Wednesday, November 26


New York Sleeps, the Papal States, Army Pyjamas, and the Boy Scouts

I am heading home to the sacred red clay of North Florida for Thanksgiving with my parents and grandmother; not only will it be warmer than New York, but we'll be spending the next few days in a delightful little house a few feet from the seashore. It being the Panhandle rather than Miami it will be too cold to swim, and the weather will probably be the agreeably muted late-fall grey that nonetheless so strongly and elementally reminds me of my childhood. Escaping New York's gravitational pull is like trying to launch into outer space, but getting to La Guardia at 5:20 in the morning does the trick. I have never seen my street so peaceful, still and agreeably cozy than when I waited on the stoop for the cab; it could have been South Bend, and there was even something reminiscent of Notre Dame in the way the sconces, big fat globes of light glowed, against the institutional-looking brick of the apartment across the way. It is reassuring to know that at least for a few hours each night the city that never sleeps at least takes a nap.


Never again will I choose a book on Italian unification for plane reading. It's too infuriating. On balance, prying the States of the Church from the Holy See's hands was a blessing in disguise, freeing up Holy Mother Church from the embarassing and often corrupt task of governing the ungovernable (i.e., Italians), but given the tenor of the times--radicalism, atheism, Bismarck, and the last period in history when Freemasons were actually scary rather than mildly absurd--one can understand the Blessed Pius IX's stubborn insistence that the papacy's spiritual independence demanded temporal sovereignty. It still does, even on a very limited level, considering the Vatican City State is a very real, very temporal piece of land, if not a very big one.

Perhaps Pius should have cut his losses at the end and accepted the entire west bank of the Tiber (a considerably more generous offer than what was finally realized in 1929) but the Italian kingdom was hardly a secure, permanent polity in 1870. (It still isn't, and there are at least sizable minorities, some cranks, some not, that would probably rejoice at a partition into several secular states). In hindsight, some of his actions seem puzzling, but in the context of the times they were not so pigheadedly reactionary as they seem.

The sobering example of the Patriarchate of Constantinople comes to mind--beginning with Gregory V being strung up in full vestments from the front gate of his palace on Easter Sunday, 1821, to the current chokehold the secular Turkish government holds over its selection of successors. Even de jure Vatican sovereignty was barely enough to keep Pio Nono's successor Pius XII safe during World War II from the machinations of princes, after all. On the other hand, a certain internationalizing spiritual independence has sprung from this tiny postage-stamp of territory that has allowed the papacy to be a grand figure on the world stage once again, and it is difficult to see how in an ideal world such a circle would be squared. Perhaps mercifully, it is above my paygrade, and entirely theoretical to boot.


Sitting in the Atlanta airport, as I do every time I fly, I have noticed quite a lot of soldiers and even a sailor or two. A few thoughts. First, a big thank you to all our men and women in uniform. That goes without saying. Whatever our readers may think of foreign policy (and that's quite a Gordian knot to untie or cut no matter where you fall on the political spectrum these days), that's something I think we can all agree on. Secondly: The new pixelated camouflage uniforms look like pyjamas. Can't we give our fighting men at least a belt or a few more pockets or something? First the beret thing, and now this? The rank and file can't help it but surely there's someone in the Pentagon who can.

While we're at it, there has to be a better way of hiding the velcro they stick all our patches to rather than sewing them down. I understand sometimes insignia has to be removed now and then, but given the Army's fondness for throwing money down holes in the ground, you'd think they could get someone from one of those fashion shows so popular these days to fix the problem. Also, do we really need camouflage in an airport? I'm glad to see the army is substituting a version of traditional dress blues for the olive-green walking-out uniform (probably because most of the time our fighting men wear pyjamas), but I also saw a Marine and a sailor waiting in the airport in full rig, and, guys, there's really no comparison. At the very least, it might help with recruiting.

(I will, however, not try to make the argument the French did in 1914, that red pants would be the secret weapon to winning the war.)

That being said, after that whiny interlude, thanks again, and you're all in our prayers.


While we're on the subject of uniforms, the Boy Scouts have a newer, drabber version of their traditional dress out in honor of their Centennial. (I'm told the previous version was designed, by, of all people, Oscar de la Renta. Not sure who came up with this.) Given the historic occasion I would have thought this would be a fine opportunity to break out the Smokey the Bear hats, but as far as I can tell the main difference is changing the few remaining flashes of red to darker green, and the removal of the hallowed kneesocks, whick makes the uniform shorts look even sillier than before. I suppose it's tasteful and a bit less gaudy than previously, but I'm not really a fan. Not that I can really complain--I was not the most successful boy scout in the world, though I think I was the only fellow in my troop who was actually not a pyromaniac. That being said, does the world need yet more beige and taupe? We are getting so afraid of color and ornament as to be approaching the status of a pathology.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?