent scale.

Attacks from the outside, especially badly aimed ones, predictably created some forced unity where little remained. An elite group of 29 including Gene Kelly, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Sterling Hayden, Danny Kaye, and John Huston, centrists and liberals, quizzed each other closely to keep out the Reds and then chartered a plane to Washington to show patriotic public support for their industry. Television was in its infancy but already more than a dozen eastern cities were ready to sign on to the hearings.

The hearings opened on October 20 and ended only ten days later. 1947 was no witch hunt. Though raggedly run, it put a lot of new and true information before a fascinated public, and at the time the industry was reasonably pleased with how they’d come across, especially the celebrities, like Ronald Reagan, Gary Cooper, and Walt Disney. Disney, in particular, was still angry about the way his studio had been treated in 1941, and denounced Communism in no uncertain terms, in Hollywood or anywhere else. Like the other moguls, while he acknowledged some areas of concern about Communist influence in movie content, Disney strongly cautioned about exaggerating it.

The sheer ignorance of the HCUA staff missed plenty of probing questions that could have been asked. Instead, congressmen cluelessly went after MGM boss Louis B. Mayer, the highest paid man in America, seemingly unaware until right before his testimony that he was a longtime Republican donor who’d attended several national nominating conventions. Committee chairman Parnell Thomas put on a grandiloquent, showboating performance that made those watching the action, Ronald Reagan among others, glad to still be Democrats. The hearings played so badly, even in the conservative press, that Thomas hastily cut them short after only eleven of the nineteen scheduled unfriendly witnesses spoke. Of that eleven, writer Bertolt Brecht fled to East Germany after the hearings, so the ones who defiantly refused to testify became known as the Unfriendly Ten, and later simply the Hollywood Ten, as they are remembered today. The other three-quarters of the witnesses didn’t have to be pressured to speak; it was all committee members could do to shut some of them up.

The public hadn’t judged the whole of Hollywood by the non-cooperative ones, who were advised by attorneys, as it turned out, from the Communist-led National Lawyers Guild. When Bogart and several of the others found out they were furious, and when it turned out that fellow “liberal” Sterling Hayden was actually a Communist, Bogie exploded.

Even the Party could find some consolation in how the hearings went. Most witnesses denounced Communism only in generalities and were rarely pressed in 1947 to implicate individual Communists. Despite the legend, no one in the Ten went to jail simply for being a Communist. The unfriendlies went to jail for contempt of Congress, making them useful martyrs and heroes of the Left, which they are to this day. Ironically, several of them served their year-long sentences in the distinguished company of former HCUA chairman Parnell Thomas, who went to jail for corruption.

The political storm seemed to be over and the town gratefully went back to work. That’s why, three weeks later, a joint statement by the leadership of Hollywood’s studios struck like a thunderbolt. After a meeting at New York’s Waldorf=Astoria Hotel, Hollywood’s bosses offered their own assessment of the Washington hearings as well as the labor turmoil of the past several years, and announced that they would no longer employ Communists, or (the next part is usually forgotten) any person who supported the violent overthrow of the American government—i.e., fascists, Nazis or similar groups. This is the famous Hollywood blacklist, imposed by private industry, not by the government. Few of today’s conservatives would support it—by now, we’ve seen the tactic pointing the other way–but at least understand what it really was and wasn’t, shorn of legend and drama.

At least initially, it wasn’t a list at all, but a simple, starkly clear bright line rule. It didn’t apply to mere liberals or socialists. It said nothing about the past. It applied to a relatively small number of people and was largely enforced through an honor system. MGM did not have squads of detectives hoping to catch their painters and laundresses at Communist Party meetings. People could and did lie on loyalty oaths, but most didn’t and few felt they had to.

There were some injustices that the fevered mood of those times failed to correct. The bluntest one was, it wasn’t against the law to be a Communist, so the studios had no right to lock them out. Most conservatives of later times agree. Anyone who objects to the “deplatforming” of people in our day should see the issue.

But in fairness to those times, step out of the Hollywood framework for a moment. The Communist Party USA made big gains in American society during the Depression. The country came out of the war with something close to a command economy, achieving a Left dream of wartime powers in peacetime. The brand new United Nations was going to lead to a world beyond nations and beyond borders. But many Americans of 1948 were beginning to equate the Communists with the Nazis. Only a few years earlier, nearly 300,000 Americans died fighting a European dictatorship with dreams of ruling the world. The nation had a wary, weary feeling of ‘here we go again’. The postwar years were an immense turnabout of shock and disappointment to the Left. They saw themselves as jilted lovers; the rest of America tended to see them as deluded stalkers and did not run to their defense. For the following seventy years, progressives have done their best to make us feel guilty about it.

Contrary to later belief, people could get off the “list” (there was never one comprehensive, industry-wide list) by establishing their innocence or their remorse. The process was irregular but it wasn’t entirely arbitrary. Roy Brewer and others arranged clearances. John Wayne had a personal rule; if you were a Communist before the war, he didn’t care. If you were glad the Russians beat Hitler at Kursk, so was he. Wayne personally got blacklisted actors like Larry Parks back to work. Lucille Ball joined the Party briefly in 1936, she said to please an elderly relative; America bought her story (which was mostly true) and still loved Lucy. The industry of the late Forties and early Fifties was, in fact, full of former Reds of one stripe or another. There are subtleties to the era that everyone working in the industry knew and few talked about.

One example: Director Irving Pichel, one of the Unfriendly Nineteen who never got called to testify, made “Destination Moon” in 1950, with one of the most libertarian scripts ever written for a mainstream American film. Famously conservative writer Robert A. Heinlein thanked Pichel, who he credited for having the taste and integrity to insist on Hollywood’s first realistic presentation of space flight. Pichel, in turn, thanked IATSE’s Roy Brewer for having helped him get work. Like many others, Pichel was surprised that this power among the anti-Communists was a soft-spoken union man who’d voted for FDR.

The outside world kept intruding on the dream factories. In 1948 rigged elections brought Communists to power in eastern and central Europe. China was now ruled by Mao’s Communists and the Soviets got the atomic bomb in 1949. North Korea, backed by China and the USSR, invaded South Korea in 1950. US armed forces were suddenly in a desperate shooting war. America was shocked at this rapid turn of events. Washington had bigger, grimmer business to hold hearings about; an inadequate peacetime defense establishment and leaky national security agencies led to sensational revelations about Soviet espionage in the United States. Some of the worst spy revelations related to atomic energy. This is sometimes dismissed as a “climate of fear”. The facts were real and damning. In the public’s mind then, and in our hazy memories since, the 1947 hearings were old news, overtaken by much bigger problems with world Communism. But by 1951, with the Blacklist in place for several years, Congress wanted to reopen the Hollywood issue. The world situation and the public’s perception of the Left had changed greatly in four years.

So had Hollywood. It had been chastened politically, and many former Party members volunteered to testify. They were not, as later claimed by writers of the left, cowards who were saving their skins. Nearly all of them were working, some at the highest salaries of their careers. They told detailed, absorbing stories that many could have told in 1947 if anyone had the wit to ask. Elia Kazan’s written statement is an example, and it was powerful enough to make him hated for a half century. The 1951 hearings were better staffed and more strategically run, without the showboaters of four years before. In that respect, they made ’47 look like a clearly lost opportunity.

1951’s unfriendlies had a different tactic: they “took the 5th,” and clammed up, avoiding perjury traps. It made them look worse to the public than 1947’s colorful blabbermouths. Unfortunately, another 1951 change would taint the reputation of the hearings and hand the Left a lasting propaganda weapon that makes reasonable people flinch even now: “Naming names”. The committee investigators were, as far as they were concerned, looking into a criminal conspiracy and were entitled to look for the links. You start with low-ranking people and coerce their cooperation in moving up the chain.

When admitted Communist culture boss V.J. Jerome was being grilled about Party budgets being subsidized by the Soviet Union, that was one thing, and people weren’t going to get upset with bending a few technicalities. It was different when well-to-do witnesses who this time were clearly saving their own skins tossed the “little people” over the side: office workers, assistants, agents, bit players they’d seen at a Party meeting before the war. To the American public watching on TV, it went over the line, starting to turn them against the hearings for the first time.

Subsequent exaggerated legend has it that such obviously non-controversial acts as having listened to a concert in 1937 or having given a friend a ride to the library in 1949 could be twisted into a career-destroying accusation. Forty-nine out of fifty of those stories are pure, made up rubbish, but for the one time in fifty it might have happened, it would have been near the end of the Blacklist, not the beginning, when the lines were drawn and the rules were clear and understood. Scared witnesses made a point of piling on people who’d already been named, as they were already “cooked”. The “naming names” part of the 1951-’52 hearings have been used to typify and inaccurately color our memory of the whole period, and since then have blurred into the memories of the next big anti-Communist epoch in D.C., on the other side of the Capitol in the United States Senate.

It wasn’t until this late phase of the pushback against Hollywood Communism that some of the players were as reckless and corrupt as its enemies have claimed ever since. Social movements turn into businesses and eventually become rackets. The anti-Communist cause, regrettably, was no exception. By 1953 it attracted a small cottage industry of exploiters and shakedown artists. Instead of Twitter, there were mimeographed scandal sheets, with a circulation of all of a hundred people, waved in front of bosses to try to get people fired—no different in spirit than the Woke era. John Ford, greatest of all American movie directors, Roy Brewer and other film industry leaders vigorously protested these abuses.

And then it all went away. Eisenhower hated Joe McCarthy, and after McCarthy lost public support in 1954, the Hollywood Blacklist quietly ended, piecemeal, studio by studio. It had lasted about eight years. Many of the people on it had long been back at work. In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev made his famous secret speech denouncing Stalinism, all but destroying the last remnants of the Communist Party USA. There were leftist married couples, some in show business, who went through “Khrushchev divorces”. Some people never found their foothold again, but that wasn’t all politics. At the best of times, Hollywood careers are brief; looks fade, public tastes change. The young Reds who came to town in 1935 and were on the brink of fame and success in 1945 were either long wised up or long gone by then.

There would be other blacklists and other firings in American life, in magazines, in academia, in sensitive security posts, and this is not to explain them, let alone to excuse them. Let them find their own defenders. Our case is Hollywood. The Blacklist wasn’t imposed on it. It is, as screenwriter Lionel Chetwynd would say, something the film industry did to ourselves. The studio chiefs did it out of genuine alarm at the violence they’d seen at their gates, but they also did it as mainstream Truman-era liberals who were anxious to keep the trust of the movie-going public, even if it meant tossing out a few former friends and one-time New Deal allies. Message: “The Party’s Over”.

Conservatives should not offer an unlimited defense of the Hollywood blacklist. It was an undemocratic if understandable response to an unprecedented and undemocratic political movement. At no point was Hollywood ever Communist-dominated. Communists never ran any studio, network or production company, and were never in a position anywhere in the industry to buy scripts. For decades afterwards, there was a stronger Right in Hollywood because of the annealing experience of the strikes and the blacklist.

Liberals should understand that few people actually suffered from the notorious blacklist period, and that doesn’t make it insignificant. But comparing it even rhetorically to the scale of the repressions of eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the Forties and Fifties would be a breathtaking act of moral idiocy. It wasn’t an expression of right-wing hate, but of public anger.

Elia Kazan, who turned against the left, was shunned for decades but was too valuable a director to ignore. Repeatedly vetoed for the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award by the virulent opposition of other screenwriters, Kazan finally received an honorary Oscar in 1999, mostly because of the brave advocacy of a non-conservative, Martin Scorsese.

For decades, the Hollywood Ten have been treated in the press as if they were heroic veterans of Pearl Harbor. There’s no chance that people will not continue to step forward to tell their stories. Few books seem inclined to step forward and tell the other side of that story, but “Hollywood Party” is one. I gave a quote to the back cover of the book in 1998, and it stands today: “Now the whole story can be told: the blacklist was never black and white after all, but can only be depicted accurately in shades of gray. From this day forward, no future backstage history of Hollywood can be called complete without taking into account the evidence that Lloyd Billingsley has uncovered”.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

The Absolute Right to Choose Your Own Pronouns


I believe both in the right of individuals to express their personal pronoun preferences and in the right of other individuals to ignore them. It’s the same right in each case: the right of freedom of expression and it’s a right I hold dear.

I understand that some folks in the trans movement would like to tell other people which words they can and can’t use. I don’t approve of that, because I really do believe in freedom of expression: the same freedom that lets a guy put on a dress and say “I’m a woman” lets me chuckle and say, “yeah, no. But let’s agree to disagree.”

Live and let live. I know there are some men who like to dress up like women; there always have been. And I know there are people who are deeply confused about who and what they are. That’s too bad, but hardly new: troubled people have always been with us.

What is new, and what I can’t abide, is this insistence that I go along with their fantasy. Everywhere else we disagree in this wonderful country, we stop short of telling other people to use our words, to profess our beliefs. We let people think differently, and we tolerate their expression of their ideas, of their differences, even if we find them odd, off-putting, or offensive.

I believe that people are born either male or female and stay that way their whole lives, regardless of what they wear or what treatments they get. I think the trans movement is a silly often destructive fad and a way for people to avoid the stress of living up to their sex in a confused and sometimes challenging cultural climate.

But, as I said, I respect the right, if not necessarily the choices, of people to express themselves as they wish, while retaining my own right to choose the pronouns I’ll use when referring to them.

We don’t have to agree. We can just tolerate each other. I’m okay with that.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Sanctuary Sweepstakes


First there was a “leak” that Orange Man Bad was thinking about punishing Sanctuary Cities by “dumping” illegal aliens in them, but the courageous Deep State talked him out of it. Then there was “OM!, Trump publicly saying he was still thinking about it!” And then there was Pelosi and others saying how mean and evil Trump was to either think about it or do it: “dumping” illegal aliens in Sanctuary Cities. Then there was Tucker Carlson making specific suggestions as to which communities to target with the opportunity to embrace Sanctuary politicians’ inner virtue. Now the AP has launched the latest counteroffensive by publishing Trump sanctuary city idea could help migrants stay in the US. You see, Trump’s strategy could actually backfire! Certainly, Libby Schaaf, Oakland CA mayor, is ready to embrace more illegals.

Color me confused. How many Trump supporters actually believe that there will be mass deportations? So, if there aren’t, how is this going to undermine Trump’s electoral chances? More likely, should illegals be placed (not “dumped”) in those communities that have vocally advocated for them, so the residents get first-hand experience on what happens when all of the benefits that advocates have touted are received, or not. This is not a losing bet for Trump. It smacks of baseball executive Sandy Alderson’s response to the threat of an umpire’s strike: “This is either a threat to be ignored or an offer to be accepted.”

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

This Week’s Book Review – Code Name: Lise


I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Book Review

“Code Name: Lise” reads like a thriller and a romance, yet is solid history


Apr 9, 2019

“Code Name: Lise, The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy,” by Larry Loftis, Gallery Books, 2019, 385 pages, $27

On July 16, 1940, Winston Churchill began an effort to “set Europe ablaze,” creating the Special Operations Executive to strike at Nazi Germany from within Occupied Europe — the nations conquered by Germany. One of the agents recruited to infiltrate into France was Odette Sampson, a married mother of three.

“Code Name: Lise, The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII’s Most Highly Decorated Spy,” by Larry Loftis tells her story.

Sampson was born in France, but had moved to Britain between World War I and II after marrying an Englishman. She wanted to do her bit for Britain after France fell in June 1940, and offered her services. She thought she could be useful as a translator. Instead, as Loftis shows, the SOE saw her as a perfect agent to infiltrate into occupied France. They convinced her to do so, leaving her children with relatives in Britain.

Assigned to the SPINDLE network, she served in Southern France, then run by the German-friendly Vichy government. She was a courier, carrying messages, money, and munitions to other agents. Women could move more freely than men.

She proved competent, gaining the trust and admiration of the network’s leader, Peter Churchill. Danger brought the two together. Their relationship passed from admiration to love, although neither acted on their inclinations while active agents.

In turn, the SPINDLE network was being tracked by Hugo Bleicher, a sergeant in the Geheime Feldpolitzei. He proved outstanding at counterespionage, successfully turning one SPINDLE agent and rolling up the network. He captured Sampson and Churchill as they attempted to escape to Switzerland.

When captured, Sampson claimed she was married to Churchill and that he was related to the British Prime Minister. Both claims were false. The Germans believed it, and ultimately it kept the two from being executed due to their “hostage” value. They also were sheltered and fostered by Bleicher, an oddly humane counterspy.

Loftis follows the story from its origins through the end of the lives of the participants, well after the war’s end. “Code Name: Lise” reads like a thriller and a romance, yet is solid history.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

What Price Liberty?


On Friday night, ABC broadcast the “Your Biggest Fan” segment on 20/20. This episode recounts the stalking death of actress Rebecca Schaefer who was gunned down by Robert John Bardo. Bardo was clearly deranged in his obsession, but nonetheless legally competent to be tried and convicted of first-degree murder. The broadcast recounted events that occurred nearly 30 years ago. But as a society, we continue to struggle with how to balance one person’s liberty with another person’s safety.

The two-hour episode basically has three parts: Part I is the retelling of Rebecca’s life and journey to stardom. She was fresh and beautiful. Her entry into Hollywood and her short career was nothing short of magical. Part II is the attack, death, investigation, trial, and punishment. Part III is the broader societal consequences through the passage of stalking laws and the continuing debate over “sane” gun control. (Bardo was recognized by the gun seller as mentally unfit and turned away. Bardo persuaded his brother to go into the store and purchase the handgun for him.)

The Achilles’ Heel of the 2nd Amendment and for any other unalienable right is the use of that right to harm others. It is understandable that when anyone comes to harm, particularly if they die, and in retrospect that death seemed preventable, the immediate reaction is “There ought to be a law!” And there is the concept that you can’t form a crowd under the right of assembly to riot and smash other people’s property. You can’t have a religious practice involving human sacrifice. You can’t use your speech to intentionally and knowingly lie about someone else with intent to harm them. And you can’t use a firearm to murder someone. Each of these actions involves protected activity turned to an unlawful purpose.

If you stop free association, religious practice, or speech to assure that these unalienable rights are never used to commit an unlawful act, most people see the problem of prior restraint on personal liberty. But many, too many, have no problem with expansive prior restraint on gun ownership and possession. Why is that? How do people differentiate effective self-defense from assembly, religion, and speech?

It is a conundrum. Is it because people feel safer with better societal availability of policing and security forces? Gun sales suggest otherwise. (“When seconds count the police are only minutes away.”) Is it because guns are the leading cause of death? They aren’t. (Murder doesn’t make even the top 10, much less murder by gun. Accidental gun deaths are even lower. Suicide is #9 but isn’t exclusively as a result of a gun.) Is it because the consequences of the unlawful acts involving the exercise of a protected right are so dire compared to other misused rights? Tell that to the victims of Jonestown, Rwanda, Cambodia, China, Russia, etc., who were led to their deaths by an idea.

Truth be told, all liberty is under assault and always has been. There is both a blessing and a curse with liberty. It is the human condition. The level of gun control is a measure of a society’s hubris over the ability to achieve perfection. Nevertheless, gun ownership and possession seem to be the most disfavored right amongst all liberties. Why is that?

My conclusion is that it is at the junction of three things: (1) The government’s fundamental desire to hold a monopoly on lethal force as the best means of securing its power over the people, (2) the impulse to power through holding the levers of government by persons who are, simply stated, “power hungry,” and (3) the sheer number of individuals who have lost confidence in their own ability to live a risk-balanced life either through life circumstances that have made them feel or be vulnerable or the education they have endured by the power hungry to make them dependent on the state. Success in politics too often results from de-linking our reasoning process from policy-making. No wonder perfection is beyond our reach.

And thus I return to the tragedy of Rebecca Schaefer chronicled on 20/20. There were many contributing factors to her death, one or two things done differently would have secured a different outcome. But we focus on the ability of a deranged man to get a gun. Never mind that another event chronicled in the same episode — that of Theresa Saldana — involved a knife. And that other killings involve cars, blunt objects, poison, and bombs. The gun remains the principle villain.

It is the heart and not the hand; it is the mind and not the method. Until we can cure the heart and the mind, we cannot secure our society completely. And if we give government control of our hearts and minds, we will not have a society worthy of securing.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Make Them Own It: Part 3


In the midst of domestic news, the latest turn in the New Zealand mass murder slipped by my radar. It turns out that one of those intersectionality virtuous Muslim clerics, *publicly* blamed the Jews. This was not a fringe figure; he is a prominent leader.

The socialist prime minister was not asked for comment, nor did she find a camera to get in front of and forcefully intone that this was not New Zealander values and a person who expresses such views is not a real New Zealander. After all, the red-green coalition is working according to plan, consolidating state power through the forms of the democracy they are hollowing out.

The New Zealand parliament not only voted 199-1 to confiscate all modern firearms from citizens, they went further and spit in citizens’ faces by passing a second law to prohibit the export sales of the modern firearms. This was so that they could punish all owners by taking their property, disarming them, and handing them only a fraction of the market value of the seized property.

In the wake of the shootings, New Zealand has rushed through legislation to tighten firearms regulations, removing semi-automatic weapons from circulation through a buy-back scheme, prohibition and harsh prison sentences.

On Friday, the government closed a potential loophole by extending the law to cover exports of semi-automatic weapons, magazines and parts.

It shuts off the possibility of gun owners snubbing the buyback scheme and selling their now-illegal firearms to overseas buyers for more money.

This red scheme renders the population more vulnerable to thugs, as intended. Protection will now be limited to revolvers, some shotguns, and lever action rifles. Meanwhile, the green faction, the Islamists, are empowered to openly express the red faction’s Jew-hatred. The Muslim community leader in NZ was not expressing a fringe idea, not from the perspective of Muslims across the region from which this imported community comes:
See a Qatari sociologist blame Jews for the New Zealand attack:

See a Sudanese Muslim cleric blame Jews for the New Zealand attack, and call them enemies of both Muslims and Christians:

See the NZ Chief Censor (yes that is a real thing) justify banning the manifesto of the man who murdered 50 Muslims, while defending the continuing publication of the manifesto of a man who murdered 6 *million* Jews. As another Ricochet member pointed out, the manifesto had to be suppressed (unlike Mein Kampf) because it had too many details that pointed away from President Trump. The Chief Censor effectively admits this in his rationale. He will take the actual manifesto off the table so that he can use Charlottesville as a talking point instead.

The left is barely pretending to defend liberty any longer. They make clear their hatred for effective opposition, including effective organizing beliefs or identities that can content for the power the left covets. The red-green coalition is firmly in control of New Zealand today. It is nearly as ascendant in the Democratic Party in the United States.

Worried? Organize. Dominate from the county party up. Vote in every freakin’ election.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Buttigieg is No Joke


You should hear me out on this because my gut has been right about candidates’ potential in every race up until 2016 (okay, maybe a slight Trumpian exaggeration). I knew Romney was a loser in the era of the ever-unpopular Obamacare, and Rick Santorum was speaking to the working class in swing states like no […]

Join Ricochet!

This is a members-only post on Ricochet's Member Feed. Want to read it? Join Ricochet’s growing community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

On the Modern University


At Michigan State University, a student reported his roommate for the unspeakable crime of watching a Ben Shapiro video. (This, apparently, constituted a “bias incident.” How sitting passively can count as “bias” is beyond me, but that’s neither here nor there.) I was at another venerable Wolverine State institution, the University of Michigan, in winter 2017 — only two or three months after the 2016 election — and the students had taken to the bulletin boards to vent:

Charming. Most of the surrounding notes were similar — variants of either, “Republicans are mean!” or, “Let’s hold hands and emote, and all the world’s problems will be solved!” (Politics, it seems, is always on the minds of those who feel the need to opine in public.) A few feet away, a poster advertising the week-long “Sexpertise” greeted passersby with smiling, starry-eyed anthropomorphized phalluses and ovaries.*

. . .

I’m now at a middling state university (quite a contrast to my native Hillsdale, I must say), and the culture is similarly infantilizing. The graduate-student government, headed by one President Lincoln (now, there’s an irony!), sends out emails urging us to vent our traumas. (I have a stipend. No, thanks.) At the student health clinic, the principle of harm reduction runs rampant, and the university all but showers complimentary condoms on those who enter. A few weeks ago, two groups of agitated students decided to occupy the administration building, and the university president caved immediately to their demands, which included establishing a “basic needs center” and removing a supposedly offensive mural.

Yes, the lunacy of campus culture leads me to despair. But I think conservatives tend to overestimate its scope. At a few institutions known for their progressive politics, the rot is indeed deep. At the average state school, it infects only a tiny fraction of the student body. (Fewer than 100 students — in a population of more than 20,000 — partook in the occupation described above.) As always, those who yell the loudest receive the most attention, and they wield power disproportionate to their size. The apathy of the average student enables such antics. It doesn’t mean, though, that the average student, or even the average employee, care much for them.

I’ll give one example. My professors are invariably left-leaning, scattered between Biden and Bukharin on the political spectrum. But even they have little patience for the snowflakery so decried by conservatives, and they, too, whinge about the ever-worsening quality of their students. They may agree, in theory, with the picket-wielding radicals, but they practice an older, saner, less-activist form of teaching. The exhortation “Grow up!” ever lingers on the tips of their tongues.

The culture of melodrama, decadence, and political correctness is only a part of a larger tragedy afflicting the American university. I can walk from my apartment to the far end of campus without passing a single piece of evidence that this place is, indeed, an institution devoted to scholarship. Rarely, if ever, do I pass any advertisement for an upcoming lecture. Traditional academic events happen, of course, but they’re advertised only within departments. The school’s green spaces are festooned with signs for fashion shows, football games, dog-petting events, and free chlamydia screenings.

The modern university is so massive and so fragmented, and its constituent parts so specialized, that all-purpose has vanished from it. It exists only for its own sake. It functions as little more than a holding pen for the emotionally and intellectually immature teenagers who flock to it because . . . well, what else are they supposed to do? It’s a high school with a bunch of graduate departments attached.

Every year, many tens of thousands of 18-year-olds indebt themselves to an institution they don’t particularly care about, sit in classes that don’t particularly interest them and leave not particularly wise, capable, or knowledgeable, all because social pressure demands it. A few are radicalized; most shrug their way through.

Which is worse? I’m not sure.

* I have visual proof, but I don’t care to post it.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Jordan Peterson v. The Catholic Hierarchy – The Grudge Match


In my occasional wanderings on social media, I’ve noticed a certain dismissive or snarky narrative cropping up from members of the Catholic clergy about Dr. Jordan Peterson. Though many admire his intellect, Dr. Peterson comes in for a lot of tut-tutting, tsk-tsking, dismay and disappointment because he won’t emphatically state that he is a Christian or that he believes in God.

Peterson, is a well-read intellectual grounded in years of listening to his clinical patients and who has adhered to a fairly rigorous scientific methodology. For those who have spent any time watching him speak before a large audience, debate or respond to sometimes hostile interviewers, it’s evident that Peterson thinks very carefully before he speaks. At times, one can even see him struggling as his dancing fingers appear to search the ether around him for just the right word to accurately express his thoughts accompanied by an oft repeated question, “…how would you say…?” Peterson has indeed been reluctant to answer whether he believes in God, as he says, because he’s not sure what his interrogator means by the terms “believe” and “God” or if the intent of the interrogator is to pigeon-hole him or immediately embrace him as a member of his particular faith or version of Christianity. Some may find Peterson’s reluctance to be evasive and perhaps even cowardly. I find it refreshing and intellectually honest.

Recently Father Kevin M. Cusick tweeted:

He mimics Christianity to sound original while claiming not to be Christian. Ultimate responsibility is taking ownership for Faith rather than borrowing piecemeal from it to craft a personal brand.

Note in particular the not too subtle snide phrases “…to sound original…” and “…to craft a personal brand”. Peterson has openly and frequently admitted that what he is articulating is not original but grounded in ancient Judeo-Christian ethical teaching. And given his unlikely path to celebrity, which was as a result of posting a YouTube video criticizing Canada’s (at the time, pending) compelled speech laws which exposed him to heaps of criticism from government and academic authorities, and threatened his own livelihood as a professor at the University of Toronto, it doesn’t seem that Peterson was somehow “crafting” a “personal brand” unlike some celebrities or even certain Catholic prelates who are obsessed with their public persona.

It seems, on the contrary, that celebrity was thrust upon Peterson when he found he had to defend his objections to the notorious and totalitarian Bill C-16 and his exposure, in the news and on social media began to grow. If he has a “personal brand” that he “crafts” it seems to be that he is fearless in articulating his thoughts on the prevailing and militant push by Leftists, post-modernists and neo-Marxists to dominate and distort the English language, politics and the culture at large and the detrimental effect that is having, as well as, the more catastrophic harm that could come of embracing identity politics and socialism to their logical or illogical conclusions. A Catholic hierarchy that is openly embracing the strident LGBTQ+ agenda, embracing Marxist ideology while denigrating capitalism and the idea of national sovereignty, deliberating using ambiguous language, playing fast-and-loose with the truth, flirting with or promoting heresies — would do well to emulate Peterson’s so-called personal brand.

Father Cusick aside, we are too often presented with men of God who can quickly invoke The Almighty or Jesus Christ with flourish and flamboyance or even a theatrically-conjured solemnity but whose own lives have little adherence to Christian ethical behavior. The current Catholic hierarchy, from Pope Francis on down, is replete with frauds, deceivers, quislings, cowards, Marxists, embezzlers, outright criminals, modernists and post-modernists, and sexual predators or those that excuse, protect and promote them. Peterson, on more than a few occasions, has said that he acts as though he believes in God. Can that really be said of many in the clergy or the Vatican hierarchy?

Unfortunately, the more humble and holy members of the clergy often refrain from criticizing the wolves in the hierarchy for fear of retribution and demotion. That’s what happens when hierarchies become corrupt and in this case, the laity is the worse for it. One has to ask, how many in the Church hierarchy can’t seem to adhere to Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life or may even be deliberately breaking those rules, particularly Rules 8, 9, and 10: Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie; Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t (Archbishop Vigano, the laity, etc.); Be precise in your speech (particularly applicable to Pope Francis).

So, what explains this apparent antagonism toward Dr. Peterson? Is it jealousy? Is it envy? Or do some in the hierarchy actually feel threatened by the unambiguous message that Peterson is delivering? Perhaps the corrupt Church hierarchy is realizing, as have many in corrupt Left-leaning political, media, and academic hierarchies, that what Peterson has to say is actually an existential threat to their hold on power and so, it might be time to attempt to take him down a peg or two and keep him checked.

To quote Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca, “Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade.” The late songwriter, Jim Croce also made reference to the potential hazard of tugging on Superman’s cape. Thus far, Dr. Peterson has either been too busy to closely examine, or comment at length on what’s been happening in the Catholic Church or has been reluctant to be critical of the rampantly corrupt Church hierarchy; but perhaps at some point he will engage if some of the members of the clergy or celebrity-seeking prelates concerned with crafting their own personal brand keeping nipping at him.

Unlike many in the Catholic hierarchy, Peterson is a good father, a good teacher and a courageous fighter for truth. The Catholic hierarchy would do well to follow his example. If they continue to be critical of Peterson…well, it might get ugly.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Quote of the Day – Dare to Fail Greatly


Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. – Robert F. Kennedy

Yes, the man who said this is Bobby Kennedy, a man disliked by the right and who should be distrusted by the left. (Robert Kennedy worked for Joe McCarthy and at the time apparently liked the work.) But when someone is right about something, pay attention, perhaps especially if you dislike the person.

On Thursday Israel attempted to land a spacecraft on the Moon’s surface. They failed. Barely. They lost control of the craft during the final phase of its descent. But a near-failure in the harsh calculus of space is still a total failure.

They dared to fail greatly. They failed, but they came close. There will be a next time, and with the lessons of this failure, their next dare to fail greatly may be rewarded with success. Probably will.

Contrast that attitude with NASA’s. Their current slogan is “Failure is not an option.” That is a fine goal when you have three men heading to the Moon in a crippled spacecraft and need to get them safely back to Earth. It is a lousy goal for an organization whose mission is to explore space and push the limits of achievement. Yet since the mid-1980s that has been NASA’s prime directive. “Failure is not an option.”

There is only one way to guarantee you do not fail. Do not try. Yet between 1988 when Shuttle flights resumed and 2011, when the last Shuttle mission flew, that is what NASA was doing. Not trying. Finding ways to avoid risky missions to eliminate the chance of failure. I was there, working on the Shuttle program through most of that period.

They failed anyway. Which left them yet less willing to dare. Today they are content to hop rides to the ISS aboard Russian boosters while finding justification for not pushing development and testing of an American manned launch system. And the system they are developing uses the very latest concepts from the 1970s. It should be ready by 2025. Or maybe 2030. Possibly 2040. (Yeah, I know. They plan a manned flight Real Soon Now. Just like it was going to be Real Soon Now for the last five years.)

You can only push limits by daring to fail greatly. Which is what Beresheet was about. Which is what SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, Blue Origin, Bigelow, and Virgin Galactic are about. You can argue some of them are not serious. Or not good ideas. Or maybe even crazy. But they are in the arena.

NASA? Its place, at least the place of its leaders, seems to be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. I hope that changes.

Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Group Writing Friday Food and Drink Post: Bon Appetit aux Hommes et Femmes!


History claims that the first “modern” restaurant was opened by one Monsieur A. Boulanger, sometime in the middle of the eighteenth century, and somewhere in Paris, where his small establishment served, mainly, soup to the middle classes. Although the tradition is robust, extensive research has never actually turned up any proof of his, or of his restaurant’s, existence, and La Grande Taverne de Londres, a much more upscale affair which opened in 1782 under the direction of Antoine Beauvilliers, is generally credited with being the first “real” modern restaurant. According to his Wikipedia entry, it catered to an aristocratic clientele, with

 tables made of mahogany, crystal chandeliers, and tablecloths of fine linen, an extensive wine cellar, and elegantly-dressed waiters. Dishes on the restaurant menu included partridge with cabbage, veal chops grilled in buttered paper, and duck with turnips. The restaurant Beauvilliers became a rendezvous of conservative political factions, in which Beauvilliers was implicated; in 1795 he was forced to close his establishment and to live away from the trade that was his life.

Poor guy. Then, as people do still, he appears to have paid the price for his political persuasions.

Although he was giving the concept of “dining out” a new twist, Beauvilliers was simply one more in a long line of well-established figures: the head of a large cooking enterprise–the chef. Mithaecus, a 5th century BC Sicilian, brought knowledge of Sicilian cooking to Greece and wrote several cookbooks on the subject. The fourteenth-century Giullaume Tirel was the principal chef at the court of several European kings during the Hundred Years’ War. His cookbook, Le Viandier is considered to be the basis for the then-emerging French gastronomic tradition. Bartolomeo Scappi was a chef of the Italian Renaissance, chef at the Vatican, and author of Opera dell’arte del Cucinare, a massive compendium of over 1000 recipes, written in a chatty style that’s caused him to be described as the world’s first “celebrity chef.” And Hercules, a former Mt. Vernon Slave who, not long after Beauvilliers opened his restaurant in Paris, became the first chef to a United States President.

I found several lists of “chefs in history” on the Internet, and I noticed two things about them. Their members were all men. None of them were English. Go figure.

Meanwhile, the ladies were knocking ’em dead in the field of what used to be called “Domestic Economy.” And here, the English were leading the way! Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1861, and largely consisting of plagiarized recipes strung together with bits of advice on the way to run a household, was a runaway best seller. Isabella Beeton died in 1864, at the age of 28, probably as a result of syphilis contracted from her philandering husband, but she is credited with hugely influencing the Victorian middle class and the way the kitchen was run.

Most cooks in British stately homes of the nineteenth and the first part of the twentieth century (think Downton Abbey and Mrs. Patmore), or in upper-class urban establishments (think Upstairs Downstairs and Mrs. Bridges), were women. They were cooks, not chefs, and their skills ran the gamut from simple country fare to banquets fit for a king. Well, an English king anyway (snark off). And just as women did not intrude in the exclusively male world of the aristocratic chef (except in the role of the lowliest scullery maid), men did not often find themselves in the position of “cook” to Lord and Lady So and So.

By the first or second decade of the twentieth century, restaurant chefs were becoming celebrities in their own right, and people were starting to dine out at particular establishments in order to patronize the chef. Chefs were recognized as temperamental geniuses, ruling their domains with an iron fist, striking terror into their underlings, and producing stunning examples of culinary art on a daily basis. And the heads of such commercial establishments were still almost exclusively male.

All that changed in the latter half of the twentieth century with the popularization of the celebrity chef, and the technology which made such celebrity accessible to millions, without ever, or even, the need to run a restaurant or manage a staff. Suddenly, the playing field was leveled, and experienced and excellent women “cooks” could become “chefs” either through study or natural inclination, some becoming household names overnight. Thus, and almost mononymously (I don’t think that’s a real word, I see that, Ricochet editors) we have Nigella. And Jamie. And Gordon. And Rachel. And Emeril. And Ina. And Mario. And Paula. Some who came to their celebrity and fame as authors and TV presenters, with never a restaurant to their name. Some who came to celebrity from their restaurants and an instinct for superior self-promotion. And some who backed into the restaurant business as a result of their celebrity on television or the Internet. All of them with books galore!

But first among equals, before all of them, of course, we had Julia.

Julia Carolyn McWilliams was born on August 5, 1912, into a well-off California family with its own cook, from whom Julia has stated she learned absolutely nothing. During WWII, she served in the Office of Strategic Services. While posted to Kunming, China, she had her first culinary success when she was asked to work on a project to develop a shark repellent, to keep sharks away from mines targeting German U-Boats (so that the sharks would not inadvertently detonate them). She mixed various ingredients and cooked them, and the result was shredded and sprinkled in the water. The product is still in use today. (Julia’s entire OSS file is available here. If you’d like to look at it, just be aware that it’s 280MB to download).

Also while she was in Kunming, she met fellow OSS employee Paul Child, and the two married after the war. Paul was fond of food and of cooking and introduced his new wife to the pastime. Shortly after their marriage, and with Paul working for the US State Department, the young couple moved to Paris.

Julia loved France and French food. She attended and became a diplomate of, the Cordon Bleu school, buffed up her credentials, and began to collaborate with fellow foodies Simone Beck and Louise Bertholle on classes and cookbooks. Finally, in 1961 their massive tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published, and with a 1962 appearance to promote her book on Boston’s WGBH-TV, a star was born.

More than anything, Julia’s TV show, The French Chef, convinced us that we could all cook marvelous gourmet meals in the style of the best French restaurants. That the occasional mistake (and she made plenty, most of which were left in the show) didn’t matter. That enthusiasm and good humor could go a long way to ameliorating inexperience and ignorance. And that “having a go,” and failing nobly, was so much more worthwhile than being tentative and afraid. The show’s budget was so tiny that, quite often, the food was auctioned after the show ended, to help cover expenses. And to save money, it was filmed in one take, without subsequent editing.

The viewing public adored her, mistakes and all. They loved it as all six-foot-two of her galumphed around the kitchen dropping things, enjoying her (several) glasses of wine per episode, and brushing off any and all calamities as they arose. The show ran in its original incarnation for ten years and was followed by a couple of spinoffs, and a number of specials.

Many books, hundreds of episodes, and a long and happy retirement later, Julia Child died in 2004 at the age of 91. Few American chefs are better known, and after Julia, I think it’s fair to say that no-one in their right mind thought that the term, le chef de cuisine, despite the gender assigned to it in its original language, and despite social and cultural conventions to that point, was exclusively the province of men. The concept of complementarity had, in the words of the popular song from the 1920s, come to the high-end kitchen:

You’re the cream in my coffee,
You’re the salt in my stew
You will always be my necessity,
I’d be lost without you.

I’ll close, not with a clip from any celebrity chef, but, because I love it so much, and because I’m old enough to remember when Saturday Night Live was actually funny, with Dan Ackroyd as The French Chef. One of the reasons it’s so funny is because, in many ways, it’s so close to the mark. Bon Appetit!

(The lady in the photo at the top of this post is Christeta Comerford, the first female White House Chef, who served in the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.)