Family Christmas Silliness

Since our Elder Daughter has to head back to L.A. tomorrow for classes starting Tuesday, we opened Epiphany presents today. Silliness reigned. I got:

Socrates and Plato are featured on the other side. 

So far, I’ve only corrupted the very local youth, and only for 25 years – but a man’s gotta dream! Plus, the cup, and the others pictured below, were each full of 23 pieces of homemade caramel and peanut butter fudge. Corrupting the tooth, as well.


Elder Daughter works in the office of a small 1-12 Catholic school, so, yea, one dam project after another; Middle Son is a lover of puns and other broad, eye-rolling humor. (Insert appropriate joke here, such as: It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye. Then the game is ‘Find the Eye’.)

Speaking of projects, Elder Daughter gave the Caboose this bit of handcraftiness:

The text reads: “Kick Here when all goals have been accomplished, to unlock the achievement” As we say around here: JD! As in Just Darling.

The tiny bucket isn’t as tiny as it may at first appear, because that is no normal can of milk upon which it sits:

Mrs. Yard Sale of the Mind both drinks a lot of tea lightened with canned milk and bakes up a storm.(1) Thus, when I go grocery shopping, I just pick up half a dozen cans of evaporated milk even if it’s not on the list. If it is on the list, it’s a dozen cans. If we’re down to our last 3-4 cans, we’re on the verge of running out. So, Elder Daughter spotted this massive can (the recipe on the back is for pumpkin pie – 48 servings worth of pumpkin pie) and knew it was perfect. It will be gone in 2 weeks, max.

And there were other sweet/thoughtful/needed gifts as well. Like most Americans, I imagine, we really have more than enough stuff. It really is the thought – and the love – that count.

Marry Christmas and a Happy & Holy New Year to you and yours, and thanks for reading!

  1. Disclosure: I like canned milk on my oatmeal, which I have for breakfast maybe 4-5 times a week. So, I maybe go through a can every fortnight or so, myself.

Don Falco Surveys His Realm

Middle Son got a picture of the hawk mentioned in the last post:


In a larger context:


Note the bird boxes on poles. Also note the understandable lack of little birds, or, as the hawk might say, ‘fast food’.

While we were there, something stirred in the grass, and the hawk, possibly to show us that he don’t need no stinkin’ hit men, swooped. Like Whitey Bulger or Stalin, he may be in charge, but he’s perfectly willing to do his own killing when something needs killing.

It was majestic and brutal. Whatever the little creature might have been, it seemed to have gotten away – this time.  But the point was made.

Sensitive Habitat

1. Spent a few hours at Shollenberger Park in Petaluma yesterday, and stood for a moment contemplating:

Within this sensitive habitat would occasionally land a large, not at all sensitive looking hawk, who would eye us with raptor-style disdain. He looked as if he were contemplating ripping my throat out. Hawks: Nature’s little mafia dons.

Was sore pressed by the urge to stand outside the Sensitive Habitat and issue subtle digs and insults at it, in a doomed but possibly amusing attempt to toughen it up a bit.

2. My thoughts were already inclined toward the contemplation of almost certainly pointless yet perhaps amusing activities by a curious first here at Yard Sale of the Mind: Some user at something called reddit linked to my last post as an example of Rage Culture. [correction: it’s evidently called Outrage Culture. It’s probably a thing. Not sure what the difference would be.]   The thoughts expressed in section 3, in case it’s not clear, are, in the opinion of the linker, the ravings of somebody in the grip of (presumably irrational) rage of a cultural nature. That I was in fact culturally enraged was averred by a number of marginally coherent and profanity laced comments, the writers of which were no doubt demonstrating how someone not at all enraged drops f-bombs and calls people names to model calm, open-minded and rational discussion.

Such gentle, brotherly rebukes were evidently called for to pour oil on the rage-enroiled waters of my soul, in order to save me from the egregious errors into which my obvious fury had flung me. For, in my cultural rage, I’d stated:

Another Orwellian euphemism in the service of modern education is ‘exposure’. The assumption is that if you don’t hand over your kids to the schools, they will somehow fail to be exposed to all the right stuff, and grow up with a narrow view of reality and thus be unable to realize their full potential. That if you let your young children pursue whatever interests them instead of micromanaging their every minute, they will grow up stunted. That if you don’t send them to school and act in loco schoolmasters and enforce all homework without question, you are a Bad Parent who has Ruined their own child.

But War is Peace. The actually effect of all the ‘exposure’ is that our kids are unlikely to ever hear a clear explication and vigorous defense of any position not held by their school masters. They are then trained to reject any other opinions out of hand – this is called ‘critical thinking’. The stunning willingness of people to embrace the most outrageous caricatures of those we disagree with increases with the level of education, so that a PhD pretty much immunizes the victim against ever entertaining an idea that they have not already accepted.

I must admit that I’d totally missed the rage evidently dripping from these observations. Within the context of this blog, I innocently thought them fairly pedestrian.  In fact, in my unenlightened state, I’d have thought the initial classification of my observations as the products of ‘rage culture’ and the subsequent 2-minute hate heaped upon them, kind of proved my point.

I suppose it’s flattering to think anyone would reference anything written on this humble blog as an example of anything, good or bad, except maybe as a cautionary tale of blogging itself. So, here’s a question for all 6 of my regular readers:  Do I go back to this reddit thing, find out how one joins or is allowed to comment, and then offer to my obvious moral and emotional, not to mention intellectual, superiors the opportunity to correct and inform me by directing me to the no doubt blindingly lucid and meticulously reasoned sources by which they, and millions like them, independently reached absolutely the same conclusions about just about everything that matters? I’m just certain they would welcome the opportunity to gently correct my errors! Or do I rather pour myself another cup of delicious Peet’s coffee (Holiday Blend), tuck into another piece of delicious leftover Christmas pie, and get back to working on the Novel That Shall Not Be Named? If that’s not too ragey…

3. 1st rough draft is up to 10 pages/3,100+ words. I’m like 2-3% done! All down hill from here! I’ve got the rough outlines of the main characters for Part 1 laid out, keeping in mind John C Wright’s advice to go ahead and use stereotypes, but use more than one per character, and don’t let them be boring. I’ve got the total hot-shot EV jock who is also a loving mom and wife; a genius engineer who is also a glory hound and elitist snob; a power hungry 2nd son whose manipulative mom is sending him off to the stars and so on.

I do have dozens of pages of references, links, snippets of stuff from the web that might bear on the science/tech.  But actual text, like the story itself? 3100 words, baby! At this rate, 1st draft in about 100 days. Wish me luck.

4. Finally, leaving the Shollenberger Park, saw another mildly baffling sign:


Oooo-kay. I’m imagining piles of valuables on the pavement next to the vehicle, but invisible! Or heaped up on a picnic table in such a way that no one can see them. Or – what? Do they mean ‘make sure nobody can see any valuables you leave in the car’? Because, that’s not what it says. In fact, that possibility is ruled out by the first imperative. I think the only thing we can be confident in is that, whatever we do with our valuables, we should not upset the sensitive habitat. Or the hawk may well rip our lungs out.

End of Advent Updates

1. Added to the growing pile of drafts – as always, the post I haven’t written is the best post I ever wrote – but, alas, caught my first full-on cold in years. Why is it when your nose gets stuffed up, so does your brain? Would like to finish a draft or two, but can’t because my thoughts are clouded and confused. More than usual, I mean.

2. Because of this cold, which settled in Saturday, I’ve only caught 2 Simbang Gabi 5:30 a.m. masses. Tomorrow and Saturday are the last 2 – let’s see if I can man up, and share good cheer and cold viruses with my fellow Christians. Or not…

3. Another Orwellian euphemism in the service of modern education is ‘exposure’. The assumption is that if you don’t hand over your kids to the schools, they will somehow fail to be exposed to all the right stuff, and grow up with a narrow view of reality and thus be unable to realize their full potential. That if you let your young children pursue whatever interests them instead of micromanaging their every minute, they will grow up stunted. That if you don’t send them to school and act in loco schoolmasters and enforce all homework without question, you are a Bad Parent who has Ruined their own child.

But War is Peace. The actually effect of all the ‘exposure’ is that our kids are unlikely to ever hear a clear explication and vigorous defense of any position not held by their school masters. They are then trained to reject any other opinions out of hand – this is called ‘critical thinking’. The stunning willingness of people to embrace the most outrageous caricatures of those we disagree with increases with the level of education, so that a PhD pretty much immunizes the victim against ever entertaining an idea that they have not already accepted.

This is the world in which business people, some of whom certainly do buy political influence in order to get richer, are a greater evil than communist dictators, who without exception abuse, rob and eventually murder their own subjects. The rich man’s greed may motivate him to steal, and may even motivate him to murder in order to steal; the communist dictator’s lust for power disguised as efforts to bring History to its inevitable conclusion, motivates him to murder anyone in his (History’s) way; murder in the 10s of millions in the cases of Mao and Stalin. The billions a very rich man(1) controls make him an irredeemable villain; the nation-state level wealth controlled by a communist dictator, on the other hand, has no effect on his actions whatsoever, which are conclusively presumed  to be sweetness and life itself, no matter how many are enslaved, impoverished or killed by them.

Such discussions are evidently unknown among the enlightened. Few well educated people have been exposed to them, and certainly not in the schools. At best, the well-educated are familiar with the accepted caricature, which exists only to aid summary dismissal of the ideas being caricatured.

4. Trying to work on world/tech/family background for the Novel Which Shall Not Be Named, but it’s hard when moments of clarity (such as they are) are like island in a cold-induced fog. Insofar as I can do it, it’s fun – knowing who these folks are, what they want, why they’re on the generational longship in the first place. So far, my muse, if I have one, has been quiet but not discouraging: the stuff I’m outlining fails to trigger the ‘lame’ response.

I’m counting that as a positive. That may be the virus talkin’.

I’m such a newbie. Spent some time worrying how I’d come up with all these complicated relationships in such a way as to make them work with the story arc, when I remembered: I know a boatload of family stories, both from history, literature and real life. Just use them! What a novel idea! (nyuk) Being careful, of course, with the real life stuff, which is far less realistic than fiction is allowed to be.

5. Got about a dozen books to review here and at Amazon. Got 11 days off coming up, with only maybe 60% of the time already spoken for. So – maybe! In short: L. Jagi Lamptighter’s In the Lamplight and Rachel Griffin stuff, John C. Wright’s Swan Knight’s Son series and Brian Niemeier’s Soul Dancer are all highly recommended. When Prophecy Fails – not so much. Interesting ideas poorly supported. And I need to be seated at a table, pencil in hand, head clear, to finish Uncertainty: the Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics. It’s very good so far. Vindication of Man and Secret Kings are next on the pile.

  1. Well, billions make *their* rich guys into evil incarnate, while *our* billionaires act solely out of pure civic altruism.

Thinking as a Full-Contact Sport

Used to think the greatest value of a St. John’s Great Books education lay in reading all those old guys and thus being saved from chronological snobbery. Now, however, it’s clear that the greatest value is having the experience of carrying on serious, sometimes heated but almost always civil conversations with people who vehemently disagree with you. This seems to be a lost art. At St. John’s, one would daily exchange criticisms and witticisms with people who truly loved Plato and Aristotle, the Bible and Euclid – and people who hated those same things. There were real, live Marxists and Freudians – and people who despised everything Marx and Freud stood for. And so on, down the reading list. And day after day, for four years, those were the people you were in class with, eating lunch with, dancing with – and trying to figure out grown-up books with (often – hey, we read Marx)  grown-up ideas in them.

The students, even back in 1976 when I started, were almost entirely of the unconscious herd. Few had any idea what we were assuming about the world, and so many political and cultural issues were just so *obvious* to us that challenges were more baffling than threatening. Except that I had been raised Catholic, and thus was familiar with the idea that decent people could be completely wrong, I was no different.

Students then and now, and probably always, are to a large extent sheep. Me included. There were also, however, professors, called tutors. Their job description is to be the best student in the class. That meant they didn’t get to lecture, taught by example how to carry on a respectful argument, and, very occasionally, jumped in when things were getting out of hand. Many – most, even – truly seemed to believe that a right conclusion reached through poor thinking was not an entirely good thing, and that a wrong conclusion reached with honesty and vigor was to be respected, and the holder of such a well thought out yet wrong opinion held in esteem, even.

By senior year, almost all of the students completely got the whole art of serious discussion of serious ideas, and could act as tutors in the St. John’s sense. That was the almost the whole point of the education, it now seems to me.

Now, at St. John’s, respect and esteem were expressed most perfectly in going after the holder of well-thought-out-yet-wrong ideas hammer and tong. Have at it! That was the whole point! One or both of you might change your minds, and, at the very least, gain some clarity – a very good thing.

Thus, two of the tutors I loved and respected the most were holders of some terrible ideas, a state more evident now to my currently aged mind than I was aware of at the time. But they were good guys, willing to go at it, and treated us 18 year old air-headed naifs as if our ideas were worth listening to- a thing not at all easy .

Don’t know if this state of respectful intellectual warfare was ever the norm in academia here in America, but it seems one must attend one of a few tiny, fringe schools to get it today. This is a major tragedy, with major repercussions. The infantile assumption, almost universally made, is that one’s political opponents are gullible rubes if not out-and-out evil, and that their failure to see things my way, even after I explain it to them, is incomprehensible without the assumption that they are either hopelessly stupid and evil.

If unchecked, these attitudes lead with the inexorable force of gravity to gulags and death camps. St. Louis’s perhaps apocryphal rule for dealing with barbarians – you either reason with them, or run them through with the sword – should, properly understood, strongly incline us to reason with them, if for no other reason than that they are unlikely for long to let us run them through with the sword without spirited resistance. We must learn to argue with anyone who is willing to argue, which is, sadly, a small and dwindling crowd.

We wrap this up with a couple quotations:

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

– Aristotle

And one of my favorite John Taylor Gatto quotations, wherein he recounts his experience having a Jesuit (back in the 1930s, when most Jesuits were still giants)  teach his third-grade class about manipulation:

At the age of eight, while public school children were reading stories about talking animals, we had been escorted to the eggshell-thin foundation upon which authoritarian vanity rests and asked to inspect it.There are many reasons to lie to children, the Jesuit said, and these seem to be good reasons to older men. Some truth you will know by divine intuition, he told us, but for the rest you must learn what tests to apply. Even then be cautious. It is not hard to fool human intelligence.

Friday Bullets

simbang-gabi1. Simbang Gabi! Today starts the 9 day novena in preparation for Christmas celebrated by Filipinos everywhere. Filipinos in our area have long gathered at 5:30 a.m. for mass at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, followed by a more-or-less traditional Filipino breakfast: chicken soup (which comes in a surprising variety of forms), salabat (sweet ginger tea), hard boiled eggs and – things. Among the things are, in some combination, tangerines, rolls, ham/sausage, and a selection of wildly-colored sweet things.
(Once asked someone at a Related imageSimbang Gabi breakfast why the sweet things were always bright purple or orange or some other neon color – she were completely baffled by the question. I gather these are the natural (for some values of ‘natural’) colors for these delicacies.)

The reason we get up at 5:00 a.m. for Simbang Gabi isn’t the food. It’s the chance to pray and prepare for Christmas with the wonderful, warm and welcoming people.

2. This is interesting. The unnaturally strong – heroic, even – ability to embrace cognitive dissonance can be understood as a necessary condition to embracing Marx and Hegel. Hegel, after all, makes it a big point to reject the Law of Noncontradiction. The dedicated acolyte merely awaits the explication of the proper synthesis that suspends the contradiction and reveals, respectively, the Right Side of History or the Spirit unfolding. Sure, it makes no sense – but it doesn’t have to! Just so long as you have the proper feeelings about things. Insights are like the gifts of the Holy Spirit – beyond understanding.

Most enthusiasts seem to be simply crazy, or, more mercifully if more dangerously, they value their group membership and sense of rectitude more than logical consistency. What is a little – well, a lot of – inconsistency compared to properly-fanned righteous indignation and commitment to the Right Side of History?

This enthusiasm in the face of disconfirmation even claims for itself the title of reasonable and science based. Back when I was young and naive, I would have found this beyond amazing.

3.Was talking with a braver man than I last night. He mentioned that one of his neighbors had bought a Tesla, and was waxing rhapsodic (use even pressure and a soft cloth) about its virtues, when my friend mentioned that perhaps he should thank him and all his other neighbors for subsidizing his toy. He pursued it enough to get the new toy owner to admit that, well, yea, there is that, but who wouldn’t take advantage of such a deal?

How about all of us who have not bought Teslas?

4. Reading When Prophecy Fails on the recommendation (I think) of John C. Wright, as a means to understanding the fervor and desperation of the folks who believe the last election was *wrong*. I should not be surprised – zealots and courtesans always think free elections are wrong, unless they somehow manage to keep the fire lit(1) and the king’s table well-provisioned. Any result that calls into question that for which they are zealous or threatens to thin the king’s larder or – God forbid – the king’s rule – that’s a *wrong* result.

Anyway, the authors propose that, when events ‘disconfirm’ (what a dumb word) the prophesy, adherents double down – proselytising intensifies, roughly in proportion to the mockery of outsiders.  The authors point out how holding onto a disconfirmed belief is hard on your own – you’d have to be crazy! – but, if you get enough people together, you have a support group, and can make up theories, make new predictions, explain stuff away to each other and otherwise keep the hounds of cognitive dissonance at bay.

The theory here seems to be that the Left thought that they really were on the right side of history, and that the sparkly unicorns of Marx would soon – it’s inevitable! – spread the magic fairy-dust of progressive Nirvana across the land. Bernie Hillary would take all the stuff from the mean bad people and give it to the needy people in a totally non totalitarian way! Goodthink would drive out Badthink, everybody would accept everybody else and their preferred pronouns, Muslims, who were only acting up because Christian white people were picking on them, would embrace (rather than throw off the top of a minaret)  uppity women and gays. Sure, you might have to kill a few million people – billion, tops – who cling to their God and guns, but, as Lord Farquaad put it: “Some of you may die, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.”

Then people elected the wrong guy! Their bubble world was shattered! Weeping! Threats! Machinations! Inside-out proselytizing by attempting to suppress that part of the fake news that said mean things. (The fake news that still hasn’t disowned Walter Duranty – the fakest news man ever, who would make Baghdad Bob blush – are OK. They may lie like rugs, but their hearts are in the right place and they aren’t *mean*!)

The bad news (insofar as we are buying what is, after all, a nice theory with only two hand-picked examples to back it up. Best one can say is that it seems reasonable) is that it will take a series of extreme, irrefutable, and clear disconfirmations before the group breaks up. For now, what you see is what you get: doubling down, telling each other stories, trying to spin it so that they didn’t *really* lose.

The fall of the Soviet Union set this crowd back a bit, but they very neatly transferred allegiance back to a more spiritual Communism, one untainted by the failures of the past.(2) The election of Trump, oddly, seems to have caused way more panic than Moscow’s face-plant. The desperate silence over Venezuela and contemptible whitewashing of Castro are shadows of the monstrous horrors this same crowd overlooked in the Soviet Union and continues to overlook in China. The continued ‘religion of peace’ nonsense regarding Islam’s 1,400 year sacking of the West continues. They soldier on.

So, maybe what we’d need is for Trump to be a wild success, super popular and cruise to reelection. I’m not holding my breath, but I will say that, so far, he’s exceeded my admittedly very modest expectations. It may be enough that he proves to not be Hitler. At any rate, per the theory in the book, it will take at least another mega-disconfirmation or two to bring the beast down for good. In the meantime, perhaps there will be some room for a little sense and reason in all those heads emptied by exploding? One can hope.

  1. True zealots are never happy with incremental victory, but always desire to burn things down to the ground. Only way you can be sure you got *all* the bad guys. Then they start burning each other just to make really, really sure. Then the people embrace Napoleon to make it stop.
  2. That’s why we hear talk of the end of history – if history were still going on, this whole movement would be revealed for the doomed failure it is and always has been. No, we must assume a new heaven and a new earth, one in which what has always failed will now, by magic, succeed.





Wednesday Flash Fiction & Writing Update

(Doing these flash bits first because they’re fun, and second because I’m way behind having a million words of fiction to throw away.)

He had thought this whole life-flashes-before-your-eyes thing was a myth, but here he stood, illuminated by the growing red glow on the towering view screen, watching the reel run:

  • that time he handed his little brother the cat, then jumped in the crunchy leaves just so the cat would freak out and claw his way free.
  • his first girlfriend at age 15. Oh, boy.
  • that game-winning shot, the only one of his life, for a team and coach that didn’t care.
  • the blur of college, with girlfriends 2 – whatever as mere punctuation.
  • the deep hollowness at the center of having crushed his competitors and graduated summa cum laude.
  • the odd edge of emotional failure that somehow tinged his ultimate success – acceptance on this mission.
  • the day his wife left him. How his kids didn’t cry.
  • the unnatural calm with which he watched the coronal mass ejection on the view system speed its way toward them.

He snapped back to the present. Claxons rang. They had been ringing for some time, but he had tuned them out. He’d also turned off communications. The panic and pleading and cries of the colonists were not helping his thought processes. He was a dead man anyway you sliced it, stuck on the soon-to-be-irradiated Array. Hard radiation, and plenty of it. Who and what else were going to die was the current question.

The Fresnel Array would not survive if he ran it long enough to push the lightsail far enough out with enough velocity to give those mewling colonists a decent chance of survival. Even then, if they did survive, they’d have to somehow tack their way back to the inner system without the aid of his lasers. Would be years, maybe a lifetime.

They’d all kill each other before they pulled it off. If they could pull it off. If they didn’t starve first. Hadn’t they murdered Williams already?

His lasers. That was the issue. Destroy his lasers trying to save a bunch of murderous cretins. Or save the Array for future batches of murderous cretins. Were any on the way? Would they draw near, counting on his lasers to decelerate them for capture, only to see ruins as they helplessly sped past the system into almost certain slow death among the stars?

He could broadcast a warning – but that could propagate only at light speed. Too slow, too late for any already in route.

He could be a hero to at least some people for at least a little while, he thought bitterly. That hero bit hadn’t played out too well with his wife and kids. He had been seriously miscast. His whole soon to be over life was a case of poor casting.

He made his decision, and retired to a suspension pod. Might as well sleep out his own death. A hiss as the pod sealed itself, then silence.

The command system processed his orders.

A blaze of light illuminated the heavens.


Working on the families who people this novel I’m pretending to write, had a bit of a breakthrough – figured out who they all are and how it all has to work. Way cool. Now, it’s making sure I understand, in detail, how it all ends, and backing it up through the generations so that it seems right. But as far as personalities and events and crises and challenges, I’ve found a gold mine.

Now, let’s see if I can actually do this thing.


Chesterton & Family

You all would be much better served if you spent the time you’re spending here reading or rereading Chesterton. But since you are here, I’ll just have to throw some Chesterton at you.

Our Chesterton Reading Group is working its way through In Defense of Sanity, a ‘best of’ collection of Chesterton’s essays.  I’ve read through it a couple of times now, and one consistent theme, especially of the essays written more toward the end of his life, is Family. On the one hand, when a really smart guy says what you have been trying to say (however infinitely better he says it), what’s not to like? On the other, being Chesterton and all, he goes much deeper and sees things better than I ever could, so it’s not just a better echo chamber. Here are some bits from an essay we read last night, On the Instability of the State (about 3/4 of the way down). Of course, you’d be better off following the link and reading the whole thing, or, better, getting and reading In Defense of Sanity.

There are certain sayings which for the last hundred years or so have not been considered quite respectable, because they were religious; or perhaps connected with the sort of religion that was not quite respectable. One of those statements is this: “The Family comes first; it comes before the State; its authority and necessity are anterior to those of the State.” This always sounded perfectly horrid to rows and rows of earnest young people, learning statistics for Fabian Socialism at the London School of Economics. To that type, to that generation, the State was everything; that great official machine, which managed the traffic and took over the telephone system, was the very cosmos in which these people lived. For them, The Family was a stuffy thing somewhere in the suburbs which only existed to be the subject of Problem Plays and Problem Novels. The only question about it was whether its gloom should be brightened up by suicide; or its selfishness exalted by self-indulgence. But the whole of this view, though it is a view very nearly universal in the big modern towns, only exists because the big modern town is an entirely artificial society. Those inside it know no more about the normal life of humanity than the equally select society inside Colney Hatch or inside Portland Gaol. In some ways a lunatic asylum or a convict settlement are much better organized, are certainly much more elaborately organized, than the hugger-mugger of human beings doing as they like outside. But it is the human beings outside who are human; and it is their life that is the life of humanity.

Written in the 1930s. Things have not improved.

Now the sweeping social revolutions that have swept backwards and forwards across Europe of late, the stroke of the Bolshevists, the counter-stroke of the Fascists, the imitation of it in Hitlerite Germany, the recovery of the secret societies in Spain, the new creation in Ireland, all these great governmental changes may serve to bring men’s minds back to that big fundamental fact which the big cities have fancied to be a paradox. The big cities had this notion for a perfectly simple reason: that in the modern moment in which they lived, and especially in an industrial country like ours, the framework of the State did really look stronger than the framework of The Family. The modern industrial mob was accustomed to the endless and tragic trail of broken families; of tenants failing to pay their rents; of slums being condemned and their inhabitants scattered; of husband or wife wandering in search of work or swept apart by separation or divorce. In those conditions, The Family seemed the frailest thing in the world; and the State the strongest thing in the world. But it is not really so. It is not so, when we take the life of a man over large areas of time or space. It is not so, when we pass from the static nineteenth century to the staggering twentieth century. It is not so when we pass out of peaceful England to riotous Germany or gun-governed America. Over all the world tremendous transformations are passing over the State, so that a man may go to bed in one State and get up in another. The very name of his nation, the very nature of his common law, the very definition of his citizenship, the uniform and meaning of the policeman at the corner of his street, may be totally transformed tomorrow, as in a fairy-tale. He cannot really refer the daily domestic problems of his life to a State that may be turned upside-down every twenty-four hours. He must, in fact, fall back on that primal and prehistoric institution; the fact that he has a mate and they have a child; and the three must get on together somehow, under whatever law or lawlessness they are supposed to be living.

This is why I’ve said, for example, here, that it’s not just wrong, not just evil, not just insane, but impossible for the state to presume it can redefine the family. The death of a state is given; not if, but when, no less certain than the death of a man. When it dies, if it doesn’t immediately fall back on family relationships, such that the dead king’s son, or some favorite of the strongest families, or Napoleon’s nephew is handed the throne, then culture and society, however much they may have to hide and no matter how attenuated, will be fostered and handed on by families.

States don’t live long enough to handle the task of creating and developing cultures. States can’t even create states.(1)  At best, as is clearly the case in just about anywhere any remotely civilized person would want to live, the state is a product of families. Sometimes, it’s the Medici (and, it should be pointed out, the dozens of other families the Medici married into or had deals with – the web of ‘family’ can extend far) who were at least a little benevolent once in a while; sometimes, it’s the house of Saud, which hasn’t worked out as well, to say the least. Once, it was Washington, Adams and their buddies, all of whom were family men, or at least respecters of families.

The destroyers of families who have tried to found states include the Bolsheviks, who founded a state-sized gulag, and others who didn’t do even that well.(2)  China is the last one standing of that crowd, and that state may not be long for this world, since it has presumed to manage families, and so is starting to run out of cannon- or factory-fodder.


In the break-up of the modern world, The Family will stand out stark and strong as it did before the beginning of history; the only thing that can really remain a loyalty, because it is also a liberty.

  1. Look at Europe after WWI, when Wilson, Clemenceau and George (but mostly Wilson, a self-righteous elitist pig if ever there were one, the very personification of C. S. Lewis’s warning about moral busybodies) decided to divvy up Europe and the Middle East into ‘nations’ more to their liking. The old practice of merely plundering the defeated would have done less damage, if afterwards they’d have let them be. The next 40 years, indeed, the next 100 down to us, have their piles of dead to show how well this sort of thing works out.
  2. I’d laugh to see Castro’s brother ruling, Hugo Chavez daughter living on ill-gotten billions  and North Korea run by the funny-looking son of the dictator. Communism: a family business! I’d laugh, except for the millions murdered or suffering under these hellspawn.

Bombe Chests & Writing

Ships, bricks and bombe chests – the stuff of my obsessions. Did you know YouTube is lousy with videos showing you how to build boats? I’m partial to wooden boats, as the craftsmanship involved in building a large wooden thing with few if any right angles or straight lines that has to withstand all sorts of intermittent and rapidly changing stresses while remaining watertight is awesome to behold.

Consider this: (found at

There are videos of this Viking dragon ship being made:

They use what is called clinker or lapstrake construction: each strake – the long horizontal pieces on the outside of the hull –  is individually curved and fitted, and overlaps the one below it. The lap is shaped to snug and the lower strake lined with tar and plant fibers. Then teams of people curve and fit it on top of the last strake. The strake is clamped and nailed into place, then reinforced from the inside. The ends are cut and carved to fit into the bow and stern. The end product, many tons of lumber with thousands of feet of seams, is supposed to stay in one piece and watertight out on the open ocean. Wow.

There are hundreds of videos out there on wooden boat construction, showing how to build everything from  a birch bark or cedar strip canoe to bronze-age stich-ships to East India Company ships. There’s even a lovely young couple building the ship of their dreams.

Anyway, watching these videos is hypnotic. My woodworking is almost always straight-line, right angle, stays put stuff – bookcases, tables, boxes, that sort of thing. I don’t have to consider the possibility that the next wave will twist a few tons of oak boat one way, then the other, within a matter of seconds – and not only can’t it break, its must stay watertight. Over and over. For years.

Now, that’s some serious woodworking. I almost wish I liked sailing, to have an excuse to build my own boat. I’d need a lot more room, a bunch more tools, and a lot better woodworking chops. And a cure for seasickness.

Or maybe I need to make a bombe chest:

It’s only a little curvy, and doesn’t go anywhere, so the requirements aren’t quite so high as with boats….

Getting real, though, way beyond my current skill level. I’ve never successfully (long story) cut dovetails, for example. So – maybe after I retire?

There’s also the whole design and planning aspect. With a bookcase, say, all the structural elements are straight and square. No need to layout complex curves that will need to fit other complex curves. With a bombe chest, you need to cut and fit a number of curvy surfaces – you’d better know how they are to fit together before you start sawing away! There is unlikely to be any recovery if you cut something wrong – you’ll probably need to throw the piece out and start over.

Writing, it seems, is getting to this point for me, the point of designing a bombe chest if not a boat. I see all the carefully fitted pieces, the caulked seams, the elegant lines – and the planning that went into it – and see that the story I’m working on needs that level of care if it’s not to sink under its own weight.

I understand and am even doing this. Progress is being made. It is slow. This piece by John C. Wright (h/t to the Puppy of the Month Book Club) pretty much sums it up.

The last thing (apart from time) that is a stumbling block: balancing the desire that this story be perfect with the need to just get it done while also not accepting anything less than ‘pretty good’. Very hard to judge from the inside, especially since, while I’ve written my 1,000,000 words of sundry blog posts, I haven’t written 10% of that in fiction. Just a newbie, really.

With boats, the masters made sure they would float, handle and not fall apart by sticking to traditions, building on the backs of centuries of empirical engineering. With this in mind, I’m planning on rereading a couple of my favorite novels just to see how they do it. (Aside: one of the things that made me want to write was Have Spacesuit Will Travel – because it’s obvious what Heinlein is doing! Very straightforward. In the hands of someone less skilled, it might even have come off as paint-by-numbers. Every chapter is Problem-Resolution-Bigger Problem until The Fate of The World! is in the balance. Then he gets even with the school bully. Marvelous!)

Updates & Trivia & Writing

A. Busy at work, which means I’m avoiding even more work than usual. Plus, somehow, I ended up with stuff to do every night this week except Friday.

Cuts into the blogging. Yea, yea, boo-freakin’-hoo.

B. Tonight, for an RCIA class, I got volunteered to do some Church history, which, to my naive mind, isn’t any different from plain old history everywhere the Church has ever been. As in, you can hardly talk of secular history in those places and times without the Church, nor can you talk about the Church without knowing what was going on in the larger world (if, indeed, the world can be said to be larger…).

This pitch is right in my wheelhouse, so I’m all rarin’ to go. I was assigned the period of 1200 through the Counter Reformation – woohoo! – and given a 15 minute slot. Well. As no one has ever accused me of being too terse, it might be a *slight* challenge to fit 400+ tumultuous and critical years of history that happens to include, among other things, discovery of an entire hemisphere, into 15 minutes. If I gave 3 minutes each to Gregory VII,(1) Francis, Dominic, Gothic architecture, Wittenberg and Trent, I’m already 3 minutes over, and haven’t touched on Charles Borromeo, the way the Counter Reformation influenced music (I could do an hour or more just on O Magnum Mysterium...), and about a dozen more topics that spring to mind before I’ve even researched it. We will be pruning with the ol’ intellectual chainsaw, here.

Since I’m already doing Feasts & Faith, I probably should hold off doing a Church History seminar-thing for another year. At that point, I’m thinking 10 1.5 hour lecture/discussions, which would barely scratch the surface. What I’d bring to the game: blending art, music and philosophy into the narrative.  There’s only like a library of books on this topic – my only excuse for doing this would be bringing in threads from many sources. There’s probably already a book or 50 that do just that….

C. One thing I wish I had time to discuss: the relationship of the Church & State, and how it differed in the East and West, and how the West’s division of Church and State helped bring about the artistic, cultural and technological revolution in Medieval Europe. I doubt there could have even been a Dante of the Eastern Churches – a man passionate about the complementary and divinely-given rights and duties of Church and State. Instead, the East retained more of the ancient Roman practice of religious careers being government careers – I should say, religious careers *of course* being government careers.

The fragmented feudalism of the West allowed for layers of duties and rights across several dimensions, such that a serf, even a serf’s wife, had a position where an emperor or pope owed her a certain inviolate respect. The battles of the Middle Ages seem to be over who owed whom exactly what level of fealty, with the Church presumed beyond discussion to be distinct and hold honor and duty apart from the king.

Not so much, in the East, where emperors from the earliest days saw it to be an obvious right and duty of theirs to meddle even in theology, let alone in who got to be patriarch. (2)

But, alas! No time for that in 15 minutes.

Related imageD. So, writing. Only able to throw an hour here and there at it for the time being, but it may be that’s just a well – I think I need to reach a critical mass of ideas, and I’m not *quite* there.

What’s happening: I started with a broad arc that ended in a life-or-death decision being made by a young girl in an intense situation. I’d outlined a lot of the social conditions that would lead up to this point, as well as the technology that would be required – it’s space stuff, trying to keep the science pretty hard. Now, details: I had to describe in detail where they were going, including describing and naming all the celestial objects (complete with backstories), describe how they get there, and – this is still skeletal – describe the culture(s) involved.

Then, I reached the point where I needed to name and describe all the people. Um, I’m guessing other writers do this first? Because it’s not a story unless people care about the girl making the decision and the people whose lives are in the balance. So, now, in this background – and the background still needs a lot of work – I’m outlining 3 or 4 (going with 4 for now) families who travel together with thousands of other explorers/colonists to the stars, marry into each other, feud – and produce this remarkable girl upon which the fate of many – including many of the members of these families – depends.

And that, my friends, is the actual story, not the tech and the alien worlds. It’s Sci Fi, as the story could not exist without the science, but these people now crowd my brain. These people, so far, only lurk in my head. Once they start to keep me up at night, I’ll have something.

One of the ancestors of the girl, a great-great grandmother, is introduced here. (BTW: much cleaned up that preface – thanks for all the feedback.)

All in all, fun, but not tending to produce any pages I might throw up here.

  1. Yes, St. Gregory VII is 11th century, but he had a big hand in starting the whole medieval dawn so beautifully described by Chesterton in Ch II of his biography of St. Francis. 
  2. Gregory VII was the last pope to ask and receive imperial permission to be pope, in the late 11th century; yet, over the centuries, many kings and emperors claimed veto power exercised through their cardinals. The last cardinal to veto the decision of the College of Cardinals in the name of his King was the Prince-Bishop of Krakow, who vetoed the leading papabile on orders from the Holy Roman Emperor – in 1903! The outraged Cardinals then voted in Pius X, who promptly and strenuously rejected any idea that kings could overrule the Cardinals. Only took 1900 years!