Updates: Writing Research, YA Reading Recommendations

A. Was working on the Novel That Must Not Yet Be Named, and wanted to have somebody look through a backyard telescope, and realized I’d not done so myself since about age 10 – circa 1968. At that time I owned a cheap refractor which, nonetheless, allowed me to see, through the light pollution of L.A.,  the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn (a blurry blob, but still.)  A slightly older kid, who lived across the street, had a very cool reflector with a sidereal drive that took forever to set up (well, by 10-year-old standards of ‘forever’). I remember trying to see the moon – incredible detail at the time – and having it wander out of the the field of view because it did not in fact move as one with the background stars.

Paul – for that was the neighbor kid’s name – had a backyard that was a bit of a tunnel: the trees and building blocked off a lot of the nearer ambient city light, and so created a darker viewing space. The cost was that only a fairly narrow strip of sky was viewable at any time. Me, I’d set up out on the sidewalk, meaning street and house lights washed out anything that wasn’t magnitude 3 or better. I’d just point the thing at anything I could see. I about lost it when I saw Saturn, although I wasn’t sure what it was, thought maybe it was Andromeda or some other galaxy until I checked and discovered that none of them were visible to the naked eye under less than perfect conditions. And somewhere – Sky and Telescope? They had it in the library – had a chart where Saturn would be that month, so I figured it out. Back in those primitive times, you had to go look stuff up. In, like, books, even!

Anyway, so I wanted to describe this dad looking through a telescope to see the long ship being built for the colonists as it orbited in the sky.(1) And I realized that I was going to totally blow the terminology, thereby blowing a portion of the intended audience out of the story. So, research. Only took maybe 20 minutes to find what I needed, but this same sort of situation is likely to come up about every 5-10 pages…

Now I want a telescope. They are way cooler now, with way more bang-for-the-buck, than in the old days. Lot of light pollution in this neighborhood…

B. If you’re looking for YA books to read to your kids, please check out John C. Wright’s Moth and Cobweb series, the first two books of which are out and can be found here and here. Like all good YA stuff, they also reward adult-level reading, so, even if you don’t have kids, you will enjoy them. My review of the first book is here. Bottom line: my 12-year-old loves it, and I’m having fun reading it to him. We’re halfway through book 2, The Feast of the Elves.

Then the plan is to read some Jagi Lamplighter. This, around the next book in the queue, which is Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability and Statistics by William Briggs, which haunts my nightstand.

  1. Occurs to me if you were going to use an asteroid as the basis of your generation ship, you might want to tow it/boost it to a Lagrange point, to make getting stuff to it more handy. Earth orbit might be too risky/unstable, unless you plopped it opposite the moon.  Maybe? This is the sort of thing I’ll end up writing around rather than thinking it through – unless I can get back in touch with my rocket scientist friends (yes, I know some real-deal rocket scientists – because their kid went to the same preschool as our kid) and have them vett it…

Writing That Novel: Thanks & Progress Report

Something like 150+ people so far have looked at that draft Prologue I threw up a couple days ago, and 6 of you even took time to comment and make suggestions. So, thanks again, that was very kind of you all.

Plus, since you all seemed to think it promising, will proceed with writing.  Here’s how it stands:

  • You’ve all seen the Prologue. Going to let that stew for a while before revisions.
  • I’ve written a draft climax/ending, which of course you all may not see. This is a big deal for me, as, in the half-dozen or so previous times in the last 40 years I’ve tried to write a novel, I soon run into the inevitable problem of not knowing where I’m going and stopping in frustration. Well, at least this time I know where I’m going.
  • Outline is now about 10 pages long. Lots of details missing, but, based on what I’ve seen so far, it looks to be a 300-400 page project. Doable? Heck if I know.
  • Have a small mountain of research assembled, including a couple books. Need a lot more. I really need a sort of discipline I’ve never had: to dig into a subject just enough to get what I need and no more. This will be a challenge. (When in business school, got a lot of fascinating reading done in the Cal State SF library, practically none of which had the slightest thing to do with the homework I supposedly was working on. I’m a bad, bad student…)
  • When I thought about it, I realized this whole thing traces back to a paper I wrote for a science class back when I was 15-16 years old, based on an essay by Azimov concerning the very weird nature of biochemical isomers. (I got an ‘A’).  I’m guessing it’s probably stewed enough?

Anyway, after I get happy with my climax/ending, I’ll go back to the beginning and write more chapters of approximately similar length and throw them up here, for as long as you kind folks will keep on humoring me.

Thanks again!

P.S. One weird thing, at least weird to me: I live inside my own head (duh) and dream up odd and convoluted scenarios that might make a story – always some weird technical thing I half understand. But when I write, what I like writing is dialogue and people. But that’s never what I think of until I’m actually writing. Weird, huh?

Bumper Sticker Sighting

I mentioned on somebody else’s blog that, even here in San Francisco Bay area, about as liberal and progressive an area in America, I rarely see any Hillary bumper stickers even now, mere weeks before the election – in fact, I see an order or two of magnitude more old Obama ’08 bumper stickers than ones backing the current Democratic candidate.

So yesterday, I pull up at a stop light and am and brought face to bumper with this:


A Saturn, which was the Prius-lite of an earlier generation, festooned, even, with bumper stickers. In case you can’t make them out in this blurry-through-the-window-at-a-traffic-light masterpiece of picture-taking:


We’ve got the classic ‘coexist’ concept, including, on the same tag, symbols of Islam, which has only occasionally coexisted with anything else, usually right up until the time when somebody reads what the sacred texts actually say, and Judaism, which has been on the receiving end of a lot of not-so-coexistence-promoting violence, and Christianity, which at least preaches peaceful coexistence, which has been every bit as effective as its preaching of humility and self control in other areas (1).

CORRECTION: a reader with the handle VFM and better eyes notes that this particular subspecies of COEXIST bumper sticker is the way cooler Sci Fi version, with the Death Star, a Klingon warbird and so on. If only I could be convinced that this is subversive mockery of the coexist concept rather than somebody thinking it cool to extend to concept to fantasy sci fi universes, I might have to reevaluate my whole view of this rolling sociopolitical statement. How ironic can one car be, after all? It would help, perhaps, if I could read the other stickers…

Then come a couple Hillary stickers, looking like losing entries in a ‘spiff up roadside Hospital Ahead signs’ contest. What might at first strike an outsider as discongruous – the Oakland Raiders sticker placed above the Hillary stickers  – is, upon a moment’s reflection, the cherry on the top its front and center location on the car suggests. The Raiders are a legendarily violent team which in its heydey had a bunch of thugs and criminals on the roster. The founding genius, a man with some noticeable sociopathic tendencies  named Al Davis, had the motto: ‘Just win, baby!’ Davis used the court system to finagle his way in and out of contracts and punish his enemies, leaving grieving fan bases – you know, the people who pay the bills – behind. And Raiders are, as the logo makes clear, pirates – people who violently and most often murderously take from those who have and give, well, to themselves.

So, the Raiders are deeply loved in liberal Oakland and Berkeley. Go figure. And sit here, in this artful array of stickers, atop the Hillary ones. I don’t know if it’s scarier to imagine this as a conscious or unconscious arrangement….

Anyway, the final kicker, the car-based message that kicks this vehicle up from mere Rolling PC Billboard & Virtue Signal to Cosmic Reality Assault Vehicle is the license plate frame:


Yes: Leap!!! The Net Will Appear. If this lady – it was an ancient (as in: even older than me) woman with flowing grey locks and a look of fury on her face (but, hey, to cut her some slack – if you were commuting home at that hour, you’d look less than completely composed, too.) – would actually leap with no net, maybe from the top of Half Dome, she could sell tickets. Heck, I might buy one.

But, alas! The True Believer, the acolytes of magical thinking, whereby the Forces of Nature or Karma or Fate or History or Anything-Just-As-Long-As-It-Isn’t-the-Christian-God make the Magic Pumpkin/Worker’s Paradise to appear just when we need it, no doubt with an audible pop, just as it appears we are heading for a moment of rapid and messy deceleration, seem disinclined to test their own theories with their own selves (2).

But we – the people who doubt somehow the efficacy of this particular brand of magic, and who are not in favor of pirating as a method of gaining and keeping political office and redistributing the wealth – we provide an abundant resource, as it were, with which to test the power of this magic, if only we will sidle up to that there cliff. All we need is a little push.

A hundred million corpses at the bottom attest to the vigor, if not the success, of this approach. But next time, for sure!

  1. In other words, surprisingly effective, given baseline human behavior as observed in all non-Christian cultures. If the standard is, say, how the Chinese or Yanomami treat outsiders, then Christians (and Jews, too!) rock – way more peaceful and tolerant. Of course, in the flat moral universe inhabited by moderns, not having succeeded perfectly is equivilent to have completely failed.
  2. To be completely fair, each generation of Marxists contains at least a few True Believers who take the leap. They are know as ‘corpses’.

Writing Sample – Feedback?

Experiment. Here is a draft preface to the first story in the sci fi novel I’ve largely pretended I was going to write over the past couple decades. Probably won’t use it, but it captures something of the ideas and flavor I’m going for. So I’m throwing it up here. What do you think?

  1.     Prologue

“What are your thoughts on murder?”

“Could you be a little more specific?” The young woman, with practiced calm, remained  unruffled.

“It’s a long trip.” Her interrogator, equally impassive, continued. “There’s bound to be a few people who get through the screening who can’t take it, where the combination of vast emptiness and tight confinement push them a bit too far.” He cocked his large grey head slightly on the other side of the plain grey desk. “Someone starts getting ideas, maybe not even crazy ideas, and starts telling himself that nobody else can be trusted, that everybody else needs to wake up.” His level gaze never left her face.

“The Argos is a huge ship,” she replied, wondering how hard she should stare back. Hard enough to say ‘confident’ but not cross the line to ‘aggressive’.  “I don’t think lack of space should be an issue.” She was stalling.    

The large, grey man stood up, and walked over to the window, and seemed to examine the skyscrapers it framed, his back to the applicant. “Have you ever been to Hawaii?” She waited. “Huge islands. Very beautiful, a paradise, even. Several million people live on them. But you can drive all the way around any one of them in a couple hours.” He paused.

Slowly, she ventured, “Some people don’t like it?”

He turned back toward her. “After three days there, I was itching to get back to the mainland. I had Honolulu behind me, looking out on thousands of miles of ocean in every direction. I felt trapped. Three days in, on paradise.”

“So, you’re not going?” She asked with genuine curiosity.

“Me? Nah.” He sat back down. “I’ll live out my days on this little rock, trying not to think how small it is compared to the enveloping black.” He settled in his chair, and seemed to relax a bit. “So, guy like me gets through the screening, a few years in, starts quietly freaking out – will you kill me if you have to?”

She weighed her choices, and decided to go with honest. “No. I would bring the situation to the attention of the proper authority.”

“And what if the proper authority doesn’t believe you or otherwise fails to act?”

“Then we have bigger problems than one lonely guy losing it.” Her gaze returned to steady.

He leaned back in his chair and gave a slight nod. “Good answer. Now, what do you think of marital fidelity?”

She started slightly, then recovered. “What does that have to do with the long ships?”

He leaned forward. “This is an important question. Do you believe two people can take such a vow to each other and honor it for the rest of their lives?”

She was taken aback. “I – I don’t know. I suppose they can. If they want.” She had anticipated, even dreamed of, all the weird requirements of long-term space travel, of the heroic sacrifices the team would have to make. But was there a requirement she live like her great grandparents? She wasn’t sure that was the sort of romantic adventure she hoped space travel to be.

“Knowing what you know about this mission, why do you suppose we ask about marital fidelity?”

She had a salvaging thought. “To weed out the religious fanatics?”

He was looking at his desk, and seemed to be reciting a speech. “We are expecting at least two or three generations of people to spend their lifetimes onboard a ship with other people not of their choosing, some of  whom they are guaranteed to dislike. The passengers and crew will take vows regarding their duties on board the ship, to obey the authorities, to honor the mission.”

“Years of research and dry runs have shown – to the surprise and disappointment of many, I might add – that in order to have one big bickering, grudge holding, petty family that, nonetheless, still can get the mission completed, you need moms and dads that stick to each other for better or worse, richer or poorer – all that hopelessly romantic claptrap.” He re-engaged his steely eyelock. “It only works if that level of dedication is inculcated from the womb, by the only person who matters to that baby.”  

“You’re kidding me.” She dropped her interview persona and slipped unconsciously into her default brilliant post doc. “You’re saying that, for this trip to succeed, only hetrosexual couples mentally inhabiting the Dark Ages need apply, and that mothers” she flinched, “must physically bear and raise their own children?”   

A slight curl raised a corner of his mouth. “Oh, it’s worse than that. It’s not just a matter of personal vows. The society on the ship must reinforce and, if necessary, enforce these  behaviors. They must be societal norms, accepted by everyone, expected by everyone.”  

He stood again and turned again to look out the window. He must have been an actor, she thought, with these dramatic pauses and bits.

He continued. “The very idea that someone would break a vow must be seen as a horror, a disgrace, a threat to everyone’s well-being. If not, why, all those pledges we extract from each person on board, to put the welfare of the ship and the colony first, don’t mean jack.”

Silence filled the room. The winter sun fell below the skyline, and darkness began to spread. Through the large window past the Interviewer, she saw one of those ubiquitous air party ships passing slowly between the slender skyscrapers, retro-neon lights flashing, illuminating its huge, bulbous hull. Along its bottom edge were many large sloping windows, through which she could imagine she saw the endless party therein contained. An observation deck, like a giant’s underbite, protruded from the ship’s leading edge. Scrolling illuminated text several stories high let it be known which sexual and chemical activities would be celebrated on-board.

“It’s not enough that you are allowed to do whatever you want,” the interviewer was clearly examining the scrolling text as well, “you must let everybody else know you’re doing whatever you want.”

He continued to speak with his back to her. “Oh, we know it won’t work perfectly, people being people. And we considered maybe something like Buddhism or even some sort deep training, with mental and physical disciplines – space Ninjas, we called that idea – but, in the end, the old bonds of family and friends seems to work best.”

He turned toward her, wresting her attention from the airship. “What do you think? You’re young, the file says you’re still fertile.” He wondered at that – most college girls got the treatment by the time they were 16. Some young people are just too proud. “Could you get and stay married for the rest of your life? We need replacement generations, and you might be called upon. Duty and all that.”

“I – I don’t know.”

“We didn’t think you would know,” he said, turning back to the window. “In fact, your profile suggests you would be a poor fit for our little medieval village in the sky.” Her face was a mask. He continued. “The reason you’re here at all is that, trumping even the need for faithful parents is the need for certain technical specialties. You’re the best of the best in exobiology. Terraforming will often involve a lot of pest control, you might say. The labs on the Argos are state of the art, finest money can buy. Shame if we couldn’t staff them with top talent.”

She said nothing. He went on, turning back to the airship, now facing them as it rounded Gilead Tower a mile away. “So, the real question is: can you fake it? Can you keep your personal opinions and behaviors to yourself? Or do you need to broadcast them, like those fine souls on that airship?”

The interviewer turned his head back toward her. Past him, she thought she saw a human form, tiny with distance, throw itself off the observation deck and disappear into the darkness below. Her face and voice were grim. “I think I can. I would give anything to try.”

Wealth and Greed

A damp yard awaits my Saturday ministrations; here I write, coffee at hand,  hoping the sun breaks through and dries it a bit…

Like almost all words and ideas used in modern political shouting matches – can’t justify calling them discussions, let alone arguments – wealth and greed are slippery terms. Attempts to define them in actions will 1) fail; and 2) likely get you called names. And, in truth, they defy definition, as they are almost without exception used as implied comparatives: wealth is noticeably more than I have; greed is keeping noticeably more than I keep. What, if anything, wealth and greed are in themselves is stubbornly avoided.(1)  Even considered as comparatives, the formula is, it seems, very flexible: Bernie can make more money than I do (he does), use that income to care for fewer people than I do (ditto), have his retirement funded to a degree I could only dream of, own more real estate that I do, including a newly-purchased vacation home, give far less to charities out of that income – yet, in the eyes of his followers, I am wealthy and greedy because I have more stuff than most of them do. (2)  Bernie is sweetness and light itself.

Go figure.

How about taking a stab at a less subjective definition not based on a comparison? I think most people who are not Ayn Rand would agree with that the principles expressed in the tradition corporal works of mercy represent some baseline of our duties to each other:(3)

  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To harbor the harborless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead.

A poor person, a person lacking wealth, would be in this light one needing food, drink, clothing, a place to stay, comfort in their illness, freedom from captors, and, finally, burial at time death.

Now, here’s the tricky part: someone who is not poor has food, drink, clothing, a place to stay, people to visit him when sick; is not a captive and, I suppose, has had arrangements made for his burial.

So: a non-comparative definition of wealth in itself could be: the possession of more than adequate food, drink, clothing and housing; and confidence in a more than adequate burial, and more than sufficient companionship in times of sickness or captivity.

Greed could therefore be described as: a compulsion to have more than adequate food, drink, clothing and housing, excessive companionship in times of sickness or captivity, and a sumptuous burial. (4)

The loose term here is ‘adequate’, with the burning question being: does what is adequate change over time? Most obviously, we would consider it criminal to deny someone antibiotics if they needed them – but antibiotics have only been around in the modern sense for 150 years. Visiting the sick has grown into caring for the sick over time, as the helplessness of the visitor has been replaced by modern medicine.

As much as it pains me to say it (it’s a lot less tidy for the argument, but truth is truth) yes, what constitutes ‘adequate’ does change over time as it becomes possible (5) to keep people healthy and alive by giving them newly invented comforts. On a practical level, virtually all the benefits of technology to virtually everybody all the time are stupid-simple: clean water, good sanitation, mitigation of heat and cold (i.e., a snug dwelling with heating and cooling as needed), along with antibiotics and vaccines.  Only in comparatively rare situations do things like MRIs and open-heart surgery materially improve anyone’s life. If you’re that guy who needs it, sure, it’s a big deal. But most people never do, and, even when they do, as likely as not the outcome isn’t many more healthy years of life. On a population-wide basis, those more high-tech improvements have only marginal effects on quality of life.

Back to the point: adequate in a rich country like ours means something like: good, nutritious food and clean water, enough clothing to dress according to the weather, a snug (6)  place to live with hot and cold running water (helps with that whole cleanliness thing), the availability of basic medicine, freedom from captivity and confidence your body will be properly disposed of upon death.

Greed would be a compulsion or obsession with wanting more than that. Wanting to destroy people for having more than that would be envy. Politics that fan envy and therefore animosity between people who might otherwise live in peace is demagoguery.  Hell’s millstone factory is on triple shifts.

Those of us who have direct person relationships with people who, for example, live in Section 8 housing, get their healthcare for free from County General and use food stamps recognize a different sort of poverty than any that might be addressed via material goods. There seem to be few sane adults in this country that don’t have ready access to all the items in that list above – food stamps can be used to get nutritious food, Section 8 housing tends to have hot and cold running water, the St. Vincent DePaul Society, among others, will outfit you with appropriate clothing if you ask them, and so on. Those are not the things that are missing, for the most part, in this country. The crushing poverty in this country is a poverty of family, companionship and community, which are the places in which true humanity flowers and freedom worthy of the name can  be exercised. Without them, we become slaves, thralls of we know not what, fighting against a foe we do not understand. But alas! There are no federal programs for love.

For my part, I have another 8 or 10 years over which my physical wealth (such as it is – I’m no Bernie!) supports and provides security for 5 other people – my wife and 4 living children. So I must hold on to it and add to it if I can, to fulfill my duties. After that, most of what remains will be designated as an inheritance, to give a leg up to my kids as they assume responsibility for the people in their lives. Some will be given away. I plan, hope and pray not to die wealthy.

Sun came out. Time to sling mud and rake up debris.

  1. Quite possibly because the people throwing these terms around lack the intellectual chops to figure it out. This is the more generous thing to suppose, as the alternatives – willful abuse of the language to achieve ends and utter stupidity – are even less flattering.
  2. Because we wanted and got (5 kids) a fairly large family, so I hung up all the artsy things I used to do and focused on making money – in order to fulfill my obligations to the ones I love. I suspect that some part of the judgement I’m under might reflect the painful reality of many Bernie supporters, wherein the people under natural obligation – mothers and especially fathers – failed their duties. Therefore, the want to have the state assume those obligations, and I and people like me are merely painful reminders of their own misery. Maybe.
  3. These are the old school acts. Harbor the harborless seems to encompass more than just housing the homeless – it would seem to require taking in refugees. Ransom captives is considered to be anachronistic – except for the thousands, perhaps millions still held by Islamic slavers/terrorists to this day. So we go with visit prisoners, which is a very good thing, and a subset of ransoming captives after a fashion.
  4. Thus, Plato breaks into the discussion as he always does. In the Republic, as you may recall, Socrates at first describes the virtuous state as one in which everyone is contented with having enough and shamed by having any more than that. Such a state would be almost impossible to conquer, because 1) there’s no money in it – all the people have is just enough, no valuable luxury items to sack – and, 2) being jealous of their freedom more than their lives, they would fight fearlessly. So, Socrates concludes, those greedy states would likely leave them alone. Only after his interlocutors insist that the virtuous state must include plenty of luxury does Socrates mock them by creating an elaborate idealized Sparta as a perfect state – this, while Spartans occupied the very Athens outside the walls of which the discussion in the Republic is taking place. That Plato, what a joker!
  5. Or impossible – don’t fall for the idea that history moves civilization only in one direction.
  6. I keep thinking ‘snug’ because the prime benefit people got from the little houses we built them in La Morita was that it kept out the dust – doors and windows that closed snug made the interior a refuge from the dust and dirt outside. And, if you did get a heater or air conditioner, if would make things more comfortable house wide, instead of just pumping heat or cold air into the wild.


Let me say this about that:

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
As suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn

Plays wasted words that proved to warn
That he not busy being born
Is busy dying.

When I was 15, I went through a Dylan phase. That’s about the right age to do it. My older siblings had left a small pile of Dylan LPs, and I’d listen to them for hours on end.

Then, one day, listening to ‘It’s Alright, Ma‘ I had a revelation: it’s all doggerel. Now, I’m cool with doggerel as pop lyrics, and as pop lyrics, Dylan’s stuff is outstanding. But if the idea is that Dylan ranks higher than a middling 2nd rate *poet* – nah. The jokes Tom Leher makes about folk music – e.g., “The reason folk music is so bad is that it’s written by the people.” and, from his masterpiece Folk Song Army:

The tune don’t have to be clever,
And it don’t matter if you put a coupla extra syllables into a line.
It sounds more “ethnic” if it ain’t good English,
And it don’t even gotta rhyme —
Excuse me — “rhyne.”

were, it seems to me, written with Dylan clearly in mind.

It’s Alright, Ma is often cited as one of Dylan’s poetic masterpieces. The lyrics are dark, with accusations of hypocrisy thrown around liberally. Things are bad, man. The thing about hypocrisy is that, before throwing it around at others, one should take a good, long critical look in the mirror – an act to which that 1960s generation seemed disinclined or incapable of. When I hear these lyrics, I tend to see all those brats raised by the Greatest Generation ™, whose parents had suffered through a terrible depression and a horrible war and so spoiled their children insufferably. Or at least enough of them did to provide fodder for a movement.

The whole hippy scene thing was just too lame. And yet, that’s what Dylan lyrics are: hippy scene poetry that relies for whatever power it has on seeing the world as hippies like to think they did. The flower children seemed to think they were the first generation to notice that war is bad and life isn’t fair, and, in their innocence, they also seemed to believe that all it was going to take to fix it all was some pointed songs and lots of sex and drugs.

That that whole sex and drugs thing might also cause war (at least, on the very local level) and injustice (ask all those love children how that justice thing worked out for them) seems to have honestly never occurred to them.

Since the world didn’t reform itself even when they asked nicely, a number of hippies took one of two paths: the cynical – the Age of Greed people were just those same hippies hitting their working primes – or the ‘idealistic’ along the lines of Alinsky. Saul’s arguments that honesty was for suckers, that real revolutionaries only judge their actions by the intended results, found a ready audience, an audience of kids with bruised feelings. It also never seemed to occur to them that, if all that matters is the goal, then all Alinsky was telling them was designed solely to achieve his goals, which, insofar as he was to be believed, meant, circularly enough, that he could never be believed. Perhaps all he wanted was to see the world burn – that’s certainly a much more likely result than the magic fairies of History delivering a Worker’s Paradise on a bed of fresh greens right on top of the smoldering wreckage of culture Alinsky’s tactics are designed to create.

I digress. Dylan is cool as a pop singer, and does deliver the occasional zinger lyric (and just as often or more often a tin-eared shoe-horn job: “He hears the ticking of the clocks/And walks along with a parrot that talks” – suuuuure….). And, frankly, if Gore and Obama are deserving of Nobels, give Dylan 3 or 4 at least.

Now I want to go listen to Tangled Up In Blue, perhaps Dylan’s least political song (unless one counts the largely incoherent lyrics in the penultimate stanza – they seem more atmospheric than carrying any real political weight). It’s remained my favorite, because it’s all atmosphere and feelings, which, IMHO, is where Dylan is at his best.



Then longe folk to go on pilgrimages

This past Saturday I found myself, at the end of an industry conference, in Bloomington, Minnesota. Since this was about as close to La Crosse, Wisconsin and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe located there as I thought myself ever likely to be, I rented a car and drove the two and a half hours on down through the lovely fall countryside of those two states.

Very glad I did. It was a profound spiritual experience. First, some pictures and descriptions.

Image result for guadalupe shrine la crosse wi
From the website of Duncan Stroik, the architect. Go there for more excellent pictures. 


The church is located on a hillside overlooking a forested valley with farms on the flats. The picture above is about what it looked like the day I arrived – fall has begun to color the trees.

It’s a 15 minute walk from the parking lot up the hill to the church, through the visitor center. Here are some pictures of what that looks like:

At the top of the path:

The walk was very peaceful and settling and beautiful. When I went inside, Adoration was being held, and a Franciscan priest was leading a rosary while another heard confessions.

I was not comfortable taking pictures under those circumstances, as you can well imagine. (Generally don’t like taking pictures in churches unless I can do it very unobtrusively, which means an empty or near empty building).  It seems the shrine must guard their pictures well, as searching the web turns up no decent pictures of the art on the side altars. Several of the paintings brought me to tears. Here is a description from their website, although the reproductions are tiny and one cannot enlarge them.

There are 6 side altars, 5 with recent saints  – Sts. Faustina, Maria Goretti, Gianna Molla, Miguel Pro, Therese of Lisieux and Theophane Venard (a vietnamese martyr) – and one dedicated to St. Peregrine Laziosi, a patron of those suffering from cancer.

On Saturday, I had maybe an hour and a half before closing, and half of that was taken with a visit to the gift shop and the walk up the hill. I knew that on Sunday, I’d need to leave promptly after the 9:30 EF Mass to catch my plane home, so I spent my time Saturday looking around. That’s when I looked at the paintings and broke down.

This is the ultimate ‘you had to be there’ moment, as I can’t even show you good pictures, but here goes: when we have gone down to Mexico to build houses for the families in La Marita, we have mass in a chapel dedicated to Bl. Miguel Pro. He was martyred by the Mexican government 1927 for being a priest (they’d trumped up other charges that nobody took seriously) only 2 years after being ordained. When they lead him before the firing squad, he threw out his arms and declared ‘Viva Cristo Rey!’ – long live Christ the King! – and they shot him.

The painting shows him the moment before being shot, with two Mexican children at his side, dressed in white with red sashes around their waists, a boy holding a red martyr’s crown of thorns and a girl with a laurel wreath of victory. Above, he is seen from behind saying Mass in heaven, at the point of the Elevation,wearing a vestment with the Guadalupana on the back, as Mary looks down from above.

That just got me – a handsome young man, knowing he’d likely end up dead, saying Mass in Mexico under the evil government (which still runs the place, BTW) that had strung up, shot or otherwise disposed of many other priests and the faithful who tried to protect them. All within living memory!

The St. Gianna Molla painting was also moving. She stands in a lab coat (she was a pediatrician) surrounded by children and holding a baby. She chose her own death so that her child could live.

After those two paintings, I had to pause to get something out of my eyes for several minutes.

St. Maria Goretti was portrayed in the vision of the man who killed her, handing him 14 white lilies, one each for each time he stabbed her. He is shown chained at the ankles in a circle of light, while Maria is at Our Lady’s side above. Side note: it seems people don’t get that Maria died trying to prevent her murderer from sinning – preserving her own virginity was not what she was saying when he killed her. She did not want him to sin – “No! It is a sin! God does not want it!” – she died trying to save his soul. Then she saved it anyway through his vision.

On Sunday, managed to go to Confession, receive Communion and exit through the Mercy Doors. Yea, plenary indulgences. Also got to light a candle at the altar of St. Peregrine for my sister Catherine, who is battling cancer now. Please say a prayer for her and her family, that they all be comforted and healed in mind, body and soul.

Had to leave after Communion – hated to, I always stay through the end of Mass, but had a plane to catch and 2 1/2 hours to drive to get to it.

The Shrine is highly reccommended. Very beautiful and moving. I hardly got to see the stuff outside – there’s a Rosary walk and (I think) a way of the Cross, but I didn’t get to see them.

I would love to go back. Don’t have any customers or relatives out that away, so I made need to make a special trip again – I longe to go on pilgrimages.