In a Cabin in the Woods (not working on my manifesto – I ain’t even got one!)

Checking in, from beautiful Arnold, CA. (pop 3,288; elevation 3,999′) where the entire family is meeting up. But am working on a few things, as follows.

I’ve been working on the pulp-style space adventure from 28 years ago that I found 50 pages of when packing up to move. ‘Working on’ here means taking pictures with my iPhone, offloading them to my laptop, then using Googledocs’ OCR function to open them up as text. It kind of works! I will need another hour or two to clean up the formatting and obvious mistakes, and still need to find the penultimate chapter that somehow got separated from the other draft chapters and read it in. Still faster than retyping it, for me, anyway.

While the writing is obvious amateur first draft level, I love the ideas. I’ve got Dante in there – one of the bad guys is named Smarrita, as in:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood
Where the straight way was lost

And the deal gone bad is with a race I call Selvans – our hero finds himself in a dark spot in the ‘woods’. And so on, I was being cute.

Funny: Brian Niemeier’s Soul Cycle (reviewed beginning here) is all about Dante in Space, and here I was, 28 years ago, writing a very different Dante in Space book. I would be happy to be half as good as Niemeier. Along the same lines, found a short story from back then where the premise is that explorers crash land on an Eden-like planet, only to slowly starve to death, as their bodies can’t break down the available nutrition – a variation on a theme from Michael Flynn’s Eifelheim. I’ve been obsessed with this thought for decades: that the chemistry of LAWKI is so weird and unique, with seemingly arbitrary ‘choices’ among chemicals and stereoisomers, with crazy things life-threatening prions, it would be amazing if encounters with alien life, no matter how superficially benign, didn’t kill us. I would think that the first step toward terraforming would be to nuke the planet from space, just to be sure. This is a theme in several short stories and two novels I’ve started drafting over the last 30 years or so.

Also, is anyone else bothered by the ‘enhanced’ pictures we get from the Hubble, and will no doubt soon get from the Webb? I look, and see nothing; I look, and see nothing even using fantastical modern tech. BUT – I don’t look, let that tech feed its input into spectrographs, computer algorithms, and other fancy stuff, and they produce:

Beautiful, but what is its relationship to reality? I don’t know.

This is also a ‘picture’ of the Pillars:

Also beautiful.

In what sense are either of those pictures real? Certainly, no naked eye look at the Pillars is going to look anything like either of these, even ‘naked’ eye through a powerful telescope. The question becomes: what information do we want to convey? In the old pulp draft, I have passages like these:

The small circular viewports on either side of the module cabin dimmed automatically for a moment, to protect the delicate eyes of the occupants from the brilliant flash of the cruiser disintegrating into plasma and dust. On the front viewer, a computer processed image revealed the details of the explosion, all extraneous light and radiation filtered away. On that screen, the ship neatly vanished into a gradually thinning aura. Neither man was watching,

and

The star cruiser appeared quickly, a sudden point of light, then a highly distorted image of a ship, trailed by a thousand house of mirrors reflections strung back into space-time. Then, just as suddenly, and with no apparent logic, a perfect little star cruiser was visible alone against the field of stars. Despite his predicament, Warner couldn’t help wondering how much of what he just saw was the result of the viewsys’s inadequate attempts to create a sensible image out of unknown inputs, and how much was “really” taking place. The question was nonsense, he reminded himself.

It’s a little bit like MiniTrue: somebody had to decide what is the important information, and arrange to have the ‘unimportant’ information filtered out.

Next, my beloved and I married 35 years ago on May 30; our older daughter married 2 years ago on May 30; our middle son married May 29th last year. Younger daughter married Jan 8 this year – but we let her and her husband come anyway. Joint anniversary celebration. Because 3 of our kids married over an 18 month period, it is now a running joke to remind our 18 year old son that he doesn’t need to get married anytime soon, it’s OK.

We, our 18 year old son, and our older daughter, her husband, and their 7 month old daughter are already here; the others are due in Friday morning and staying through Sunday. A rip-roaring anniversary hoedown! Elder son-in-law found a nice big cabin for us all.

It’s nice to have a family where everyone gets along. Anyway, we had lunch and a walk yesterday at White Pine Lake, a reservoir in Arnold. I walked to the dam and back:

The dam spillway
The creek flowing away from the dam.

And here’s the view from the back porch, where I sit typing this.

Temperature is sensory-deprivation-tank perfect: I was falling asleep earlier, sitting on the back porch, in shorts. Ideal.

Next next, our house is scheduled to hit the market tomorrow, if all things go well., with open houses this weekend. St. Joseph, please pray for us, that the Father may prosper the work of our hands to His glory! Meaning, of course, that we get a good offer soon, and find a good place to buy.

Starting next Tuesday, we will be staying in another very dear furnished rental in Auburn, and spending our time house hunting like mad. Not gonna look at the markets, no siree, not me, not one bit… AAAGH!

Interesting times.

End of Eras

Home stretch, as it were, of emptying our home. 27 years of stuff. Confusing thoughts and feelings about all this. But let’s not wallow in nostalgia! Or, at least, not just wallow in nostalgia…

First, the weather. As all 20 long-time readers may be aware, I’ve used this data set to track local rainfall for the last several years.

top of the page.

Our local flood control district has 32 automated rain gages set up across the county, and put up this web page with near real time automatic updates as shown. Over the past 4 or 5 years, I decided to use these numbers to get a more general idea of local rainfall, rather than just using the one local gage for Concord, CA, that seems to provide the go-to numbers for the press.

As discussed in previous posts, these numbers are both beautiful and flawed. Beautiful, in that they provide a real-world snapshot of rainfall over a couple of hundred square miles updated every 15 minutes. But, as a note on the page says:

The District does not warranty, guarantee, or certify the accuracy of the rainfall data. The data accuracy and availability can be compromised due to equipment failure, power loss, equipment defects, loss of calibration, or internet/radio communication equipment failure of equipment provided by others.

This disclaimer is on top of the inaccuracy built into the round numbers used as average annual rainfall totals per gage. Since accurate annual averages are of little use to the Flood Control District, it’s obvious they just took a guess and stuck with it. So, for example, the Ygnacio Valley Fire, Concord, station has an annual average of 17.00 inches. Exactly. They have been tracking rainfall at this station for 43 years; the annual average has not changed over the 5 or so years I have been watching it. And so on, for most of the gages.

Since the annual per gage averages are numbers I use in my fancy-pants spreadsheet to estimate total rainfall as a percentage of average, all my numbers have at least this built-in error. I also watch (this is all for my own weird obsessive amusement) how many stations hit or exceed their annual averages, and by how much. Thus, this year so far, as of this morning – and it happens to be raining at the moment, so this will change – 21 out of 32 stations have gotten at least 80% of their annual averages, while 16 have hit 90%, 7 reached 100% and 1 has even exceeded 125%.

This is where it gets stupid. Or stupider. The Mount Diablo Peak station has, in every year I’ve tracked it, had both the highest rainfall and the greatest amount and percentage over average. This year, it shows over 130% of annual average. There are several other stations that have, in terms of percentage of annual average, consistently run way ahead of the other stations. On the other hand, the Kregor Peak, Clayton, station shows under 50% of its annual average this year – and it is maybe a couple miles, and visible from, the Mount Diablo Peak station. And a number of other stations similarly have fallen ‘behind’ the overall averages each year I’ve watched them.

Such consistent inconsistencies call my whole project into doubt. I don’t blame the Flood Control District in the slightest – all they want to know is how much rain is falling how fast and where, so that they can warn people that the creek’s gonna rise. My whole project makes little sense in that context; the ‘errors’ I’m spotting, that throw my numbers into chaos, simply don’t matter much if at all to the Flood Control District.

Nail in the coffin: this year, 5 or 6 of the stations have failed more often than not to report any usable numbers. Either blank cells, or data that fails the sniff test. That Ygnacio Valley Fire, Concord, station mentioned above happens to be the one physically closest to our home. Today, it shows no rainfall at all for the last several days, while 4″ deep puddles have been forming on our patio. So, not believable.

In order to use the data in my fancy-pants spreadsheet, I have to clean it up by removing stations with bad data. Since not all stations are created equal – annual average rainfall varies from 11″ to 33.50″, in addition to the inconsistencies mentioned above – it matters which stations one removes. Removing any stations because you don’t like the data is bad science. I think we’ve reached a point where even I can’t convince myself my analysis proves anything.

That said, we’ve reached 92% of annual average rainfall! Woohoo!

Next, we had to tell our 94 year old neighbor of 27 years that we’re moving out. This old gentleman has watched our kids grow up, and has put up with our dumb former dog, and just been a great all-around neighbor. He’s the kind of guy who will keep an eye on the whole neighborhood in a friendly way, and even go have a talk with any neighbor who is maybe not being quite neighborly enough. Best neighbor we’ve ever had.

He was pretty emotional, as were we. In the last few years, his dearly beloved wife died, he had a fall and broke bones, and finally, after decades where he seemed to have hit about 60 and just stayed there, he is finally showing his age. He’s almost house-ridden these days, with trips to the doctor and daily walks with caregivers his only outside activates. This, for a man who was forever puttering in the garden and driving himself to church and so on. Please remember him in your prayers.

Next, had my pianos moved yesterday. The upright from the 1890s is sitting in storage; I bit the bullet and had my 1927 Steinway sent in for restringing. Too expensive! But now seemed the time. So, for the rest of my life, at least, there will be a truly fine piano to play in my home.

Finally, this same neighbor has 4 sons but no daughters. He fell hard for our younger daughter, who was born while we lived here. He got to see her grow up from infancy. She became, I think, the daughter he never had. Plus, she’s a cutie and the sweetest kid, and was always kind to him. Well, this daughter of ours, married just short of 4 months, is now expecting her first child. Due in November. Very hard to get my head around.

The gravitational shift of having one granddaughter living 60 miles away was huge; adding a second grandchild makes it totally irresistible. When we move, we plan to be much nearer to both.

House is almost empty; the Insane Brick Project is about 50 bricks from completion; the house will look and be in better shape than it ever was while we lived here; POD in the front drive being loaded up; a storage unit packed to the roof. While a Friday departure date seems to have been a little optimistic, we should be gone gone by Monday. 30+ years in the area, 27 in the same parish. All over.

More Mask ‘Humor’

As mentioned here previously, I occasionally attend the same morning weekday mass as the kids from the local Catholic school. I get to see first hand how this whole masking thing is working out. If it weren’t for the panic and terror used on kids to make them comply, it would be hilarious.

Today, the kiddos were again at mass. The total masking percentage seems to have fallen somewhere just under 50% Remember, the kids are no longer *required* to mask up, so what we’re seeing here is kids who either on their own initiative or at mommy’s or maybe daddy’s insistence keep masking up.

Saw a new one today – the Neck Mask. That’s a mask worn under the chin. Two kids were doing this for a while; one eventually pulled his mask back up to full upright and locked position, Later, he took it off completely. Somebody is getting mixed messages. While many still wore their masks right and proper – predominantly, the older girls, but not exclusively – others were doing all sorts of mask improve. Under the nose, chin masking, constant fiddling with it.

That last bit is the killer: not that logic or reason matter, but if in fact those masks worked at all, they’d be covered with Deadly Virus Particles, such that Rule #2, right after ‘mask up’ would be: keep you hands off them! The classic today: some little kid pulls down her mask, then does an elaborate sleeve wipe of her nose – then puts the mask back up. She’s just a kid, so OF COURSE she does the sleeve wipe.

I mean, you’re a kid. You’ve got a runny nose (It’s allergy season big time here.) It’s making the inside of your mask icky! Feels gross. So, without a moment’s thought, you take that stuff and wipe it on your sleeve (and spread it around on your face). THEN, you put the mask back up. Because… Kids gonna kid.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is SCIENCE! As I mentioned, if it weren’t for the panic, anxiety, bullying, fear mongering, and, frankly, child abuse, this would all be hilarious.

Brief Chin-mask Update

This morning, attended a morning mass also attended by most of the school children in the parish school. In the sample I could see, the percentage of kids masked has fallen to maybe a little over 50%. Saw any number of below-the-nose masking kids, and one admirable little boy going full chin-mask.

This among the minority of kids I could see, as we sit toward the front.

If it weren’t for the tragedy and child abuse involved in terrifying/cajoling children into making this otherwise pointless act of compliance, it would be funny.

Update to the Update: Dredging up Memories

On a positive note, at Mass today were more people than even OCD I could unobtrusively count, so don’t have numbers, but it looked like over half were unmasked. Progress, of a sort, but we can’t let this fraud and tragedy simply vanish as if it never happened. People MUST face the facts: the news is now 24/7 war in Ukraine (even though 6 other equally tragic and atrocity-filled wars are going on elsewhere at this moment- ever hear about them? Why not, do you suppose?) just as the news media, especially outside the US, is starting to acknowledge the tragedy and farce that was the COVID response. Masks? Never worked. “Vaccines?” Not so safe and effective. Deaths? Overcounted. And so on.

Overall, the obvious is coming out: the lockdowns, masks, panic, “vaccines”, and all the terror and disruption and destruction they inflicted did nothing to stop COVID, but caused irreparable physical, psychological, and political harm.

Nuremberg trials, or bust. We must not forget, and forgive only once people are in jail or dangling.

Sigh.

Next, as mentioned, in amongst a set of old papers were some compositions I’d started back when I was 25 and a private composition student of Susan McClain in Santa Fe. I transferred the music to one partial piece into MuseScore, a setting of the liturgical text

Domine, non sum dignus

ut intres sub tectum meum,

sed tantum dic verbo

et sanabitur anima me

In English (literal)

Lord, I am not worthy

that you should enter under my roof

but only say the word

and my soul will be healed (and healed will be this soul of mine)*

I’d only set the middle two phrases. Somewhere, unless I threw them out, are pages and pages of draft settings for the first and last phrases. I really liked the settings of the middle two, but could not come up with anything satisfying for the beginning and end.

After hearing what it sounded like sung on ‘ah’ by MuseScore, found I still liked it, enough to want to finish it. So I got on it.

I imagine this happens in writing or any art: one’s style or taste changes over time. I remember one piece I wrote in college, where it went through 3 or 4 style changes over the course of a 3 minute piece, such that the ending sounded nothing like the beginning – that piece never saw the light of day. It’s not automatic that one can recapture the style from almost 40 years ago. But I’m trying. Lots of fun, really want to finish this.

On a less fun note, we are now having to deal with stuff and memories packed away almost 10 year’s ago: our late son’s things. We didn’t have it in us to do anything more than pack it away at the time, but now we’re needing to at least put it into storage.

Yesterday, we moved out a bookcase he had made. He was maybe 18? 19? when he made it, with little help from me. He was our oldest, I had no other experience at the time working with my own children. I knew it was good – at least as good as the ones I make – but didn’t realize how amazing it is for a kid with very little woodworking experience to crank out something that nice first try. Very simple design, but the fit and finish are excellent. He went with a dark stain, and sanded between numerous coats, so it was very smooth and even.

No pictures, didn’t think of it. When we move his desk he made just before the bookcase, I’ll try to remember. Kid was a genius and a saint, with a craftsman’s soul. I miss him.

Anyway, bound to run across many other bits that trigger memorie3s. 27 years in the house, with 5 kids raised here.

Our youngest and I and hoping to finish at least the walls on the last planter today. there are also 4 little towers and a sort of connecting wall to be done, don’t know that we’ll get to them today.

I got to get out of this place. But it’s not like all the memories are bad.

* Doing a lot of word painting, so the words in the order they occur matter.

Year End(?) Update: Wedding, Writing, Stuff

I’m going to use the following feeble excuses for not writing here for over a week:

  1. Younger daughter is getting married in 3 weeks;
  2. I’m ‘working,’ mostly in the sense of worrying about and planning, the sale of our house in (we hope) March;
  3. It’s the week before Christmas.
  4. Volunteered to help the Caboose execute his Eagle Scout project, which tied up the better part of the last 2 weekends.
A local cemetery, managed by our parish, has suffered from neglect and vandals for many years. It is the resting place of many of the pioneers of our town, with graves dating back to the mid 1800s. The local historical society as well as the parish and some of the neighbors have been trying to fix it up. The Caboose’s Eagle project: put in two benches, replace the vandalized and missing cross from the central monument, and clean up. Above: one of the benches, concrete still wet.
An epoxy resin cross (getting granite was not in the budget) affixed atop the central monument, from which vandals had destroyed the original. It came out way better than anticipated – this angle distorts the scale and might make it appear too small, but it’s not.

Other than that, I got nothing. What I have been doing:

A. Making Christmas gifts for the family. They are coming out nice, but, since it’s possible some of the recipients might read this blog, I’ll have to skip the pictures and of course any further details until they have been delivered.

B. Finishing the Gloria I’ve been working on, and working on the Kyrie. I’m at the point where I need to let the Gloria sit – I can keep tweaking it forever, but I probably will just let it go.

I switched over completely to composing in Musescore. It – just works, and revisions are so, so, much easier. Sigh. All that time mastering buggy whip making writing fair score by hand is now useless. My son-in-law swears by Musescore as a composition tool, as you can get instant playback as you go and the fair copy is a print command away. Beats stomping stuff out on piano, which is my usual method.

Sheepish request: any musicians out there with Musescore who would like to hear it/offer feedback? It’s all of 4 minutes long. If so, send me an email at yardsale of the mind (without the gaps) at G-mail dot etc. and I will email you the file.

C. Watching a Youtube series on counterpoint and fugal writing, based on Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassus. On the one hand, I know some of this stuff; on the other, I’m largely an ignorant fool. As I think Nadia Boulanger once said: composition is not theory, but technique, and you get technique by practicing. Will I live long enough to work my way through all of Fux’s and Gran’s exercises? Writing in this style – counterpoint and fuges – is highly technical and mathematical – there is structural stuff you need to work out before you get very far . I’m very bad at that part. Don’t know how many times I’ve written myself into a corner…

D. Had this very vivid idea for a story. Of course, I’ve got half a dozen other writing projects I have not been working on, so now I get another idea. Saw a meme the other day, where this writer is musing something like: “Some people got to bed and *sleep*? They don’t toss and turn working out the plots for a 7-book series? And then they wake up *refreshed*?” I haven’t slept well in years anyway, seems I just need to get mor4e productive about it. I may throw up a chapter as semi-flash fiction when I get a minute.

F. 3 years into involuntary semi-retirement. I need to get a job. Don’t need the big bucks anymore, just something reasonable.

Aaaand – that’s all I have time for at the moment. Tomorrow and Friday begin the annual Great Christmas Cooking & Baking Event. With married kids, we have multiple Christmas/New Year’s/Epiphany parties to go to/host, my beloved is in demand as a pie maker, and I’m always making something, too. So, maybe catch y’all next year.

Have a happy, holy, and blessed Christmas season, not to end before Epiphany at the earliest!

Post Calorific Vision Update/Collected Wisdom

A. Back to back Thanksgiving feasts, Thursday with Elder Daughter & in-laws, Friday at soon to be Younger Daughter’s in-laws. (Should all that be hyphenated? “At the house of the family that will soon become our younger daughter’s in-laws” is what I’m saying. She’s already our younger daughter…)

It was very nice to hang out with friendly, descent people simply having a good time enjoying each other’s company. This is the antidote to the life of fear being rammed down our throats – which is why it is both critically important to do it, and why our self-appointed betters are trying so hard to keep us from doing it. People simply getting together with people without getting anyone else’s permission is the death of totalitarianism.

On to more pleasant aspects. Our new granddaughter was the star of the first gathering. One month old, and, sadly in one respect, a chip off the old block: sleep is strictly optional, and not to be indulged in when it would be most appreciated by mom. BUT: sleeping in the arms of granddad seems to work, so I got a bit of bonding in, sitting in quiet places, holding and patting the little angel as she slept. Prepping her for a sleepless night, no doubt. Sigh.

We finally got the 4-generations photo: great grandma, grandma (my wife) mom (my daughter) and baby.

On to Gathering: The Sequel. The soon-to-be in-laws raise pigs, so the highlight of the meal was a ham that had been part of a pig raised on the property not too long prior. Ham from a home-raised pig is a completely different thing: much redder, more tender, different texture altogether, and delicious. Not a huge ham fan in general, but this stuff was excellent. So daughter’s soon to be father in law (this is tiring!), a very generous man, weighed us down with frozen pork as we headed out the door. I’ve now got a couple pork chops the size of small dinner plates and nearly the color of beefsteak, a pound of bacon, sausage, thin-sliced ham, a nice hock, some dried meat sticks – very cool stuff. It’s probably going to stay in the freezer until Christmas, as we’ve got leftovers to last nearly until then!

But much more important: the house was full of children, I think I counted 6 who were 5 and under, and a handful of teenagers. Included were a set of 11 month old twins, crawling about.

And everyone was totally cool, herding the kids around when necessary, but otherwise just letting them be kids. I love that! In all the exactly 2 perfect and socially responsible children households among most of our acquaintances, the adults would not be able to simply let the kids do their thing without constant supervision. Here, all the adults – and the teenagers, including our youngest son – are perfectly fine at keeping one eye on the short people, doing a little minimal intervention if absolutely necessary, and otherwise acting like normal human beings. Exactly once, I corralled a crawling baby and redirected/redeposited him in the living room when he had headed out into the dining room – only because that’s where most of the older people were, and he seemed headed out of easy view.

I might have overreacted.

The baby took it completely in stride – big strange person he doesn’t know, scooping him up, making faces and yakking at him, moving him back to the room he’d just crawled out of, plopping him down next to his brother and a couple toddlers. He just got on with it.

One toddler had a wee bit of a poutfest because he’s a toddler. Otherwise, no fits or crying jags or acts of wanton destruction. Kids were absolutely having a blast playing with other kids, adults got to be adults. This went on for hours.

It might seem stupid to harp on people being normal and happy – but this -THIS – is what is our betters are trying to take away from us. THIS is what masks, lockdowns, mandates, anti-social distancing, fear, mind-numbingly STUPID propaganda, and getting the terrified to report on the sane, are trying to destroy.

So get out there and have fun with people you love!

Gratuitous picture of a back yard raised pork chop. Computer mouse for scale. None of that ‘the other white meat’ nonsense here!

B. Note: we didn’t host any Thanksgiving events ourselves. Yet, the total kitchen output leading up to Thursday and Friday:

The spousal unit: 14 pies, including the usual – pumpkin (both traditional and strudel), apple (both two-crust and strudel) – and specialties – hazelnut-pecan (to die for), mincemeat (the real deal) and carrot-ginger pie (which looks like a pumpkin pie, but tastes quite different)

The youngest son: whipped cream for pies, hard cream (whipped cream with brandy in it) for the mincemeat.

Me: 8.5 lbs. of pot roast, beef gravy, three loaves of pumpkin bread (to give to one of the ladies who helps with grandma), 2.5 dozen pumpkin cream cheese muffins (To share with neighbors), an apple pie (for the other lady who helps with grandma).

Team effort. There’s a ton of overlap in there – youngest son and I peeled a lot of apples, for example, and I was assigned the task of mixing up some pumpkin filling for pies my wife was baking, and she supplied the mincemeat and instructions, and I made the crust and assembled the pie. And so on. Output listed by who was responsible, but the work was shared.

Totally fun. We did our best to clean as we went, so the kitchen is only sort of a disaster.

C. A downside: Despite what Heraclitus says, the road up and the road down are not the same. 1 hour, 16 minutes to get home from Elder Daughter’s house; 2 hours, 10 minutes to get there; 1 hour, 23 minutes to get home from future in-laws house; 2 hours, 10 minutes to get there. The 80 corridor from San Francisco to Sacramento (and beyond to Lake Tahoe) is prone to heavy traffic. Returning later in the evening, we hit none; going up in the early afternoon was not so good.

That’s why we need to move closer to people we love (and farther from people we loathe. Win-win.)

D. More reality from Clarissa’s blog. Do things to be normal. Do things to be yourself.

When I was a kid, the women I admired the most were the ones who put make-up on first thing in the morning on weekends and holidays. This meant they saw themselves more as women than as cooking-cleaning-disciplining-yelling machines. With the makeup they were signaling that they wanted to be liked by men. This meant they were likely to smile more, scream less, and be easier-going. Kids automatically veered towards the make-up wearing ladies in the house because they were more open to playing with the kids or at least not as likely to police their every move.

Obviously, make-up isn’t necessary to be a happy woman and not a screeching harpy. But in the USSR, everything was designed to crush both womanhood and manhood. You needed to work hard to not feel like a sexless cog in a gigantic production machine. Men had their own rituals of maleness, just like the women had the weekend makeup.

If only you knew how hard it was to get makeup in the USSR. The fact of being willing to use the precious, rare substances when nobody outside of your family would see you signaled that you valued the private space over the public. And that was. . .not in keeping with the ruling ideology, let’s put it that way.

Not sure what this really is, but it appears to be a Soviet-era ad for lipstick?

E. Got a bunch of way-cool Christmas presents to make, which – the best kind – require the use of power tools. Rain has not returned since the monsoons of October, and none are forecast before 2nd week of December. So, out come the table saw, router, sanders, and planers, in the nice sunny 60F weather expected for this afternoon.

Do something you like, with people you love. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

All Saints Eve

Having dinner with younger daughter and her fiancé they came by to carve pumpkins, make caramel apples, and watch a movie. So we spent part of the afternoon carving these:

We choose pumpkins mostly for their future value as pies. Thus, weird shapes are a feature, not a big.
This and previous were my works. Kept it semi-basic this year.
This is daughter’s. It’s a fairly tale carriage, even if the picture doesn’t capture the details.
Future son in law’s. Should I be worried? It’s actually pretty cool.
Caboose went basic/classic

Four or five groups of kids have been by so far.

Public Schooling Sucks: Some Thoughts on History

I’ve seen a couple of those viral videos of parents standing up to their local school boards and making a stink over the latest outrage – critical race theory, gender theory, the order not to watch what the school is teaching their kids, masks, vaccines, the whole load.

One wants to cheer them on, but, unfortunately, those brave, well-meaning parents just don’t get it. From Day 1, however you want to count Day 1, parents and families are the problem compulsory public schooling was invented to solve. By standing up and opposing the ‘educators’ on the school board, all these parents are doing is acting out the role those educators have already assigned them: the backward, ignorant, bigoted hicks from whom it is the school’s calling to ‘rescue’ their kids. Those educators are not trembling in fear, or trying to see how they can work with those parents. They are merely seeing confirmation of everything they already believe about those parents.

So, those educators might try to silence the parents, but, more probably, they’ll let them say whatever they want, then simply lie by omission and commission so that they can keep doing what they do. Go ahead and rant – behind the scenes, those ‘educators’ are working with their allies to simply criminalize your behaviors. Private schools? Home schooling? Those are merely trivial speed bumps, to be disposed of as the one room schools and classic liberal arts schools were disposed of, by the patient application of endless pressure until they conform or can be eliminated.

Boy, isn’t this picture all sorts of ironic and symbolic and all that!

Three moments: one, in which ‘the system’ formally collapses but the behaviors persist; one where the primacy of compliance over sanity is illustrated; and finally one where schooling stops but never ends.

  1. From Clarissa’s blog: the USSR has collapsed, but decades of training persist in both the bureaocrats and the students:

In 1996 I was a college student in Ukraine. One day, we were sitting in class, the professor was speaking, the students were taking notes. Suddenly, an irate secretary from the Dean’s Office burst in. Interrupting the professor in mid-sentence she screeched,

“Everybody, get up and go out. You will be sweeping the alley outside. Now! You, too!” pointing at the professor.

The professor, a youngish guy we thought was very cool because he had traveled the world and spoke an almost fluent English blushed and started stuffing papers into his bag. Everybody got up. Except me.

“What’s going to happen if we don’t?” I asked. “This isn’t the USSR any longer. You can’t make us.”

“Get up and go sweep now!” the secretary bellowed. “Do what you are told!”

“No,” I said. “I’m a student, not a street cleaner. I’m not going to sweep. What can you do to me?”

The secretary looked apoplectic. The other students started shooshing me down.

“It’s OK, we’ll go, we are going right now!” they piped up in mousy little voices.

“You will go because you want to volunteer,” the secretary said. “It’s the right thing to do. The alley needs sweeping. You will go now.”

College students! The professor! All trying to silence Clarissa and get her to comply with the demands of a toothless tiger. Their training is complete.

2. A 16 year old girl who refused to wear a mask was handcuffed and taken out of school by police. Note: the police aren’t masked up; the students take off their masks to eat lunch. The issues is not some farcical sense of safety, but rather that a *student* dared to defy *school officials*. This young woman and her family and lawyer had decided not to put up with the bullying, and the school officials did the only thing they could do: call the cops and have a child handcuffed and hauled away. The option would have been to ignore her – and that would show weakness in front of the kids and their parents.

3. Finally, a personal story: two retired public school teachers ran an annual trip to Mexico so that high school age students could help build houses for the poor. There were usually as nearly as many adults as kids. Many of the adults made the trip year after year, even when they no longer had any kids involved. For 5 or 6 years, when our kids were the right ages, I went along.

The two teachers simply expected to lay down rules and for people to obey them – kids, parents, didn’t matter. Teacher says it, it’s rule, you do it. As you might imagine, almost everyone, kids and adults alike, went along with this without a peep. Except one year, the teachers decided that stopping in Tijuana on our way out for lunch and a little sightseeing was too dangerous, and so was not to be done. Well, one older gentleman, a guy who had run businesses and been mayor of his little town out in the sticks, who had gone on and helped organize the trip for many years, who, not surprisingly, was one of the most capable builders, he wasn’t buying it. Since my kids were catching a ride back with him, and he wanted to stop in Tijuana, he asked ME if I minded, AND asked my kids if they minded, and I of course said I don’t mind, do what you want. I can’t imagine a more competent guy for my kids to hang out with, I trust my kids, and the ‘risks’ of Tijuana were overblown, to say the least.

Well, when this got back to the teachers, I had to deal with a weeping woman asking my how I could have been complicit in such an outrage. She had told people what the rules were! The very idea that one adult simply does not have to do what another adult tells them to do was simply inconceivable to her – she was in charge! She was the teacher.

Note that nobody had any issues with any of the rules about safety while we were encamped in Mexico. We get it. We’re a bunch of kids and adults in a foreign country, so we want to behave well and be safe. But for years, a fun part of the trip was a stop in Tijuana on our way out to grab a bite and maybe buy some trinkets for folks back home. But this year, without any discussion, it was simply decided that it was now ‘unsafe’ to do what we’d done every year before. So it wasn’t a matter of the situation being any different – it was a matter of unsupported feelings that things weren’t as safe as they used to be. So, being a teacher, she just changed the rules. The very idea that other adults might want to have a say and would not instantly go along with whatever she decided brought her to tears.

Teachers are the first victims of schooling. They must be brought to heel, or filtered out.

Getting way long here. Wanted to start a discussion on the beginnings of all this, the mindsets of the people involved. Will limit it to two very early examples, and add more later as time permits. I think both these examples were in the minds of the later champions of state control of education – Fichte, Barnard, Mann, von Humboldt, Harris, certainly Dewey.

Sparta: At least the Spartans made no bones about their intentions: the family had to go so that the ‘free’ men could best defend and serve the state. Spartan children, if they passed inspection, were allowed to be raised by their mothers until age 7, at which point the state took over. Mothers and fathers did not live together, but were more or less temporary breeding couples to produce more Spartans.

Spartan boys were assigned a cohort at age 7, trained to be soldiers until age 18, typically spent a year or two spying on and terrorizing the Helots. They then became full soldiers at 20. At 60, they got to retire. Women were basically breeders, who trained the girls to grow up into the next batch of breeders.

A boy’s whole loyalty and sense of belonging was to his military band. Training was in loyalty and conformity. A boy had essentially no opportunity to develop any independent personality – and that’s the way Sparta liked it.

Despite that whole 300 mythology, the first duty of a Spartan was not war – it was to keep to Helots down. Sparta had conquered and enslaved the surrounding territories. Since you need a minimum of 8 or 9 people producing food for each Spartan soldier and mother not producing food, your slaves are going to outnumber your Spartan citizens something like 10 to 1. The fully-trained young men were sent among the Helots to make sure they knew who was in charge. This reign of terror over their slaves is what enabled the Spartans to sustain the standing army, famous for its bravery and discipline.

I find it difficult to accept how admired Sparta was by many in ancient world, and many people throughout the subsequent ages – but there it is. Sparta remained intact for centuries, but at what cost? Outside their reputation for military prowess and unbending discipline, they left nothing of much worth. Is that enough?

We live in a Sparta-haunted world. The image of Lycurgus reforming Sparta by top-down fiat seems to be a dream of our betters (if a nightmare for us little people!) By, effectively, removing the family from its natural position as the building block of society, modern would-be Lycurguses believe they, in their wisdom, could bring about a utopia of some sort – for our own good, of course.

Martin Luther’s Germany: Not passing judgement on Luther’s theology here aside from his stand on schooling and his relationship with the state in general. I discussed here Luther’s very un-Pauline habit of addressing his epistles largely to secular powers, who he never fails to attempt to recruit for his purposes, explaining what their new freedom requires of them.

Viewed from a strictly practical perspective, to make the Reformation stick, Luther had to overcome opposition from two main camps: first, from those German Catholics not buying his teachings, and second and more serious, from those who accepted his teachings too literally. The first group simply rejected the very idea of the five Solas; the second accepted them too much, so that they thought they, themselves, were as fit as Luther to interpret Scripture as they, themselves, were moved by the Spirit.

That sort of individual freedom of conscience, which later came to be associated with Luther somehow, was not at all what he meant: everyone was free to interpret Scripture the same exact way Luther did. To Luther, his was the only reading that was possible in accord with the primitive Church and under the guidance of the Spirit. If you thought Scripture meant something else, you were wrong. Contradict Luther much, and you were dead – at least, if Luther got his way.

Catholics were, for the most part, merely benighted. They could be and often were converted to believe as Luther did, and a good bit of Luther’s writing and preaching was directed toward that end. Other Protestants who accepted the principles that Scripture could be read and understood by any man under the guidance of the Spirit and acted upon those principles, yet failed to agree with Luther, were a more existential threat. From the very first, Catholics had been pointing out that, without Tradition and the authority of the Church, Scripture can be read in an almost infinite variety of contradictory ways. The existence of Sola-professing Protestants who did not agree with Luther on every point was a problem – for Luther.

From the beginning, Luther saw the hand of God in the support he received from German princes. For their part, German princes had chaffed under the meddling and arrogance of the distant, non-German Pope since at least the 10th century. Throwing off the spiritual yoke of Rome also meant getting out from under the political yoke.

Practically, any church independent of the state and making any spiritual claims at all upon the princes of that state is going to run afoul of those princes sooner rather than later, realpolitik being a thing. The solution since the beginning of history: states control religion. While they have been a spectacular failure through most of history, the Catholic Church’s attempts to stay free of state control is still one of the biggest outliers in history. The Great Schism – speaking simply historically here – lead to the creation of state-controlled Orthodox churches: Greek, Russian, Ukrainian, etc., all of which were firmly under the control of the local king or emperor, at least to the extent that the local patriarch was not likely to attempt to use his spiritual authority to dispose them- something Popes were known to try.

Luther ignored all this, and sided with the German princes, who happily supported him back.* Luther saw the support of the state as the hand of God, and so wrote to the princes and civic leaders under them to exhort them to continue to do God’s work.

Luther soon concluded that God’s work included compulsory state run schooling. He wanted every child to learn to read so that they could study Scripture; he wanted every child to learn to read in a state-controlled school so that they would reach the same conclusions from Scripture that Luther reached. The ‘risks’ of letting everyone read Scripture themselves and reach their own (Spirit-guided) conclusions were almost instantly apparent, once the Reformation got going.

Except for the few destined to be scholars, Luther and Melanchthon, who drafted up the original compulsory public school plan used by Luther, had little use for any schooling beyond the basics. Kids should learn to read, learn a little Latin, and then get on with making a living – all under the management and compulsion of the state. Clearly – and Luther talks about this – if you left such instruction to the discretion of parents, they would do it wrong!

When Fichte modernized Melanchthon’s and Luther’s plan 300 years later, he did away with anything recognizably Lutheran, and simply put the realization of the destiny of the state as the sole goal. To him, the distinction between the spiritual goals of individuals and the spiritual destiny of the (German) state was a misunderstanding, a lack of enlightenment. The value of the individual was the value that individual had to the state; the fulfillment of the state’s destiny was the personal fulfillment of the individual, insofar as personal fulfillment had any meaning.

And, of course, something this important could not be left up to parents. In fact, Fichte agrees with Luther that, left to parents, all the higher goals of education would get frustrated. Parents are the problem schooling is designed to solve. Fichte wanted to simply remove children from all family contact until their state schooling was complete. But more on that later.

* Today, the Lutheran and Catholic churches in Germany are tax-supported – the German Catholic hierarchy is the most likely to act independently from Rome on matters of morals and dogma. The German state has neutered religion – Catholic and Lutheran – in the public sphere, and has a choke collar on it financially.

Reading Interlude/Update

Still have the second half of Painter’s book on Luther’s role in education reform to review, and a few SciFi classics. Need a break.

A. One problem: I read slowly, in my dotage. This has something to do with reading a lot of philosophy and history, where speed kills, so to speak. It dawned on me- slow on the uptake – that I don’t really need to read SciFi or, mostly, these education books super carefully, as the points are generally not that subtle or evasive.

While I was never one of those blazing fast 3 novels a day type reader, as a kid, I was certainly a faster reader than I am now. So I consciously decided to read much faster.

It works. While there are definitely works that warrant a slow careful read, most of the stuff I’m reading now doesn’t. This one small trick has halved the scary pile of unread books (literally, I had to move stacks to the floor when cleaning up the other day) in terms of reading time.

Of course, the book on the top of the stack was Kreeft’s Socratic Logic which is one that needs to be read more carefully. But most of the pile can be read pulp speed.

B. Interesting times. We have 2 weeks to get the house ready for fumigation, as part of our efforts to sell it. Since we need to vacate the premises anyway, and a friend got us a couple tickets at no cost to us, we’ve decided to attend the Thomas Aquinas College 50th Anniversary Gala in Beverly Hills. Black tie. Not the usual shindig for the Moore family.

Fortunately, as a tenor who has sung in a number of choirs, I already own a tux. Bought it used 25+ years ago, haven’t worn it for years – but it fits. So I’m in with only a dry cleaning expense + I indulged in a new shirt. But my 17 year old son needed suiting up. I can recommend Dunhill, a seller of used tuxes. We ordered him one for under $100, found the coat was a little too large, they sent us a replacement no questions asked before I’d even returned the too large one. Good folks.

And it looks great. I was surprised at how nice it is, does not look used at all. A fit young man like our son looks awesome in a tux. Bond, James Bond.

As for the womenfolk, grandma owns a number of nice formal dresses. My beloved did the classic thrift store route, where she ran into another shopper who was totally into helping her get the right dress. Women are different. I can’t imagine a male stranger deciding he needed to help me, for example, get just the right suit, nor that I would not be weirded out by such attention. But this nice woman saw my wife shopping, and just sort of jumped right in, offering suggestions and reviews, looking for shawls that would look good with the dresses – and she and my wife seemed to have a good time doing this.

So my wife came away with two thrift store gowns, both of which passed muster with our daughters, who have picky good taste in such things. Huh.

C. The history class I’m teaching just completed week 4. Things are sticking a lot better the second time around for me, which is nice, plus I don’t have nearly the amount of prep to do, I can mostly just use what I did last year. So it’s a lot less exhausting and more fun.

The kids are great. The two oldest have spearheaded efforts to bring tea and snacks for the Thursday seminar. We’ve had shortbread, some sort of custard tort, and cucumber sandwiches so far. Homeschool kids for the win!

D. Whatever creative energies I have left after the above activities I have been directing at getting this mass setting I’ve been writing done. I don’t know why, exactly, but I got a (long-suppressed) jones for composing out of nowhere, and ran with it. The Gloria is maybe half a dozen measures from done, and the Kyrie and Agnus are started. I only have an hour or two a day to work on this, tops. I need to get back to the novels and non-fiction projects, but for some reason this mass seems urgent. Huh.