Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Daughter #2 has become engaged. Huzzah!!

By the way, couldn't we all agree to maintain the Edwardian "has engaged to marry [insert name of husband-to-be]?" It turns the whole passive "has become engaged" into the deliberate action of an assertive young lady.

Which is certainly the case with Daughter #2, or as Daughter #1 calls her, "Zee." I prefer "Z." Sounds like a secret agent.

This past Monday Z went with Mrs. Optimist and two of Z's close cousins (a series of mutually exchanged retinal injuries mark the relationship between Z and her cousin J, but more of that another time) to shop for a wedding dress. While Eternal Optimist and his son drove about aimlessly in a car - this suited us just fine - Mrs. Optimist and the cousins oohed and aahed over wedding dresses for a few hours.

Z, however, apparently challenged the ritual by finding the dress she wanted and purchasing it. I thought her behavior was admirable, but everyone I've talked with since has remarked on the rapidity of it all.

Z's job involves national defense, and occasionally, national aggression. It may be that her environment has shaped her attitude toward dress buying, which would be to properly sight in the target, then terminate it.

Fortunately Mrs. EO was delighted. She fondly recalled that she bought the first dress she tried on. It created quite a scandal, back in the day (the Times of London was aghast), but eventually everyone - including the Queen - made the best of it. The dress really was spectacular, and all was forgiven after a round of grasshoppers. Noel Coward played us a tune on the piano and everyone got along fabulously!

I am not at liberty to disclose a picture of the recently acquired dress, as etiquette requires the groom-to-be remain in ignorance until the wedding ceremony. This is an example of how tradition can be such a useful guide.

EO remembers being quite bowled over, seeing Mrs. EO (who at that moment was still Miss Maiden-Name) in her wedding dress for the first time, coming down the (very long) aisle with her father. Check out the picture of Mrs. EO in her wedding dress, which etiquette permits me to share:

Not Actually Mrs. EO, But Reminds Me Of Her.

That sensation of being bowled over has lasted now 30 years, which probably means the sensation deserves a more eloquent name. But I like the phrase "bowled over," as it suggests something with great, purposeful energy striking a perfectly inert object and putting it into violent motion.

Which is generally an accurate description of Mrs. EO's relationship with EO, on our wedding day and ever after, except that in our case the pin very much enjoys being struck violently by the bowling ball, and the bowling ball still looks marvelous in white.

And black.

Photo Credit.
Love the cigarette holder.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Sunday at Mass the gospel and homily got me thinking about an article I read in a diocesan newspaper a while back. The gospel reading - about building your house on rock, not sand - and homily were about living the life of Christ, rather than talking it up.

The article I had in mind was actually more of a lecture than a news story. Call it a "Leturcle," a transgendered article that is actually a lecture.

The gist of the lecturcle is that our society is "unjust," and that Catholics have a moral duty to vote for more government intervention. The lecturcle asked a couple of soothing rhetorical questions along the way, like a Pete Seeger song ("when will they ever learn?")

Pete Seeger knows what's best for us.

I thought I would answer the rhetorical questions.

Question # 1: "Why are there so many homeless and hungry in our midst?"

A HUD study in 2007 indicated there were about 744,000 homeless people in America, out of a population of more than 300,000,000. AP, 1/10/2007. In a town of 3,000 that would be 7 homeless people. About 0.23 percent of the population. So if that is "so many," then there are "so many."

Otherwise, not so much.

As for the "hungry," we don't actually have a large population of hungry people. Those who are chronically hungry in America typically have the misfortune of having drug addicted or mentally unstable parents who take the bread out of their children's mouths.

What we actually do have are monstrous numbers of obese people, especially among the poor.

So my answer to the lecturcle's question is that there aren't so many homeless or hungry people in our midst.

Question # 2: "Why are there so many jobs that do not pay a living wage?"

Truth is, there are hardly any jobs in America that fail to pay a "living wage."

The HHS Poverty Guidelines define poverty at $10,400/year income for a single person and $21,200/year income for a family of four. That's a $5/hr job for the single person and $10/hr for the breadwinner in a family of four.

Eternal Optimist is aware of a young woman with a high school education who obtained a $10/hr job in a convenience store by going in and filling out a job application. This young woman makes about $20,000/year, double the poverty line. This is not unusual.

There are people without jobs in America. But the people who have jobs are doing pretty well. All this makes a good social justice argument for government to reduce taxes to stimulate job growth.

But I digress.

Here are some better questions for the Catholic lecturclists.

Better Question #1: Why is Catholic charity so . . . skimpy?

The average American gives about 2% of his or her income to charity. The average Catholic gives about 1.2%. The federal government spends about 1.2 trillion dollars a year - 44% of the government's "income" (our taxes), or about 8% of Gross Domestic Product - on Social Security, Medicare and health care.

So this "indifferent" society that the Catholic "journalist" deplores is giving more of its income to the needy than the average Catholic.

Better Question #2: Why are Catholics so blase about sexual immorality and divorce?

One of the cruelest things you can do to your children is to bear them out of wedlock. In 1950 the illegitimacy rate in America was 4%. Today it is roughly 33%.

Illegitimate children face gravely increased risks of poverty, mental illness, drug addiction, homelessness, abuse, disease - you name it. Notwithstanding 2,000 years of Catholic teaching on the subject, today's Catholics have children out of wedlock at a rate that is embarrassingly close to the society generally.

Divorce is almost as disastrous for children as illegitimacy. And guess what? Catholic rates of divorce are uncomfortably close to those of the general population.

Nominal Catholics skew the numbers, I realize. But that leads me to this observation.

If you are Catholic and want to spark a revolution, try these simple (not easy) steps:

(1) Go to church and get God into (or back into) your life.

(2) get married before you have sex. (Incendiary, I know).

(3) stay married as you have lots of nice children.

(4) feed the hungry and take care of the poor, and teach your children to do the same.

These 4 radical steps have the benefit of being orthodox Catholic choices and conforming to Jesus' admonition to (1) build your house on the rock and (2) take the log out of your own eye before trying to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye.

Charitable giving and moral living: a revolution that rhymes.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Mrs. Optimist and I have been busy escorting our flower-daughter about the country, investigating colleges.

Apparently while I was gone there were riots in Egypt, Libya and Wisconsin, as the oppressed masses have risen up to throw off the chains of the totalitarian regimes that rule them. Qaddafi, Mubarak, and Gov. Scott Walker: all evil, but worst of all Walker, who is also Republican.

Picture credit

(Try to guess which one is the Wisconsin governor
and which one is the murderous Libyan tyrant.)

Picture Credit

For the average Wisconsin Democrat, there is apparently more to like in Qaddafi and Mubarak than in Walker. In a spate of civility no doubt stimulated by President Obama's call for more restraint after the mass shooting in Arizona, Democratic teachers in Wisconsin have been calling Governor Walker "Adolf Hitler."

So far Qaddafi or Mubarak have not been called Hitler. Apparently you are not allowed to call murderous, ruthless Muslim dictators Hitler; only Republicans.

The left-wing notion of civility is quite marvelous. I thought for a long time it was marvelously hypocritical, since the left typically views the "Hitler" chant as just the opening salvo in a war of personal slander. But the chant is more than hypocritical. It is invincibly loopy, like making fun of someone for being as ugly as your wife.

Hitler was a socialist, a left-wing politician. A "National Socialist," to be more precise. That's what he called himself and his party: Nazis, short for National Socialists. The practical differences between him and Stalin were something like the differences between a golden Lab and a chocolate Lab. Of some mild interest, but no consequence.

Back to Wisconsin.

It seems obvious, from a distance, that Wisconsin has to cut its budget. It seems obvious that teachers, like other government employees, are going to have to take a "haircut," as it is called in the real world.

And the "haircut" here is quite reasonable. Teachers in Wisconsin will still be much wealthier than the average taxpayer. In addition, the alternative to a general "haircut" is to start laying off government employees.

It also seems obvious that something has to give with teachers' unions and their control over public education. Public education has been in a downward spiral for a generation, yet the people who control it - teachers' unions - are not held accountable. Any effort to hold them accountable is met by screams of "Hitler."

The situation reminds me of the end stages of the Soviet empire. The failure of the system to deliver was obvious to all, even to the party apparatchiks, but no one within the system could bring themselves to actually say that Marxism was to blame. To do so was the unpardonable sin.

Teachers as a class, or individually, are no better or worse than other people. In many respects, as a group, they are much nicer and kinder than the students they have to teach.

It is just to say the obvious: the system is not working. The emperor has no clothes.

When a human organization isn't producing, one of the remedies is to change the people in control. That is a fair outcome. The change is typically unpleasant, and it doesn't always work: witness the present administration.

But it is still a fair outcome, just as Obama's election was a fair outcome. People voted. A majority didn't want McCain. They elected Obama. It was fair. Ditto Wisconsin's election of Scott Walker.

Trying to change a broken system through elections (a new Republican governor) and the democratic process (new legislation) is not "Hitler." "Hitler" is genocide, torture, death camps and world war. And disrupting normal democratic institutions through street demonstrations and rioting. Which is where the Nazis got started.

Teachers and their friends in the legislature should try to keep democratic self-government and socialist totalitarianism separate. Deliberately confusing them is not a legitimate form of protest.

It is lying.

The Democratic legislators moving to a Motel-6 in Illinois in order to stop the majority in the Wisconsin legislature from balancing the state's budget is weird, like a friend who insists he doesn't need to take showers anymore. I mean, what do you say? Imagine the outraged gnashing of teeth in the New York Times if Tea Party legislators did such a thing.

Now click on the video below for the Wisconsin fight song. Here's wishing the people of Wisconsin all the best as they struggle with difficult budget issues.