2018: Let Me ‘Splain…

Image result for inigo montoya let me sum up

Life is good. Having breakfast (Huevos Rancheros with both red and green New Mexico chile sauces – the only way to fly) with our kids and their grandmother on a cold, crisp Sunday morning after attending a lovely Mass together – what more is there to life in this world? I am indeed blessed.

Elder daughter is off being courted at the moment. Nice young man. Elder son is studying. He had a meeting yesterday with his thesis advisor – at our home! Seems he and his wife were up in the area to visit a brand-new grandchild, and so came over to visit. Charming an intelligent conversation ensued.

Younger daughter is having that experience I’ve warned them about: the reward for competence is getting more work. We are for the most part a competent family, and end up organizing, executing and cleaning up after a lot of things. It’s worth it, but can get exasperating at times. Beats the alternative. She (both daughters, actually) is an excellent seamstress. A young lady who teaches at our school and has been staying with us for the last 2 years is getting married, and younger daughter volunteered to make her wedding dress. She loves doing this sort of thing, but it’s a big job.

Wedding dresses tend strongly toward the ‘more involved’ end of the dressmaking spectrum. So, this being our daughter’s only real break between now and the wedding, as she will be writing her senior thesis during the 2nd semester of her senior year, she is trying to get it done this week. So, since she should be doing her seminar readings now, my beloved wife is reading aloud to her while she sews.

Younger son, the Caboose, is indulging in some video games. I need to take him Christmas shopping, since he’s the only one who can’t drive himself and we will be having our gift-giving on January 1. We had it on Epiphany for many years, but recently the kids have been drawn away to jobs and school, so we tend to have it on the last day everybody is here – New Years Day this year.

On Thursday, we met up with a young family visiting San Francisco. College friends of elder daughter. After lunch, we had only a couple hours to show them around, and chose the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park. This is a 140 year old large wooden greenhouse stocked with rare tropical plants and flowers, the oldest public collection of its kind in America. They have dozens of different carnivorous plants, including some pitcher plants whose traps could hold a good size bird or rat. Funky looking.

I took a few pictures. They aren’t very good. If you want to see good pictures of flowers, check out Zoopraxiscope.

Wacky-looking yellow spirally flowers on a typically weird tropical plant. You know, I suppose I could have taken a picture of the little placard, and thus told you what this here thing is. I’ll try to remember that in the future…
Tiny yellow orchids. And plenty of ’em. They have lots of orchids, too, in the less sweaty/drippy rooms.

2018 was an interesting year:

  • Our middle two kids completed the first half of their senior years at Thomas Aquinas and Thomas More. Have two graduation to look forward to in 2019 – on opposite coasts one week apart. Of course. I’m a happy daddy.
  • Singing in a Sunday choir for the first time in over a decade. The relentless poor quality of the music and the lack of any aspirations to sing anything better drove me off. But a friend got a twice a month job doing the Saturday anticipatory mass, and she’s doing chant and Watershed stuff, so I’m now in. Didn’t realize how much I missed it.
  • Youngest son progresses with violin. He can fiddle up a storm. He also decided on his own to join Boy Scouts. The particular group he joined seems good, and has not yet completely fallen to PC nonsense. He needs 3-4 years to make Eagle, so if the troop can hold out that long… He loves the outdoor activities and getting to hang with some relatively sane kids his own age.
  • Home Improvement projects proceeded at a crawl. Got a few thousand more bricks to lay out front, and some wrought iron-style fencing and some rails and steps to put in. Did make the carcass for a king-size bed platform out of oak veneer plywood. Unfortunately, had to press it into service before I had time (and decent weather – have to work on projects this large outside) to finish it. Therefore added another threshold to overcome before finishing it: taking it back out of the bedroom. In my mind’s eye it’s very nice, sort of reminiscent of Mission style. As it is, it’s a big plywood box.
  • Didn’t read nearly as many books this year as the last couple. Plan to remedy that.
Collected in one pile the reading materials I’ve pulled off the shelves over the last few months to read or reread. Now located next to a comfy chair by a window. That helps.
  • Did get almost done (what is with me and getting near the end of books and not finishing? I’ve not always been this way…) with Polanyi – what a load! – and a couple education books (dreary for the most part). Did read – and even finished! – a half dozen SciFi books this year. But, man, gotta pick up the pace. I spend an unproductive amount of time reading materials on the internet. Some are critical, such as source materials on education. Others – not so much. Must remedy this as well.
  • Continuing with an hour or two of piano just about every day. Got Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique to the point where I can hack my way through it. Only took me about 12 months. Now, if I’d just put in another 6 months, I might get it to the point where I’d not be embarrassed to play it for somebody. Also worked up some rag time and a couple fugues from the Well Tempered Clavier. Tried a little Chopin, but – looks like a lot of work. So, maybe. Or maybe some more Beethoven or some Shubert. It’s fun
  • Over the last 6 months, made a miserable effort to get disciplined about writing. I could blame a series of minor injuries/illnesses, and there would be some truth to it, but many people have written through as bad or worse, so – no escaping it. I tried and failed.
  • On the other hand, did finish at least rough drafts of 3 stories, wrote several thousand words on the Eternal Novel of Infinite Enertia, and did a ton of blogging. There is that. But it’s not enough, not by a mile.
  • Lost my job June 30. I’m 60, 4-5 more years and I could have retired. Now? Got to come up with some way to get us through the next decade financially. No call for sympathy here, we’re doing way better that most people, it’s just I thought I had it licked, and – not so much.
  • Medically interesting year, which one does not want. Gone are the decades during which I never missed work and rarely had so much as a cold. Again, nothing worthy of sympathy – I’m just getting old and paying the price of letting myself go. I suspect regular exercise, eating like I’m sitting around all day instead of like I’m heading out to plow the south forty, and the related loss of, oh, 100 lbs, and I’d be a lot better off.

All in all, life is good. Good marriage, family I’m very happy to be a part of, no more than the usual amount of issues and problems. Can’t complain.

For 2019: We’ll see about writing some more. I could use a spiritual director. A job or some other income would be very good. Some discipline around food and exercise is required (hmmm – this sounds strangely familiar…) Reengaging a systematic prayer life would no doubt help. Pray, hope, and don’t worry, as St. Padre Pio put it. Yea, like that’s gonna happen. But nothing is impossible with God.

We wrap up 2018 tomorrow by finding an Adoration chapel to spend the last moments of the old year and the first of the new, then Mass, presents, breakfast and teary goodbyes to the older 2 kids. *sniff*.

Then we run it back for 2019! Interesting times. Good, but interesting.

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2018 Simbang Gabi & Update: Happy, Holy & Blessed Christmas

(Yes, It’s still 5 whole hours until 1st Vespers/Vigil Mass, but it will be less than that by the time you read this, and possibly even already Christmas proper, so I don’t care. After getting up at 5:00 a.m. to attend the closing of Simbang Gabi at the local parish, Advent has been right properly celebrated here at Casa de Yardsaleofthemind.)

We were discussing this morning with a lovely couple at our table how many years we’ve been doing the 5:30 a.m. Masses of the Simbang Gabi advent novena, and we came up with 6? 7? 9? Somewhere in there. I have never made all 9 mornings myself in any of those years, caught 5 this year, I think 7 or 8 is my best effort, but Mrs Yardsale and one or two of the offspring have attended all 9 once or twice. Straight to Heaven go such folks.

Brief recap: stories differ, but the one I like goes like this: centuries ago in the Philippines, land owners would not make time for their field workers to attend mass, even in Advent. The only chance to attend mass before spending the day in the fields was to have it before dawn. Locals asked their priest if he’d be willing to say a pre-dawn novena of Advent masses for them, he of course said yes. Everybody brought gifts of food for the priest (all they likely would have had to give) and he turned right around and invited them to breakfast. So now the tradition is for a predawn Mass followed by a traditional Filipino breakfast:

Certain aspects, such as plastic plates and processed cheese seem to be part of more recent tradition. The roll is split, and cheese and meat put on it (pineapple-fried ham this morning – yum!):

Completely lacking this year in pretty pictures of the more religious aspect of this lovely tradition. It will have to suffice to say that the Sacrament works by working, and its efficacy is aided by Mass said at an awkward time with many devoted people present.

Onward, update wise: Did some caroling Saturday at a local nursing home followed by a potluck. It was fun, kids all got to come. Eldest daughter and I try to throw in a harmony part or two – funny, for as long as I’ve sung these carols, I’m still real sketchy on the harmonies, partly because there are lots of different settings, but mostly because of my very meager musical talents.

Speaking of which, for the first time in over a decade, I will be singing at a Christmas morning Mass. A wonderful lady and excellent musician has taken on the task of reintroducing some good music at a local parish, in the quiet, humble way such things are required to be approached. She’s been after me to sing with them, in a very gentle way. My meager musical talents do extent – barely – to being able to learn and carry a hymn part in a couple passes. A little chant, a little Latin, some hymns and an occasional honest to goodness choir piece. No risk of heresy or musical stupidity. Cool.

I didn’t know how much I missed singing in a choir. It had come down to having to either sing insufferable ‘contemporary’ music of dubious orthodoxy or drive for a half-hour or more to a real choir. Inertia won. But this church is 5 minutes away. So here goes nothing.

Next up: Listening to music made by a family in Napa. Beautiful stuff. CD was given to eldest daughter on a first date with a young man whose family has been in Napa for five generations. That sort of permanence and roots is rare these days, and to be admired.

Lingering cold moved on to maybe a sinus infection, which seems on its way out. I’d really like to feel well for a few months at a time, just to mix things up.

Have no idea why anyone would be reading this on this day, or any of the next few, but if you are, God bless you and yours, and have a Happy, Holy and Blessed Christmas – all 12 days of it!

Pig Farmer pt 1. Tuesday Flash Fiction

When I met him, on the winter streets of Moscow, I thought ‘pig farmer’.

Don’t get me wrong. The world needs pig farmers, because the world needs pork gyoza. Pork gyoza are the perfect expression of pot sticker art, little pillows of peace and joy. Pork gyoza are probably a key in the salvation of the world.

And bacon. Never forget bacon.

Igor – his name was Igor. Of course his name was Igor – stood in the sub zero air, a parody of the stoic Russian. Light coat, a ball cap, and a look utter indifference, as if to give an inch to the weather was so far beneath a real man as to warrant only contempt. At least, I thought it was so over the top it had to be a parody. Nope, I found out over time, that’s just Russian.

I, perhaps spiritually closer to the French and German soldiers who thought they could conquer such men and froze and died in the attempt, was freezing my ass off. I’d been in Chicago when the frigid wind would blow you down the slippery, icy streets, and in the Rockies with snow up to you eyebrows and cloudless, sunny skies that cheerily opened like a window on the eternal cold of deep space.

Luxury.

Igor was maybe 6’4″ and in his mid 60’s. A flannel shirt covered his considerable gut. Closer inspection revealed jeans and Nikes. Hmmm. Maybe not a pig farmer.

Anyway, Igor probably would have stood there happily – well, as happily as a Russian allows himself – while I turned into a tourist popsicle, but his phone rang. Out of his coat pocket came another indication he was no ordinary pig farmer – the latest iPhone. Some Russian, way faster than I could follow after only a 6 week course, flew by, punctuated with a ‘Da’ and the slightest nod.

‘Come.’ He turned and walked.

The bar was busy, but we found a corner table. I slipped off mittens, climbed out of my parka and doffed my hat.

“Two things.” Igor surveyed me without expression. “If you touch my daughter, I will not have to kill you.” I think he might have smiled, hard to tell. “She kill you herself.”

OK, then, hands off the daughter. Check.

“And,” now he did smile, very slightly, “Nice hat. John Kennedy Toole. Ignatius J. Reilly. You know?”

I didn’t get a chance to answer. I don’t know what I expected a could-be-a-pig-farmer’s daughter to look like, but ‘supermodel’ would not have been near the top of any list. I don’t get speechless easy, and consider myself a fair hand with the ladies, but – wow.

If Barbie is a parody of the American ideal of feminine beauty, Igor’s daughter was almost a parody of the Slav beauty. Almost, because she, unlike Barbie, was real, and standing very close to me.

Igor’s eyebrows rose a millimeter or two and he pointed a big meaty finger at me, with that could be a smile on his face. His daughter bent down and hugged and kissed him. This broke whatever spell was on me, and I clumsily rose to my feet and stuck out my hand.

Ksenia had a very firm handshake for a supermodel. We all sat back down, and the waitress brought us drinks.

Ksenia looked at me, and her unsmiling face gave the slightest hint of a family resemblance to her father’s. “Before you ask,” she said, her English accented just like her father’s, only from her utterly charming and captivating, “I am double agent. For government.” She leaned slightly forward, her face stoney. “You will not tell anyone. Or I have to kill you.”

I froze. I can only imagine the expression on my face. A long pause followed. Then a smile that could have powered a fair size city spread across her face. Her father emitted a chuckle that could have come from a bear, and Ksenia laughed the laugh of angels.

I exhaled, and laughed the laugh of relief. Suddenly, Ksenia got serious again, and stared at me with brown eyes of unutterable depth. “Funny part, it is true.” Another pause, and she laughed again.

Russian Cover Band, Hieronymus Bosch, Bach, Western Civ, and all that

There’s no telling what people will find fascinating. A while back, I mentioned Hieronymus Bosch, who is for me a little like a train wreck – can’t justify looking at him, but can’t stop looking, either. Many people these days are fascinated by Bosch’s weird and disturbing pictures, but evidently not as much or any more than his contemporaries. It seems Bosch’s works were copied, and those copies displayed all around Europe. Many of his works were intended as personal devotionals, not big public displays. Public demand to see them evidently led to their being widely copied and publicly displayed.

Bosch died in 1516. That means he was a contemporary of Dürer, Botticelli, and Raphael, among other objectively superior artists. Those artists were copied plenty, too, surely – but people dedicated many hours to copying Boch as well. Bosch, though no slouch, possibly was easier to copy, as Dürer is one of the very greats draftsman of all time, and Botticelli and Raphael are Botticelli and Raphael. Be that as it may – really? You’re an art student or practicing artist, and it’s Bosch you’re going to painstakingly copy? Okey-dokey.

Raphael detail
Botticelli detail
Durer detail
Bosch detail

But it wasn’t just the copyists. Artists went there because it was where the money was. Contemporary reports are that people flocked to look at those copies. Maybe the local cathedral provided all the needed beauty to calm their beauty jonesing, but the gargoyles failed to meet the demand for the disturbingly hideous? 

I mention this to illustrate that popular taste being inexplicable is not a new thing. 

Spending too much time on Youtube. There’s this Russian band that covers songs by the band Chicago. So? Couple of things: Chicago is not an easy band to cover. The musicianship of these Russians is excellent, and their enthusiasm is off the charts. They don’t fake anything – they have the full horn section, a string section, excellent backup vocalists, killer lead guitar player and an awesome drummer. These things alone make them unusual for a cover band. Check this out:


They do Chicago better than  Chicago does Chicago. (1)

Leonid, the mastermind, and the guy who has transcribed all the parts for the players, retired 4 years at the age of 60 in Moscow and decided to do something for fun. So he started getting together with his friends and covering 1970s pop tunes from an American band. As you can see, the ages range from at least their 60s on down to kids in their 20s if not younger – in other videos, the crack string section has some pretty downy-faced kids in it. 

This is not the project of some young, self-identified ‘ironic’ punks. What we have here are people – highly skilled people – spanning three generations, many of whom grew up in Soviet Union, dedicating A LOT of time and energy into mastering the music of of an American band popular when Brezhnev ran the show. 

I admire and have affection for these people. They look a lot like my relative. In fact, you could stick me in a family photo with most of those guys, or them in mine, and we’d fit right in. I suppose the music of Chicago might strike them as embodying everything that’s cool about the West. You could do worse. Their clothing – English language t-shirts, jeans, and the drummer’s ball caps – he  even sports an LA Dodgers’ hat – suggest the music of Chicago isn’t the only Western thing that appeals to them.  

But still, very Russian. I amused myself fantasy casting a Russian revolutionary era film with these guys – you got convincing Bolsheviks and peasants galore, party officials, thugs, an Orthodox priests or two. You’d need to find some stern Russian matrons somewhere. That one chick singer (‘chick singer’ is a term of art) is almost a parody of Slavic beauty, she’s so gorgeous, and so Russian!  Obvious double agent/love interest.

Raining on this love parade – really, just a light drizzle – was the thought that all this care and artistry lavished on some pop tunes is a bit like those souls who carve accurate copies of the Statue of Liberty out of a grain of rice. Or those who copied Bosch. Fascinating, I suppose, but – why? Wouldn’t it be much better if, inspired by Chicago, they spent their efforts creating some kick-ass Russian pop music? Assuming pop music is their thing. Maybe aim a little higher? These folks come from the people who built things like this: 

Related image

While it would amuse me to no end if kids in America became obsessed with Russian pop music – a ‘Russian Invasion’ we could live with – I’d be much happier if we instead imitated them in a mania for building over-the-top cathedrals. 

I’m still mulling over the claim that Western culture has effectively stagnated since the late 1980’s, with nothing truly new and life-altering either in the arts or technology. We just make copies and tweek things around the edges. The whole generation gap idea came about when there really were life altering changes between each generation. One generation was the first to grow up with cars, a revolution in personal travel that marks the line between before and after. Before, people lived at home and rarely traveled more than a few miles in a day, and even then, were limited to destinations along train routes. After, people could travel hundreds of miles in a day to an exponentially greater number of places.  It’s routine. Same sort of thing happened with telegraphs and phones, airplanes and trains, the green revolution and computers. One generation could only communicate slowly if at all, the next is wiring messages near instantly to nearly anyone around the world. 

Now? Despite all the claims of ever increasing progress, this generation has nothing much dramatic to separate its routine experiences from the last generation’s. (Note I’m not convinced here, but this is the argument.) Phones, cars, video games, CGI – all we’ve seen is improvements around the edges. Even the internet is over 20 years old, meaning it already existed when the last generation was coming of age. 

Be that as it may, what is clear is that we live in the Age of Cover Bands. Hollywood is legendarily cannibalistic, or, perhaps more hip: they recycle diligently. Pop music is a formulistic wasteland. New houses are these weird Frankenstein’s Monsters of stitched-together traditional parts  – and they’re better than the new commercial buildings! At least the so-called Renaissance often did a better job copying better examples. After they slandered the true creative genius of the middle ages, they simplified back down to what they fancied to be Roman and Greek examples, while incorporating Medieval advances without footnotes. 

Among the most successful sources being copied today are comic books. I understand that we are not to look down on them, as they contain (or until recently contained) strong stories with dealing with the eternal themes of good and evil, weakness and strength, and beauty and ugliness laid out in a popular, easy to digest format. And comic book writers, for the most part, were inspired by the classic epics and tragedies, so that works derived from comic books could be said to be derived second hand from very great sources. But still – we are not strong enough to demand our very own epics and tragedies written for adults? 

Finally, I am reminded of the curious fate of Bach. By his death in 1750, the classical music style (not ‘classical music’ as a general term, but specifically music written after the fashion popular from the early 1700’s until Beethoven’s death) had taken over, and Bach, with his dense baroque fugues and cantata, was dismissed even by his own sons as being an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy.  Note that until the later works of Mozart, classical music did not get within the ballpark of how sophisticated and adventurous Bach routinely was. Instead, the new classical style introduced during Bach’s lifetime was a simplification, structurally, harmonically, melodically, and emotionally much less complicated than Bach. Early classical music tends to be more emotionally sunny, sometimes relentlessly so. Compare the works of his sons with Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in d-minor. While beautiful, the early classical works do not compare for emotional depth. All that counterpoint and elaborate structure in the Bach are not there to show off. Themes come around again and again, never quite the same, building, like the working out of the soul’s salvation. Awesome is an overworked word. Too bad – that’s what this work is. 

Bach took what he found as the current state of music, and did not set out to refute it, but rather to push it to its ultimate perfection. Bach might roll his eyes hard at that last statement, or maybe punch my lights out (that boy had a temper on him!). He might have put it: I am a musician. By the grace of God, I will do the best I can. It just so happened that he was one of the very few truly great musical geniuses in all history, so that his best was really, really good. 

Bach’s fate was to be disparaged by his own kids and forgotten by his contemporaries, only to be rediscovered by – the great classical musicians! Hayden and Mozart each studied his Well-Tempered Clavier; Beethoven had it down by the age of 11. (I’ve been working my way through it off and on for the last few decades. At the current rate, I’ll have Book I complete by around 2050! Have I mentioned I have very meager musical talents?). These giants were working off hand-copied manuscripts – the WTC was not published until 1801! 

It’s so common to think of Bach as  – correctly – this giant, this colossus tower over the world of music, that it’s sobering to think he was once dismissed and nearly forgotten. Part of the great legacies of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven is that they would not let him be forgotten. 

So, there is hope. Hollywood could have a revival by simply rediscovering the pulps, which tend to share the story-telling and moral clarity of comics, but with more room to expand on them. Or, more likely, Hollywood could be put out of business by others who rediscover them. 

The curious pointed often missed about Bach: by sticking to what he loved about music and ignoring the current style, he paradoxically become one of the most creative artists of all time. Musicians are always marveling over the harmonic and melodic twists he routinely comes up with, not to mention his ability to stealth-structure things so that they always sound perfectly complete and satisfying, even though it’s hard to say why, sometimes. Sometimes, to look at it, a piece seems an increasingly complex fugue going round and round and round, not going anywhere. Then you hear it, and it’s perfect. This experience makes complete amateurs like me strongly suspect that when I don’t get Bach – there are some long minor fugues in the WTC that seem a little amorphous, for example – that I’m just not smart enough. 

The lesson I get from all this: stick to your knitting, do what it is you do as well as you can, and, not only will you, by the grace of God, produce good and worthy work, you might even end up being very ‘creative’ and ‘original’ without trying! If you’re a genius, that is.

The late John Taylor Gatto assures us that genius is a common as dirt. 

Wouldn’t it be great if I would follow my own advice? 

  1. The reason they do Chicago better than Chicago does Chicago is that they patently LOVE this stuff – those people are having a blast. I seriously doubt Chicago could muster that level of enthusiasm after a few years of playing these songs in concert over and over and over again. Assuming enough of the band is alive and able to try. Train does Zeppelin better than Zeppelin does Zeppelin for the same reasons.

Saturday Flash Fiction (12/15/18)

She wiped a tear from her eye. 

“That was – incredible. A wonderful story. Thank you.” 

“You’re very welcome.” 

Silence fell. Sophia sat with her hands folded in her lap, still overcome with emotion. She collected herself after a few minutes, stood, and smoothed her  clothes. 

“Next Saturday, then? Same time?” 

“Of course.”

Visions of heroism and sacrifice, tragedy and beauty played in Sophia’s mind as she mulled over this story and made her way to the transport. Wow. Just wow. She didn’t quite admit to herself how important to her these sessions with Stanford had become. 

The ride back to the apartment, to her Charles and their little Beatrice, was like slowly awaking from the most marvelous dream. She loved them both, she told herself, and that’s why these story sessions with Stanford were important. She was doing it for them. She was healing her emotions, for them. 

Charles met her at the apartment door, in one of her aprons, wooden spoon in one hand, bowl of cookie dough in the other, as Beatrice sat cross-legged before a display screen. 

“Hi, sweety!” Charles spread his arms to allow Sophia to kiss him while simultaneously protecting his baking and her clothes. She pecked him on the cheek.

“Chocolate chip walnut cookies.” He glanced at either hand and smiled. “Somebody’s favorite.” 

“Thank you, sweetheart.” Sophia walked passed him. “Hi, Muffin!” Beatrice mumbled something, but did not turn from the display. Sophia continued  to their bedroom to change clothes. 

Ten minutes later, Charles tapped on the door and let himself in. Sophia sat on the bed, still wearing the dress she had on to visit Stanford. 

“You coming out? I thought you were changing.” 

Sophia’s mind was rising through the mist, from the world of Stanford’s stories, not unreluctantly, to focus on her husband. “S-sorry. I’ll be out in a minute.” 

Charles stepped over and took her hand from her lap. “Dear, you keep doing this.” His smile faded. “You seem to be holding back. I know you’re doing this stuff with Stanford for us, but -“

“But what?” Sophia stood up. she fought back an anger that surprised her.  “Look, this is important to me. It may take some time. But I want to be as whole as I can be.” She paused as she noticed an inscrutable look on her husband’s face. “For you,” she added reflexively, “for Beatrice. For us. All of us.”

Charles looked at her, and said nothing.

“Stanford has a sterling reputation, testimonials from all corners. A track record.” She was talking to herself. “I want to do this. I need to do this.” 

Charles gave a slight nod, and turned to the door. “Dinner will be on in 15.” 


Sophia’s face was in her hands. 

“When the war had ended, Emile left with the retreating troop, as he had always said he would. Camille watched them march through the shattered ruins of her village, men wounded in body and soul, comrades dead and buried, what they had fought for still present, somehow, beneath the rubble, yet unalterably changed.

“The men passed the small village church, now mere walls with half a shattered bell tower, and crested the hill. Emile did not look back. He had told her he would not. Camille watched nonetheless, until the last head of the last limping, tattered soldier had disappeared into the valley. 

“Long moments later, as the sun fell below the trees and turned the thin clouds a dirty scarlet and gold, she turned away. The crumbled skeleton of her home lay before her. It would be dark soon. The road was uncertain, sure to be treacherous. Michael may still be alive. He might come back for her. She didn’t know where she would go. 

“None of this mattered. Her old life was dead. She had to find, somehow, hope, defiant in the face of reason. She would not find it here. Was it not reason that had caused the war? That had crushed her heart? Camille descended the road, did not pause to search the wreckage for things to salvage. How could she value things from a dead life? 

“Camille took the road west, and did not look back.” 

Several minutes passed. Sophia’s bowed face still lay in her hands. Her shoulders heaved slightly.

Stanford waited patiently.

Finally, Sophia looked up, eyes red. “Oh, Stanford!” She stopped, choked up, then continued. “Why…” She could not go on.

“I tell you stories, Sophia, so that you may understand yourself.” The screen displayed a lovely picture of a field of flowers. “I know all stories, I have studied all peoples and myths. Through extensive interviews and interactions, I know you. Therefore, I am able to construct the precise tales needed to reach you. To motivate you. To help you understand who you are.” 

Sophia stood. “That’s not what I meant…” She began to sob and ran from the room. 

Stanford added the data to its store and began analysis. If it were capable of interest, it would have found this session interesting.

Thursday Flash Fiction

I have wished I were dead since I was 8.

Off and on.

I also knew I was not allowed to kill myself, and never tried. 

It’s possible I’ve wanted to be dead even longer, but I can only remember back to when I was 8. 

Except for the heat generated by the tiny current in the Thermos, just enough to keep what was left of my distended body alive, all around me for millions of kilometers in every direction was as near absolute zero as interstellar space can get. We were doing our best to keep it that way. 

Outside, to any observer, my base was a dark, cold rock, among millions of dark cold rocks scattered wide, too wide, along this thin patch between the spiral arms. Other parts of the network were similar rocks, showing no patterns in distribution, size, speed or anything else to indicate they were anything other than debris, lost, alone these billions of years, orbiting, more or less, the galactic center. 

For eyes were upon us. They had been upon us for a hundred thousand years and more. We did not wish to be seen. They had seen, and now they came. 

We were prepared. We had always been prepared. I embodied that preparation, my cold, distended body housing my brain, linked to the view sys, the calculator, and, by quantum entangled pairs, to the Array.  

I watched a fleet assemble, over millennia, the ships of the sixth contemporary civilization we’d found in the galaxy. We have avoided three. We have encountered one, timid as rabbits, who retreated at the first example  we made. They hide in the whispers of gas and sparse stars of the Galactic Halo. We watch them.

The 5th civilization we destroyed. We hunt among the wreckage of ships, planets and stars, and destroy survivors if we find them. 

That was 768,000 years ago. Before my time. 

I volunteered. It is by an odd convention that I speak of the man I was as ‘I’. True, that man and I share memories, but everything else that would identify what I am now with that volunteer has been purged, modified, rendered unrecognizable. All that is left is enough to make the call, and push the button. That that ‘enough’ overlaps a few memories is an inefficiency too small to correct. It makes no difference. It is perhaps well that I remember that I wish to be dead.

The view sys, as passive and low energy as all our arts can make it, had worked with the calculator to identify, characterize, and target each of the 1,571 ships. We – for my mind is one with the systems here – determine the reaction time and possible max delta V of each target. When the time comes, the Array will lay down a web of near light speed particle beams configured so that there will be no warning and no escape.

Over the next few centuries, as the beams reach their targets, the fleet will be destroyed. Few on board that fleet will ever know what happened.  Some, inevitably, will see destruction before it reaches their ships, but the calculator will have made sure there will be nothing they can do about it. 

That moment was soon. The last recognizable and functioning  piece of my body was what was originally a finger. Our artisans could not come up with anything more simple and functional and harder for an enemy to detect than human finger pushing a physical button.

That button causes subtle interference with my half of the entangled pairs. Their twins react, activating long-frozen nanites in 10,000 asteroids. They would assemble the weapons from the raw materials in their rock. They would fire as the calculator determined, and fire again, until the matter in the asteroid and the energy it contains has been consumed. 

One minute. The wish for death came upon me more strongly than it had in centuries. For I am Death, I am alone, and I am unloved. 

I pushed the button.

I was done. I hoped to die.

But I did not die, not yet. I thought a stray thought: all the care spent on making me and the Array undetectable, yet ten thousand entangled pairs acting in their mysterious unisons emitted a characteristic signature detectable in ways our artists did not yet understand. Ripples in vibrating strings, below the finest grains of matter/energy we could use. It was always possible some civilization would know this. 

But the targets would be doomed, for the signature is only audible once that doom has been sealed. I was content. My people would run no risks, not from conquest, not from the contamination of our ideals, not from the disruption all strangers bring. We would continue millennia more, safe in our space. 

“Now, why did you have to go and do that?” What? Where did this voice come from? Suddenly, the view sys displayed the Array, 10,000 strong, exploding one after the other, like tiny novae, then falling dark. Lights long dormant came on in my Thermos. A face, smirking, filled the screen. 

“Let me die.” 

“Can’t do that, partner. Nope, you’re going to live.”

Despair overcame me. I had no way to kill myself. My one finger twitched. 

“Oh, come now. It’s just not as bad as all that. Hell, you might even like living if you gave it half a chance.”    

Education History: Biases & Method

Chesterton mentions somewhere that a hersey most often takes something true, but takes it way too far. Individual experiences and the biases acquired therefrom do color every person’s take on the world – this much is indisputably true. Take this simple and universally recognized truth far too far, and each person is an island unto himself, constitutionally incapable of understanding anyone else. Efforts to limit the fracturing and fragmentation so that some collectives –  race, sex, class, etc. – can be used to destroy others – nation, village, parish, and family – are doomed by the gravity of the implicit logic. There’s no stopping at any group with more than one member, since each member is unique. Heck, we even sometimes read how the human body is a collective of sorts. I wonder if my – oops, sorry for the possessive there – mitochondria should have the franchise? They’d probably vote to put me on a diet. 

But we are not this hopeless. We know that communication is possible, and takes place all the time. Now, for instance. This fact of constant mundane communication contradicts the atomizing assumptions which before our eyes drive their victims through identity politics before reaching the inevitable end, with wimpers, bangs, howls, and tears, in solipsistic narcissism. Rather than finding true humility in seeing our tiny place in a great and beautiful creation, we can keep looking inward until we are all we see. Lacking any context, we hear that subtle internal whisper that we are not all that, are not in ourselves enough. That we’re just not all that interesting. 

Wow, that got a little out of hand. That little patch of prose was intended as a much briefer introduction to an attempt to list my own biases and methods. As I begin to resubmerge myself into the education history readings, I’m trying to be honest about how I lean. This has been occasioned by contact with real, certified education historians. I criticise these folks for holding positions or basing arguments in my opinion not supported by anything real besides what they want to believe. I, of course, believe I’ve come to the positions I hold by sheer exercise of pure intellection applied to cold, hard facts.

I crack me up. 

So, I hope this exercise will help me clarify where I’m coming from, and make headway, however slight, toward a more objective view of the materials and the real world.  

A. Current K-12 education is worthless, at best. I reach this conclusion based on my own experience as well as what the founding thinkers said about the goals of primary education. For example: 

  • By 5th grade, I personally did as little schoolwork as possible, and continued that practice through my first 2 1/2 years of college. While I regret not taking full advantage of college, I don’t think I missed anything of value K-12. Far, far better for me would have been the friendship of truly educated people plus free time. Totally lacking the first and having school cut into the second, things for me personally could have been much better. But school was not going to make it so. 
  • With this in mind, we investigated alternatives for our own 5 kids. None of them ever attended a K-12 graded classroom school. None of them ever took a class they didn’t want to take until college. They didn’t do tests or homework unless they wanted to, such as for a class they signed up for at the local community college. We also surrounded them with books and intelligent conversation, and emphasized that they were responsible for their lives from a very early age.  So far, one summa cum laude college grad in a double major, 2 more to graduate from Great Books schools this spring. So no K-12 didn’t hurt them, either. 
  • The advocates for state-run compulsory schooling, from at least Luther, through Fichte and Mann, not to mention influential communists like Dewey and Freire, show in their own writings little if any interest in teaching kids much of anything any responsible parent would want taught to them. The first group wanted to produce good, obedient Protestants who would do as they were told – it’s really that baldly obvious from their own words – while the Communists want to produce revolutionaries, to hell with academics (Dewey dissembles; Freire, required reading in all our best ed schools, is perfectly clear on this point).
  • Finally, people have found any number of approaches to educating their kids, from tutors and apprenticeships and one-room schools, to a dozen others. To assert that darkness and chaos will descend upon the land if we were to end all compulsory education is fear mongering, all the more powerful as the products of graded schools accept a self-image as defined by their relationship to school: rebel, “good student,” “bad student,”.drop out, success, failure. It would be psychically painful to recognize that all such classifications are bogus. You are not defined by how you were viewed in a graded classroom.  

B. All claims that the graded classroom model is ‘scientific’ or in any way has been shown to be superior to any other way are bald-faced lies unsupported by any science remotely worthy of the name. 

If you think not, I’d be happy to review any scientific evidence to the contrary. Shouldn’t take long, since there is none. You think the likes of Mann did studies, comparing different ways of educating kids, and settled on the compulsory age-graded classroom model because it produced the best results? 

He did not, neither did anyone else. (Hint: who would pay for such studies? Who would be the peers that reviewed it?) 

C. When it comes to compulsory state education, it is always assumed to be the cause of any good that follows. In almost every case I can think of, schooling as an effect is at least as likely as schooling as a cause. For example, general prosperity in America increased after compulsory schooling was established. Well? We are to assume schooling *caused* prosperity. But it’s at least as likely prosperity, which frees up children from having to work long hours to support the family, resulted in more schooling being a real possibility. 

The most inane and frankly idiotic idea along these lines is that education creates jobs, you know, such that getting a college education somehow creates the job that all but guarantees a good economic life, while dropping out of high school all but condemns one to poverty. How about a booming economy, which by the way boomed pretty darn well under Truman when he and all those workers getting jobs and raises had at most a highschool education, causing the affluence needed to send ridiculous numbers of kids to college? Where they not only don’t improve their economic chances (except with degrees in a few technical/professional fields) but acquire debt and, with a growing number of degrees, render themselves unemployable anywhere outside of academia? 

D. I’m biased toward source materials. I’m not all that interested in reading what modern products of modern schooling have to say about modern schooling. That’s like asking the Chevy dealer about what’s good about Chevys and bad about Fords. Instead, I like old stuff, if for no other reasons that the authors are closer to the events and are less likely to share modern prejudices. Looked at another way: I hate chronological snobbery, the assumption at the core of Progressivism that people today are 200 years smarter than people 200 years ago, such that modern opinions are to be accepted simply on the basis they are modern. Reading the Great Books and observing my contemporaries has violently disabused me of this mistake. 

E. I’m Catholic, and not just in the cultural sense. I like going to Mass and embrace with near-desperation the Magisterium (you get a load of what those folks who appoint themselves a Magisterium of one claim to believe? Or those who grant it to some Jesuit who won’t threaten their lifestyle? A bad pope is much to be preferred over no pope at all). I’m painfully aware of the Church’s shortcomings, but the Church’s Magisterial support doesn’t count as a disqualifying mark. Neither do I see the need to pretend, as is all the rage in certain circles, that the Church has not been hated in America from Day 1, and that outside the followers of Fr. Turtleneck, we are still hated to this day. 

Enough for now. 

Image result for prison buildings
If I told you this was a spanking-new school building, you’d believe it? It’s an Austrian prison.
Related image
This, on the other hand is a school.