Education Reading Update

I’m constructively working through my anxiety by reading. So far, got 3-4 books off John C Wright’s Essential SciFi Library list read or reading, and a good start on my collection of Thomas Shields and Edward Pace writings. Reviewed Shields’ First Book here. Am halfway through his Making and Unmaking of a Dullard, an autobiography of sorts, framed as a Platonic dialogue. Think Symposium, but with early 20th century Progressives instead of Alcibiades and Socrates. In other words, much less fun.

Also, found The Catholic Educational Review, VOLUME XI January- May 1916 on Arhive.org. This is a periodical founded by Pace & Shields which ran for decades. Sigh. I’m going to slog through at least this volume, just to get a feel for it. Finally, have a dead tree copy of Shields’ The Philosophy of Education (1917) in the stacks here, got to fish it out and read it next. Then, I must return to Burn’s The Catholic School System in the United States, which I never finished reviewing. Burns got his PhD from Catholic University in 1906 under Shields and Pace, wrote the definitive history of American Catholic schools, and went on to be president of Notre Dame.

Shields, Pace, and Burns are the big dogs when it comes to Catholic education in America. Until they came along, parochial schooling and Catholic colleges were a bit of a free-for-all. For better and worse, they put some order onto Catholic schooling.

All three appear to me to be American Catholic Millennialists, believing that by application of scientific psychology to Catholic education, America can lead the Church to a perfect, or at least a better without limit, world. They are the foremost representatives of Americanism after the manner of Hecker and Brownson. It is fascinating that Pace and Shields were responsible for the article in the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia discussing the heresy of Americanism, where the pope’s and many Americans’ concerns that the American Church was being lead into Modernism by its some of its leadership were dismissed as a mere baseless misunderstanding.

Right.

The optimism and faith in progress of these men is all but unbelievable. They are just sure that, by applying modern scientific thinking to education, they can create perfect little American Catholics, who are of course without question the model for Catholics world-wide. Their late 19th century psychology and ideas about science are not an advance on phrenology. Seriously. We’ll get to that in a moment.

A couple notes:

The Catholic Educational Review, VOLUME XI January- May 1916

– A large portion of this volume is devoted to an attack on the Carnegie Foundation’s views of education, as expressed in a recent report the Foundation had issued. The gloves are totally off. I have no real understanding of what the issues are, but I can guess. I’ll write this up when I’m done reading it.

– This raises the endless issue: now, I’ll need to find and read that Carnegie report, right? Sheesh. Everything I read points to multiple other sources that seem essential.

Making and Unmaking of a Dullard

– This dialogue seems to be little more than a gripe session about the interlocutors’ childhoods, in order to provide Shields with the opportunity of expostulating on his frankly silly psychological theories.

– Shields lists 7 ways a dullard, or idiot, or atypical child can be created, but focuses on one, the one to which he attributes his own difficulties in school: Alternating Phases of Development. Here’s how Shields puts it, in answer to the Judge’s request for an explanation:

“A full explanation of this physiological phenomenon, Judge, would involve a treatise on the physiology of the nervous system, but stripped of technicalities the important facts in the case are these. All vital functions are controlled by nerve currents….

“On the other hand, the process of mental development, as indeed all the phenomena of consciousness, rest upon high tension nerve currents in the cerebral cortex. Now, it frequently happens that a boy or girl grows very rapidly for a few years, during which period the physical organism makes such demands upon the nerve energy that the cortical tension is lowered and there is not sufficient nerve energy left to carry on the work of rapid mental development.

“We all know how injurious it is, for example, to indulge in mental work immediately after eating a hearty meal. When food enters the stomach it originates nerve impulses that draw the blood away from the brain for use in the processes of digestion. If brain activity be indulged in at this time, the blood is withdrawn from the viscera and forced into the brain under an increased pressure to furnish the required nerve energy and thus the digestive process is delayed and sometimes the digestive apparatus itself is injured.

“Now, we have a similar conflict going on between mental and physical development. It seldom happens that during childhood and youth the balance is preserved between the growth and development of the body and the growth and development of the mental processes. The extent to which this balance is disturbed and the length of time that each phase continues varies within wide limits.”

“If you exclude the children who have become dullards through any one of the six causes just enumerated, and arrange the children in any third or fourth grade room in accordance with their physical development, you will find them fairly well classified inversely as their mental capacity, that is, the brightest children will be the smallest and the largest children will be the dullest. Here and there puzzling exceptions to this rule will be found, but these are not sufficient to obscure the general truth.

“The eagerness and ambition of the smaller children, coupled with their quickness of movement, indicate high cortical tension. If these children are constantly over stimulated, as frequently happens, their physical development may be retarded for some years. In extreme cases they are to be found among those children whom over-fond mothers are in the habit of regarding as too bright or too good for this world. Less aggravated cases not infrequently result in permanent invalidism. This is particularly true of girls when the period of over stimulation is carried beyond the twelfth or the fourteenth year. If these precocious little ones escape disease and death from over stimulation they will finally reach a time in which the balance swings in the opposite direction and physical development, so long retarded, sets in with unusual rapidity. The ensuing mental phase is characterized by lack of energy which to the uninstructed is pure laziness.

CH V, Alternating Phases of Development

So, quick children need to be slowed down by the expert educationist, so as not to overdo their nerve energy or their cortical tension and thus damage their minds and become invalids. You can see the beginnings of No Child Left Behind here: the solution is to dumb down the bright kids – for their own good – and make sure the slower kids get to catch up. All very scientifiliciously described.

That a kid might grow and learn well if encouraged to follow his own interests is not to be considered. Instead, the bright child is to be frustrated in his desire for learning, on the basis of a half-backed theory that is buzzword-compliant, circa 1910, but has little else to recommend it. As Lewis (I think) put it: say you are going to experiment on children, and everybody is up in arms. But say you’re putting them in an experimental school, and all is good.

– Again, Shields has his interlocutors refer to or quote from contemporary sources that I’ll have to at least look up.

Got a lot more reading to do. Further bulletins are events warrant.

Logic and Just So Stories

The current panic is being fanned with a combination of logic fails and just so stories. Given two or more possible explanations, the most obvious and Occam’s Razor compliant one is dismissed or ignored in favor of another whose only real recommendation is that it keeps the panic going. The number of Just So stories, evidence-free speculations that then become enshrined unchallengeable TRVTH any questioning of which is ‘misinformation’ and brands anyone who talks about it officially as a ‘terrorist,’ grows daily.

Let’s hit a few low points:

  1. Near-Zero Flu cases since March, 2020.

Obvious Occam’s Razor Compliant explanation: Flu infections are being either misdiagnosed as COVID cases, or the patient has both COVID and the flu, and the flu is never tested for. Logic: since in almost all cases, symptomatic COVID has identical symptoms to the common flu – aches, fever, congestion, headache – someone presenting with those symptoms is very likely to get diagnosed with the Coof. In the current panicked circus atmosphere, a doctor is not likely to start with a flu test, and is unlikely to follow up a COVID diagnosis with a flu test. The unique COVID symptoms – sudden acute respiratory distress and loss of taste and smell – seem to appear in only a fairly small percentage of cases.

The Just So Story: Steps taken to stop COVID – masks, lockups, social distancing – are nearly 100% effective against the flu, even if demonstrably ineffective against COVID, such that the flu has been eliminated while COVID still ‘rages’. Logic: somehow, masks, lockups, etc., are very effective against one of two airborne respiratory viruses of exactly the same size and with exactly the same vectors, but utterly ineffective against the other. Further, the unmasked scofflaws have been spared the flu despite being assumed to be a reservoir from which the Coof has continued to spread.

Note: the CDC recently issued guidelines recommending that patients be tested for the flu even if they test positive for COVID, recognizing that a positive COVID test result doesn’t mean the observed symptoms are caused by COVID, which very often has no symptoms at all. It is logical to conclude that the CDC recommendation means flu testing werrte not being done – otherwise, why recommend it?

2. We’ve Been Masking Up for Over a Year, yet the ‘Pandemic’ is Still ‘Raging’

Obvious Occam’s Razor Compliant explanation: Since we’ve been masking up for over a year now, and yet the ‘pandemic’ is still with us, the simplest conclusion to draw is: masks are ineffective against COVID. Logic: All the pre-COVID studies, from 1918 until 2020, that showed that masks are not effective against airborne reparatory viruses, and current experiences, are most simply and logically explained by accepting the findings of these earlier studies. Masks are pointless, from a public health perspective. Fauci was telling the truth when he said people should not mask up.

The Just So Story: Sure, masks didn’t and don’t stop the virus, but things would have been so much worse had we all not masked up! Logic: There is precisely as much direct evidence for this Just So story – zero – as there is for the opposite theory: that not masking up would have made thing no worse and possibly better. Since masking has a cost – there is no free lunch – and is an imposition on people minding their own business, it is incumbent upon those making the claim and imposition to produce convincing evidence that masks work – and there is none. (No, the mere existence of ’70 studies’ doesn’t count as evidence, especially when contradicted by scores of studies done before 2020. Evidence would be a marked reduction in deaths, say, where masks are used, measured in a scientifically valid manner.) The tendency of frightened people to readily accept that which increases their fear and reject that which mitigates it is sufficient explanation for the near-religious belief that masks help against a virus that nonetheless continues to spread despite widespread masking.

Note: Reality rarely conforms to what is discovered in lab studies and predicted by nice theories. We require masks, the story goes, because COVID virions are deadly! If masks work, they are trapping those deadly COVID virions. These virions are then rubbed up against your face wherever the mask touches you, and get all over your hands every time you handle the mask, and get all over whatever surfaces they come in contact with. Therefore, if we believe that masks ‘work’ and are therefore full of deadly COVID virions, the protocol would be: scrub down and glove up before putting on, taking off, or touching the mask; scrub your face and anywhere else the mask touched, dispose of any used masks as the hazardous material they are by definition, and never, ever stuff one in your pocket, throw one in the trash, or toss one in the car. Also, masks should be changed every hour or so, hands gloved, scrubbed up, while touching nothing, then scrub up again afterwards, and put everything that came in contact with the mask – gloves, cleaning materials – in hazardous disposal. No one does this because no one truly believes masks work, that COVID is dangerous, or both. They believe it is important to conform.

3. We Must Get Vaccinated AND Keep Locked Up and Masked Up

Obvious Occam’s Razor Compliant explanation: If any of these measures, singly or in any combination, worked as any sane person understands ‘working’, the ‘pandemic’ would have ended long ago. A ‘vaccine’ that doesn’t keep you from getting sick and doesn’t keep you from spreading the virus simply doesn’t work. Therefore, the vaccine – and the lockups and masks – simply don’t work if the ‘pandemic’ is still ‘raging.’ Logic: If we are to introduce the concept of risk reduction, then we must consider ALL risks, not just risks specific to COVID. When we do that, we discover that vaccines, even if they are considered completely safe and completely effective, reduce overall risk for people under 50 by all but immeasurable tiny amounts. For children, it is utterly ridiculous – kids under 18 are at microscopic risk from COVID (about 400 total attributed deaths over 18 months on a population of 65 million kids. And those attributions are highly questionable) that any risk whatsoever from the vaccine – and no drug is ‘completely safe’, aspirin has killed people – is unacceptable. Hey, teacher – leaves those kids alone! If old people want the vaccine, sure, feel free. Making people take the jab if they don’t want to is outrageous, given the tiny reduction in overall risk.

The Just So Story: If everybody gets vaccinated, we reduce the overall risk from COVID by a significant amount. Sure, vaccinated individuals will still get get sick and even die, and still spread the disease, but by reducing the frequency and severity of infections, we improve the overall situation. Refusing to get vaccinated isn’t just putting yourself at risk, but putting the entire population at risk. Anyone who refuses to get vaccinated is a threat to this overall strategy, and must be ostracized, kept out of restaurants and bars, and will be labeled a ‘terrorist’ so as to be designated for further steps as needed, up to an including incarceration in a quarantine camp. Individual rights mean nothing in the face of the existential threat of COVID. Note here the casual totalitarianism of these claims – one is labeled a terrorist if one questions any part of this imminently questionable Just So Story. Yet – NONE of the underlying assertions is supported by EVIDENCE. Is asymptomatic transfer a serious problem? There is no evidence it is, and plenty of evidence it isn’t. Meaning: if I’m not sick, I pose no material risk to anyone else, even if I’m a ‘case’ of COVID. Therefore, if I simply stay away from people when I’m sick, I provide as much protection to everyone else as if I were vaccinated, even assuming in the face of all evidence, that the vaccines are both effective and harmless. (To be clear: what the evidence so far suggests is: these experimental drugs are somewhat effective for some limited time, and are mostly safe, for most people, at least over the short haul. They’re hardly a silver bullet.)

Note: The underlying ‘problem’ here for the pro-mandatory-vax crowd is the lack of dead bodies. Seriously, if people were in fact dropping like flies, such that everybody knew multiple otherwise healthy people who had died of COVID, then you’d have very little trouble selling people on all kinds of steps to prevent it. But they’re not. I am one of millions of people who personally know NOT A SINLGE person who has died of COVID. I know 1 person – an 87 year old friend from church – who was hospitalized, and she recovered in a couple days. The fact is, almost nobody knows any otherwise healthy people who have thus died. if they know anyone, it’s almost certainly someone who was elderly, sickly, or, most commonly, both. I have friends who have hardly stepped out of their home for 18 months because 3 elderly, sickly relatives of theirs, who could have dropped dead at any moment without surprising anyone, COVID or not, had deaths, as the CDC puts it, ‘involving’ COVID. These poor souls are incapable of admitting the obvious: COVID, if it did anything at all, merely accelerated the deaths of their relatives, and not by much. They weren’t living another decade no matter what, and most likely not another year. Harsh, but true. By now, for me personally, dozens of friends, family members, and acquaintances have had COVID. Every single one has completely recovered. Given that just under 1 out of 100 Americans dies every year, this is actually a little surprising. But there it is.

BUT – everyone has also been subjected to endless news stories about tragic deaths. There are always going to be tragic deaths. The only real question is: are there more tragic deaths than usual? The answer, looking at the numbers, is no, there are not. It’s called ‘life’ and life isn’t fair or kind.

Education History Reading: Thomas Shield’s First Book (1917) pt 1?

Fr. Thomas Edward Shields (1862-1921) was a professor at Catholic University, who, along with Fr. Edward Pace, founded the psychology department there. He was one of the most influential Catholic educators of the early 20th century.

Here, we begin a review of his First Book, a little tome intended for 6 year olds. In many ways, it is a charming book: Shields organizes each of the 10 chapters in 4 parts: a scene from nature, a scene from family life, a scene from the life of Christ, and a simple song. Sections are illustrated with nice art. The kids are supposed to learn reading from this book, as well as get a bit of nature and art. Teachers are advised to read how to teach singing in Shield’s Teacher’s Manual of Primary Methods. But the main point of the book is to teach religion, specifically, Catholicism. The overall approach is integrated: nature, art, the family, music, the Gospels, are all used to inculcate a little Jesus into the tender young minds.

But – you knew there was going to be a ‘but’ – Shields remains a Progressive and a 19th century psychologist. He can’t stop with a charming, unobjectionable little book. Nope, he needs to introduce a bunch of theory. He has to believe that the little tykes could become so much better if properly lead by properly educated teachers according to scientific psychology. The tacit judgement: all those kids who have not been guided by fully trained teachers according to scientific principles are somehow flawed, and fail to live up to what they could have been.

Yikes. Like Pestalozzi, Shields believes in the constant monitoring of every student by a trained teacher, who then directs the student according to sound scientific principles. In other words, leaving the kids to figure anything out on their own is mere disaster. Also, subtly and almost certainly unintentionally, the family is being held to an impossible ideal. To illustrate this, let’s take his nature examples first. In the very first one, Shields describes a mother robin caring for her hatchlings. All very sweet and beautiful. The charming story is used introduce the child to the idea of family and ultimately divine love and care.

But what happens when the poor kid learns that bird very often kill their own chicks? That, in many species, the mother shoves the less perfect hatchlings out of the nest to their deaths, in order to concentrate her energies on their bigger, healthier siblings? Nature isn’t nice.

Similarly, the book describes family life in charming terms, where Mother selflessly cares for her children, and Father selflessly protects and provides for them all. Well? Sure is a good image and a proper ideal, but very few families are going to live up to it always and everywhere. What happens when an individual kid’s experiences don’t line up with this ideal? Since it is tied very tightly to Shield’s exposition of the faith, where Jesus’s love for us is presented as a more perfect version of our parents’ love for us, and, indeed, of robins’ love for their chicks, a failure anywhere along that line invites the kid to disbelief.

Not saying Shields’s approach is wrong, exactly – I want kids to believe in the goodness of nature and family – but it is laying what could be dangerous landmines for particular kids. On the plus side, maybe a kid will be enabled to see that his family isn’t living up to the ideal, and judge his family, and not the ideal, as the problem. It’s different, fundamentally, than reading Little House on the Prairie or Little Women, which are examples of particular families and include lots of problems and even tragedies. Here, in Shields’s book, the ideal family is presented as a realized ideal – kids are invited to see their families as such. Seems dangerous to me, or at least, an open invitation to a certain kind of problem that could be avoided by a different approach – say, reading the kids the books just mentioned.

More generally, the problems here are twofold: first, the idea that a late 19th century psychologist had ‘scientifically’ determined the best way to educate every kid is absurd. Merely setting up ‘laboratories’ to measure psychical phenomena doesn’t mean you are doing or discovering anything real. You might be able, for an example from the 19th century, to determine how long, exactly, people need to see a picture flashed before their eyes before it registers at all on their minds. And? Does that lead to any coherent theory of education? Indeed, what happens instead is that theories far beyond what any observation could support are crowbarred into a lab coat and called ‘science’. John Tylor Gatto observed that there isn’t anything like science behind any of the popular theories of education – it’s just biases, prejudices, and handwavium all the way down. Shields does nothing to disabuse me from Gatto’s view.

Second, and this is a general issue observable in Hecker, Brownson, Pace, Shields, Burns and all the 19th century ‘educationists’ from Fichte and Mann on – Progressivism, if it means anything, means a belief in the perfectibility of man in the here and now. If that belief happens not to be true, then you’ve set up an educational system that is bound to leave teacher, students, and theorist disappointed, to say the least. One could then change one’s opinion to match reality (ha! I slay me.), despair, or double down. Of the last 2 options, despair is the better by far. We’ve already seen how well doubling down works.

Maybe I’ll do a part 2, and go into details of this particular book. First, I find it enlightening to find out a little bit about these titans of Catholic education. To their credit, both Shields and Fr. Edward Pace were instrumental in the creation of the wonderful 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia. However, reading the excerpt quoted below made me realize I love that old encyclopedia because of the way Catholic issues are written about – I never read anything in it to see how, for relevant example, contemporary psychology was written about. Seems I’ll need to read that sort of thing at some point, to balance out my take.

So, who is Thomas Edward Shields? Here what Encyclopedia.com has to say:

Educator; b. Mendota, MN, May 9, 1862; d. Washington, DC, Feb. 15, 1921. The son of Irish immigrants, he was somewhat unruly as a child and finished his formal schooling late. He was admitted to St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, WI, in 1882, and to St. Thomas Seminary, St. Paul, MN, in 1885. At St. Thomas he published his first book, Index Omnium (1888), which was designed to help professional men correlate data gathered from wide reading. After his ordination on March 4, 1891, he studied for his Ph.D. at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. His dissertation, The Effect of Odors Upon the Blood Flow (1895), influenced psychological research, and in 1902 he joined the faculty of The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, as an instructor in psychology.

Shields soon transferred his interest to education. In 1905 he set up a correspondence course, supplemented by diocesan summer institutes, for sisters in the expanding Catholic school system. He established the university’s department of education in 1909 and served as its first chairman. The following year he founded the Catholic Educational Review. In 1911 he conducted the first Summer Institute for Catholic Sisters at the university, and he founded the Sisters College, of which he was dean. In 1912 he was instrumental in securing the adoption of the University Affiliation Program. To correlate the curriculum of the Catholic school, Shields wrote a series of four widely used texts in religion. He was also the author of The Education of Our Girls (1907), a dialogue; The Making and Unmaking of a Dullard (1909), a description of his youth; and The Philosophy of Education (1917), the first Catholic book of its kind in English. He was perhaps the leading Catholic educator in the U.S. during the first quarter of the 20th century.

For Edward Pace, we turn to Wikipedia (so sue me – it’s succinct and accurate as far as it goes):

Edward A. Pace (July 3, 1861 – April 26, 1938) was a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida. He was the first native Floridian to be ordained a diocesan priest.

Pace did his doctoral work in psychology in Germany with Wilhelm Wundt. He wrote his dissertation on Herbert Spencer and evolution.

Pace was extensively involved with the early development of The Catholic University of America. He was the first professor of psychology at CUA, and was the founding dean of its School of Philosophy. He held several administrative positions throughout his career, and was involved with many of the University’s academic initiatives. He was one of the general editors of the edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia completed in 1914. In addition, Pace contributed to the founding of Trinity College, Washington, D.C.

In 1892 he became one of the first five psychologists elected to the American Psychological Association by its charter members. He was co-founder of the American Philosophical Association (1893), cofounder of the Catholic Philosophical Association (1926), co-founder and first editor of Catholic Educational Review (1911), cofounder and coeditor of the journal New Scholasticism (1926). Between 1907 and 1912 he was one of the leading editors of the fifteen-volume Catholic Encyclopedia. He was appointed by President Hoover to the National Advisory Committee on Education in 1926.[1]

Here’s Shields in his element, from Wikisource, the 1914 Catholic Encyclopedia:

As applied to a mental process, assimilation derives all its force and meaning from the analogy which many educationists have found to exist between the way in which food is incorporated into the living tissue and the manner in which truth is acquired by the growing mind. That education means the assimilation of truth is almost a commonplace in modern pedagogy. Few, however, have felt the full force of the comparison or realized how completely the psychological in this as in other instances follows on the lines of the physiological. Just as the living cell cannot delegate the task of assimilation, so the mind cannot by any contrivance of educational methods evade the task of performing the assimilative process for itself. All that the teacher can do is to prepare the material and to stimulate the mind of the pupil; the pupil himself must perform the final act of acquiring knowledge, namely the act of incorporating into his mind the truth presented to him. In the second place, the mind cannot take over into its own substance a complex truth as such. The truth must first be broken up into less complex component parts, which are assimilable by the mind in its present condition of development.

There is little profit, for example, in placing before the pupil a finished essay, unless the pupil is taught to analyze the finished literary product into its constituent elements, and to reconstruct those elements into a living whole. This, of course, implies much more than the task of summarizing each paragraph and labelling it more or less happily. When the term assimilation is used with reference to mental development, it is well to remember that, while it originally referred to the building up of anatomical elements, these elements, once constructed, have an immediate psychological bearing. Each particle of matter that is lifted into the living tissue acquires thereby a functional unity, that is, it is brought into functional relation with every other particle of the organism. Similarly, a truth once incorporated into the mind sheds its light on the entire mental content, and is in turn illuminated by every previously assimilated truth. Acting on these principles, the up-to-date educationist insists: first, that each new truth should be not only an addition to the stock of knowledge of the pupil, but also a functional acquisition, something that stimulates the pupil’s mind to increased activity; secondly, that in every educational endeavor the centre of orientation should be shifted from the logical centre of the body of truth to be imparted to the present needs and capacities of the growing mind.

Shade (Monday Flash Fiction)

Kleon wiggled his way through the muddy-green foliage to join the press of worshippers. He knew that far ahead, the throng moved toward a blinding light he could not see. He could not see because he kept his eyes averted and closed. To look upon the Face of God is death.

Above him, only sky, from which dripped a steady light rain.

He was now swept past a Pillar of Heaven, an almost unimaginably large shaft disappearing into the sky far above. The Angels had set up these posts upon the Founding of the World, to keep the sky above in place. For God had decreed: At acceptable times as told by the Prophets, all may look upon the Side of My Face. At such sacred times, I will turn away, in My mercy, to spare My people. To look upon the Deep Heavens any other time is death.

Kleon had a Name – Kleon. This placed him among a select few of the advancing throngs. To have a Name was to be a person. To be sure, much of scripture was devoted to the duties and, indeed, love, to be shown by the Named to the unnamed, so anything short of gentle care for the poor mindless hordes was a sin. In more primitive times, a Named who showed contempt for the nameless was condemned to be thrown into the Outer Lightness, and die.

Kleon did his part as a Named Person. His pheromones helped direct the Unnamed forward in a calm state. Once the throngs started moving, excitement would grow. Unless the Named did their best to keep the poor unconscious calm, millions might rush into the Light. Sometimes, even a Named was carried thus to his death by the throngs.

Kleon sensed that there were many Named nearby, enough to maintain order. He found he needed to work to keep his own mind calm. For this was the Great Feast, the Awakening, the memorial of the First Naming. All of his kind would get to see the Profile of the Face of God! Many would die from sheer joy, and be counted happy, although all were strictly forbidden by scripture to desire such a death. Joy like that was a pure, unearned gift of God!

Excitement grew as the Light, sensed through closed eyes, began to slowly fade. Billions of eager worshippers had now surrounded the Circle of Light. Pillars of Heaven were here arranged in a majestic curve, trailing off to the left and right in a grand arch. Just beyond these Pillars, the sky ended.

This was a time of prayer. For endless hours, the Light faded, and each Person thought, and each Unnamed felt, the growing Presence in its more gentle form. Soon, one might see the Profile of the Face of God – and live!

Horrified, Kleon sensed that an Unnamed had been unconsciously jostled into the Light. Because the Light had already faded to less than half His full intensity, the poor creature’s death was comparatively slow. It released a cloud of pheromones as it desiccated, of both excruciating pain and utter bliss. Kleon and the other Named nearby strained to keep the surrounding Unnamed from throwing themselves into the fading Light, and succeeded. God would be pleased.

Finally, the Light almost completely withdrew, leaving only a gentle glow a little brighter than the endless misty gloom of the World. The Named, using all their strength, kept the Unnamed in place, for their safety and in order to maintain a decorum appropriate to this Feast.

Finally, the Named allowed the throngs to move. Slowly, they advanced. It was all the Named could do to keep the front ranks moving, although it hardly mattered – the following ranks simply climbed over them. But piles of creatures were unseemly, so the named did their best to keep the creatures in the front moving.

As the Named and Unnamed came out from under the sky, they turned their eyes to the heavens, and saw the stars.


“This is a little creepy.” Diana sat in a control room of the power plant, looking out the window. A million square kilometers of the solar array, visible in every direction, disappeared only where they dipped below the distant horizon. 90% of this desert hell-hole of a planet was paved over in solar cells. The last place the planet’s surface was visible was the clearing around the power plant itself, a ring about a kilometer in radius. Her eyes were on the edges of the clearing, where motion could barely be detected in the gloam, disappearing to the naked eye as the night settled in.

There was nothing else to do but look. Her team had been dropped off to inspect the alien power plant, their work was all but complete, and the system’s new cyclers would not be back by to pick them up for another 18 months.

“This plant is old!” declared Bob, who had entered to control room. “Well, yeah,” said Diana, “that was obvious from space.” She tried to be a good team player, but she and the other 5 team members aside from Bob had quickly determined what they had come to this God-forsaken system to find out. The plant was perfectly operative; its panels were of an unknown design and slightly less efficient than current Empire standards, but it would hardly be worth the effort to upgrade them. Instead, the Empire could enjoy yottawatts of found power, left by long-gone engineers. An uplink to an orbital laser, for example, could power acceleration and deceleration of light sails…

“No, I mean, really old!” Bob was pacing. “We’re talking at least 50 million, maybe 150 million years old. Maybe more.”

“This is a quiet backwater, geologically dead, not much in the way of space debris or weather to disturb things.” Williams, the team’s geologist, had entered the room. “Thin, inert atmosphere. Almost no water. And a nice slow 153 hour day. Local sun beats down on these panels for 76.5 hours a day like clockwork.”

“That’s what I’m trying to say,” continued Bob, “this is a near perfect place for a huge solar array – and has been for a billion years. Somebody figured this out maybe 100 million years ago, stuck this array here, and built it to last. It could power all kinds of repair spiders, all kinds of cleaning and maintenance bots, while hardly putting a dent in net output.”

“We haven’t seen any bots,” said Diana, “seems deserted.”

“Build it right, and the spiders and bots only need to come out every century or two, or even less.”

“Or, better, build it to evolve.” Jommy, the senior engineer and Diana’s boss, looked up from a deck he had been examining. “You build the total system with enough AI, and enough intelligent intervention, analyze what goes wrong, fix it, analyze the fix, rinse, repeat.” He put down the analytic probe he held like a wand. “How many years do you need until it just don’t break anymore?”


Kleon saw the light in the window in the central tower far above, and his heart stirred. Scripture spoke of angels visiting the Heavenly Ladder, coming and going with nothing to say to the Named. Not once, since the original Naming, had angels interacted with his kind. But not in thousands of generations had an angel visited…

Billions of his fellow creatures paved the circle of light surrounding the Ladder, compound eyes heavenward, antennae raised. Here was the Time of Ecstasy. In a few hours, the Named would gently herd the Unnamed out of the Light and back under the sky. Even under the stars, his kind tended to dry out if they spent too much time unprotected. They needed to return to life beneath the sky.


“Good God, Ppillimt, why do play with those disgusting bugs?” His mate looked down upon his crouching form, two of her four hands on her hips, and shook her head.

“One, what else is there to do on this rock? The array never breaks; the uplink never falters.” He picked up a palm-sized beetle-like creature, which lifted it forebody on multi-jointed legs, and further lifted its ‘head’ to look at him. “And, two, I think these things are much more intelligent than we’re giving them credit for.” He could feel his mate’s chagrin, so he changed the subject. “How is the investigation going?”

She sighed. “We may crack their script, but it’ll take some time. We have a pretty good grasp of their math. But the big find: their star charts. We were able to determine the age of this facility by apply know rates of motion to known stars on their charts, and calculating how long ago those stars would have been in the positions indicated – this thing was built 47 million years ago!”

Ppillimt carefully put the bug down, then stood. “Whoa. Yet it runs perfectly. These founders must have been quite the engineers.”

Tzapotlz continued, “We also found a biology collection. We can’t yet make out the text, but the pictures are interesting. Seems this planet did have some zoology. The most advanced creatures by far were something like sand fleas, just little specks somehow surviving in the scorching sun and bitter night.” She looked down at the bug Ppillimt had just been holding. It sat at attention. “That little guy there evolved, I’d guess, from the sand fleas, over millions of years since the founding.”

“Yea, and evolved under these solar panels. They’re all but air-tight except around the uplink towers. It’s a lot more temperate and lot more damp under there.”

“I went under there once,” Tzapotlz looked disgusted, “those slimy plants cover everything, and those bugs are everywhere.”

Ppillimt picked up the bug again. “Damp and moderate temps would certainly be a lot more favorable to life as we know it, in general.” He looked at the bug, which had again raised itself on its front legs and was staring at him, in what appeared to be rapt attention.

“I like you,” he looked at the bug, then spoke over his shoulder to his mate. “I think we need a pet.”

Tzapotlz rolled several of her eyes. “Ugh!” She turned to walk back to the tower.

Ppillimt looked again down at the bug, which never waivered in its attention. “I think I’m going to call you Kalliq.” He carried Kalliq with him as he stood to follow his mate. “Wonder if I can teach you any tricks?” Kalliq tilted his head.

Heinlein Find

Somebody is cleaning up the corner house 4 houses down. The old man who lives there has hardly stepped outside – at least, I haven’t seen him – in 20 years. We never got to know him. Common suburban tragedy.

Whoever is cleaning up – I’ve never seen this person, either – keeps putting items out on the lawn under a ‘free’ sign. Things that seem too good to throw away yet few sane people would want. We’ve even picked up a few items, priming the pump for our own kids future cleanup efforts. Sigh.

BUT:

My wife walked by this morning and saw these – and snatched them up!

So my neighbor, living a couple hundred feet away, who I never go to know, seems to have been a science fiction fan, especially of Heinlein. This stack has a couple Arthur C. Clarks, one Bradbury, and one forlorn Steinbeck, but is otherwise all Heinlein. I can make all kinds of excuses, especially how busy we were with raising kids and running a school, but, in the end, I should have tried to get to know this person.

I’ve read maybe 6-8 of these already, but the pile includes a couple works off John C. Wright’s Essential Sci-Fi Library list that I have not yet read. Woohoo!

I assume the man died, or had to move to a home. Now, I’m going to keep an eye out for whoever is putting stuff out on the curb, and make a way too late effort to find out something about him.

Do You Imagine This is Rare?

Clarissa links to an article on an investigation into nursing home deaths in Quebec:

COVID-19 was repeatedly cited as a cause of death at the Herron nursing home to obscure the fact that dozens of elderly residents died from thirst, malnourishment and neglect, a Quebec coroner’s inquest heard Tuesday.

In an emotional testimony, an auxiliary nurse recalled how the facility in Montreal’s West Island was already poorly run before the crisis, how most of its staff abandoned their posts when the coronavirus struck, and how the local health authority then took over in a high-handed and inefficient manner.

She described discussions over whether to triage residents in such a way that those who were dying wouldn’t be fed. And she recalled harrowing scenes: a woman’s body left unattended in a room shared with her husband, and nurses quarrelling in front of grieving family members.

As I’ve been saying for months now, if you have spent any time in nursing homes, this sort of behavior would be what you’d expect. Nursing home work is often horrible and depressing, and we all should be grateful to the many decent people who are willing to do it, most at near minimum wage. Even the best of them are likely to get overwhelmed or emotionally and physically exhausted. For every sweet old lady, there’s a cursing old man who needs his diaper changed, two old people who don’t know who or where they are but still need to be fed and cleaned, a gasping unconscious woman clinging to life, some seething person who will hit you if you get close – all dying, it’s just a matter of how soon. If you smell urine and feces when you walk in the door, chances are some overworked, underpaid, disrespected person hasn’t gotten around to cleaning up a mess – for the 50th time that day.

And that’s the good ones! Such work attracts a certain kind of sociopath, the sort of people who get off on being in charge of helpless people, both the patients and the help. And, having been sociopaths all their lives, they are good at hiding it from us civilians.

Now add an unprecedented level of terror: minimum wage workers thinking that they’re going to catch the Kung Flu and die if they care for the sickly elderly in the appallingly intimate way their job demands. Then remove all oversight – no visitors! And then imagine unleashing the sociopaths, who most often are in charge. Give them an easy out: anyone who dies can be said to have died of COVID! Who is going to challenge that? Who is even there to challenge that?

Even in the best nursing homes, staffed by the best people with the best intentions, the added stress of the panic-mongers is going to make life very, very hard on both the patients and the staff. Grannies are going to die – sooner, I mean, they are all in there to die – from loneliness and despair once the visits for which they stay alive are removed; caregivers, despite their best intentions, are now worried, hurried, and stressed out. Administrators are overwhelmed. And COVID can be a nasty bug, one that can sometimes kill a sickly old person and, indeed, an overwhelmed, overworked staff member!

Best case, the panic and lockups have sped the deaths of thousands and possibly killed some of the overwhelmed staff; worst case, thousands and thousands of deaths were attributed to COVID, but caused by neglect and casual indifference. The bad news: in most cases, the actual cause would be hard to figure out, since the people involved were almost all already dying. Worse news; because the people involved were already dying, many people won’t care they died a little sooner. Worst news: nobody is going to be allowed to investigate this on any larger scale, or, if somehow such an investigation were to take place, it is not going to be allowed to become widely known.

Remember: at least half, and possibly up to 2/3rds of all COVID deaths are among nursing home patients. Even without COVID, around 2/3rds of all deaths in America happen among the sickly elderly – the exact sort of people who are likely to be in a nursing home in the first place.

Smorgas-bored

Got all these posts to write, from serious – more analysis of the current panic – to fun – review of Galactic Patrol the latest book I’ve read off John C. Wright’s essential scifi list. But that gets to be work, sometimes. So, instead, let’s fire up the flotsam randomizer, and see what floats by:

A. If anyone says ‘the world has too many people’ anywhere other than on their own suicide note, such a one is a murderous bigot.

B. Space Alien Footstep? Look at this:

The dappled lighting made this hard to see, so I put a red border around it.

This (hard to see in the picture, not hard in real life) is a near-perfect rectangle of dead grass in the backyard. It appeared a week or so ago. It’s about the size and shape of a cooler, maybe slightly bigger.

So – what? I can’t remember puttying anything on the lawn, let alone anything that would kill the grass. Nobody else here can, either. The unnaturally exact rectangular-ness makes natural explanations seem far-fetched….

Weird.

C. This deserves at least a dedicated post – Edward Feser’s latest, Ioannidis on the politicization of science, which begins with a link to a 2005 Ioannidis paper, Why Most Published Research Findings Are False Regular readers here know I’m saying ‘duh’ right about now. It seems that Ioannidis’ paper was well-received, back in 2005, in the sense that many scientists acknowledged its obvious truth. I trust you see what’s coming next: Ioannidis recently published another paper, applying his logic from the 2005 paper to COVID studies. As Feser says: ” In a new essay at The Tablet, Ioannidis reflects on the damage that has been done to the norms of scientific research as politics has corrupted it during the pandemic.”

These observations were not as well received.

I started a long response to Dr. Feser, which I may still complete, simply noting the observation that was the genesis of this blog – that, for the most part, one does not need to be a scientist to spot the errors in most papers, that logic, a basic knowledge of the history of science, and, most important, a fairly basic understanding of how science really works – what science can and cannot do – is sufficient to judge most claims made in the name of science. It’s not like it takes genius or a PhD to note, for example, that ‘cases’ are a moving target over time and space, with definitions and data gathering protocols being wildly inconsistent, such that any comparisons of one time with another, or one place or another, needs A LOT of ‘splaining – just assuming a change in the reported numbers reflects increases of infection purely is irresponsible, to say the least.

(Aside: you can separate out the posers at this point – they are the people who will say I’m nit-picking here. To such people, all technical criticism of methodology will appear as nit-picking, yet any knowledge of science history will show that such ‘nit-picking’ is how science works, when it does work.)

Good stuff.

D. Just one thing about E. E. Smith’s Galactic Patrol prior to the full write-up: you can spot a dozen Star Trek episodes and most of Star Wars right there, in a book written in the 1930s. Jedis, way cool mind powers, Hero’s Journey, evil empire, fight to the death. It might be faster to list what’s missing: Dark Father doesn’t get redeemed or even exist; the love interest is not the hero’s sister, and Chewbacca is played by a dragon and Yoda by a disembodied brain. With way-cool Jedi mind powers. Stay tuned.

Pictures, Visualizations, Graphs

Pictures are said to be worth a thousand words.

Maybe. Consider Euclid, Book I, Proposition 16:

In any triangle, if one of the sides is produced, then the exterior angle is greater than either of the interior and opposite angles.

Diagram found here

Euclid is a language unto itself. The words are part of the language, but few people, it seems, can understand the words without the diagram, even if they only picture the diagram in their heads. I know I can’t – I immediately construct the picture in my mind, at the very least. Once you’ve got the picture, then the words help you walk through the proof.

But the picture itself doesn’t tell you what you are to prove from it. Those 2 dozen words in italics that describe what the picture is for do that. This picture might be worth a thousand words, but those thousand words don’t include what the picture means.

I’ve mentioned before how I was epically terrible at Greek, back in collage, yet epically great at Euclid. It’s just a knack, and I’ve done little with it, but I was that annoying kid who could just read the proposition, look at the diagram, and, 9 times out of 10, produce the proof without having to look at the text. Other people could glance at the rules for forming verbs in Greek, and just get them, while they were a plate of spaghetti to me. Just one of those things.

I watched the other students struggle their way through Euclid. I never had that experience, the glory, even, that some people had when the brilliant truth of Euclid’s modest claims broke through – but it was beautiful. Some kids had very limited ideas of what was true, and seeing how the logic of a Euclidian proof compels agreement was the dawn of a new world to them. I think I had a similar experience in 4th grade, when I first understood how the hard sciences can prove something true. Given a set of assumptions and definitions and the rules of logic, a really well-constructed experiment can really prove something, within, of course, the limitations of the observations and definitions.

But I digress. The point here: diagrams don’t speak for themselves You have to speak their language to understand them, and sometimes need many additional words of explanation. One more point: practice makes perfect. If you, like a St. John’s freshman, are working through Euclid pretty much every day, you start to get the hang of how he works, so that each successive proposition tends to make sense more quickly and easily than the last. (This is offset by the generally increasing complexity of the propositions, but you get the drift.)

I write all this to explain to myself how it is that diagrams such as the one below don’t seem to impress people:

So let’s spell it out:

  1. This chart displays deaths by age band by week per 100,000 people in that age group.
  2. The order of the lines on the graph are the inverse of the order of the ages in the list to the right. That is, the bottom group in the list is the top line in the chart, and visa versa.
  3. The y-axis scale peaks at 50 deaths per week, which the line for weekly deaths in the 75+ Years group slightly exceeds at a couple of points. This means that a little more than 50 age 75+ people per 100,000 died over a week a couple of times.
  4. Conversely, at no point are any deaths per 100,000 of those under 40 evident. Given the scale, where 1 death per week is noticeable as a slight bump, this means that, at most, something well under 1 death per week per 100,000 occurred for those under 40.
  5. For those under 50, the peak weeks might be as high as 1 per 100,000 at a couple of points. Since the under 40 are invisible at this scale, if you add them all together to get a weekly deaths per 100,000 for all those under 50, your total weekly deaths per 100,000 over the 7 age groupings added together reaches a max of about 1 at two points over the last 18 months.

But what does this all mean? It means, first, deaths among the elderly have been high, and deaths among those under 50 have been low, with deaths among those between 50 and 75 being measurable but much lower than those 75 and over. For those under 40, deaths per week doesn’t even register at this scale.

One more piece of information not presented here is the age distribution across the population. That’s not the point of this diagram, which is expressly concerned with deaths per 100,000. But to get your arms around what this means in terms of total deaths, you’d also need to consider how many people fall into the various categories.

Here’s a 2019 distribution from the Kaiser Foundation:

(aside: I can never seem to find population distributions by age expressed with the same age banding that the CDC uses. I’ve wasted time backing into the numbers, but it just seems odd that the data is most generally presented with wide age bands that one cannot easily change. So this is going to be sloppier than I’d like, but I think the point will still be clear. End gripe.)

The US population is estimated at about 332M. Almost a quarter of that population, or about 78 million people, are under age 18. Last I checked, about a week ago, 380 Americans under 18 – children – had deaths ‘involving’ COVID (that’s the CDC’s language, not mine). As Briggs points out, that’s less than half as many children as died of pneumonia over the same period. And before you go there, recall that pneumonia also can have lingering or permanent effects on those who survive it.

On the other end, 16.5% are over 65, or about 55 million Americans. Backing into the numbers on the chart above, at the two peaks in April 2020 and January 2021, it looks like as many as 75 people 65 and older died per week. Multiplying that per 100,000 number by the 550 units of 100,000 in 55 million, you get peak weekly deaths in the 65+ age groups of about 41,000 deaths. Peak weekly deaths ‘involving’ COVID for people 65 and over were about 100 times the TOTAL deaths of children over the entire 18 months of the pandemic.

Therefore, taking these CDC numbers at face value, COVID is a threat to the elderly, and not a threat to children. The overall risk of death for children is not significantly increased by the presence of COVID in the environment. Indeed, the overall risk of death for those under 50 is not meaningfully increased by the presence of COVID in the environment.

This situation was evident, as in screaming from the page, with the very first Imperial College report back in March of 2020. But do you hear about it on the news? No?

Yesterday’s Homily

The soul of humility is obedience. Without the willingness to set aside our own wishes in obedience to proper authority, claims of humility are empty. That’s why St. Thomas, in his prayer after communion, includes “Let this Holy Communion strengthen us in love and patience, humility and obedience, and all the virtues.” Love is first – without love, no other virtue lives. Love endures in patience. But the very next virtues listed are humility and obedience – humility, the virtue corresponding to the fear of the Lord, and obedience, by which this humility is made real.

Yesterday’s homily was not about any of this. Instead, we were treated to the spectacle of a man inexplicably proud of his intellect – of which, in the years I’ve known him, has been on display with enlightening infrequency – telling us that love of self, neighbor, and God demands we do exactly what the latest COVID panic mongers demand, that failing to get vaccinated and wear masks means – he was specific – that we, the guilty, love not God, our neighbor, nor ourselves. He didn’t explicitly add: and are going straight to hell, but the implication was strong.

Further, he used the example of poor Cardinal Burke as the sort of “moron” who doesn’t mask or get vaccinated and thus, by ending up in the hospital (he has since recovered, thank God) with COVID, proves the truth of his position. The blessed cardinal is a man who is a) elderly, b) extremely busy and probably exhausted, c) probably interacts with thousands of people in a typical week, and d) is under insane levels of pressure and spiritual attack. And he recovered, like 99.9%+ of people who aren’t actively dying.

So imagine me and mine, who along with dozens of other people, are sitting OUTDOORS IN THE SUNLIGHT at mass, unmasked, hearing this dim bulb call a saintly man, who incidentally is vastly and demonstrably his intellectual superior, a “moron” for failing to do as he is told by such genius humanitarians as Fauci, Brix, and Ferguson. My wife tried to talk with him after mass, with the predictable dismissive results. (I was loading up the car w/ grandma at the time, and hadn’t even noticed she’d gone until she was almost through. I’m also a coward with a temper – bad combination for rational discourse when I’m pissed off.)

The totalitarianism of postmodernism has found ready adherents in the well-schooled. This Dominican (!) teaches at the local ‘catholic’ boy’s high school – ‘catholic’ in quotes, as they are of course too inclusive as to take a stand on anything as icky as Catholic dogmas. (Their sister school, the girl’s school next door, prays “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier” because that Father-Son stuff can offend some poor snowflakes, and they want to be inclusive. While this girls school did allow for a Pro-Life club, they likewise allowed – on campus – an organized protest *against* the Pro-Life club. Very Catholic and inclusive.) I’ve had occasion to get to know the products of these schools – fine young cannibals, all. Any attempt at discussion of the faith is met with utter ignorance and indifference. Very well schooled rabbits.

Yet this priest’s high self opinion, expressed in meandering stories of his adventures in lieu of homilies with any reference to the feast or readings, compel him to attempt to shame and anathema a group of fine people who have had it with the lies he, himself, cannot acknowledge, lest his world crumble and he dies!

And that’s what we’re up against now: the panic rabbits have built their entire identities on obedience, on doing as they are told, on getting the pat on the head, the gold star, the participation trophy. This priest, as a high school teacher, is even more integrated into this system and has his identity and sense of self-worth even more tied to conforming and getting others to conform. Doing as he is told is the highest virtue, while defying the authorities warrants heavy anathemas. That’s been his life for 40 years.

Getting back to humility and obedience: Thomas notes that true authority, the authority we must always obey, comes from doing the will of God. A king is legitimate insofar – and only insofar – as he is doing God’s will. Yet I think Thomas, while perhaps having something to say about the idea that legitimate government rests upon consent of the governed, would agree with the sentiments of the signers of the Declaration of Independence: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.”

The philosophical errors here are certainly overshadowed by the glorious vigor of people yearning to be free.

Thomas would of course be very, very circumspect regarding when a long train of abuses becomes intolerable, because he had knowledge of what it’s like when there is no king or other legitimate authority. Better to endure, and be obedient, whenever possible. Our sterling example in this was another St. Thomas, St. Thomas More. He harbored few illusions about Henry, yet loved and obeyed him to the very end – except when such obedience would contradict the law of God.

And we should be just a circumspect, and be humble in our judgements. In my case, I have made the judgement – and may God have mercy on my soul! – that obedience to these authorities causes more harm than good, and that the authorities have long since abandoned any defensible claim of legitimacy other than mere inertia. Therefore, I will not comply, except insofar as my noncompliance would get an innocent person – a store clerk, for example -in trouble. And that’s on a case-by-case basis.

Sci Fi Classic Book Review: Verne’s Master of the World

I like to read up on the authors as I go through these classic Sci Fi works off of John C. Wright’s Essential Sci Fi Reading List. Reading up on Jules Verne, I discovered that many of the English translation of his novels were rushed and abridged, as American and English publishers thought they could most quickly cash in on Verne as an author of children’s books. While better translations have long been available, these abridged editions seem to make up a good portion of Verne’s works available for free on the web. Now I’m left to wonder what, if any, Verne I’ve actually read, and how many watered-down and condensed English versions I’ve instead plowed through.

Book Cover

Dead give-away: the translation/condensation of Master of the World I’ve just finished lists no translator, and is only about 140 pages long. I spent a few minutes conducting a by no means thorough search for an unabridged translation for free on the web, to no avail. Serious, non-abridged English translations of Verne began shortly after his death in 1905, so they’re out there and out of copyright. Amazon offers this collection at a $1.99, which says it’s ‘unexpurgated’.

So until I get a chance to read the full novel, this review of the kiddy version will have to do.

One of the things I enjoy about Verne is that he treats Americans as the exotic species we really are. In From the Earth to the Moon, Verne gives Americans fanciful names and absurd behaviors which I imagine were very amusing to his continental readers back in 1865. The one thing he latched on to, and a thing he might well have intended as a rebuke to his countrymen, is America’s can-do attitude: a bunch of American artillery men, fresh off the ‘glories’ of the Civil War, turn their attention to firing humans to the moon out of a giant canon, because why not? Master of the World is likewise a tale of audacious Americans.

Our narrator John Strock is presented as the great detective working for the (mythical?) Federal Police, who have time, budget, and portfolio to pursue odd events in rural North Carolina. Peculiar happenings have been observed atop a lonely mountain called the Great Eyrie. This inaccessible peak is topped by a sheer 100′ cliff that completely encircles it, such that no one has ever surmounted it. Yet over the course of days, fires, lights, and noises originate from its hidden peak.

Strock gets a team together to go investigate, but they are stymied by the cliffs. He needs the funding and permission to get some more extensive climbing or tunneling equipment to access the peak. His boss isn’t ready quite yet to commit, as another series of strange phenomena have since drawn attention away from the Great Eyrie. One or more strange monsters or perhaps vehicles has been sighted in Boston Harbor as a boat, in Wisconsin as a car, in a mythical lake in Kansas as a submarine. The nation’s and eventually the world’s attention is riveted.

So Strock is sent to investigate, but not before he receives a very threatening letter telling him to back off from the Great Eyrie, or else. He takes it as a joke, and does not discuss it with his boss.

Eventually, the conviction grows that these sightings are of a single machine, an incredible contraption that is faster than any automobile, faster than any ship, and can dive as a submarine to escape any pursuers. The Government of the US, followed by the governments of all the major powers, publish offers to buy the technology from its inventor for fabulous sums. A letter is sent to the Federal Police declining the offer, taunting the world’s powers, and claiming to be impervious to any means they have of stopping him. Signed: The Master of the World.

From there, the story follows Strock and his team as they try to track down and capture, or, if necessary, destroy the inventor and his machine.

Not as scientifilicious as some of Verne’s other works. The contraptions are no more fantastic than the Nautilus, of which he conceived decades earlier. This is the earliest use of a super villain of which I am aware. His ideas about heavier than air flight are not much advanced on da Vinci’s, and had already been superseded by the Wright Brothers by the time this book went to press.

A good, entertaining story, even in its condensed form.