Story Telling

Apropos of nothing: Was reading in comments to a Mike Flynn blog post about how he came to be a writer, more accurately, a story-teller, and started in thinking of why I, with little success as success is usually counted, want to tell stories. In other words, what follows is autobiographical navel-gazing. You’ve been warned. Here goes:

We were not a literary family. Mom read Reader’s Digest condensed novels, a brother or two read the sports pages. Nobody that I can remember read to us when we were little. In a way, it’s a little amazing more than half of us 9 kids got through college – three of us overcompensated with Masters (one of my sisters has *3*); one even got a JD.

Dad always thought and said that education was for getting a job. He himself had pursued all sorts of vo-tech stuff, back in the day, learning first how to do office work (he decided early on being an Oklahoma farm boy was not his vocation) and then how to do everything in sheet metal fabrication. He stayed home during WWII – a crack welder with two small children was the kind of guy they were happy to have stay to help build and repair stuff.

So education = job prep. Reading was something mom did in her very limited free time, or guys did to see how the pennant race was going.

Let’s say I didn’t fit in. Didn’t learn to read until I was 6, I think because nobody showed me how. I remember learning phonics (dark time, 1964!) and going wow! THAT’s how it works! and driving the family nuts for a few weeks sounding out every street sign and billboard that went by as we drove.

(This is also when I had my first splash of cold water in school: I LOVED to read, and did it very well – and so teacher never called on me in class. She would ask, I’d practically jump out of my seat, hand held high – and never got called on. Because – and this logic baffled me then – because I could do it. But I had to stay in class anyway…)

Discovered the school library in 4th grade. Tore through the Time-Life Science books – picture books with science-lite in them, but good enough for a kid. I even read a college level history of Rome (have no idea what it was doing in a grade school library, but there it was) because one of those Iowa basic tests said I read at a college level in like 5th grade, and so, literalist that I was, thought I should start reading college level books. Well, I could sound out all the words, sure, and knew 99% of the vocabulary, but I don’t think I was quite ready intellectually. At any rate, don’t think I learned much. Did muscle through the whole thing.

Around the same time, due to the accident of there being a series of short books in the bookcase under the windows in the 5th grade classroom, I read a lot of biographies. Mostly American heroes. I’d learned that if I sat in the back and didn’t bother anybody, the teacher would leave me alone. I sat in the back near that bookcase, and wold grab a volume when I thought no one was looking. So I began the habit of ignoring what went on in class and surreptitiously reading something. Became my M.O. well into college, when I discovered I couldn’t pass the classes if I didn’t pay attention. Go figure.

Image result for Time-Life science books
If I’m remembering correctly (50 years ago!) this volume has the instructions on how to build an electric motor out of paperclips, thumb tacks, a couple nails and some wire. I built it – it worked!

I early developed this bias that a serious reader read real stuff, not that frou-frou fiction stuff. In my innocence, I thought Time-Life science books were real stuff. Wasn’t until about 6th grade that I got into fiction – science fiction. Bradbury was my first love, followed by Asimov. By my junior year in high school, I’d switched to philosophy – Plato, mainly – because I’d decided to go to St. John’s College and thought I’d get a head start.


But there were mom’s Readers Digest condensed books lying around the house, so I read those. Occasionally somebody would suggest something and I’d read it (read Lord of the Rings, was not impressed. Hey, I was young and stupid. Now at least I’m not young). And I’d thumbed through hundreds of books at the Whittier Public Library, read a few on fairly random topics (e.g., frogs, ancient maps, paleoanthropology). No program, just pulling stuff off the shelves.

What does this have to do with story-telling? Outside Bradbury, Asimov and Star Trek TOS, I din’t really have much experience even hearing stories, let alone telling them. Nobody I knew wrote much of anything. The world of writing was as distant and theoretical as the world of doctors, lawyers and professors. The typical adult I knew was a welder or a housewife. The kids I knew read comic books if they read anything.

In college I discovered a new world, where everybody, it seems, was the son or daughter of a lawyer or doctor, everybody had read a ton of books, people kept folders or files with stuff they wrote in it, and all in all treated this intellectual stuff as if it were work! As if it had value.


Sometime after college I discovered that I really liked writing. By then, I’d hacked my way through the Great Books as well as a more broad selection of fiction. But emotionally, it was never real work, the results were of mere mystical value, not like the sheet metal buildings and cabinets my dad turned out. Always felt weirdly guilty about writing, and could hardly work up the perseverance to finish anything very long – I mean, it’s not like it has any value…

My wife, in a fit of inexplicable foolishness, married me when I was 29 and almost an adult. We had our first child in 1991, with additions roughly 2 years apart until we hit 4 in 1997. I built a weird bunk bed – queen on the bottom, twin on the top – out of scrap lumber (we still have it). To give my poor wife a break, I’d put the kids to bed – I’d lay in the bottom bunk, 2, 3, or 4 kids cuddled up next to me.

And tell stories. Eventually, I’d let each child pick one or two characters and then try to work them into a story. Got pretty weird, with video game characters, Disney princesses, made up creatures (that would come with rambling dissertations about exactly what they were like and what powers they had, and woe to dad if he forgot to work those into the story!) and so on.

It was a challenge and a delight. Must have told several hundred of those stories over the years. Perfect audience. The race was to see if they would fall asleep before I did – even money.

Then the kids wanted to tell stories, too. I served as stenographer to the two oldest and the Caboose. Hope I can find those stories to embarrass them at their weddings.

Then came this blog. Here I can write as long or short a piece as I want and just throw it out there. Well over a 1,000 posts and 1,000,000 words. I suppose that counts for something, like carving a statue out of a grain of rice – cool, sorta, but why?

There’s now this pile of story ideas and drafts and even a few completed ones. Couple novel outlines. I had hoped to get into it more about a year ago, but then life got really complicated – no, really, much more complicated than it had been, with many additional obligations which sap my time and energy. So – maybe next year.

Either I’ll learn how to work around life, life will get a bit simpler, or it won’t.


Weather ’tis Nobler…

Have laid off the constant weather reports because this rain year, unlike last year, has been, frankly, boring. After a dry February here in Contra Costa County and the Sierra, the 2017-2018 precipitation year was shaping up to come in at under 1/2 average. Despite the shrill claims that this would have been some sort of disaster, it’s completely normal, if by normal you mean something that happens fairly often in the natural course of things, like how a 5’3″ tall man is completely normal, even if he’s below average height.  50% of average one year, 150% of average the next, and everything in between – that’s normal.

But that ain’t selling any beer or shampoo. So we get California May Be Returning to Drought Again and Sierra Snow Droughts May Become More Common, from early February, which, oddly, comes up far above Nearly 16 Feet of Snow Has Fallen in California’s Sierra Nevada in 18 Days, an article from the same site 2 days ago, when one googles ‘Sierra snow’. It’s like they don’t want you to stop worrying.

March rolled in like a lion. In addition to the 200 – and counting – inches of snow so far this month, we’ve had between just under 3″ to well over 8″ of rain at various spots here in Contra Costa County – the eastern part of The Bay Area, or, as Herb Caen used to say, San Francisco and its suburbs.

Right now, we’re just getting into one of those great combo storm, where the typical Gulf of Alaska cold front moves in and combines with a ‘pineapple express’ storm coming up from Hawaii. The latter is warm and full of water, the former is cold and lowers the snow level. Together, they tend to dump tons of snow in the mountains – forecast is 60″ over the next few days.

Image result for rainThere’s also rain. This particular storm is centered south of here, with the brunt hitting land around San Luis Obispo and then sliding south into Santa Barbara on into LA. They’re looking at 4 – 8 inches in the mountains, with over an inch in the flats. Since brush fires exposed a lot of bare ground down south this fall, mudslides are likely. They’re predicting snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5 where it winds through the mountains north of LA) which will create traffic chaos. Good week not to drive.

We’re just getting the edge of the storm, but still should get a not insignificant amount of rain. The southern Sierra, where all the really tall mountains are, is going to be really buried – that 60″ guess is for our end of the range, which is lower and not the center of this storm’s bullseye.

So, what does this all mean? My very amatuer guess is that we’ll end up with about 75% of average precipitation this year, which, on the back of last year’s 200% and current above normal reservoir levels, should be a JUST FINE.  And because the snow came so late, the ski resorts should be able to stay open through all or most of the spring. Right now, however, skiing is being snowed out. Can’t ski in a blizzard, especially when the roads are closed. But over the next couple months, should be excellent.

Why do I care, and more to the point, why should you care? I think the odd slants and filters on the news are perhaps most easily seen where the topic is not too emotional. Here, we have the safest topic of all – the weather. Yet, even such a mundane and non controversial topic can’t escape. Weather any different than it was last year or as it is selectively remembered to have been a decade or two ago? Must be global warming! Our reservoirs and aqueducts built for the completely different state we had 50 – 100 years ago? Drought! And global warming! We use pristine mountain water to wash circuit boards dozens of times so that the effluvia is clean enough to dump in the bay? Water shortage! Due to global warming!!

Folks, it’s just weather. We have 35 million+ Californians using water delivered largely by an old, creaky and leaky system designed for half that many, often using it in stupid ways. That means we have to be a little more circumspect and spend some money on infrastructure and maintenance. It’s not the end of the world. It does not require institution of a global tyranny to micromanage everybody’s lives.

But you wouldn’t know that by reading the news.

Convoluted Nonsense: Chicago

(Something from the draft pile from a month or two ago, that is sadly still pertinent.)

Over the course of reading American history and especially the history of education in America, I’ve developed an interest in Chicago’s history. Also, there was a time about 15-20 years ago when I had a number of customers in Chicago, and so made a trip or three there each year. I still get there occasionally. I’m familiar enough with the city to get the Chicago references in the Matrix without having to look them up.

Today’s absurdities/fake news comes out of Chicago – hardly a surprise. Chicago’s press, such as it is, is remarkable for its ability to ignore the obvious and simultaneously double down and minimize anything that makes the city, and, more importantly, the progressive project the city embodies, look bad. (1) I recall a while back, when googling around for information on Fred Roti, a lifetime Illinois politician, long-time city alderman, son of Mafia hit man Bruno “the Bomber” Roti, FBI-identified made man and convicted criminal, that I found an article about how Fred was just the nicest guy, a true lover of the city and patriot, that the FBI was clearly picking on him, and that law enforcement was the real criminal here. This appeared in one of the major Chicago papers back in the early 90s. This was the man who, for his decades as an alderman, always voted first – clearly, the rest of the city council, in their humility, needed the guidance of his example before doing something so stupid as voting against Roti.

The eminations coming out of the Chicago press defending Chicago are suspect in exactly the same way as the enthusiasm of the 2nd alderman to vote after Roti.

Problem: Chicago has a huge problem with gun violence. People kill each other with alarming frequency. Here’s not at all ever fake news CNN:

Chicago marked 2016 as the deadliest year in nearly two decades, data released by the Chicago Police Department shows.

The city saw a surge in gun violence in 2016: 762 murders, 3,550 shooting incidents, and 4,331 shooting victims, according to a statement released by the department on Sunday.

There were 480 murders in 2015, the most in the city since 1997.

Sounds like things are getting worse. Compare this with the situation in Houston, a similar sized city with a similarly diverse population:

Houston had 302 homicides in 2016, one fewer than a recorded 303 homicides in 2015, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced.

Houston has about 2.2 million people, Chicago about 2.7 million. By the magic of math, we see that Houston has a murder rate per 100,000 people of 14; while Chicago’s is 28. In other words, if murders are evenly distributed (fat chance), one would have twice as high a chance of getting murdered in Chicago as in Houston. However the murders are distributed, there were twice as many per capita in Chicago as in Houston in 2016. Further, Houston had a slight decrease in murders while Chicago had about a 59% increase.

Now, one might conclude from this that it seems likely, barring some pertinent additional information, that whatever the city of Chicago is doing to reduce murder rates isn’t working, while whatever Houston is doing seems to be working a better.

One might turn to the piece linked below in search of whatever might explain the murder rate differences. It is, after all, titled A Reporter Explains What Out-Of-Towners Keep Getting Wrong About Chicago Violence. Hey! I’m an out of towner! And I think Chicago’s murder rate – violence par excellence! – is twice as high as Houston’s because, well, it is. So, what am I getting wrong?

A reporter with the fine name of Evan Moore (no relation as far as I know) was approached by people wanting to make a documentary about Chicago, to get a sort of insider view.

After running down a list of what he liked about my work, he asked me to take him somewhere “relatively safe” on the South Side.

After shaking my head in disbelief, I wrote back asking what his definition of “safe” was. I didn’t hear back from him, but his associate offered a meeting at a coffee shop.

It was clear that the guy wanted to cover the violence in Chicago from a controlled environment. More importantly, he already had a preconceived notion about Chicago that he was going to use to shape his film.

I find this fascinating. I once visited the South Side – University of Chicago, to be specific – and *locals* were giving me all sorts of ‘stay away from there’ advise. They, people living on the South Side, seemed to have opinions more like the people doing the documentary than Mr. Moore. (2)

Also, as is so often the case among our media, our intrepid reporter has leet mind-reading skillz. He *knows* the documentary maker is going to use ‘preconceived notions’ to ‘shape’ his film.  Now, it is fair to assume that the filmmaker has notions about Chicago. They may even be ‘preconceived’ if by that phrase we mean ‘different from what he would have if he knew the city better’. What’s missing are reasons to suppose bad intent on the part of the filmmaker, other than the reporter supposing it.

Now, a simple man, especially a simple man with no bone to pick, might imagine that the documentary maker was soliciting input from locals precisely to ameliorate the effects of his ignorance, with the hope that he would then be able to present a better, truer picture of Chicago in his film. How Moore knows the filmmaker is going to ‘shape’ the film using ‘preconceived’ notions is, based on the information given in the article, borderline calumny – he wants us to believe that this unnamed documentary film maker is out to get Chicago, to sell preconceived notions – meaning negative notions, of course – to show how bad he imagines violence in the city to be. A responsible reporter (I slay me!) would never suggest such an unfavorable interpretation without, well, some facts.

Related image
Downtown, under the L. I’ve whiled away hours walking these streets. Fun. Very alive place. The picture captures, I think, something essential about Chicago’s soul: we need a train here. So stick it here! Not something you’d see in London or even LA.

Now, to be fair, I’ve lived in either LA and the Bay Area almost all my life, and people do get crazy notions about safety. You want to go to Watts or Compton or East LA? Fine, nobody will bother you if you just do your business. Just don’t leave stuff in your car, or park someplace out of the way where it might get stolen or stripped. And don’t just go hang out on the streets in the wee hours. Same goes for Oakland, except that about 75% of that city is really pretty suburban or even upscale. The only time I’ve gotten mugged in my life was at the LA Coliseum when I was a teen, and that was because I was lost in thought and got separated from my friends (who came back to check on me before things got ugly). Stuff happens. Personally, Berkeley, especially around Cal, is the worse, because people will steal your stuff in the blink of an eye. Kind of like in Rome.

So, yea, people get wrong ideas. But you straighten them out. You don’t accuse them of trying to set you up and produce propaganda – unless you’re willing to lay down a lot more evidence to support that idea than is presented in the article.

I understand why people want to come to Chicago to document the violence here. After all, Chicago has a long history of it—from Al Capone to Chief Keef. Chicago has always been considered sexy due to the violence. From the outside looking in, many media pundits, parachute journalists, and the people in the comment section in every media outlet known to man seems to believe that black and brown people on Chicago’s South and West Sides are killing each other on a daily basis and no one in those communities seems to care.

Who considers Chicago ‘sexy’ due to the violence? Any real people you can name? I would not use the word ‘sexy’ to describe anything about Chicago, let alone the violence. (And starting the violence with Capone is late – how about “Bathhouse” John Coughlin- or the Haymarket Riot, occasioned at least partly by voting fraud that never takes place? The not at all sexy history of violence in Chicago goes way back.) Millennium Park is cool, the Art Institute is lovely, the architecture down town is beautiful. Great restaurants. Nice museums. Other than that, it’s mostly a big, kinda dirty city – that is full of life, which is why, I suppose, people like big cities so much in the first place. I can dig it. Colorful might be a better overall term.

“…seems to believe that black and brown people on Chicago’s South and West Sides are killing each other on a daily basis and no one in those communities seems to care.” Let’s see: 762 divided by 365 would indicate that, on average, more than 2 people are getting murdered by *somebody* someplace in Chicago on a daily basis – which might explain the attitude. This would be the point at which a responsible reporter (can’t slay me, already dead) would throw down some facts, something that contradicts what seems on the surface a pretty reasonable position. The statistics I’ve seen largely support the idea that white people killing other white people or white people killing black people isn’t nearly the problem black people killing black people is – but hey, Mr. Reporter, I could be persuaded by some clear information here.

I’m thinking it’s the “…no one in those communities seems to care” that is the point of interest. But wait: Who, again, would imagine such a thing? I, for one, would not in a million years suppose that the people *in the community* in which the murders are taking place don’t “care” – I would assume that they care passionately. How could they not, if it’s their children and brothers and fathers getting killed? The idea that there are people imagining they don’t care is preposterous. One might get that impression cherry-picking the Internet, I suppose. But how about somebody on the record saying such a thing?

Who I would assume don’t care are those who do not live in the neighborhood. Political ideologues, for example, don’t care, those for whom murder is a complex and difficult problem the causes of which are nothing so simple as anger, jealousy, greed, and the desperation and insanity that spring up and thrive like so many mushrooms on the wreckage of destroyed families. (3)  If your ideology requires that you hate and oppose all the traditional supports for families – churches, making divorce hard, making abortion illegal, recognizing marriage and family as greater, more fundamental goods than any state – then you’ll be forced to come up with other supposed supports, such as ever-growing social services, even if such ‘help’ by its very nature divorces the individual from local ties and marries him to a distant bureaucracy. Like Vietnamese villages, we evidently must destroy the neighborhoods in order to save them.

Or maybe I’ve got it all wrong. If so, arguments and numbers might be presented to explain it, or at least to suggest an avenue of exploration. There are no numbers in the article itself. Numbers may be what are giving out of towners their wrong impressions, after all. There are a few links to other articles in the same paper that take exactly the same approach – but do have some numbers. Maybe I’ll take a crack at them later. On the surface, none struck me as very helpful presentations, in that they do, in fact, show Chicago as a comparative disaster in terms of murder rates, yet never really offer any reasons why that aren’t highly speculative and frankly self-serving.

They focus on the amount of deaths and shootings, but not the systemic issues that have festered over time. That’s where the meat of Chicago’s problems are at.

Here’s an assertion. Given the lack of data and argument, one might call it a religious dogma. What gives Chicago such a tragic high and lonely destiny, murder wise, as opposed to other large, diverse American cities? Why don’t those systemic issues show up in the same magnitude in New York? Or Houston?

Chicago is increasingly a talking point of white supremacists and conservative media. After all, Chicago is often looked upon as everything that can wrong when you let liberals run a big city. President Donald Trump recently threatened to send in the National Guard (or in his words, “the feds”), and recently discussed our city with a select group of black people. Previously, Trump falsely claimed that two people were shot during President Barack Obama’s farewell speech in Chicago. He tweeted the numbers of shootings and killings in Chicago, along with calling our city “War Zone,” in meeting with black “leaders” at the White House.

Ah! Now we play the white supremacist card, and link it with the simple word ‘and’ to conservative media. Sure. Why not? That a Chicago neighborhood dweller can’t see any material difference is not an indictment of his eyesight, but rather proof that the overlap of the Venn diagram is near perfect. In classic critical theory, everything is explained as a function of economics, thus rendering all non-economic causes invisible. Here, in accord with the current more flexible iteration of critical theory, race takes the place of economics – that the (undefined – kind of a running theme, here) conservative media might say something from a place other than mere racism is conclusively presumed to be impossible.

Next, if any black person deigns to talk with Trump, that fact alone proves conclusively that they are not black leaders, but black “leaders”.

As you may have noticed, our president, and those who chide our city from the outside, never mention how it’s a small sample of hurt people in hurt communities that commit violent acts towards one another. That stance is willfully ignorant of the importance of investing in poverty-fighting practices and anti-gun policies that can help our communities in the long-run.

There are no arguments. We are merely presented with a story about preconceived notions, the presumed bad intent of some filmmaker, wild and nonsensical accusations that unnamed out of towners think locals don’t care about their family members and neighbors getting killed, a dismissal of the idea – supported by the numbers we’re not seeing – that minorities in the neighborhoods tend to kill each other at a much higher rate than the larger community. We are then told, in conclusion, what to do: invest in “poverty-fighting practices and anti-gun policies”.  Because it’s not like Chicago has been at the forefront of such efforts for a century or more, with the results we see before our eyes….

We report, you decide has passed even from memory; we report and decide has been taken off life support. We’ll tell you what to think is passing before our eyes into we’ll tell you what to feel on its way to we’ll tell you what to do.

  1. Which, if they ever even acknowledge anything wrong with the way the city is run, is always nuanced and complicated, in their view, and in any event the possibility it might have something to do with 100 years of Progressive politics is never raised except to be mocked.  As the linked piece demonstrates.
  2. The University employs 140 police officers. Not security guards, but people with police powers, who patrol University grounds and also patrol some of the nearby streets. I don’t think UCLA or Stanford does this.
  3. I tended to discount stories about how social programs destroy families – seemed overstated, at least. However,  we’ve gotten to know a young family through the local Gabriel Project. Black, poor, from shattered families, but heroic – the mom kept her baby, dad didn’t run away but stayed and eventually married the mother of his child. They both work low end jobs. Crazy hard life, but they’re trying! Well, the mom told my wife recently that a social services person told her that her husband should move out, that as long as he stayed, there were severe limits on what they could do for her and the baby, but if he were out of the picture, there would be more aid available. Pure evil. I wish I could be sure this is an unintended consequence.

Evolution & Society

Speaking of getting more circumspect the more I learn, treading more carefully on evolutionary topics these days than I used to. Thanks to those who have brought more depth to my understanding here and at other blogs and such, especially Mike Flynn. Of course, my continuing lack of understanding is nobody’s fault by mine. Onward:

There are here both a basic idea and a basic problem that war, or at least are made to war, with each other. First is the grand idea, not quite so grand as many imagine but grand nonetheless, of species arising under the pressure of natural selection. Darwin spends the first part of the Origin of Species (note: origin of species) discussing how farmers have always, more or less consciously, artificially selected the most desirable plants and animals for breeding and thus perpetuation. That’s the model to be kept in mind always when considering Darwin: natural selection is to be understood as analogous to what a farmer does.  Continue reading “Evolution & Society”

Book Review – Hidden Truth: A Science Fiction Techno-Thriller

Stayed up late to finish The Hidden Truth: A Science Fiction Techno-Thriller by Hans G. Schantz because I had to – this is not the kind of book you stop with only 20% left to read. Nope, gotta see what happens. Short and sweet: a very good read, very much old school pulp, early Heinlein hard science + heroic heroes and derring-do. The story opens with some almost bucolic high school stuff, and establishes the main characters as believable denizens of a small country town. Then it adds electromagnetism and science history, mystery, conspiracy, and murder! Good stuff, good Sci Fi.  

The Hidden Truth: A Science Fiction Techno-Thriller by [Schantz, Hans G.]I had to laugh out loud at all the points in the story where a poor sensitivity reader’s head would gratifyingly explode. Schantz keeps a completely straight face about it all, which only makes it funnier. Stuff like a most motherly mom who also can put a bullet between your eyes if you need it; free-market patriots armed to the teeth who the author of  “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” would no doubt call rednecks are the *heroes*; a slightly alternative history in which Gore won, was killed when the 9-11 attacks succeeded in hitting the White House, and Lieberman (his vice president: McCain) got a bunch of carbon taxes through and is now taking credit for the last 20 years of flat temperatures even as atmospheric carbon keeps rising. The easily recognizable bad guys, they who are hiding the Hidden Truth, all have our best interests at heart, like a rancher has his cattles best interests at heart. 

Simply, men are men. Women are women. Boys aspire to be men; girls aspire to be women. People pray before meals. The government is assumed to be of, by and for the people – or else. Somebody here didn’t learn his Crimestop. Thank goodness. BUT – I hasten to add that all this is done organically, as part of a very good story, not through  preaching or uncalled for digressions. If I were a kid reading this, I probably wouldn’t even much notice.

The protagonist and 1st person narrator (whose name I think is Peter, but his name is mentioned so rarely in the book I’m suddenly unsure) a very bright kid (comparisons with Kip from Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit, Will Travel are apt) stumbles across a curious passage in an old book on electromagnetism. He enlists the help of his best friend and debate partner Amit Patel, a leet computer geek and would-be lady’s man, to investigate.

They snoop around a bit, looking for other references that might explain the peculiar wave interactions described in this one dusty book from a mostly forgotten library at what used to be the local technical college. All hell breaks loose. A girl bookstore clerk who helped them out is found murdered along with her boss. Dad, mom and Uncle Rob all get involved, trying to lay low while also trying to figure our what’s going on.

And it gets more interesting from there. Schantz writes in a direct, no-nonsense style and ladles out the science in easily-digestible portions. The ending is a bit of a cliff-hanger – so, on to volume II, A Rambling Wreck. It’s like he planned it that way!

Check it out. Under 300 pages, so you can read it in a few sittings. 5 stars.

Why (almost) Nobody Can Read

In a comment somewhere, I opined that if we consider literacy to mean not the mere mechanics of reading, but both actually reading and understanding what you have read, the percentage of people who are literate in America has got to be under 10%. I’m thinking probably well under. If you can’t read, in the sense of rendering those symbols on the page or screen into English, then of course you’re classically illiterate (and so of course aren’t reading this). But even if you can read in that sense, if you don’t read, it clearly makes no difference. The label ‘functionally illiterate’ should apply to people who don’t read as as much as those who can’t read.

Image result for readingThe bigger issue is understanding what you read. Recent reading and discussion, for example, show an almost complete misunderstanding of what the Constitution *is*.  That men wrote a document in order to establish and limit a national government seems almost entirely missed, as is the understanding that an unlimited government is by definition a tyranny.  Even the Bill of Rights is seen as somehow magically granting gifts to the People, rather than stating areas where the government shall not tread.

Recently tried to explain the Electoral College to a coworker, how it protects minorities – those who live in less populous states – from getting bullied by the majority, and how the Constitution very probably would not have gotten state approval without it – and he simply refused to understand, but continued to relish his anger at having the majority denied their will. I even added that revolts tend to come from the provinces, that the Founders knew this, and instituted the Electoral College as a way to mitigate this risk. Nope.

This accusatory finger here is pointed squarely at the mirror: hardly a day goes by when I don’t read something and realize I lack the context to understand it. What I do have, in addition to curiosity, is a liberal education – Great Books, some math and music, a little science and art and history. What that gives me is a skeleton like the girders that hold up a skyscraper that can be filled in, here and there, with more detail. That no man, let alone a poser like me, could ever fill it all in is beside the point. At least I have some context for the context, as it were.

Perhaps the most important part of a liberal education is a profound appreciation of how ignorant we all are. There is an effectively infinite set of things it would be good to know, and we most definitely have a finite amount of time and capacity. Further, no one with a functioning mind could come away from an encounter with Plato or Aristotle (or a host of others!) and still believe we moderns are way smarter than those stupid ancient people. No one (1) could look at the works of art – architecture, sculpting, painting, literature, music – and imagine we moderns are just way more sophisticated and smart than those old geezers. In fact, the feeling we’ve fallen far is hard to shake, that we couldn’t hold a candle next to truly great minds. Now, objectively, I believe there are any number of truly brilliant people around today in a thousand fields, as brilliant as anyone ever, but the image that springs to mind is of Dawkins and Musk with their hubris and gadgets trying to talk with, oh, Charlamagne and St. Thomas or Plato and Archimedes or even Jefferson and Newton. Always worth a giggle.

A liberally educated man will therefore be at least a little timid about his conclusions no matter how vigorous in his principles – and know the difference. The typical miseducated college grad is vigorous in his conclusions and vague about his principles – or would be, if he could tell the difference.

When I’m being careful and honest with myself (I try, but I’m only human), I’m somewhere between suspicious to pretty confident about what I’ve deduced from reading education history. I’m very confident about much of the framework items, such as Fichte’s role, the role of the Prussian models of universal and university education, and how compulsory graded classroom schooling spread in America – mostly because no one I’ve come across, critic or supporter, seriously disputes it. I’m a little uncomfortable with the contention that the Irish immigrants were the proximate cause of Mann getting Prussian style schooling approved in Massachusetts. I’ve seen this in 2 or 3 sources, and the timing matches, and the attitudes of Americans about the Irish certainly support it, but it’s not clear these sources aren’t really one source passed through time.

And so on, down to my complete lack of sources for the when and why the graded classroom model became the Catholic schooling model. It happened, that’s for sure, but I’d like some names, dates and arguments.

This is just an example, a place in the framework where I’ve managed to fill in some of the detail. I’m painfully aware of the effectively infinite number of empty spaces for every space I’ve filled in even a little. I’m aware I could be wrong. But I’m also aware that the enemies of truth and reason don’t feel (can’t say ‘think’) the same way about their positions, and don’t care. Can’t let legitimate minor doubts silence you in the face of irrational hatred.

In conclusion: I flatter myself imagining I read with some context and care. I fear, and unfortunately, the world seems hellbent to confirm it, that the number of people who can claim even this much is as a drop in a bucket. I hope I’m wrong.

  1. No one except Hegel. But boy, was he committed to getting the square peg of Reality into the round hole of his Theory.

Chairs… no – Music at Masses Review

A reader commented that my life must be pretty near to perfection if I can find the energy to gripe about church chairs. While he may have a point, sorta, the reality is more like I am so easily distracted that even something as trivial as weird church chairs can distract me from… uh…

Today, I went to a 9:00 Mass at one nearby parish so I could do the RCIA dismissal after the Scrutinies at Queen of All Saints at 10:30. We sat in these chairs:


Clearly, they are intended and used as flexible pews.


Vastly better construction than these chairs. Legs integrated into the seat and set at an angle to minimize pressure on the joints. Yet, I was distracted from the chairs which distracted me from Mass by the sweet smell of pancakes. One of the things these chairs tell you is that the parish is unsure of what, exactly, the church building is for. Normal pews commit one to viewing the building as exclusively a church. Evidently, this large box of a building is also for pancake breakfasts, because a bunch of tables were set up for one at the back of the church, and the smell of the pancakes cooking filled the church. There’s not even a visual barrier between the Mass and the breakfast – I walked through the tables on my way to the porta-pews.

So, of course, we sang, or rather listened to, Jebbies and Haugen. This mass had a children’s choir, a small passel of cute little girls miked up like they were calling for the repeal of the 2nd Amendment – more than one mike for every two girls. Otherwise, it would have been pretty darn quiet during the ‘singing’.

We listened to them singing Jerusalem My Destiny, a little ditty I’ve somehow missed.

I have fixed my eyes on your hills,
Jerusalem, my Destiny!
Though I cannot see the end for me,
I cannot turn away.
We have set our hearts for the way;
this journey is our destiny.
Let no one walk alone.
The journey makes us one.

Other spirits, lesser gods,
have courted me with lies.
Here among you I have found
a truth that bids me rise. (Refrain)

See, I leave the past behind;
a new land calls to me.
Here among you now I find
a glimpse of what might be. (Refrain)

In my thirst, you let me drink
the waters of your life,
Here among you I have met,
the Savior, Jesus Christ. (Refrain)

All the worlds I have not seen
you open to my view.
Here among you I have found
a vision bright and new. (Refrain)

To the tombs I went to mourn
the hope I thought was gone,
Here among you I awoke
to unexpected dawn. (Refrain)

Aren’t we wonderful! References to I, me, we, us, etc: 31. God: 1, and the one verse that even mentions Christ turns Him into some sort of abstract expression of group identity:

In my thirst, you let me drink the waters of your life, Here among you I have met, the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Pronoun trouble: the ‘you’ here seems to be Jerusalem at least some of the time, but not always? You’d be hard pressed from context to figure out when it is or isn’t.

This song represents perhaps the nadir of content-free hymnody. It says nothing and means nothing. It invites the question ‘what is that supposed to mean?’ without providing any sure context within which to to figure it out. Take the opening line, or any line, for that matter, of just about any classic hymn, and you’ll see what I mean:

Praise the Lord, Ye Heavens adore Him

Joyful, Joyful, we adore Him

Jesus, my Lord, my God, my All

Jesu, Joy of man’s desiring

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow

And on and on and on. A relationship between the singer and the Savior is established within the first 10 words; God is the subject of the hymn, praise the objective. God is described as the Giver of Blessings, the Joy that answers our desires, the Object of our adoration. Jerusalem My Destiny? Not so much. Evocative words and phrases  – Jerusalem! Destiny! – end up meaning exactly whatever you want to imagine them to mean. It is an anti-hymn, an anti-psalm.

On Saturday, went to a Catholic Men’s Conference. Our beloved – and he could sure use your prayers – Archbishop Cordeleone of San Francisco celebrated mass at noon, with a lovely choir doing chant and motets and a couple nice songs, some in Latin. We sang as Byzantine-style 4-part setting of the St. Michael’s Prayer. No question Who this mass and its music were directed toward.

On the whole, the weekend was a huge plus on the music at mass front.