Education History Book Review: F. V. N. Painter’s Luther on Education (1889) pt 1

Painter, a vehement proponent of Protestantism and Whore of Babylon style anti-Catholic, has translated 2 of Luther’s letters on education, to make better known the great Reformer’s seminal contributions to compulsory state-funded graded classroom schooling. All that stuff which we associate with modern schooling is proposed and defended by Luther, starting in 1520.

This work is really 2 short books, the first of which is Painter’s take on the Reformation, the second his translations of two of Luther’s letters. Therefore, I’ll do this in two parts. The first is Painter’s “historical introduction”:

The fact that no great character can be fully understood without an acquaintance with the age in which he lived and the movements with which he was identified, led to the preparation of the first four chapters as a historical introduction.

Preface

These first four chapters make up about 60% of the work, and are not exactly what anyone not as on fire with Protestant zeal as Painter would call ‘balanced’. No one, Catholic or Protestant, would dispute the general claim of profound hellish corruption of the Church’s hierarchy in the 16th century. But no one who understands the effects of investiture can honestly point to the Church herself as the primary cause. When every bishop and abbot is a partisan, and often a relative, of the local prince or king, appointed at their pleasure based on loyalty or politics, and the Pope appointed by Emperors with no regard to the candidate’s spiritual suitability, then perhaps the secular government might seem a more likely locus to place blame. The issue is not simply that the Church was deeply involved in politics, but that the leaders of the Church had gotten their positions because of politics.

Yet, to Painter, Gregory VII’s attempt to pry control of the Church out of secular hands is seen as yet another foul Popish plot. That Gregory frustrated the attempts of the German Emperor Henry IV to appoint a pope to his liking is not the occasion for any introspection on the role of German emperors in corrupting the Church, but seen as overwhelming evidence of Papal perfidy.

Painter’s opening chapters contain a little history, true, but like the writings of Luther himself, quickly segue to polemic no matter what the topic putatively under discussion. The Catholic Church is irredeemably evil, the chosen tool of Satan, and an enemy of Protestant America. The enemy of my enemy is my friend: Painter goes so far as to defend the Albigensians, whose insane and destructive Gnosticism is pretty far from even Painter’s idea of Christianity, because the Church crushed them. He didn’t get around to defending the Aztecs, but one imagines he would, given his premises and zeal.

All good things that have happened in the West, and, indeed, the world, since 1517 are the result of Protestantism. America is a Protestant enterprise (no argument there from me) in which is no place for Catholics. American Catholics are (to the surprise of actual Catholics) awaiting orders from the Pope to whom all spiritual and temporal allegiance is sworn. Protestant Americans want to educate everyone; the Church wants to keep people stupid. One quotation will have to suffice:

Yet the Papacy is not favorable to the education of the masses. It seeks above all things absolute obedience on the part of its adherents. Intelligence among the laity is recognized as a dangerous possession; for it ministers to their independence in thinking, and makes them more critical of the teaching imposed upon them by priestly authority. Any activity displayed by the Papacy in popular education is forced by the existence of Protestant schools. The establishment of parish schools giving an education worth the name, is a measure of self-defense. The Jesuits, with all their lauded activity in education, never had the intellectual elevation of the masses at heart. With them education was a means of combating Protestantism, and of begetting a bigoted attachment to the Roman Church. Wherever the Papacy has had full control of education, the masses have been brought up in ignorance. It is a Jesuit maxim that ” A few should be well educated ; the people should be led. Reading and writing are enough for them.” When Victor Emmanuel took possession of the Papal States in 1870, only five per cent, of the population could read and write. In thrift and intelligence Catholic countries do not compare favorably with Protestant countries. Macaulay’s judgment on this point is as just as it is positive. ” During the last three centuries, to stunt the growth of the human mind has been the chief object of the Church of Rome. Throughout Christendom, whatever advance has been made in knowledge, in freedom, in wealth, and in the arts of life, has been made in spite of her, and has everywhere been in inverse proportion to her power. The loveliest and most fertile provinces of Europe have, under her rule, been sunk in poverty, in political servitude, and in intellectual torpor, while Protestant countries, once proverbial for sterility and barbarism, have been turned by skill and industry into gardens, and can boast of a long list of heroes and statesmen, philosophers and poets.”

Yet, somehow, scholars are not lacking among the canonized saints of the Church, which Church invented the university, and so on. Gregor Mendel and Georges Lemaître, among many thousands of other Catholic scientists and inventors, might find Painter’s analysis amusing.

Painter believes compulsory state education is an unmitigagted good, and that Catholic opposition to it is proof of the nefarious goals of the Papacy:

From the preceding discussion we may easily deduce the line of action that is necessary to protect our institutions, particularly our public school system, against papal aggression.

1. We should carefully observe the insidious movements of the Papacy.

2. Recognizing the separation of Church and State wisely made by the Constitution, we should nowhere tolerate sectarian legislation.

3. Maintaining the right of the State to educate its citizens, we should forbid the appropriation of any public funds to sectarian schools.

4. All public school offices should be filled with recognized friends of popular education.

5. The rights of conscience should be maintained and defended by the State.

In order to present the appearance of a united Protestant front against Catholics, Painter is here resorting to something like what Lewis called ‘mere Christianity,’ this fantasy under which some undefined subset of Protestants are really all basically primitive evangelical Christians despite disputes over dogma that had fractured them into dozens of flavors even by Painter’s time. Are Mormons Christians? How about Jehovah’s Witnesses or Seventh Day Adventists? Unitarians? Why not? When reading the contemporary writings of the early 19th century, it’s not unusual to come across a Presbyterian, say, who is sure his Methodist neighbor is going straight to Hell. The earlier Protestants were hardly afraid of dogma, and believed it a life or death matter. Painter certainly does, although what exactly those dogmas are and who, exactly, he considers his co-religionists, is unclear. What is clear from history: the one thing that united 19th century Protestants was hatred of the Catholic Church.

Painter’s freedom of conscience is, when fully played out, what we have today: it is unpardonable bigotry to say anyone isn’t whatever they say they are, or to condemn anything they want to do. Painter himself is a huge fan of the vigorously judgmental Luther – just read anything Luther wrote about anything for examples. The judgement of Catholics that the Church holds the full truth of Christianity is a claim any proper Lutheran or Calvinist or Methodist would have once sternly made for their own beliefs as well. And – this is critical – if you believe that your church holds the fullness of the Faith, it would be incumbent upon you to convert as many people as possible to this Truth, AND to do whatever you could to have this truth embodied in society, in culture, and in law – for everybody’s objective good. When we say that America is a Protestant nation, is this not what we mean? That the laws, culture, and society are the expression of the Protestant beliefs of the Founding Fathers and the culture that produced them? And that, finally, the dissolution of America that we are experiencing right now is also an expression of that culture, which never was as homogenous as myth would have it? The New England Calvinists despised the Virginia Episcopalians, and visa versa, for one example among many. These inherited animosities and the manifest drive toward fragmentation are as much a part of the Protestant roots of America as the reverence for individual conscience and faith in the perfectibility of man.

Wow, I fell into exactly what Painter did: using a format – him, an introduction; me, a book review – to expound our personal beliefs. Oops. To yank this back on topic: for my purposes, Painter’s introductory chapters merely reiterate that the beliefs that drove the Know-Nothings back in the first half of the 19th century were still going strong in the second half. Separating out, as much as we can, the mere anti-Catholic bigotry, we can ask: Did the Know Nothings have a legitimate grievance? Largely, yes – Catholic immigrants were being used by Tammany Hall and other thuggish governments as a way to get and hold power. Fresh off the boat, Catholic immigrants got housing, food, a job funded by graft and corruption, and a meeting with a judge on the take who granted them citizenship in defiance of the law. These newly-minted Americans were then told how to vote, and woe to any who dared question it! Thus, Democratic party machines got and held power in major American cities, power they continue to hold, for the most part. It was an immigration problem foreshadowing the one we have now. The Know Nothings had a legitimate case for wanting tighter immigration and naturalization laws.

But, alas! Those corrupt political machines were never really cleaned up. Rather, their practices became normalized and invisible. Thus, instead of having a Fred Roti run Chicago, you merely have an understanding that no one who actively opposes the machine is every getting anywhere. So, you shut up and go along, or move out. The Roti family may not be around to off troublemakers like in the good old days, but that’s only because challenges to the system are simply cut off much more elegantly now.

And many Catholic are complicit in this. One can hardly blame them for accepting with gratitude the help of Tammany Hall or the job as a policeman in Chicago, back in the day, but at some point, the lightbulb will go on – unless one actively works to keep it off.

So, at the same time, the last few decades of the 19th century, we have Painter saying that the efforts of Catholics to keep their kids out of pubic schools amounts to treason; Catholic bishops saying that it is the duty of every parish to build a Catholic school, so that every Catholic child in America can be educated outside the virulently anti-Catholic public schools; and Archbishop Ireland telling the NEA that, eventually, all Catholic children will attend public schools.

It’s messy and confusing. Painter ends up ‘winning’ this battle, in that Catholic schools now produce graduates who have no allegiance to anything the Church teaches, in the unlikely event they even learn what those teachings are. But his victory is Pyrrhic: the pure and noble Protestantism he loved is, if anything, even deader.

Education History Book Review: Shield’s Making and Unmaking of a Dullard

Thomas Shields (1862-1921), a priest and doctor of psychology at Catholic University of America, wrote his Making and Unmaking of a Dullard in 1909. Although written in the form of a dialogue taking place at weekly dinner parties over the course of months, it is universally considered his autobiography. As a dialogue, it is a resounding failure: no one besides the author comes off any deeper than a cardboard cutout, nor contributes much of anything except leading questions that simply interrupt the flow of Shields’s story.

Archive.org is wonderful

This book reinforces an impression long held: the central figures in American education history are, almost without exception, unimaginative mediocrities. Horace Mann or William Torey Harris would, I imagine, bore one to tears ov er a beer, if they every did something so common; Shields comes off as precisely the sort of academic Silence Dogood or Mark Twain would have a field day with. The one exception, whose native brilliance sometimes shines through his prose, is, alas, a force for evil. John Dewey is a sharp dude, and a horror. Other intelligent men, like Brownson and Hecker, merely wrote about education without being crowned as ‘educationists’. And they have their own issues.

Back to Shields. Here is the list of participants in the dialogue, with as much as I can glean about their personalities and roles:

  • Mr. O’Brien – the host?
  • Mrs. O’Brien – The O’Briens make obvious statements or ask obvious questions
  • Miss Russell/Miss Ruth – model teacher in the Lee School; “eminently qualified to enlighten us on the characteristic features of the modem school- room.” She provides the latest news on education trends.
  • Judge Russell – her father? A judge, who also had a horrible experience in school but overcame it to become a judge. A gruff, elderly voice. O’Brien announces at the beginning that Judge Russell will need to keep the peace between the next two characters.
  • Dr. Studevan – Shields
  • Professor Shannon – Shields’s adversary, I guess. He provides the current wisdom, and reads articles from magazines. Maybe the Simplicio of the scene?

Bottom line: except for the O’Briens, each of these characters delivers a brief monologue or two early in the festivities, makes a few remarks, then, essentially, disappears half-way through. I never once wondered what the Judge or Shannon was going to say about anything – they, and all the characters, are, effectively, furniture.

One fascinating thing: complaints made about the schools in 1909 sound oddly modern. For example, Shannon quotes at length from G. Stanley Hall: *

“Many of the boys, especially in the upper classes of the high schools, are so out-numbered that they are practically in a girls’ school, taught by women at just that age when vigorous male control and example are more needed than at any other time of life. The natural exuberance of the boy is often toned down, but if he is to be well virified later, ought he not in the middle teens, and later, to be so boisterous at times as to be rather unfit for constant companionship with girls ? Is there not something wrong with the high school boy who can truly be called a perfect gentleman, or whose conduct and character conform to the ideals of the average unmarried female teacher? Boys need a different discipline, moral regimen, atmosphere, and method of work. Under female influence certainly — as, alas, too often under that of the male teacher — form now always tends to take precedence over content. The boy revolts at much method with meager matter, craves utility and application. Too often, when the very germs of his manhood are burgeoning, all these instincts are denied, and he is compelled to learn the stated lessons which every one else in the country is learning at his age, to work all day with girls.”

“the February number of Munsey’s

I think this is meant to be a dig at Shields, as he was (I think – have to look through the notes) a major proponent of women teachers, which would mesh with the weird otherwise content-free adversarial relationship between Shannon and Shields. Also, it’s worth remembering that American ‘educationists’ had only recently managed to sell the idea of high school for everyone. 15 or 20 years earlier, few would be talking about high school age boys not getting enough exposure to manly-men in school, because teen age boys weren’t in school for the most part.

Back to Shields. His laboriously-told story is that, at the age of 9, his teacher judged him unfit for any academic pursuits, labeled him ‘Studevan’s omadhaun’ (an Irish term meaning fool) and sent him home to work on the farm. Shields’s says that he had learned how to read and perform the multiplication tables, but had merely been advanced too far – he couldn’t quite manage the 3rd Reader, had been humiliated and terrified into a silence he could not overcome. Thus, from age 9 to 16, interrupted briefly at age 13 by another failed attempt at school, he stayed home and worked on the farm. He forgot almost all the math and reading he had learned, and accepted the judgement of his teacher and family: he was simply a dullard, incapable of any intellectual achievement.

As he entered his 16th year, a slowly-developing sense that he wasn’t so dumb after all accelerated. Farm work left a lot of time for thought, and he tried to figure out the various measures used on the farm, and the working of the farm equipment. Finally, he became obsessed with building a stump-puller based on his understanding of how levers and pulleys worked, secretly modified an abandoned machine to that end, snuck it out to the fields when his family was at Mass – and yanked up some stumps.

Now convinced that he could at least become a mechanic, he began to pursue knowledge, recovering his ability to read, and, I suppose, the rest is history. At least, this is where the story ends.

Early in the story, the interlocutors discuss how the dullard – by which they seem to mean any child uninterested or incapable of doing as they are told – is the bane of all teachers. Miss Russell and Professor Shannon read or recite statistics and stories illustrating the appalling frequency of dullards – half of NYC kids, for example, were, in modern terms, not performing to grade level. Shannon generously points out that a huge percentage of those kids are immigrant children trying to learn English at the same time they are trying to keep up in school, but allows that, even so, there a lot of idiots out there.

Finally, the create something of a taxonomy of dullards. They identify 7 ways a kid can become an idiot:

  • heredity,
  • disease,
  • environment,
  • malnutrition,
  • defective senses,
  • fright,
  • alternating phases of physical and mental development

I don’t know anyone who would argue that the first 6 causes are not real, and, in the story, no one disputes them. Note here that Shields creates a single class – dullards – into which he puts all kids who are not cooperative or responsive in school. The nearsighted and hard of hearing are classed with the bored and violent, and the truly mentally deficient, and so on. But Shields is not interested in the first 6 causes because they do not apply to him, and so they are not developed at all. Instead, we focus on his pet theory: that kids alternate phases of physical and mental development, and that trying to get a kid to learn when he’s in a phase of physical development is futile and injurious. Pardon the long quotation, part of which I’ve already quoted in my earlier preliminary review – here is Shields explanation of his theory:

“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. The quality and quantity of every secretion, as well as body temperature, respiration, and the circulation of the blood, depend upon appropriate nerve currents. And not only this, but the nutrition and growth of every organ and gland, of every cell in the body, are dependent upon the same source. A broken bone, for instance, if it be deprived of its proper nerve supply, will never heal.

“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.

“If the pupils are at this time entrusted to incompetent teachers the discouragement into which they fall is likely to degenerate into permanent dullness from which they make no further effort to escape. And thus it happens that precocious children are seldom heard from in after life. I am quite convinced, however, that when the precociousness is not due to inherited or acquired disease this result may be prevented by competent teachers. But in the present condition of our schools the chances of permanent success are much better where the physical development of the child is in the ascendant during the early years of school life. Here the danger to health from over stimulation is avoided and when at last the processes of physical development begin to slow up, if the discouragement is not too deep, mental life may awaken to a new vigor.

“Either extreme, however, is difficult to manage and may prove dangerous in the hands of incompetent or careless teachers. A balance between the two processes of development is the safest and may be considered the condition of typical children. The development of these children should accordingly determine the work of the grade and their condition should form the ideal towards which the teacher should constantly strive to lead the developmental processes in the atypical children.”

CHAPTER V – Alternating Phases of Physical and Mental Development

Recall that Shields is a professor of psychology at Catholic University of America, under Fr. Edward Pace, founder of the Psychology department at that school, and a student of Wilhelm Wundt. To quote Wikipedia:

A survey published in American Psychologist in 1991 ranked Wundt’s reputation as first for “all-time eminence” based on ratings provided by 29 American historians of psychology. William James and Sigmund Freud were ranked a distant second and third.[6]

So the ‘scientific’ stylings of Shields are by no means some outlier – he’s but one step removed from the greatest psychologist of his age. It would be straightforward, if a bit time-consuming and tedious, to, you know, *test* those theories of his, after the manner of actual scientists, plenty of whom were contemporaneously extant. But psychologists prefer insight, after the manner of Hegel and Marx – you just *know* what’s what, because you’ve thought about it at and you’re just so smart and enlightened. Rather than examining those perplexing outliers – guys like me, who have always been among the largest and quickest children in any classroom I’ve ever been in – indeed, rather than setting up any sort of systematic approach to examining his assumptions, Shields just runs with it. He concludes – and keep in mind, he is among the most influential ‘educationists’ in American history – teachers need to retard the progress of – dumb down – the smart kids in order to save them from the all but inevitable sickness, death, or at least invalidism, that will inevitably result from letting them study what they want.

The key aspects here:

  • Highly trained teachers are essential
  • Constant monitoring of students is essential
  • Any error in technique can have devastating consequences
  • Graded classrooms are essential
  • The average student’s learning capacity (within a graded classroom) is the standard to which all students will be held.
  • Exceeding that standard is as bad or worse than falling beneath it
  • All of the above are Science!(tm)

How about, just for kicks, another set of conclusions from the same data Shields presents?

  • Schooling from age 9 to 16 is unnecessary – Shields got none, and he became an elite professor at an elite university
  • Better to grow up on a farm and do useful work than go to school.
  • If you skip 7 years of schooling, you can catch up in a matter of months.

Shields does have Shannon Simplicio point much of this out, only so that he can mock him and (very unconvincingly) shoot it down.

It is from men like Shields and thinking like this that modern schooling has been built.

Next up: F. V. N. Painter’s Luther on education; including a historical introduction, and a translation of the reformer’s two most important educational treatises (1889). About half-way through. All I can say: if you want to understand why Catholics wanted nothing to do with public schools, Mr. Painter will explain it to you.

* Hall is another 19th – early 20th century psychologist, the usual mixture of eugenics fanatic and ‘educationist’. Then as now, psychology, perhaps even more than other academic fields, attracts nuts and mediocrities who, enabled by education and certification, are then hellbent on telling saner, happier people how to live.

How Panic Kills

  1. Misdiagnoses, or You Find What You’re Looking For

Say, way back in 2019, somebody shows up in the ER having trouble breathing. In those dark times, the staff would start checking through a list of possible causes – in some order: asthma, allergies, pneumonia, heart attack, overexertion, and, no doubt, a dozen other things. In many cases, getting the diagnosis right is time-critical; in the best of times, getting it right and getting it right quickly is difficult.

Now fast forward to 2021. Guy shows up in ER with exactly the symptom described above. What happens? A COVID test, or perhaps a diagnosis without the test. If, as often happens, there are a number of causes for a particular symptom – I have asthma AND a cold AND (possibly asymptomatic) COVID – how much longer, if ever, before anything other than COVID is diagnosed?

Now multiply this across all medical care: you have the entire medical world whipped into a frenzy over COVID, such that it is very unlikely that anyone who presents with any symptom attributable to the Coof is not immediately tested, diagnosed, or both. Such a person is then above all treated as a disease vector and deprived of human contact and comfort, and only later, if ever, correctly diagnosed

Real numbers of people are going to have proper treatment delayed or skipped in favor of treating the virus – and die as a result. Anecdotes to this effect are numerous.

I say: it is Pollyanna-ish to imagine a very real number of deaths have not resulted from precisely the situation described above.

2. Removal of Oversight in Care Facilities.

I’ve written about this at length, most recently here. Summary: The old sick people who who make up the bulk of people incarcerated in care facilities are usually no fun to care for. As they decline toward their deaths, they require more and more – and more and more unpleasant – care. Further, while many who work in nursing homes are doubtless saints, that sort of work is going to attract a certain number of emotionally sick people, people who get off on lording it over helpless people, up to and including out and out sociopaths.

Back again to 2019. The constant trickle of visitors to nursing homes helped ensure some modicum of care was provided. Visitors notice messes that need cleaning up, unpleasant smells, inmates who have soiled themselves, etc. Good nursing homes are often described as ‘those where you don’t smell urine when you walk in” – and this state is largely due to the hell visitors raise when they do smell it. Yet somebody, usually a minimum or near minimum wage worker, is required to clean up the urine, the feces, the bedding and clothes and, indeed, the patient.

About 100 times a day.

This sort of work is no fun, and, I’m sure, gets less fun over time. Yet, if you are trying to provide a decent last few months and dignified death, it’s work that must be done. Visitors ensure it happens regularly.

Now terrify this minimum wage staff with the thought (unfounded, if they are otherwise healthy) that they are likely to catch and die from COVID if they interact with the patients. Then ban all visitors. What do you imagine is going to happen to the level of care? Even the people who are doing an honest job are going to be severely hampered by fear, and those who figure no one cares, especially if they never find out, if granny lives another few months, are just gets it over with now, are unchecked. Infections, dehydration, bedsores, hunger, filth – these are last straws that can kill old, sick people before their time. These are what happens when all civilian oversight is removed.

3. Stress.

I have not looked at the numbers for a while now – it is not good for my health to dwell very long on the CDC website – but, last I checked:

  • Suicides – up
  • murders – up
  • fatal overdoses – up
  • accidental deaths – up

Violence in general is up. Whipping a couple hundred million people into a state of irrational panic and fear is going to have consequences.

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.