Writing posts to this blog, usually between 8 and 20 a month, hs been perhaps my major hobby and creative outlet for almost a decade now. Recently, the need to find some gainful employment has commandeered a large amount of my time and energy; prayers would be appreciated. (And leads – anybody need an expert in corporate return measures, equipment finance deal structuring, or – my real strength – dabbling like a boss? I’m available.) I’ve been scarce around here.
But, in an attempt to manage my sanity, such as it is, I’ve decided to dedicate 3 hours a day to ‘projects,’ chief of which is the on-going Education History Research and Book Writin’ Jamboree.
My lack of scholarly planning is going to require me to reread, or at least skim, many of the books I’ve already read, as I’ve taken few notes outside the references embedded in these blog posts. Some will be fun; many are tedium embodied. To keep my sanity, I’m going to start with a good one, Walch’s Parish School, especially since about a year ago Dr. Walch kindly sent me his most recently revised edition. It’s both a pretty quick read and very well sourced, which has pointed me to so much of the earlier work in the field.
The curse of the internet: Began to research the John Ireland/Catholic Bishops controversy of 1890, and discovered Archbishop Ireland wrote a book The Church and Modern Society. Since I’m painfully aware of the inadequacy of my knowledge of the history of American Church/State relations and the attitudes of Catholics toward the rabidly anti-Catholic Protestant establishment of 19th century America, I found a free online copy of this book and downloaded it. Another +/-500 pages to read.
It never ends. I have to remind myself of the main premise, and view potential source materials through that lens: that the largely unexamined adoption by 19th century American Catholic schools of Pestalozzi’s fragmentation and control theory of teaching, as reshaped by Fichte, conceded the war without a fight, no matter how many battles were won since.
Ireland’s thoughts seem very relevant to this main thesis. He seems, based on the little I know so far and to put it positively, to be very focused on baptising as much of American secular society and conforming the Church’s practices to it as possible. The underlying idea, as expressed most amazingly by Orestes Brownson in his The American Republic, is that the Church Herself is destined, if not already realized, to be most perfectly expressed in America. Inescapably, this requires taking a dim view of how the Church has been realized in Europe, and sows the seeds of condescension and conflict.
Here’s the witch’s brew I think I’ve sniffed: you take a few intellectual leaders like Brownson and Ireland, mix with the eagerness to fit in of the typical immigrant, add a heavy dose of the psychological as well as cultural and physical damage done to the Irish by 500 years of murderous English tyranny, and you end up with a desperation to, on the one hand, accept America as the apex of civilization and (most dangerous and least Catholic) as ‘the Future,’ and, on the other, to ignore or overlook the patent anti-Catholicism of that American vision.
This deal, whereby real Americans agree to pretend Catholics are members of the club so long as they burn just a pinch of incense to their gods, results in many bad things, from Bath House Jim Coughlin running Chicago with the tacit support of the Church while his brothels sell their daughters and his protection rackets corrupt their sons, through loyalty to the Democratic Party while that party shared leadership with the Klan over most of its range, right on down to the USCCB choosing to overlook the party’s rabid support of abortion (and, fundamentally, rabid hatred of Catholicism) in exchange for a few programs and policies that, if you squint just right, can be seen as tools of social justice instead of the naked power grabs they most clearly are.
Floating in this morass is the ready acceptance, back in the 2nd half of the 19th century, of the compulsory age-segregated graded classroom model developed and adopted specifically to destroy family and Church. That this system has since fallen under the control of Marxists and their useful idiots only makes a terrible, evil situation worse.
There are certainly a number of good scholars who have done the general work on the history of education in America and of Catholic education specifically. I can’t hope, in the decade or two of life that may be left to me, to match their lifetimes of work, but I can, I hope, lay out and document this one central thing, and, much more important, provide some guidance for Catholic educational thinking – guidance away from a model meant to turn us and our children into mindless anti-Catholics with no home other than the State.
Also, I’m working on an bibliography of my education resources, to be posted as a permanent page here. It’s a lot of tedious work, but I need to get it done.
Brief update before this unrelated post: revised, and revised again, the outline for the proposed book on Catholic education, and began to revise and expand the bibliography. There are maybe 20 core books, and 2-3 times that in more peripheral stuff. Yikes – what have I gotten into? Both the outline and the bibliography will become permanent pages on this blog, to be updated and revised as I progress. But let’s talk about movies as propaganda first:
Maybe my overactive imagination is getting off leash again. Maybe not.
A few years back, I made a few comments on the movie Lincolnhere and here. At the time, while bending over backwards to give the man Lincoln every benefit of the doubt in a horrible and horribly complex situation, I complained:
Certainly, Lincoln was in a tough spot no matter which way we slice it. And, since we all seem to agree with his gut feelings about what is right, we tend to overlook how dubious his logic is in many places. The important thing, we say, is Justice: slavery was such an overwhelming injustice screaming out to Heaven that Lincoln – or any man – is justified in whatever he may do to end it. As the speech above suggests, Lincoln would ‘catch at the opportunity’ even if the mechanism by which he justifies his actions are questionable.
In the hands of a man of deep morals and honor such as Lincoln, perhaps we can hope the powers seized will be used only for good, or at least only toward some ultimate good like ending slavery. But the same concepts, having shed the rhetorical splendor Lincoln vested them in, lurk in the claim: “We can’t wait for Congress to do its job, so where they won’t act, I will.” This is the anthem of the rule of men, not law.
That quote within the quote above is, of course, from Obama, who was sworn in on Lincoln’s personal Bible. (1) This movie came out just as he began his second term, during which, in continuation of the precedent established during his first term, he routinely ruled by executive order. Funny timing, huh?
The entire movie is about the four months leading up to the passage of the 13th Amendment on January 31, 1865. Historians evidently refute much of what is presented as Lincoln’s motivation in the movie, where he is shown as desperate to get the 13th Amendment passed in order to ensure the end of slavery once fighting had ended. The Emancipation Proclamation was just an expedient enacted under the President’s war powers, and could, the movie states, be reversed once the South surrenders. So, Lincoln had to do whatever he had to do to get the Amendment passed, including a bunch of stuff that, if the end did not justify all means, would be considered patently immoral and illegal.
But Lincoln is a secular saint, and it all worked out, right? So no harm no foul. Everybody wants to think the evils to be addressed are just like slavery, obvious and vile, and that the guy who violates law, morals, and all propriety to right them is another Lincoln – like Obama, right? It doesn’t even occur to them that he might be more along the lines of the H-man, or even just a Franco, or a Pinochet handing out free helicopter rides. Unlike Messiah-O, those three guys DID face situations as desperate or worse than what Lincoln faced, and did take action to right the wrongs as they saw them. Yet, we very correctly have our reservations, to say the least, about not just their methods, but – and this is critical – their assessments of the problems and required solutions. But I don’t suppose a movie about a well-intentioned hero trying to do the right thing by making a mockery of law and morals, killing people and blowing stuff up along the way, only to have everything turn out just as his opponents warned him would, leading to a situation much worse than where he started, would sell many tickets.
I’d go see it.
The framing stories are of Lincoln’s disregard for the law when it was, in his sole judgement, antithetical to justice. He tells this story in the movie:
Back when I rode the legal circuit in Illinois I defended a woman from Metamora named Melissa Goings, 77 years old, they said she murdered her husband; he was 83. He was choking her; and, uh, she grabbed ahold of a stick of firewood and fractured his skull, ‘n he died. In his will he wrote “I expect she has killed me. If I get over it, I will have revenge.” No one was keen to see her convicted, he was that kind of husband. I asked the prosecuting attorney if I might have a short conference with my client. And she and I went into a room in the courthouse, but I alone emerged. The window in the room was found to be wide open. It was believed the old lady may have climbed out of it. I told the bailiff right before I left her in the room she asked me where she could get a good drink of water, and I told her Tennessee. Mrs. Goings was seen no more in Metamora. Enough justice had been done; they even forgave the bondsman her bail.
(Aside: I observed a similar coincidence when the NYT published an article defending and even praising Tammany Hall for its “honest graft” right around the time a few hints that not all Obama-era actions were strictly speaking composed entirely of sweetness and light. Thugs beating up people and holding the government for ransom are OK, the Times informs us, so long as it makes sure every Paddy get a job as a cop right off the boat – even if it’s some other Paddy that gets beaten up. Well, logic has never been the Left’s strong suit.)
In my extremely fruitful efforts to waste yet more time, I watched the trailer for the latest installment in the very successful Kingsmen franchise, of which I have seen none and have no intention of seeing any. In it, the Kingsmen are explained: “We are the first independent intelligence agency” and “preserving peace and protecting life” and “While governments wait for orders, our people take action.”
Hmmm. Now, while the vigilante theme is as old as comic books and The Shadow, this takes it to a new level: a CIA-like (intelligence agency, remember?) group of spies who answers to no government, but takes action to preserve the peace and protect lives by blowing things up and killing people, it would seem. Of course, it fun and British and all that, but the underlying concept – that the people who protect life and preserve peace can’t be beholden to any government – seems, I don’t know, strangely appealing to certain groups just at this particular moment in history.
“Reputation is what people think of you. Character is who you are.” The CIA and its punk little brother the FBI, long having enjoyed the reputation among the non-comatose as, effectively, evil little empires with all the morality and respect for authority of J. Edgar Hoover, are now being framed up as the last, best hope of saving us all from Trump and The End of the World as We Know It ™ (see Severian’s latest for a terrifying yet humorous take on this). Just now, we get a series of movies based on the premise that we need saving and can’t wait for governments to do it! But our freshly scrubbed and loyal and patriotic ‘intelligence community’ can save us! Never let a crisis go to waste!
A. For those who have served honorably in our military: thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I am well aware that it is only an accident of timing that kept me out of Vietnam (still going when I got to high school, ended, after a fashion, before I turned 18). My father spent WWII as a crack welder on the home front; some of his and my mother’s brothers did fight, but were of a generation where, mostly, it was not something you talked about much. My aunt Verna was Rosie the Riveter, complete with models and photos of the planes she help build – that she never talked about. I only found out from my cousins after she died. Uncle Louis did something with the Air Force in Korea, but all I ever heard about was his time as a voice on military radio – he had a very deep and beautiful speaking voice, bet he was good.
My father in law, may he rest in peace, got in in time for the invasion of Italy. About the only story he told was of cataloguing the weapons the Allies seized: he was struck with how beautiful Italian machine guns were, especially compared to German machine guns: scroll work, a sense of proportion. But there was no question which one you’d want to be holding if you needed to kill somebody.
He was also helped liberate some Nazi death camps. This, he never spoke of, except to tell of the dancing. Because he grew up in and near various ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago, he knew all sorts of ethnic dances. He was an incredible dancer. So, when the prisoners were freed, they – any who were strong enough – danced. And he joined in.
He paid a terrible price, even if he never, as far as I know (and I doubt I or anyone does know), had to shoot at anyone or see his buddies die before his eyes. He saw unfathomable evil up front and personal. His mother said he went to war a happy-go-lucky boy and came back a serious and sad man.
So, thank you, veterans! God bless you. And may He grant eternal rest to those who have died.
B. Read something about the comparative capabilities of American versus British WWII bombers, specifically, the B-17 and the Lancaster, which were the workhorse Allied bombers in the European theater. What was most interesting to me: the American bomber had a bigger crew and more guns, and included armour around all the crew positions. As a result, a B-17 generally carried about half the weight in bombs that a Lancaster carried, having instead invested that weight in guns and armour to defend the aircraft and its crew. The Lancaster had fewer guns and no armour protecting the crew, except the pilot – who was generally the only officer on board. But it typically carried about twice the tonnage of bombs as the B-17.
B-17s flew high and during the day; Lancasters flew lower during the night. The Americans targeted specific buildings and installations, while the British targeted cities. Once the P-51 Mustangs came on-line in force, the B-17s had really good fighter escorts. The net results: B-17s, partly because they bombed during the day and partly because they flew above where flak could reliably hit them, and because they had swarms of Mustangs with them to keep the (very, very good) Luftwaffe fighters at bay, reliably hit their targets. The British, flying at night to compensate for their comparative lack of altitude and defences, targeted ENTIRE CITIES because anything smaller was all but impossible to find and hit. Their success rate was comparable to the Americans, but only because their targets were an order of magnitude or 2 larger. I assume the British pilots and bombardiers were as good as the Americans, because British pilots in WWII were damn good. It is a matter of strategy formed by technical capabilities, coupled with a burning British desire to make the Third Reich pay for bombing British cities. And, boy, did they pay.
Underlying this, it seems to me, is another factor, one I ran into first years ago reading about Florence Nightingale. The attitude of the British military, it seems, is that commoners both expendable and of no great value. Nightingale found the British officers showed no concern to the point of contempt for the men dying under them, and it took her years to shame the government into starting to provide decent (for the times) medical care. But the attitude persisted: the Lancaster, and, I understand, subsequent British bombers as well, embodied this disdain: only the pilot’s position was armoured. Stray bullets or shrapnel was much more likely to kill a crewman than an officer on a British bomber. And the numbers seem to bear this out: both in absolute and percentage terms, casualties among British airmen were far higher than among Americans. Americans, I should think, would be shamed and outraged if their officers were provided protections denied to the crewmen.
C. Tidy segue: Reading Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis for our Chesterton Society reading group. In it, G.K. tells the story of how a young Francis, working for his father selling cloth in the marketplace, is interrupted by a beggar:
While he was selling velvet and fine embroideries to some solid merchant of the town a beggar came imploring alms; evidently in a somewhat tactless manner. It was a rude and simple society and there were no laws to punish a starving man for expressing his need for food, such as have been established in a more humanitarian age; and the lack of any organised police permitted such persons to pester the wealthy without any great danger. But there was I believe, in many places a local custom of the guild forbidding outsiders to interrupt a fair bargain; and it is possible that some such thing put the mendicant more than normally in the wrong. Francis had all his life a great liking for people who had been put hopelessly in the wrong. On this occasion he seems to have dealt with the double interview with rather a divided mind; certainly with distraction, possibly with irritation. Perhaps he was all the more uneasy because of the almost fastidious standard of manners that came to him quite naturally.
G.K. goes on to comment about the relationship between the rich and the poor in medieval Italy, something that, though imperfect and often ignored, is one of the great triumphs of Christianity:
Another element implied in the story, which was already partially a natural instinct, before it became supernatural ideal, was something that had never perhaps been wholly lost in those little republics of medieval Italy. It was something very puzzling to some people; something clearer as a rule to Southerners than to Northerners, and I think to Catholics than to Protestants; the quite natural assumption of the equality of men. It has nothing necessarily to do with the Franciscan love for men; on the contrary one of its merely practical tests is the equality of the duel. Perhaps a gentleman will never be fully an egalitarian until he can really quarrel with his servant. But it was an antecedent condition of the Franciscan brotherhood; and we feel it in this early and secular incident. Francis, I fancy, felt a real doubt about which he must attend to, the beggar or the merchant; and having attended to the merchant, he turned to attend the beggar; he thought of them as two men. This is a thing much more difficult to describe, in a society from which it is absent, but it was the original basis of the whole business; it was why the popular movement arose in that sort of place and that sort of man.
This, coming from an Englishman, one who clearly felt a great affinity to St. Francis. We Americans have, somehow, inherited, it seems to me, more from the South to which we did not belong than to the North from which we came. This brings to mind Lafferty’s assertion that, while our institutions come from the Romans, our hearts owe more to the Goths. But that’s getting far afield, even for me.
E. After I published that last bit of flash fiction fluff, I remembered that I had already written a very similar and, it seems to me, much better piece of fluff. Almost took the new story down – as low as my standards are, I do, in fact, have some. But then, remembering that authors (if only!) are the worst judges of their own work, I left it up.
To find the earlier piece, which at first I did not remember clearly, I needed to skim through the couple dozen pieces of flash fiction I’ve posted here. Distance, perhaps after the fashion of beer goggles, has made several of them look pretty OK. The ones that got the most comments were:
The most positive feedback on an individual story was on Random Writing: One Day… about a crusty old man who mooned a big rig from the back of his vintage motorcycle while crossing the Vicksburg Bridge. That one was a lot of fun.
But by far the most comments and positive feedback were received on the 7 parts of It Will Work – Tuesday Flash Fiction taken as a whole. I stopped the series because it stopped being flash fiction – in order to end it, I needed to think ahead more than one episode. Perhaps this was a mistake. Perhaps I need to get off my hindquarters and finish it.
But my surprise favorite at the moment is possibly Saturday Flash Fiction (12/15/18), a story about a woman seeking healing through story therapy, which, it seems to me, displays the most craft: I set it up so that the – I hope – surprise ending carried some emotional punch, and could be read on several levels. I also like how Stanford’s storytelling came out. I’ll no doubt change my opinion in the morning.
And, thus, I’m brought to the real issue here: I can write flash fiction because, like diving into cold water, I need only pluck up my courage for a moment. A short story is like swimming the Channel to me; a novel would be swimming to Hawaii. The combination of being hypercritical, needing to plan, and being a coward is leaving me with hundreds of pages of begun, half-finished, and even very nearly finished stories. Not to mention a couple non-fiction works on education I’ve left hanging.
Yesterday, the family travelled to Napa to hear a talk by Joseph Pearce at Kolbe Academy. Very charming man. He has lead an interesting life, an English ex-pat, and another convert to Catholicism from atheism, and a former racist nationalist (although he got over it in his mid-20’s, so it pretty much qualifies as youthful folly). He’s another man who read his way to Catholicism, with the indispensable help of kind believers along the way.
Second, got to go to a beautiful All Soul’s Day mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, celebrated by Archbishop Cordileone. The Benedict 16 Choir (ha!) sang Duarte Lobo’s Missa pro defunctis. I was not familiar with Lobo, but he is a Portuguese composer, a somewhat younger contemporary of Victoria and a master of polyphony. By the time he died, he was a throwback, writing ‘old’ music when Baroque had just become ascendant.
Our beloved archbishop vested in black, as did the 2 priests and 3 deacons with him. He celebrated the Ordinary Form in English ad orientem – a rather unusual combination in my experience.
Very beautiful and moving, despite the limitations (not conducive to a capella singing) and quirks (weirdly laid out sanctuary that often requires acolytes and deacons to be stationed 50 feet away from the altar) of the Cathedral building. The only sad part is that only a few hundred people showed up, which in a building that large looks like nobody. Perhaps if they keep this up for a few years, the crowds will grow.
Job hunt is not going anywhere at the moment.
My poor daughters! Eldest is now at the hospital with her fiance, who came down with some sort of GI problem that caused enough pain and dehydration that he is hospitalized. Please pray for a quick and complete recovery, so that they can prepare for their wedding in joy.
Numerical descriptions of reality, however useful, are not reality. While science has a whole set of its own issues with practitioners wanting math to be reality, rather than, at best, to provide a useful description of reality, in mundane life, the risk of reification can perhaps be summed up in the old adage: measure twice, cut once. Don’t imagine your first measurement tells you too much about the thing-in-itself. Mistakes happen, best give yourself a second shot at avoiding them. While measurements will never be the thing, they’re certainly more useful when they’re accurate.
What brings this all to mind is my skipping a step when laying out the bricks to be cut to allow the metal rods that support the wrought-iron style fence to pass through. I did indeed measure several times, but what I failed to do was take the fence and position it atop the marked up bricks, to verify that the rods were more or less centered within the chalk rectangles I’d drawn for cutting before I started in with the mortar. I’d carefully measured the locations, checked them a couple times, but, the fence being awkward and kind of heavy (for an old guy, at least), I just sort of skipped that step.
Spent an hour or two cutting the bricks, then a couple hours setting up and mortaring them in. Then, and only then, did I put the fence in place and drop the rods through.
The map is not the territory. Have a couple theories about what I did wrong, but no matter. With misgivings, got out a masonry bit and drilled into the bricks to widen the holes – I’d feared drilling would loosen the bricks, but it worked like a charm. Which suggests that all this falderal I’d gotten into cutting the bricks was a waste of time: should have just put ’em in, set the fence up, marked where to drill, and drilled holes. Would have been much tidier and a lot less work.
Oh, well. With that slight detour, finished it up:
Updating the Insane Eternal Brick project diagram from a few months back, this is where we’re at:
Next up, apart from the little towers for the gate across the steps into the mini-orchard, is a the crescent wall above the water meter. It will go a little something like this:
Maybe plant some ground cover around the meter?
I find myself obsessing about getting this done. Hanging over my head too long now. Hampered by my inability to do more than a couple hours work per day for more than one day. If I do any more, need to take a day or two off. The knees, back and general muscles won’t put up with much more than that. That said, you can get pretty far with a couple hours a day 2-3 times a week.
Three weeks of summer to go. Would be so nice to get this project done. Then get a job.
Probably should wait a couple days to post an update, when I have the fence installed, but, hey.
Ten days ago, when we last checked in, the Endless Brick Project looked like this:
As of today, we’re here:
Also spent an afternoon making some hardware: four pieces of angle iron cut and drilled so that the rebar can pass through it and the fence can be bolted on, as well as two rods bent and cut to make simple hinges for the gate off the front porch, and some little angle iron brackets that will allow (I hope) for the concrete to better grip the hinges. Had fun, after a fashion, wishing I had hotter heat (used a propane torch, not clear it heated the rod enough to make any difference, didn’t get red hot, at least not in daylight) and an anvil, so that bending the rod could have been a little quicker and tidier. Ended up clamping 4 5lbs weights together as an anvil and hammering the rod while trying to not to break anything or burn myself. It kind worked. Anyway: