Be the Wall & Weekend Bullet Points

1. Be the Wall. Many years ago, my beloved and I attended a few child rearing classes, from which the one thing I remember was the stern admonition to Be the Wall. Kids are going to want to test their ideas and your limits. If they get all emotional and vehement, interpret that to mean they trust you, their mother and father, enough to risk real exposure. This works from toddlerhood all the way to adulthood, and is in no way contradictory to being loving, supportive and gentle. Kids need to push to grow up, and pushing against people they love and trust, and who they know will love and trust them back even if – especially if! – the answer is ‘no’ is the best way for them to learn self control, self respect, and how to stand firm themselves.

So, parents must be the wall, neither giving an inch nor overreacting to the pushing. Not always easy, but necessary. A key part: knowing what you stand for, knowing the places you will not give. These should be few, and consistent. Everything else should be negotiable. With any luck, children so raised will be able to carry these lessons out into the world, and distinguish between principles and necessary rules, and things that can be negotiated. They will be able to behave as adults.

Image result for wall falling downWe live in a world of feral children – of all ages. They have pushed, and found no wall. Many times found no mother or father. They pushed, and one time, the wall fell with hardly a breeze; the next time, it pushed back violently. They pushed and pushed, and ended up in the streets, looking for something, anything, that will push back.

Thinks that should have been learned in the privacy of family life and that can only be learned in family life are now lacking in public life. Our feral children find no walls. The drive to push is unsatisfied and unabated.

2. Fight the Urge to Dirge. Ye Sons and Daughters is one fine Easter song, great tune, tells the story in a charming, memorable way. Only one problem: for some inexplicable reason, choir directors seem almost universally to take what should be something like a bouncy waltz, tempo and feel wise, and turn it into something more like a funeral processional. With a bit a vim, the song is catchy and easy; plodding, it is just another forgettable church song.

You can imagine what brought about these thoughts. We did do some glorious Easter hymns yesterday as well. But it hurts to see such a charming tune done so – bleech.

3. White Sunday/Mercy Sunday Pizza bash! Invited all sorts of Catholics with whom it is meet and just to be celebrating the end of the Easter Octave over – had maybe 30 adults and a dozen or more kids (many of whom wanted to make their own pizzas, which we did – maybe made 20 pizzas in all). Kept it going from 2:30 until after 9. A lot of fun.

Two thoughts, and if you have any suggestions, I’m all ears: when inviting people to something like this, it is customary for them to ask ‘what can we bring? aaaand customary for me (who tends to be the major cook for these things) to say ‘nothing’ or ‘something to drink’ – because trying to manage who brings what is just more trouble than it’s worth, But: people want to bring something, at least, I know I do when the roles (and, possibly, rolls) are reversed. So, this time, due to the large and uncertain numbers of people, I said: we’ll be providing main courses, you needn’t bring anything, but you can if you want.

So, yesterday, at 10:00 at night, I’m packing away A LOT of food. We ran through the pizza stuff, sure, but I made a vat of guacamole and about 8-9 lbs of pastrami with ciabatta rolls and fixings to match and – lots of stuff. But lovely and generous people also brought lots of delicious things, much of which got left. Into the freeze went pastrami, a couple chickens, a couple dozen ciabatta rolls. The fridge and a couple coolers are packed with salads and vegetables; my wife made delicious pashka and kulich – which got lost in a sea of wonderful desserts. So, into the freezer or coolers it goes.

There are only 4 to 6 of us at home (it varies because – story). I hate throwing food, especially really good food, out, so now I’m looking for homes for at least some of the more perishable stuff. Work, school, neighbors are all likely to get some nice gifts – but this becomes another task on top of set up, food prep and clean up.

I also hate telling people how to be generous and all the planning it takes to be able to say: no, we have enough salads, how about a dessert or some wine? Or whatever.

Thoughts?

Finally think I’m getting the hang of the brick oven. The usual advice is that each oven is different, you just have to use it and see what works. What works for this oven: at least a two-hour burn before you start cooking. Three hours is better, although this probably had something to do with all the rain making the whole oven a little damp. Then: just keep it going – at least 2 or three logs burning at the back in addition to all the hot coals while you cook. By the end, we were popping pizzas in and out in 2-3 minutes each. And they were excellent.

If I ever build another brick oven, please shoot me. I mean, I’ll make it more massive and better insulated. Also, getting the hang of Naples-style pizza dough, which you make a few days in advance and let chill until a few hours before you’ll be using it – slightly sour taste, excellent stretchy texture for making those lovely thin-crust pizzas that work so well in a brick oven. (I honestly cringed a little when the kids were manhandling those beautiful dough balls on the way to making cheese and olive or pepperoni over store-bought sauce pizzas – but that’s what they were there for! Deep breath. I do love kids more than cooking. Really. And they had a blast.)

Great fun. Looking forward to doing it again next year.

4. Finally, I compulsively reread this bit of flash fiction fluff, and got a little worried that people might think I was making fun of Southerners, when nothing was farther from my mind – Edgar and Bill are perfectly competent adults who love telling tales and maybe messing with the out of towner a bit. Colorful locals, in other words, not red neck morons. I worry some people don’t know the difference, one difference being that, in my experience, there are many more of the former than the latter.

Anyway, came across this YouTube video, wherein an English shipwright is rebuilding the Tally Ho, a hundred year old classic harbor clipper style racing yacht. He’s rebuilding it in Washington state, but needed a lot of extra-sturdy Southern live oak for the structural members.

Turns out that a man named Steve Cross in southern Georgia runs the only mill in America that handles live oak – the very characteristics that make it ideal for ship structural members render it very difficult and uneconomical for commercial mills to deal with. So Steve builds his own Rube Goldberg style mill out of parts from tractors, forklifts and combines and whatever else was lying around, and serves ship builders and restorers around the world.

He’s clearly a mechanical genius of sorts – and is just as clearly one of those colorful locals messing a bit – a completely friendly bit – with English Leo the shipwright.

Advertisements

American Heresy

OK, that’s a little grand. And I’m posting on Good Friday – I mean, really, I and you have nothing better to do? Onward:

Voting age is in the news. People draw exactly opposite conclusions based on the same facts. A bunch of presumed teenagers are calling for repealing the 2nd Amendment (please – can we stop pretending otherwise?), from which fact we seem to conclude either:

  • the voting age should be lowered to 16 (or thereabouts)
  • the voting age should never have been lowered to 18/should be raised to 35 (or thereabouts)

Oh, yes, some of these teenagers went through a truly traumatic experience, which is further assumed to to bless their opinions beyond other people’s, and indeed beyond question. This moral high ground is granted despite the wisdom of Rocket Racoon:

Oh, boo hoo hoo! Everybody’s got dead people. It’s no excuse to get everybody else dead along the way!

spideymans: “It’s no excuse to get everybody else dead along the way. ” always going to be my favorite line

The kidder in me is sore tempted to point out that the Founders never dreamed of modern medicine and plenty. In their day, the average musket-wielding farmer was dead before 40, and kids bred up by the destitute (who were even more likely to die young) got farmed out to more responsible and successful relatives or sent to orphanages – if they were lucky.  Life was hard. Even attaining 21 years was, for most, an actual achievement, back in 1776.

If they’d have known that any ill-bred, irresponsible jerk was as liable as not to live to 80, on the way to which he might very well breed up a passel of even more ill-bred and irresponsible offspring, why, they would never had allowed voting without some sort of test of mature adulthood. Maybe a firearm proficiency and safety test? Just spitballing here.

Now, before the coffee has fully kicked in, I’m sore tempted to give credence to the theory that progressives are watching in horror as their voting base disappears (note here an historical account of how they got a part of that base in the first place).  If voter ID were required and systems of voting otherwise hardened against fraud (*cough* Chicago *cough*), why, Fabian Socialists and their useful idiots might never win another election! It’s clear that successful people with non-frou-frou college degrees, for example, do not vote for progressive nutcases (e.g., the California government) in very large numbers.

But the products of modern state schooling do – at least, until they butt into some reality. Modern colleges are designed to prevent them from butting into reality for 4 to 5 more years, and to inoculate them against it during that time. It works surprisingly well for a fantasy. So, let’s get more of *those* people on the rolls! People we can count on to be on the Right Side of History, since we’ve spent 12 years of their lives putting them there.

What could go wrong?

There are a number of American Heresies. True to our Puritan roots, we can’t seem to shake the idea that we can build Heaven on Earth if only we establish the right state religion. (Over the years, what exactly the right religion is had changed, but not our faith in the need to establish it.) People just need to cooperate, perhaps even in the business of exterminating those who won’t. Egg, omelette, and all. Only mean people insist that (fallen) human nature stands in the way. NO! If we stamp our little feet hard enough, we can conjure New Soviet Men from the blood and ashes! Don’t make me sad!

But today we consider another heresy: The assumption that politics defines us. We *are* a Democrat or Republican. We *are* a Liberal or Conservative. We *are* enlightened Progressives or fascist scum who should be lined up and shot by designated government officials using appropriately non-scary but nonetheless lethal guns.

You know, the usual buckets.

What, in America, is the ultimate confirmation of our value as human beings? The right to vote. Our role in politics is our role in life. Someone can be – and many are – without mother or father or family, without roots or friends, without God or church. This counts as nothing, we are not allowed to even consider how much being deprived of such things limits or destroys the space in which a person can be human and free. But not being able to vote? Outrage!

Aristotle said that we are political animals. He’s saying that we by nature live in a polis – a city. Human beings by nature live in and by means of relationships. The town or city is the daily functional unit of those relationships. (1)

He’s not saying that being a worthwhile person means being constantly involved in a minutia of government, or even being involved in government at all. It does not mean being a courtesan.

It does not mean having the right to vote.

But starting before the Revolution, with No Taxation without Representation, with tarring and feathering the King’s agents, with Abigail Adams, we drank in the notion that voting = the ultimate confirmation of full personhood.

The political state cannot grant or add to our basic human value. I fear that rootless people unconsciously cling to the fantasy that it can. Without mother or father or family worthy of the names, without acknowledging relationships that supercede any choice to be in them, many people grasp at the demagogue’s promise to give their lives the meaning they are deprived of by the lack of those real relationships. They think they are citizens of the omnicompetent state; they are citizens of no real city on earth, let alone the City of God. They will not have rest.

Before we grant 16-going-on-11 year olds the right to vote, maybe we should think through the point of voting in the first place.

Rather than seeing the running of government as one among many tasks adults must perform in order to provide and protect the space needed for the real, natural relationships that give life meaning, it becomes, somehow, the essential expression of that meaning. It was not enough for Abigail Adams – a thoroughly admirable woman, mother and wife – to be the beloved daughter, spouse and mother she clearly was. She wanted the vote. I get it – she was far more intelligent, educated and prudent than all but a few of the men around her. She assumed that women in general were or could become at least as well qualified to run the government as their fathers, brothers and husbands.

Perhaps she was right. Certainly, we as a nation could do (and have done) much worse than being ruled by the likes of Abigail Adams. What’s missing from the calculation here is that women who are called to be wives and mothers are now expected to also be sufficiently conversant in politics at all levels to vote and rule well. Is this reasonable or desireable from the women’s point of view? Why? Is politics really that empowering, or is it more like taking out the trash or dying in defense of your country?

Why would most women bother, given a choice? Under critical theory, women would bother because they’re victims of oppression, and political action is the only way to move forward on the Right Side of History. But if you truly find your freedom among your family and friends in the community you were granted to live in, and men are not your natural enemies but rather the natural sources and objects of love, would it at not at least bear consideration that the nuisance and duty of government is best left to somebody else? So that one might better focus on what is most valuable and important in life? We see here foreshadowed the ugly myth of the Woman Who Has It All – the job, the kids, the responsibility – except for the relationships that might make those other things worthwhile. The myth becomes a stick, with which to fend off or perhaps beat the reality of the lonely female cube-dweller, whose work is drudgery and whose family is chaos.

What if the running of the city were left, along with war and taking out the garbage, to some subset of adult men, say those 35 and older who have done some well-understood service for their community? That this is generally outrageous and unimaginable is the whole point of this essay. It doesn’t matter, for the argument, if the definition of the cadre of voters is altered to include some women or some younger people – but not everybody. What matters is that voting is seen primarily as a duty, and that this duty exists to protect the real world of relationships in which a person can be free and find meaning.

This duty must be taken up by somebody. That somebody must have the time and energy to fulfill it. From the point of view of the city as Aristotle envisioned it, men have always been more expendable than women and children. Men could and did and do go off to war, and many do not come back. Yet the web of relationships in the city survive. Would the same happen if the women were to leave and the men stay behind? We’re running that experiment now. Preliminary reports are not encouraging.

Again: much more important than who votes and holds office – I don’t really care, except for wanting to exclude as many gullible children of all ages as can be excluded – is recognizing the primacy of natural relationships over political actions. The latter serves the former, not the other way around.

  1. The functional big cities Aristotle knew of contained around 50,000 people. Most were smaller.

 

Critical Theory: How it “Works”

Not so much what it is – in brief: Marxism taylored for the academic world – but just how it works in practice.

Brief recap: starting with the Greeks, philosophers began to view Nature and reality as a whole as something that could be understood. Not completely or perfectly, but certainly to some extent. This is the beginning of what we call Western Philosophy, and is a big piece of what make the West the West – fundamentally different from everywhere else in the world.

Fitfully at first, but settling in to the extreme rigor of Aristotle by the 4th century B.C., the approach was logical: try to find the most fundamental premises you could, the most general statements of reality, and reason according to strict logic from there. This approach requires (or results in – there’s a bit of a chicken/egg question, at least in my mind) a three-fold epistemology: there must be Required Truths, that without which nothing can be known or even discussed; Conditional Truths that depend on the truth of premises and the rigor of logic, where the conclusions may be ontologically ‘wrong’ even if logically correct because the premises may not be true; and opinion, which may be more or less informed, but is neither required nor explicitly conditioned on premises and logic.

Initially, these efforts to understand the world were a purely theoretical exercise. Nobody did philosophy to make a buck or for any practical gain. Indeed, as a hobby of the at least semi-leisured, philosophy as a means to anything other than self-improvement was considered gauche. Archimedes, famous for his inventions, legendarily did not think it worthy to write anything down about them. So we get fantastical reports – and physical evidence such as the Antikythera Mechanism – but no follow up or disciples. Philosophy was to produce the examined life worth living.

Christian shared with the Greeks (and Jews) the radical idea that the world was comprehensible by the human mind – and that it was worthy for a Christian to make the effort to understand it. ‘The Heavens proclaim the Glory of God’ after all, and we live to give Him glory. By the 11th century, Christians began to apply the rigors of Aristotle’s logic and method to pretty much everything. Albert the Great, a 13th century Dominican philosopher, was into everything and used to draw very careful and detailed pictures of plants – because, why not? God is in the details of a leaf as much as in the stars and seas.

Image result for hubble pictures
The Heavens proclaiming the Glory of God.

The effort of traditional Western philosophy – the Perennial Philosophy – stands on 4 legs. Along with the faith that the world can and should be understood, the three-tiered epistemology of required truths, conditional truths, and opinion, and logical rigor, one other thing is required to make any headway in understanding the world: the idea of Primacy of Being. This is so basic that it is rarely laid out separately in my experience. Instead, it is assumed, most commonly as part of the Law of Non-contradiction: a thing cannot both be and not be in the same respect at the same time.

Like so much of Aristotle, he’s saying something so simple and obvious that it’s easy to miss how profound it is. At least, it was easy to miss it until Hegel and Marx came along.

The Perennial Philosophy and its daughter Modern Science work by investigating and describing what something IS. When defining something – saying what something is – one must say what it is not. If you cannot say what something is not, communication is impossible. If my yes could be no, or over here could be over there, or my cat could be my dog, meaningful discussion grinds instantly to a halt. Science could get nowhere. Math would be meaningless. Communication through language would be impossible.

Everybody got this. The Law of Non-contradiction is not some arcane point of logic. It is the very heart of experience, understanding, and communication. So of course Hegel attacks it, and Marx buries it.

Instead, we are told that we live in a world of becoming. Talk of being reveals one to be among the little people, incapable of real philosophy. Real philosophers understand that you can only speak truthfully about being when all reality is abstracted from it – because reality is always becoming. The Law of Non-contradiction cannot apply to the real world of becoming, because in the real world nothing ever holds still long enough to be anything, and, even if it did so, real understanding of it would require understanding where it has been and where it is going.

This is a paraphrase of the Hegelian dialectic: the idea that a thesis – a statement (of being?) – is contradicted by a antithesis – another statement (of being?) – which contradiction is never resolved, but is instead held in suspense in the synthesis. That synthesis becomes the new thesis, subject to unfolding into a new dialectic.

Hegel humbly acknowledged that, given that we don’t know the future, we cannot predict the next synthesis. We must wait for the Spirit to unfold Itself in History. We cannot use logic or reason our way to the next unfolding, both because logic and reason are invalid and because it is the nature of the Unfolding of the Spirit in History to, let’s say, raise consciousness – to reveal new, unanticipated truths.

Marx, a more practical (and intellectually limited) man, will not accept this: he KNOWS how it comes out, he’s worked it out! A bit – well, a lot – fuzzy on the details, but he, as the chosen prophet of the not-at-all-Godlike History, will lay it down for us: History is unfolding into a Worker’s Paradise, where all nations and governments shall wither away, and all men will live in peace and plenty.

He makes the mistake common to most End Time prophets, in that while he’s really, really vague on most things, he nonetheless lays out too many detailed that can be proven wrong. Among the details he didn’t get right: Workers of the world are to unite to lose their chains, not Russian and Chinese serfs; Communism is to arrise from among the rebels, not be imposed by sociopathic criminals like Lenin, Mao and Che. Capitalism (his swear word for free markets) is to run itself into the ground enslaving everybody, not bring many millions of people into a far better life than even the richest Capitalist enjoyed in Marx’s day; The revolution was to be organic and inevitable, not something brought about by the lies and machinations of Fabian Socialists and Gramsciite Critical Theorists.

The Critical Theorists took on the job of polluting Academia and culture with Marx’s lies and distortions. Here’s how applying Marx to academic fields works:

  • We already know how it comes out, we don’t need to prove anything;
  • We’re much smarter and more enlightened than any other people anywhere ever.
  • Everything – everything – is explicable by a oppressor/oppressed dynamic;
  • Offering any other explanations, any other predicted outcomes simply prove you are an oppressor or a tool of oppression, and are in either case on the wrong side of History;
  • We don’t have to make sense. Demanding we do is oppression;

The results are as predictable as they are sad. First off, every traditional explanation for ANYTHING that cannot be made into an effect of an oppressor/oppressed dynamic is WRONG. History, for example, whenever it shows cultures developing peacefully, or religious beliefs having a positive affect, or wars being fought for anything other than the right to oppress people – IS WRONG.

In another context, was disputing a critical theorist’s assertion that, not only is the West not a product of Greek culture, but there really isn’t a ‘West’ to begin with. As another person quipped: sure, Eritrea and America – exactly the same. For now, it is enough to note that for over a thousand years people in the West have recognized a difference between themselves and all other cultures, and that the trajectory of the West has been far different than that of any other culture. Therefore, a critical theorist must deny this, evidence in front of their eyes notwithstanding.

History has sides. Those who accept and promote the inevitability of a Worker’s Paradise populated by New Soviet Men magically freed from all human faults are on the Right Side of History. Those who insist that people have natures – human nature – and so are not infinitely reformable, or in any other way deny the inevitability or desirability of the Worker’s Paradise, are on the Wrong Side of History. Note: those on the wrong side of History are scheduled for culling.

Scholarship is reduced to identifying the oppressor/oppressed dynamic that is making people unhappy. If people aren’t unhappy, it’s your job to fix it. Thus, the endless stream of before/after pictures of kids going to college, where cheery, normal-looking 18 year olds become bitter, frowning 20 year olds with shaved heads and Che t-shirts. They thought, you see, that they were suburban kids going off on a great college adventure, only to discover that they are miserable oppressors, victims of oppression, or both, and need to promote the Revolution.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, that’s OK. Any dogma divorced from reality will soon tangle itself into knots of nonsense. Critical theory teaches us to *embrace* that nonsense!  Intersectionality, for example, or simultaneous claims that Science Has Shown and that science is a social construct, or using tools created almost entirely by men – computers, the internet, electrical systems, heck, indoor plumbing – to popularize the idea that men are always oppressors. Except that ‘men’ are likewise a social construct.

The nonsense never ends.

Gramsci laid out the targets to be destroyed: Family, village, church. These are where normal people find happiness. Happiness leads to not wanting to kill your oppressors and put the likes of Pol Pot in charge, and therefore is the enemy.

Yes, happiness is no less the enemy of critical theory than reality itself. It works by trying to destroy happiness.

I imagine most critical theorists are useful idiots. This is more generous than to imagine they all understand it and keep doing it anyway. Some do, for sure, but not most – I’d like to think. Doesn’t really matter, except that the useful idiots are likely to follow to wherever the cool kids are sitting, so that if the true believers are shown to be uncool, the battle is largely won.

Meanwhile, the fruits of the Philosophy of Being are being harvested every day: science and technology cannot discover or build anything using a philosophy that denies logic and dismisses definition and communication, so scientists and technologists stick to Aristotle and the Scholastics, even if they’ve been taught that it isn’t so. To their credit, scientists tend strongly to hold philosophers in contempt – because the philosophers with which they are familiar hold contemptible ideas. Among them: critical theory.

All good men have a duty to be reasonable, happy and lovers of family, village and Church. It’s a duty – and it makes critical theorist heads explode. Win-win.

 

 

Update: Reading, Writing, Life

I must have half a dozen books/magazines going right now, may be some kind of record for me. Plus a bunch of things I’ve finished that I ought to review. So, of course, started another book last night – I admit, a blurb yanked from a review did me in:

“It’s sort of like what might happen if one of Heinlein’s juvenile heroes (say Kip from Have Spacesuit Will Travel) was thrust into the modern era and was forced to use “SJWs Always Lie” as his freshman orientation guide while battling the Black Hats.”

I mean, c’mon. So I’m about 50% into The Hidden Truth: A Science Fiction Techno-Thriller by Hans G. Schantz, which is book 1 in the series book 2 of which earned the above comment. So far, yep. Dude is very good and inventive writer. If he keeps it up, I’m up for the series. Plus, it not too long.

About 25% into Okla Hannali by Lafferty. It started getting sad, and there are times I can’t read a lot of sad. This is one of those times. Brigg’s Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics got to the point where I needed to reread the opening chapters to sure I was getting it – and so, almost to the end, I started over. Good book. Needs more attention than I’ve been able to give it so far.

And a pile of books on mythology that I tend to read when nothing else appeals to me at the moment. Greek, Roman, Polynesian.

And the Phenomenology of Spirit, where I stopped half-way through the main text after having read Hegel’s interminable introduction. Read it in college, need to finish up the reread.

Read a bunch of superversive/pulp rev magazines that I’ve yet to review. Have a pile I haven’t started yet. Also, looking sternly down at me from the shelves, are some Flynn, Wright and Wolfe. *gulp* In addition, I have maybe half a dozen books and stories from the Essential Sci Fi Reading List I’ve yet to get to. There’s maybe 20 more I haven’t tracked down a copy of yet.

Aaaand – there’s the longer term projects. Half way through some education history and biographies of the major players, but set all that aside as I need to be sitting up at a desk taking notes, not drifting off to sleep, to read these. I want to write a book or two about my findings one of these years.

So much for the reading side. On the writing side, seems I’ve done nothing since about August of last year. This is not merely inertia or laziness – life got complicated. I have maybe 3 out of 4 Friday and 2 out of 4 Monday evenings free – weekdays all booked up otherwise; weekends are a crapshoot. I get up by 6:00, so pulling 10:30 – midnight writing jags really isn’t in the cards, at least not regularly. And, for spiritual/emotional reason (fancy way of saying it calms me down) I’ve taken to playing piano an hour or two a day. About halfway through learning Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique, as well as continuing to plow through the Well Tempered Clavier (have about 6 down pretty well, and a few more sorta kinda). Also throwing in a little jazz and improv.

That said, for some reason I reread a bit of the Novel That Shall Not Be Named (except here’s a sample that has since been revised and may not even end up in the book) the other day, and started getting excited again, and wrote another few pages, and – I need more time, but I also need a job.

Very sad last few days at Thomas More College in New Hampshire, where my charming and beautiful younger daughter is a junior. The little brother, 11, of one of the students fell into a coma out of the blue, and died. No one knows why, totally unexpected. Please say a prayer for the repose of his soul and comfort for his family and for the College, which, being tiny, is taking this very hard. A number of other sad things have happened there as well – when there are only 125 students and everybody knows everybody, problems and tragedies are communal things. Tough Lent for them.

Me? Feeling better, love, love, love being involved in RCIA, the First Communion Parent’s class and my Feasts and Faith class at the local parish, even when it does burn up a huge chunk of time – but then, that’s what life is for. So that’s all good. Have almost completed the transition from worrying about raising our kids right to worrying about what they will do with their lives. Youngest just turned 14, the three others are in their early 20s. And worrying about how they take care of themselves. Fortunately, we were blessed with truly wonderful kids, so we don’t worry too much over things most modern parents worry about. But, still.

Enough.

 

In Today’s Education News: The Kimono Slips

If it weren’t for double standards, our education establishment wouldn’t have any standards at all.

D.C. Public Schools graduation rate on track to decline this year. Of course, as is all but universally the case in newspaper articles about schooling, this article hides rather than reveals what’s going on here. You read enough of this stuff, and a clear pattern emerges: the education system investigates itself in order to produce two seemingly contradictory outputs. One the one hand, Something Must Be Done. That something, boiled down, is always, without exception, More Schooling. On the other hand, Something Is Being Done, and this time it will work!

Don’t pass Go until you’ve firmly grasped the main feature here: the education system investigating and reporting on itself. Just as parents are strictly forbidden access to the classroom except under strictly controlled and supervised conditions, there is no independent ongoing oversight of schools. Think about how nice your job would be if no one else was allowed to review what you do, you got to define your own challenges and measure your success against standards you get to determine. I’ve read but have not independently verified that school finances are similarly opaque: they do not report or budget according to GAAP or any other standard, but report and budget in a manner unique to schools.

A prime feature of education as an institution is that its operations are all but invisible to the outside observer. At the K-12 level, this means simply keeping parents out of the schools when schooling is actually taking place. School boards, which used to represent parents’ interests, have dwindled in number and power until they provide, if anything, merely a place for putative adults to blow off steam. They used to hire and fire all school officials. Now? You’ll take what you’re given and be happy.

At the college level, in addition to banning parents from the classroom, the opacity of school operations has the additional weapon of ‘academic freedom’. There was a time, difficult as it is to imagine, when parents and even students could get even the President of Harvard fired. People who worked at colleges were expected to be outstanding individuals, since the formation of the youth was being entrusted to them.  But for about a hundred years now, under the guise of ‘academic freedom’, we peons who pay the bills aren’t allowed to judge, let alone fire, any professor – only their peers, with their magic peer-wisdom (peer review, anyone?) are even allowed to have an opinion. Very handy for critical theorists, deconstructionists and other parasitic bottom-dwellers.

But kids eventually graduate, or at least leave. Those kids, having been thoroughly processed (whether they graduate or not) are then handed back to the Public, as it were. As long as they were in school, they were in a certain sense invisible. We certainly couldn’t walk in and check on them, that’s for sure. But more deeply, they were in someone else’s custody and under someone else’s control. They were not our problem.

But once they graduate, they might just be our problem. Who is micromanaging them now? Now graduation fits the above description to a ‘t’ – the education establishment decides who gets to graduate according to rules they and they alone make up and enforce. If you read the article, note that the schools set standards, the schools failed to enforce those standards to allow for ‘improved’ graduation rates. THEN the schools decided to enforce them, at least a little, and graduation rates plummet.

What’s going on here – and, again, spend a few decades reading these sorts of articles, and it will be evident – is what I call a state of permanent education reform. There must be Problems to be solved. The solution must always be More Schooling. But the solution cannot be allowed to actually solve anything, because then the crisis would pass. We must believe there’s a crisis to justify the endless cries for more funding and more teachers – the guise More Schooling takes. The idea that less schooling could address all these problems must never be thought: Crimestop has been taught, perhaps the only thing successfully taught, for 3 generations now and running.

Reading that article, would you hire anyone based on his having received a diploma from a DC high school? Did you spot the part where a kid would flunk out if he skipped *30* classes? There’s only about 150 class days per year. The level of hand-holding – of extra credit, summer schools, special programs, of the system stepping in to manage the children in order to obtain (part of) the results the system wants – does not bode well for the future success of these kids once they’re on their own.

It’s long been contended by critics that only about 50% of public high school students in America graduate in 4 years. In other words, half drop out one way or another, even if many go back later to get a GED or finish up later. But nobody keeps track of this, because how is knowing what kids do after they escape the system supposed to help the system?

D.C. graduation rates reflect the percentage of students who receive their diplomas in four years. Twenty-six percent of students who started freshman year with the class of 2018 have either withdrawn or transferred out of the D.C. Public Schools system. The city still needs to determine how many of these students transferred to another school, and how many dropped out.

In other words, the single fact of most interest to the public – how do the students do after they’ve left – is the question the schools “still needs to determine”.

The next time you hear criticism of homeschooling, unschooling or any other method of raising children, remember that for every weirdo parent teaching their kid the world is flat (figuratively speaking) there are a 1,000 kids being processed by the current schools who can’t even graduate based on requirements determined by those same schools. The homeschooler will be judged by standards never applied to the public schools.

And that homeschooler took responsibility, and didn’t take public funds. The same can hardly be said for the public schools.

 

Happy New Year & Epiphany Update

First off, please pray for the repose of the soul of Mike Flynn’s father and for comfort his family and all who love him.

Been feeling weird. My wife offered ‘Painless Migraine’ as an amateur diagnosis of whatever it is that has slowed my brain to molasses. Description seems about right – dizzy, a little nauseated, can feel all the little biological mechanisms working that keep you from falling over and convert binocular vision into a seamless 3-D representation of the world. I’m an observer of some of the base biological underpinnings of my own human consciousness. A little unnerving.

Be that as it may, kicking off 2018 in a bit of a fog. Weirdly (seems weird to me, anyway) while writing and even reading are difficult, playing the piano is OK up to a point. So, when I’m up and about, tend to wander over to the ivories and tickle away. Gonna have some Bach and Beethoven down if this keeps up.

Twitter, as a low-attention-span medium, has risen to the top of my low attention over the last week. Odd snippets of thought.

Once you’ve thought of Keanu Reeves as Gilligan in the gritty reboot, there’s no going back.

Then, a thought over 3 tweets about how Hegel’s baleful influence manifests in the current mishegas:

1 Just had a thought: if being exists transiently in a world of becoming (Hegel) vs becoming existing in a world of being (Aristotle, Thomas), then it is meaningless to speak of defending a culture. There is no eternal good, true & beautiful for a culture to reflect. All is grass.

2 We who think the good, true & beautiful can be present in a culture, however imperfectly, might think the culture war is a battle over what culture we’ll have, when it’s really over whether there will be a culture at all.

3 With no external referent, culture can only be the arena within which the will to power plays out. Battle is over whether we get to have any culture at all, or are merely pawns in somebody’s power trip. (Twitter is a poor place for this sort of ramble!)

And…. That’s about as deep and coherent as I’ve managed. You know, same old.

Distant kids save one have returned to distance. The one, younger daughter, will be with us for another week until heading back to frigid New Hampshire and Thomas More College.

I miss them already.

Vacation was hardly. Had plans to write a bunch, finish some stories, but with 30+ relations in town for grandmother Brilliant’s 80th and a couple events happening at our house, ended up prepping and cooking for days at a stretch. Then, this lingering ‘I don’t feel exactly right’ thing made writing pretty much impossible.

So, hoping things pull together. I could use some prayers about my job and other issues I need to address. Stress level is high.

But, hey, Happy, Holy & Blessed Epiphany! It is a beautiful and moving time, when the veil is near and sheer.

 

Merry Christmas! 

May God bless you and yours with good cheer and peace on this holy day! 

Preparing a feast for 35-odd people (insert obligatory in laws joke here) and, having been on my feet for pretty much 3 days straight of shopping, prepping and cooking (40 lbs of pork butt and about 60-70 ciabatta rolls for pulled pork sandwiches, among other things), taking a break before rallying once more into the breach. 

Something like that. 

So, midnight mass, then Home to put the pork in the oven and bake the last couple batches of rolls, and in bed by 3:00. My beloved, who is part vampire or at least can get by on remarkably small amounts of sleep, maybe came to bed later – I wouldn’t know, as I was out cold and she was already up by the time I woke. 

We made coffee and tea, and the 8 of us – 4 kids, g-ma, aunt Clare in from Baltimore, my wife and I – gathered round the table to see what we got in our stockings.

My beloved commanded that I take pictures. She wasn’t any more specific. 

A rag I grabbed to wipe up some coffee I’d spilt on my laptop and shirt. It’s kind of like shorthand for all of Dickens
A close up of the water picture immediately in front of me. What may at first appear to be a lack of focus is, instead, an ironic existential cry of terminal ennui. That’s my story.
Still life with butter knives.

Some people are so hard to please.