The Artlessness of Politics

“A vote for this bill is a vote to end nutrition in America,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. … “Thank God, we can do something!” exclaimed Rep. Tom Rooney R-Fla., as he walked off the floor…

via House Approves Farm Bill, Without Food Stamp Program –

Well. The House passed a Farm Bill, finally.

Of course, they left out the food stamps, so I suppose it was easy.

For weeks, Republicans and Democrats could not agree on what to spend on food stamps. Apparently, it got ugly, even for an institution known for its ugliness. In the end, they simply agreed not to agree and sent the farmer-specific bits along to the printer.

Explaining himself afterward to reporters, Speaker John Boehner said, and I am not making this up, “If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas.”

This is a politician, mind you. An experienced speech giver. And that — basically a list of some of the things poor people may not be able to afford at Christmas — is the best he has.

Not only was it hackneyed, but he flubbed it, too. People of Earth: It’s “ifs and buts.”

Really, the vote Thursday by the House was a punt. It only eliminates food stamps in the imaginary world of polemicists and blog posters; Congress will still have to find a way to pay for them. The difference is now Republicans won’t have angry farmers breathing down their necks, asking them why the Farm Bill hasn’t passed. They will be able to focus their beady little eyes on giving poor people what-for.

Which, to be honest, is what most people really want — shrinking the cost of food stamps a bit, I mean.

And, to be honest, unhooking aid for poor people from aid for farmers probably makes sense, from a lawmaking-philosophy point of view. Never mind that very little in Congress does otherwise. Or that quite a few farmers qualify as poor for our purposes.

There were a few interesting — and by interesting I mean NOT interesting — footnotes. There is more crop insurance. There are more juicy perks for guys who grow peanuts. And lawmakers went in and erased a handful of unpleasant legacy laws from the Depression, which — and I am not making this up, either — kick in if Congress doesn’t get off its duff every now and then and write a new Farm Bill. (And you thought sequestration was an innovation.)

The point is, things will work out. The Senate has already passed a food-stamps-included Farm Bill, cutting less than a percent from the poor-people parts. And House Republicans promise, they really do — Eric Cantor of Virginn-eeya told The Associated Press his colleagues would “act with dispatch” — to get around to this food stamps business.

I am sure that red-state farmers are relieved. My question is, Why?

The first thing any farmer will tell you if, heaven forfend, you suggest that the Farm Bill might be too expensive is, Well, most of that is for food stamps. And this is true. About $80 billion of the $100 billion, according to the original House bill.

But what do you think food stamp users are buying, more often than not? Foods, which I observe are the very things farmers make with all the money the government sends them in the first place. Maybe a lot of the money goes to big conglomerates. Certainly there is waste to sop up. But does it make sense to turn your back on your customers?

In any case, don’t pity the farmer. It says here, being in food is going to be very good business over the next few centuries.


This is why gun rights are controversial.


The company, Zombie Industries, sells a range of three-dimensional “life sized” targets that “bleed when you shoot them.”

via National Rifle Association Bans Bleeding “Obama” Target, Others Remain.


Word of the Week: Incarnadined

So, avuncular (unclelike), saturnine (sluggish), sybaritic (pleasure-loving), antediluvian (primitive), concomitant (accompanying), uxorious (fawning), lucubrate (laborious studying), vulpine (foxlike), fissiparous (fractious), skeuomorph (look it up yourself), obdurate (stubborn), syllepsis (zeugma), parlous (perilous), crepuscular (twilightlike), concupiscent (lustful), cromlech (a formation of megaliths), sacerdotal (priestly), assize (law court), puissant (powerful), legerdemain (trickery) and apercu (insight) and homunculus (dwarf), termagant (nag), unctuous (smug), otiose (useless), punctillio (formality), orotundity (pretentiousness) and how about… incarnadined?

bookI am a good ways through “Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure,” by Artemis Cooper (John Murray, 2012), the biography about the gad-about polymath and well-reviewed travel writer who died in 2011.

And it has been a revelation.

For one thing, I have learned that it is possible to write about a fascinating life without, you know, actually being fascinating yourself. This book, though warmly recommended to any fan of Mr. Fermor’s work, is nearly as desultory and dissipated as Mr. Fermor himself.

But, more important, it has revealed the subject in a stark and authentic light. He was, it says here, kind of a jerk. Well-loved, of course, and with admirable qualities; whose every book I have bought and read, eagerly, from cover to cover; and whose life, as aimless as it was, still furnishes the mother lode of my dreaming life — but nonetheless a jerk.

Incarnadined, a transitive verb (inn-CAR-nah-deened) defined by Webster’s Fourth as “to make the color of either flesh or blood,” crops up in a case in point.

(Photo credit: Joan Leigh Fermor)

(Photo credit: Joan Leigh Fermor)

Mr. Fermor was staying with friends — which is what he was doing, more often than not — at a castle in Ireland. The previous weeks had been a riot of parties — it was, as Mr. Fermor wrote to a friend, “a mixture of a night-club, the Hons’ cupboard* and the Charge of the Light Brigade, so tremendous was the pace, even for me, all day and all night.” But now it was quiet, and Mr. Fermor proposed to his friends that they attend the Kildare Hunt Ball as a lark. No one liked the idea, though the owner of the castle finally agreed. But first, she asked her butler for, as Ms. Cooper puts it, something to make “a tiresome evening a bit more bearable. A pill the size of a hornet arrived on a silver salver and Paddy, intrigued, asked if he could have one, too.”

To the ball we go. Mr. Fermor’s celebrated charisma, no doubt accustomed to consorting with alcohol, did not get on well with whatever was in the hornet-size pill. And he was no stranger to chemical enhancements; he once celebrated Christmas in Cairo with a Benzedrine-stuffed turkey. But at the Kildare Hunt Ball, Mr. Fermor did not exactly ride high in the saddle. The climax came after he picked out the tallest mug in the room and asked him, as Ms. Cooper writes on Page 281, “if it was true that the ‘Killing Kildares’ were in the habit of buggering their foxes.”

Bedlam ensued. “There we were, all slamming away at each other like navvies [‘an unskilled laborer, as on canals, roads, etc.’],” Mr. Fermor wrote a friend.

I was being dealt with by a half a dozen great incarnadined Nimrods;** Robert Kee came to my rescue, only to be brought down by Roderick More O’Ferrall, and the scarlet maelstrom surged over them and me.



Unsurprisingly, Mr. Fermor, himself incarnadined from a small gash in his head, was eventually rescued by a female acquaintance (not his girlfriend).

The verb comes from the adjective incarnadine, from the French incarnadin, snug in my dictionary appropriately between incardinate, “to attach a cleric to a particular diocese,” and incarnate, “endowed in a body.” It is tempting to think that Mr. Fermor meant that his assailants had been bloodied, but in reality I think he is referring to the red hunting jackets, above right, worn by members of the club.

In any case, this is just the tip of the boorish iceberg when it comes to Mr. Fermor. A few pages earlier (Page 278), Ms. Cooper diverts from her narrative to give a brief disquisition on sexual hygiene, noting that “his weakness for the sleazier pleasures of the night sometimes led to a nasty surprise for his more respectable girlfriends.” Ms. Cooper is herself so diverted that she quotes in full a letter Mr. Fermor wrote to one such unfortunate. Mr. Fermor, after examining his “fragrant and silent glades” for tiny livestock, concludes sheepishly that the “crabs of the world fly to me, like the children of Israel to Abraham’s bosom…”

(Yes, he really did.)


Mr. Fermor in 1966.

And so on. Mr. Fermor, when he isn’t cadging money from friends, swilling their wine and brandy, popping their pills, fornicating with their wives, sisters and daughters, was also a card-carrying member of a thoroughly irritating species: the writer unaware of deadline. He once, having been asked for a few thousand words on a well-known episode from his wartime service, turned in months late nearly 40,000 words.

Words, I will add, that have still not been published.

Unpublished is what you might say of the word incarnadine. It is the title of a recent collection of poetry, and it has a rich life in online role-playing games, apparently. But few writers have been seduced by its charms.

Except for one you might have heard of:

Macbeth: Whence is that knocking?
How is’t with me, when every noise appalls me?
What hands are here? Hah! They pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.
“Macbeth,” Act 2, Scene 2, 54–60

* “Hons’ cupboard” refers to a secret childhood hiding place of the Mitford siblings, English aristocrats whose style and politics were the stuff of scandal in 1930s Britain.
** A nimrod is a foolish person, of course, but capitalized here I believe Mr. Fermor is referring to King Nimrod, a renowned hunter and a stout Babylonian king. It was his ill-conceived plan to build the Tower of Babel, which seems to indicate that Mr. Fermor was reserving similar divine judgment for his Kildare persecutors.

A Christmas Miracle

8:24 p.m. Samantha
So what are you guys doing for Christmas?

8:24 p.m. John
I am staying here. Can’t bear to think of a holiday passing without my sampling crappy catered food at the office.

8:26 p.m. Samantha
Well, there is that!

8:27 p.m. John
What about you?

8:28 p.m. Samantha
Going back to [deleted]. So, the usual.

8:29 p.m. John
Got all the shopping done?


8:29 p.m. Samantha
And, few odds and ends left to buy still. Although, I did make some cookies last week. So there’s that

8:30 p.m. John

8:31 p.m. Samantha
Let’s understand that these are the easiest of cookies: sugar cutout cookies. Five ingredients, mix, cutout cookies, put in over. Done

8:31 p.m. John
You did it? You baked them? Yourself?

8:31 p.m. Samantha
I did!

8:32 p.m. John
They didn’t pop, spontaneously, into your oven? There wasn’t a houseboy involved? Say, a dusky Spaniard? You didn’t buy them a bodega, did you?

8:40 p.m. Samantha
Nope, all me. No purchased cookies from a dusty Spainiard at a bodega.

8:41 p.m. John
So, you are saying, then, that you actually made the cookies. And no one coached you.

8:41 p.m. Samantha
Yes, that is what I am saying.

8:41 p.m. John
Or made them for you.

8:41 p.m. Samantha
All me.

8:41 p.m. John
Have you eaten one?

8:42 p.m. Samantha
A few actually. Stil here.

8:42 p.m. John
No broken teeth? Or gastro-intestinal distress? Or hallucinations?

8:43 p.m. Samantha
Um, no, no and no. There are a few things I can make.

8:44 p.m. John
Amazing. I would not have bet money on that. C’mon. Tell the truth. They are a little dry, aren’t they? Burnt?

8:45 p.m. Samantha
No, they aren’t They are good.

8:45 p.m. John

8:45 p.m. Samantha
I swear!

8:45 p.m. John
Well. Miracles. You know.

8:46 p.m. Samantha
Tis the season (and I willl try not to take that too personally, dear)

8:47 p.m. John
Oh! You are right! First, virgin birth. Then, Sam makes cookies. It all fits.


‘Not Even a Hint of Boxing Day?’

7 p.m. John
Starbucks’s Christmas blend not very Christmassy.

7 p.m. Samantha
No pine taste? Hint of cinnamon?

7 p.m. John
Just coffee.

7:01 p.m. Samantha
See, that seems like false advertising. The Christmas blend should have something Christmassy about it.

7:01 p.m. John
Not even Hanukkah.

7:02 p.m. Samantha

7:02 p.m. John
Kwanza? No.

7:02 p.m. Samantha
Not even a hint of Boxing Day?

7:02 p.m. John
It tastes good. And if I am honest, I don’t think I would like a pine-cone-flavored coffee. But I was expecting one. Or mistletoe. Something.

7:04 p.m. Samantha
Considering the other drinks they come up with, that seemed fair.

7:04 p.m. John
Oof. I remember that sugar bomb that one kid made up for me. Still hurts my tummy.

7:07 p.m. Samantha
I think I still have a picture of that!

7:07 p.m. John
Ugh. Don’t show it to me.