Big Fish

“A Submarine.”

“And a motorcycle. Indian, by the looks of it.”

Edgar nodded, then returned his gaze to his heavily bandaged hand. His scrambled eggs, slathered with half a bottle of hot sauce, were half finished.

“Barge operator saw it, too. Tried to avoid it.” Bill shook his head, and stared into his coffee cup.

“Shame about the old bridge.”

“So the barge operator ran into the old Vicksburg Bridge because he was trying to avoid a submarine? In the Mississippi?” My orange juice sat untouched.

“And a motorcycle.”

“Stars and bars on the sub,” Bill added, “12-pound Napoleon mounted on the nose, look like.”

“Like that one they used to have down in the park in Success?”

“Yep.”

Bill and Edgar fell silent. “So, this submarine, surfacing in the Mississippi near the old Vicksburg Bridge, had a Confederate battle flag and a Civil War era artillery piece mounted on it?”

“Snagged the Indian.”

“Nice bike, just wedged there under the barrel.”

I soldiered on. “And the barge operator lost control and rammed the bridge piling trying to avoid it?”

“That, and the catfish.”

Bill rolled his eyes. “Nobody saw that but you, Ed.”

Ed glared and raised his bandaged hand. “This look like imagination to you?”

“Probably cut it on that old water heater.”

I must have looked confused. I certainly was. Bill explained.

“We was noodling in the shallows.”

“Had ahold of a big old flathead, musta been 100 pounds at least.”

Bill looked unconvinced. “We’d dropped an old water heater down there last year, ’cause the big catfish’ll take up residence in ’em sometimes.” He looked away from Edgar. “Not every time.”

“Had my arm up to my shoulder down that old boy’s throat, grabbing at his gills, came up for air, dragging ‘im out, right when the submarine surfaced. ”

“I must’ve missed it.”

“You was looking at the sub!” Edgar looked hurt. “But the bargeman saw it!”

“Right. He’s looking right past a Confederate sub at some catfish. Sub’s old hat. Don’t see catfish everyday.”

“Confederate sub?” I was trying to piece this together.

“Beauregard Forrest Jones. Of an old family hereabouts.”

“Always a bit crazy, the Jones.” Edgar shook his head.

“1861. Jones gets a look at Hundley’s American Diver.”

“Old Jones was not about to let some dandy from N’Orleans show him up.”

“Has to one up him.” Edgar shoveled some eggs. “Confederacy had a $50,ooo reward for a working submarine.”

“Greybacks. Worth about a buck fifty.”

Edgar and Bill chuckled.

“Then Hundley drowned and the war ended on him.” Bill sipped his coffee.

“Union woulda taken it, if they’d a known it was there.”

On display beside Bayou St. John, 1890s

“Jones was a proud man.”

“And crazy.” Edgar finished his eggs, pulled a handkerchief from his pocked, and wiped his face.

“We’ve established that.” Bill put down his empty cup, and waved off a thin, older woman in a plaid apron who was coming to refill it. “No thanks, Velma, honey.”

“So the story goes Jones hid the thing in some backwater around here.”

“Took it out at night, once in a while, when the old rebels would get together to reminisce.”

“Would fire off that cannon.”

“Yep. The South did occasionally rise again, if only from two fathoms down.”

They laughed again.

I tried to process this information. “So a crazy old man had a home-built submarine from the Civil War hidden in the Mississippi, that he took out at night for old time sake – and nobody noticed?”

“That’s what I heard.” Velma cleared the formica table. I put a hand over my still-untouched orange juice.

“Left it to his son, who left it to his, and so on down the line.” Bill mopped his brow. The day was growing hot, humid, and still.

“Asked ol’ Caleb Jones about it, one time, he weren’t sayin’ nothin’.”

“Last time anybody owned up to seeing it was maybe, what, ’87?”

“Until last week.”

“The barge pilot will confirm this?” I asked.

“Hank? Hell, no.” Bill asserted. “It’s his barge, he’ll want to pretend nothing happened rather than own up to running into a bridge like the damn fool he is.”

“Maybe he’d confirm that catfish,” Edgar mused. “A big ‘un. Huge.”

“Right. That somehow disappeared just as I turned around.”

“Couldn’t hold ’em! I got distracted by the submarine!”

Flash Fiction: Unwanted

“Let’s just do it, man.”

That’s Jeremy, just do it. Just tinker up some trash and head for the stars.

What, I’m gonna say ‘no’?

We headed out to the Strew, started rounding up some trash, see if it’s doable.

“Whoa, man, this looks like an Hitachi 2800X T-drive.”

Jeremy had climbed over the wreckage of a mid-2000s micro factory rig. Those things had gotten dropped in the Strew like last week’s guacamole, generally intact, a hundred robot arms akimbo. Obsolete overnight. Sometimes, you could pull some sweet servos, maybe an idiot AI unit from those things, but mostly they got incorporated into Burning Men, ‘art’ for the sake of bored wack jobs. They were everywhere, the rigs and the wack jobs.

But a T-drive? Intact or close? That’s something!

“Take a look, man!” Jeremy had climbed down into what looked like a shallow crater, at the bottom of which lay a chunk of the smooth composite skin of a Lifter, maybe late 90s vintage. Peeking out from under one end was the unmistakable stylized “2800X” of an Hitachi T-drive, embossed on the slick black sheath of a thruster cowling.

I was impressed.

“So let’s get this junk off it, man, take a look.” I was trying to sound casual. Jeremy has a death lock on the out of control enthusiasm part of our friendship. I’m supposed to be the cooler head.

If the 2800X works, this whole thing works. Or should.

“Johnny-Bees is on it,” Jeremy said as he squinted and nodded into some invisible heads-up display. In a minute, a swarm of lifting drones appeared, and quickly arranged themselves to spell out “Johny-Bees” in a swirling light show, while blasting his theme song, some relic from the 50s – the *1950s*. The drones descended on the junk pile, and quickly removed the trash obscuring the T-drive. Then, with a flourish and a blazing guitar lick, they were gone.

“I promised him a six-pack,” Jeremy watched the swarm disappear over an horizon of broken machinery.

“We’re going to need Syd on this.” I clambered down to the T-drive.

“Why her? She’s a pain.”

“I heard that!” A voice was heard in the wilderness. A lone drone hovered a hundred meters up. “Now you’re going to have to talk real nice to me, if you want my help.”

Jeremy and I exchanged glances. “Is Johnny-Bees broadcasting this?” I asked no one in particular. A couple guitar notes confirmed. Well, at least only the usual suspects, the folks we’ve goofed with, are likely to be on Johnny’s feed. And we’ll need their help, so it’s cool, I guess.

The reason the 2800X is such a great find is that you can reason with its AI. Most of these old space rigs have either idiot AIs or military, and you’re lucky you if you can even strike up a conversation. Stories say some of the old space force units will kill you if you even try; nobody I know has ever tried. But an old Hitachi? Practically invite you in for tea.

It’s a few steps from getting one to talk, which any fool can do, to getting one to power you to the stars, which takes some finesse. That’s where Syd comes in.

I found a port, jacked in, hooked up some audio – never pass up a chance to learn, that’s practically the motto of us slappers – and talked nice to Syd. “OK, dearest Syd, I’m talking nice – can you see if this rig works, and get it to play with us? Pretty please?” I added, “I know you’re the best on all the interwebs, a legend, no one else…”

“Cut the crap.” She was on board, dying to strut her stuff. To be honest, she really is the best at this, she could talk an old industrial AI into a foot rub and making her a cup of coffee. At least.

Syd did some fiddling. “Hello sweetheart, how you doin’?”

The Hitachi AI spun back to life, after lo these decades of sleep.

“Well, thank you.” The AI spoke in a standard feminine voice, known for reasons lost in time as the Majel.

“Listen, honey, I’d like you to run a date check, tell me when we are.”

Pause. “2146. April.”

“That’s plenty, thank you. So, sweetheart, what’s your name?

“Roxanne. May I ask you name?”

“Sure thing, Roxanne. I’m Syd. Would you mind if I called you Roxi?”

The back and forth continued for almost an hour. Syd first had the AI figure out how long it had been inactive, what this meant about its mission, had it look up the companies and people it had worked for, had it survey the surrounding area, all the while expressing sympathy and concern. These old Hitachi units were built during a time when hyperrealism was all the rage, when the jocks thought they could code in intuition. With the proper approach, you could talk them into doing what you wanted, just so long as you didn’t trigger any safety protocols.

Jeremy, who had little patience with this sort of stuff, got some other slappers to help him identify and gather other pieces. Lifting drones were deployed across the Strew. Scans were run. There were inevitable distractions.

“Dudes! There’s a *Chevy* *Impala* in here! Almost intact!” gushed a slapper going by Dogberry, whom everyone assumed was a kid.

“What the hell’s a Chevy?”

At the same time, the CADdies were generating mods and modeling up transition pieces. Arguments, banter, really, broke out over proposed solutions.

“Sure, you can fab a slab that’ll get that Medex unit to stick to the Hitachi, but it will look like crap.”

“What are you gonna do, paste a navsys on the nose?”

“A big gross flyin’ GI-tract!”

“C’mon, man, it meets spec. It’ll look funky-cool.”

“Sure. Stick the head on the fuel tanks. Have to suit up to take a leak.”

“Speaking of – anybody looking for some suits?”

Drones were dropping off finds. I threw up a holo of the CADdies’ ideas. The image changed as the polling numbers came in. I froze a few I liked. Nothing I saw was going to win any beauty contest. But, so far, it was looking doable: a functional spaceship from a couple centuries of trash and abandoned scrap.

“Wow! Found an old Mech-era envirosys, off a cruiser!” one of the drone pilots chimed in. “You boys think you might want to take a 100 of you close personal friends to Arcturus?”

“The Hitachi could power that, but just barely,” a CADdie offered. “Spec says you could do it. I wouldn’t.”

Syd broke in. “Well, you doofs, I’ve convinced Roxi here to take you to the stars. Roxi, meet Steve and butt-face.”

Jeremy sighed. “See? What did I say about her?”

“Careful, monkey-boy. Show some respect. I could probably convince my new bestie Roxi here to drop you off in deep space someplace.”

“Hello?” Roxi said. “I don’t think I should drop Mr. Butt-Face off in deep space, Syd. It would not be proper. Do you really want me to?”

“See?” Syd triumphed. “I better hear some grovelling from certain parties…”

In the end, we skipped the huge envirosys, went with something off an old space yacht. Sleep 10 comfortably, although only Jeremy and I seemed committed to the trip. I’ll probably miss them, even if Jeremy is the only one I’ve seen face to face.

We were able to find everything we needed on the Strew. The CADdies estimate about 2 weeks for assembly, using a couple recycled assemblers the lifting drone team had found. The best antimatter factor we could find will take almost a month to fuel us up anyway, so that’s not a problem. In the meantime, the team would occupy itself with fighting over suggestions on furnishings and decorations – an exercise in good-natured mockery.

Roxi was running diagnostics. She seemed in good shape, just a little slow and underpowered by modern standards. She would incorporate the infotech systems of the other components as they were added, all, in the end, becoming her. Then she could fly us anywhere we might want to go. All for free, not counting the six pack Jeremy promised Johnny-Bees.

It’s crazy the stuff people will throw away. But when they took to space, they threw away a whole planet, I guess.

Blank Slates, State of Nature, Pestalozzi & Rorschach Tests

Ah! Not only am I reformatting a work – J. A. Green’s The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi – because I found the online sources almost unreadable – I’m going down endless rabbit holes, looking up people, places, historical events, ideas, books, etc., as they come up in the text. So far, I’m only about 35 pages into what will end up, once reformatted, as a 150 or so Google docs page book (maybe 300 pages in a traditional format?). But there are nuggets.

I confess to an intellectual shortcoming (one of many, not even counting ones I don’t know I don’t know): I take undue delight when I find a scholar agreeing with something I figured out. I mean, I should hope other people see what I see, but it’s nice to see it in print.

Case in point: Pestalozzi saw his life’s work not so much as addressing the immediate needs of abandoned and orphaned children as solving some ancient intractable problem with education. Therefore, in some ways his practical examples, the schools he actually ran according to his poorly-articulated principles, are considered by him the true illustration of his point. Yet this didn’t stop him and his followers from writing ideas out, ideas so uniformly vague and conflicting that they became little more than a Rorschach test for later ‘educators’.

This passage in Object Lessons: How Nineteenth-Century Americans Learned to Make Sense of the Material World, by Sarah Anne Carter, says it more politely:

(I stumbled across this passage in this interesting sounding book while searching for something else, but the book is just a little bit too far outside the target for me to have time to read it. Sigh.)

“This imprecision also offered ample opportunity for the next generation of educators to put his ideas into action in a range of ways.” Right. Fichte, who it turns out met Pestalozzi in 1793 and encouraged him to write out his philosophy of education, by 1808 can recommend Pestalozzian schooling as the panacea for all that ails Germany, with *slight* modifications: the state replaces the family entirely, not because the family is absent, but because the family always mis-educated the child in loyalties other than that due the state (hint: all and absolute). Pestalozzi’s focus on educating children in valuable skills so that they can take a suitable place in society needs to be flipped: the state will determine what it needs the properly-trained products of its schools to do.

I’m looking for evidence Pestalozzi rejected this interpretation, as he far outlived Fichte and lived through the first implementations of Prussian schooling modeled after Fichte’s ideas, largely by Fichte himself through the agency of the newly-founded University of Berlin where he was rector. Pestalozzi was a near-legend of impolitic behavior (one source of his repeated failures anytime he had to work with people who were not his hand-picked padawans), so I’d be nearly compelled to believe he approved if he didn’t publicly disagree. We’ll see.

Pestalozzi’s How Gertrude Teaches Here Children, called by Green “by far the most important of his writings,” meanders about without saying much of anything, except reiterating the central role of mothers in the education of the children – the one thing Fichte is clear he is against. Rather than mothers being the first and finest and essential teachers, they, along with fathers and family in general, are for Fichte the problem. Fichte doesn’t suggest helping mothers do a better job, rather, he wants the state to take children away from their mothers as early as possible.

Pestalozzi is routinely called a Romantic, was expressly a follower of the ideas expressed in Rousseau’s Emile (ick) and therefore takes a ‘state of nature is better and purer than the civilizations that muck it up’ approach. To be fair, he seems more particular in his criticism: he’s dealing with the specific shortcomings of the war-torn civilization of Switzerland in the decades surrounding the turn of the 19th century. When you end up with scores of orphaned or abandoned starving children wandering the streets as a result of ongoing wars, and have church and state largely impotent to do anything about it, it would be easy to get a little down on so-called civilization. At one point, Pestalozzi did manage to gather the local orphans together into an old convent, only to have French soldiers return, commandeer the orphanage, and throw him and the children out. Once the French were done ‘living off the land’ – seizing all the food they could steal from an already starving population – they left. But the local authorities refused to let him reopen his orphanage…

So, yes, civilization as locally manifested didn’t seem to do much good for any but the top few percent of the people. Pestalozzi to his credit focused on addressing the specific civilizational shortcomings – e.g., lack of family, moral compass, food, a sense of belonging and being loved – that left children starving in the streets and ill-equipped for any decent place in society if they somehow survived.

Fichte at least functionally is a blank slater: he is going to make children into whatever the state needs.

Onward!

Education History: Thinking Through Chapter 2 (or maybe 3): the Great Catholic Schooling Tradition

Finished up The Protestant Crusade, about which I’ll need to do one more post about how schooling plays into it. At the moment, I’m working on The Educational Ideas of Pestalozzi by J. A. Green, published in 1906. The formatting/readability of the available online versions I’ve been able to scrounge up is so poor I did a copy/paste from a (254 pp! Although it will probably be more like 150 pp when I’m done.) PDF, dumped it into a Google doc, resized the text, and am cleaning it up as I read. Lots of bad character reader artifacts, weird imbedded formatting that doesn’t want to be overridden, unpleasant line breaks – yet, fixing it is still probably more efficient than trying to plow through the messes I could find online. When I’m done, I should find a way to make it available, for the next schmuck who would want to read it. (in the words of Shrek: yea, like that’s gonna happen.)

Next up: I have a series of dead tree editions of biographies and works by and about the great Catholic educators: Don Bosco, Elizabeth Anne Seton, Jean Baptiste de la Salle. I need some on Drexel and Montessori. And, as is always the case, I’ll undoubtedly come across others as I read. A blessing and a curse.

The book will have a chapter or two on the educational beliefs, goals, and practices of the great Catholic teachers, including those mentioned above. I have collected quotations from other, earlier teachers as well. Then there’s the writings of the Catholics contemporary with the rise of the public and parochial schools here, chief among whom are Hecker and Brownson. Got a bunch of materials online for this, only skimmed so far. References are made by these writers to statements by the Pope and bishops – need to dig those up, too.

Image result for st jerome
The J-Man had some things to say about education. Given he may have been the best educated man among a bunch of highly educated men, probably a good idea to hear him out.

Unfortunately, I’m only a medium reader, not one of those who can rip through 100 pp/hour. I’m more a 30-35 pp/hr guy, much slower when taking notes as I am now. So – yea, big task. But surprisingly fun! I’ve slowly come to realize I enjoy reading history, science, philosophy and biography more, in general, than I enjoy reading fiction. Yes, I’m odd.

For the more popular book, my goal is to show how the great Catholic tradition in education is not linked to the graded classroom model except accidentally. For the planned more scholarly work, I want to trace the evolution of acceptance of the graded classroom model under the influence of the Catholic immigrant/outsider desire to fit in. Being as good as the public schools is a recurring theme, when being vastly better, and better by Catholic standards, should be the goal.

Education Reading Update: Hecker, Schlegel, and Fichte

The rabbit holes are infinite and eternal. Well, maybe not that bad, but, Lord, it isn’t good.

Trying to get my head around 19th century American Catholicism, in order to have some feel for how Catholics viewed education. Don’t need to become an expert, just know enough that I don’t make obvious and avoidable errors.

The two biggest names in mid-19th century American Catholicism are, it appears, Orestes Brownson and Thomas Hecker. They were friends, both converts from rather rigorous or at least enthusiastic Protestantism, Brownson from Calvinist Presbyterianism, Hecker from Methodism. From my modern perspective, which I am trying to make better informed, I would classify those two origins as pseudo intellectual dogmatic nonsense and mush-headed touchy-feely nonsense. While that’s sort of what they look like today, minus the numerous fractures and branches into other, more trendy (until they aren’t) errors, I suspect but am not yet confident that description more or less holds for the 1820s as much as the 2020s.

I mention the above because, as I read them, these Protestant roots and habits of thought, especially as shaped by the post-Revolutionary and post-Civil War American experiences, seem to color everything. There is an optimism in these writers that appears almost insane from a modern perspective, along with that American distrust of authority that Brownson seems to deal with more realistically than Hecker. The big questions here are how widespread these attitudes were – I’d bet, pretty widespread, given the stature of Hecker and Brownson in 19th century American Catholic intellectual life – and how much these attitudes influenced Catholic thinking on education.

Brownson I’ve discussed much here. He was prolific, meaning I’ve only read a tiny fraction of his output. Fortunately, the Brownson Society has put his publications online, indexed them, and included the topic ‘education’ in that index – reducing the amount of essential Brownson reading to maybe a 100 more pages. Not that reading more would hurt, but must prioritize if I hope to get these books done in this lifetime.

Servant of God Rev. Isaac Thomas Hecker is the real puzzler. He founded both a religious order – the Paulists – and a magazine – The Catholic World. That magazine ran for over 130 years, and published many essays by Brownson, and more by Hecker. (Rabbit Hole Alert: the very first issue, from April of 1865, has an essay entitled The Christian Schools of Alexandria. Too much to read!).

The very first Hecker I’m reading is from The Church and the Age, a set of 12 of his essays taken from The Catholic World. As mentioned in my end of the year recap post, Hecker both praises obedience to the Church and Pope, and claims that an emphasis on obedience in response to Protestant disobedience has lead to the current effeminate state European Catholicism. We Americans can fix this by paying more attention to the Spirit. It’s a case where the rhetorical arrangement of ideas all but forces a conclusion that contradicts what, on the surface, is the argument. In this case, nothing could be more traditional and orthodox than a call to a greater commitment to the life of the Spirit, but by opening with a paen of sorts to obedience, and a rousing defence of the 1st Vatican Council’s declaration of Papal infallibility, such a call comes off as a criticism of obedience. If, instead, the call to a more spiritual life had merely, in the course of things, mentioned that the Spirit necessarily works through the Magisterium, such that there is no possibility that the impulses of the Spirit would ever direct one against obedience to Christ’s Church, and just left it at that, no issues would ever have been raised. But Hecker at the same time discusses the sorry state of European Catholicism and damns with effusive praise, so to speak, obedience. The inescapable conclusion is that less obedience is what is required if we (Americans) are to escape the effeminate state of European Catholicism, even if he tiptoes around actually saying as much.

On the bookshelf, staring down at me, is The Protestant Crusade, which I have barely started, along with biographies of Seton, Barnard, LaSalle, Bosco, and other educators, as well as books on education by Barnard, Piaget, and others, next to many books of criticism from the likes of Gatto. On the Kindle or my laptop are works by Fichte, Pestalozzi, Rousseau, Torrey Harris, etc., as well as various works referenced in Walch’s Parish School , including the indispensable The Catholic School System In The United States: Its Principles, Origin, And Establishment by J. A Burns. And then there’s more general references, such as Plato’s Republic and Marrou’s History of Education in Antiquity. Then comes all the snippets, links, essays, and articles on my laptop.

Image result for isaac thomas hecker
Hecker’s beard is beyond reproach, I’ll grant.

And I add to this every time I sit down to read: Hecker mentions Schlegel, a German literary critic and philosopher and another convert, who shares Hecker’s conviction that this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius, so to speak:

“We are about to see,” said Schlegel, “a new exposition of Christianity, which will reunite all Christians and even bring back the infidels themselves.”

Hecker, the Church and the Age

What we got instead was the oldest of old-school powers doing their thing in the Concert of Europe followed by a century of ideologically-driven global war and genocide, build upon foundations laid by the same group of German philosophers to which Schlegel belonged: Kant, Fichte and Hegel.

So now I’ve dug up some stuff on Schlegel, throw it on the pile. The very next sentence:

“This reunion between science and faith,” says the Protestant historian Ranke, ” will be more important in its spiritual results than was the discovery of a new hemisphere three hundred years ago, or even than that of the true system of the universe, or than any other discovery of any kind whatever.”

Image result for ranke
Ranke looks like a refugee from a Dickens Faire. Which makes sense, given when he lived…

So, who’s this Ranke fellow? Leopold von Ranke, 1795 – 1886) was a German philologist, historian, and devout Lutheran. (1) He was appointed to the University of Berlin in 1824 by the Minister of Education – yep, that University of Berlin, the first modern research university, set up by von Humboldt a decade earlier. Von Humboldt, you recall, was a major Fichte fanboy, and, put in charge of Prussian education reform, installed the state-controlled age-segregated graded classroom model proposed by Fichte. He appointing Fichte to be head of the Philosophy faculty at the University; Fichte was elected rector the next year. More materials to read.

Then, reading about Ranke, I run into Julian Nida-Rümelin, a living German public intellectual (I guess they still have those in Germany?). He’s a critic of modern education, although it seems a weak one – he doesn’t advocate burning the whole thing to the ground, as I do. In reading just the brief Wiki article on him, I come across the Bologna Process, which is not only a way to turn scraps of meat into a theoretically edible substance, but is also an EU committee instituted to standardize higher education….

Ah! The dreaded Black Rabbit Hole of Despair! It’s all so interesting…

I’ve been cutting and pasting passages as I go, and will end up with a huge electronic pile of index cards. For the first book, which is directed to a more general audience, I’m not going to need much of it, but for the more scholarly back-up book, I will.

The Education References project, to become a page on this blog, inches forward.

1. Aside: in my ongoing efforts to blame everything on Luther, I note here how many wacky thinkers come out of the Lutheran theological tradition. This would be an effect, I should think, of trying to make sense of the L-Man, whose mythology doesn’t quite comport with the foul-mouthed, petty, scandalously heretical (e.g., asserting Jesus had lots of adulterous sex) and largely incoherent mad man his copious writing reveal. I’ve long wondered if Hegel’s motivation in replacing being with becoming isn’t a result of his noting that, if logic holds and truth is eternal, Luther is a raving lunatic.

A Personal Archaeological Coincidence (and pictures of bricks!)

A few weeks ago, some observations and advice crossed my Twitter feed (yes, I have a Twitter account. So sue me.) about how, as a man, to work more effectively. It came from Adam Lane Smith, writer of Maxwell Cain: Burrito Avenger and the Gideon Ira novels, whose day gig is psychological therapist.

The advice involved recognizing and capitalizing on the single-track nature of how men work, and building rituals and habits to enhance focus and eliminate distractions, and was just the little extra push I needed at the moment. So, I cleaned up my home office, which I’d allowed to get so cluttered that it had been unusable for about a year.

Some of the clutter consisted of boxes of old paper and files that had followed me around for decades. I bit the bullet and dug in, determined to find an appropriate place to file this stuff, with a bias toward the trash can.

Well. The oldest stuff was from college, and included the first serious musical composition I’d ever tried. It was hilarious in one way: the style changed not once, but twice between the opening and conclusion: I was figuring out stuff as I went, and incorporating it on the fly.

I have a file for such things. Filed it.

Then came writings dating back to the late 1980s. At least three novels in various stages – an outline, a couple chapters, a bunch of chapters – and a half dozen short stories. Also a letter from a professional writer-friend critiquing one of the short stories, a copy of which I did not find.

Finally, I found these:

Some clippings from the Sante Fe Reporter from December 14, 1983, announcing the upcoming Christmas Concert of the Santa Fe Women’s Ensemble, directed by Suzanne MacLean, who was my composition teacher at the time.
From the above piece.
This is from the same reporter, a few days later, a review of the concert.

While I remember the concerts well, and remember getting the review, I had forgotten what the reviewer had actually said. At the age of 25, I had found a composition teacher in Santa Fe, who also happened to be the founding director of the Santa Fe Women’s Ensemble, one of a number of pro and semi-pro classical musical groups in Santa Fe back then. While in 1983 Santa Fe had only about 40,000 residents, it punched way above its weight musically: in addition to the famous Santa Fe Opera, which attracted talent from opera companies around the world, there were at least 2 professional orchestras and 2 professional choirs, in addition to the Chorus of Santa Fe community choir (which I sang in sometimes) and the semi-pro Women’s Ensemble: Suzanne had assembled a group from the hired gun singer community, the kind of people you can throw music at and have it sung well with minimal practice.

Earlier that year, Suzanne had offered a once-a-week class in composition; I signed up along with a few other people. A few sessions in, she gave an assignment where we were to write a short composition using only ii-V-I chords. I was spending that week in Eugene, OR, and had no access to a piano, so I wrote something for piano and voice directly to paper and hoped it was OK. It came out well, and Suzanne offered to take me on for private lessons. She told me that if I wrote something for the Women’s Ensemble, they’d perform it.

So I did, a 3-minute loing Kyrie in 4 parts, SSAA. I knew in advance that normal voicing rules didn’t really apply – these gals were pros, and could sing very high, and very low. So I pushed things a little. The Kyrie section is very much polyphonic, but more after the modal fashion of Faure than classic Palestrina style. She liked it, but told me to cut loose on the Christe as a contrast. I was doubtful, but did it: it’s a bunch of very dense chords moving in a funky chromatic manner – you want contrast? I’ll show you contrast! – brought back around to F for a near-repeat of the Kyrie, in the traditional manner. Some soprano got to sing an a above the staff, mezzo-piano, and hold it for a while. Good times.

I know I have a recording, but can’t lay my hands on it. It’s in The Pile somewhere. When I find it, I’ll throw it up here for your listening pleasure.

After that concert, my next assignment caught me a little off-guard: Suzanne told me to write a string quartet after the style of Mozart. Um, what? This blue-collar kid from SoCal had never intentionally listened to string quartets, Mozart’s or otherwise…

But before I got too far, I had an opportunity to move to Albuquerque and attend an art school, where I could get piano lessons as part of the schooling and would have access to a nice grand to practice on. The piano teacher, Matalie Wham, was awesome, still the best I’d ever had. She is a tall as me – 6′ 2″ – with huge hands, and damn, she could play. I was blessed to study with her.

So I did that, and lost touch with Suzanne. For the next 4-5 months, I practiced anywhere from 5 to 10 hours a day. At the end, I knew that, if I stuck it out for another year or two, I could be good. My meager skill on the piano all traces back to this period.

But the art school was becoming intolerable. The director was, frankly, a sociopath, and many of the people there – it was a tiny school – were, let’s say, less than stable. Nowhere to hide. So I left, and signed up for classes at UNM. A few months of deliveries for Fox Foto and living in a freezing converted cinder block garage, and I’d really had it. My beloved future wife lived in Santa Fe, we saw each other only rarely (an hour drive each way, so weekends, pretty much), and I was burned out. So I packed my few belongings and a cat into my car, and headed back to SoCal, to get a job, settle down, with the goal of getting my beloved to marry me.

The whole marriage thing worked out very well, but I had to pretty much kill any musical dreams I had. Off and on, I directed and sang in some choirs, played in a coupole rock bands. But rock was never really my thing, and I frankly have very meager skill as a performer. I wrote some rock songs, but stayed away, mostly, from composing. Around age 40, 20 years ago, I found a composition teacher and signed up for some lessons, but we really didn’t hit it off.

A couple years ago, as my job started its death spiral, I started coming home from work and heading straight to the piano, and playing for an hour or two. Took out Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique, and some Joplin rags, and had at it. This is the most I’d played since my time with Matalie. (The Beethoven was and is way over my head, BTW, but I can sorta hack my way through it.)

Here’s the coincidence part: Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco has founded the Benedict XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship. This institute sponsors the Benedict XVI vocal ensemble (16 members, get it?), a very impressive professional group of singers, under the direction of Richard Sparks.

The Benedict XVI performed settings of the O Antiphons as part of an Advent prayer service lead by the Archbishop at beautiful St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park.

St. Patrick’s Seminary Chapel. Sorry for the poor picture quality. Under Archbishop Cordileone, old artwork – those angels, for example – are being retrieved from storage and put back where they belong. Unfortunately, the glorious main altar, removed years ago after V-II, has somehow disappeared…

It was awesome. In his opening comments, Richard Stark mentioned that they would be singing each of the traditional chant settings of the O Antiphons, followed by a choral setting, except in the case of the O Clavis David, where he had been unable to find a suitable setting.

Well.

So, for the first time in years, I grabbed some music paper and a couple of pencils, went to the piano, and started pounding away at a vocal setting. First, I printed out the texts and chant settings, sang through them a few times, made some notes on texts and music (the ‘O’ is set the same in all 7 chants; the ‘Veni’ is identical in all but one; each contains the same ascending climax figure; each ends with nearly identical cadences. And so on.)

I’ve gotten half way through a very rough draft of O Clavis David; plan is to set all 7, using related themes and treatments, but with unique twists to each, such that the whole represents a culmination and single statement.

Hey, dream big.

(Note: I’m working on the education history book in the afternoon, after spending the morning job hunting. Composing happens in my spare time, and will not interfere with other activities. )

On an unrelated note, while I have done no work on the Eternal Brick Project since the end of summer, a nice bit of moss has started growing on the path to front porch, and it looks cool!

Outlining Non-Fiction: 2 Proposed Books on Catholic Education

In the comments a couple posts back, regular commenter Richard A said I should finish the nonfiction books I’ve sort of started. This is fair. So, to recap what I hope to accomplish: for many years now, I’ve wanted to address my despair over Catholic education in this country, and suggest (too mild a term) steps needed to free ourselves from this unholy thralldom to education theories and practices that are not only not Catholic, but were designed specifically to destroy the influence of Church and family on the formation of children.

In my mind, this would take the form of 2 books, which would then form the backbone of efforts to get invited to conferences, get interviewed, and whatever other forms of publicity needed to get these ideas out there.

Book 1: the popular plea. This would be a shorter, less academic book intended to be read by anybody interested in Catholic education. It would include more stories and examples, less history and quotations. It still needs to undermine the foundations of the wretched graded classroom model, and sow the seeds of a truly Catholic education model, where child, Church and family work together to put children on the road to their own unique God-given sanctity. A Catholic education should equip every child to defend the Truth and rebuild the culture (an eternal task given to every generation). It might, for example, tell the story of the early Spanish schools in Texas, as an example of how others have tried to address these issues and of a radically different model, but would not include too much detail on the evolution and promulgation of that particular model.

The goal of Book 1: to help people realize that, for Catholics, rejecting the age-graded, teacher-dominated, regurgitation model is the essential 1st step toward any Catholic education worthy of the name. I’d then present (generally much milder) criticisms of other models, and suggest alternatives, and end with a description of what I’ll call the Oratory-style Catholic school I’d like to see.

Book 2: the bomb. This book would attempt to simply detonate all the assumptions behind modern schooling, from a Catholic perspective. I’d go through each of the founding lights of modern education, from the Spartans through the ephebia, the ‘schools’ of Athens and Alexandria, on to the monasteries, the universities, Luther’s suggestion the the state seize the monasteries and turn them into compulsory schools, to Pestalozzi, Fichte, the various English schools, Dickens’ Hard Times, then on through Mann, Barnard, Cubberley, and Harris, etc.. Then on through the Catholic parish school movements, and Burns and the people at Catholic U, and Bishop Ireland and the runs-ins caused by his endorsement of public schools, the encyclicals against Modernism, discussion of Modernism and the heresy of American Catholicism (versus a Catholicism that happens to be in America), and the near-desperate desire of immigrants to be seen as good Americans and the dolorous effects this desire produced, and the persecuted Germans fleeing to America and bringing their Prussian model school system with them.

Then outline the ongoing efforts to make Catholic schools illegal, or, failing that, to put them effectively at the mercy of the state (the first failed, so far, but the second is where we are today: states will start mandating transgender sex ed, and the legal framework is in place to force Catholic schools to implement it).

Somewhere in there would be a discussion of ‘scientific’ education practices, and how, in fact, there is no scientific support for the current model, and plenty of science that argues against it. (Of course, one has to state goals first – science as science doesn’t have any goals.)

The goal of this book would simply be to provide the background detail needed to buttress the arguments in the first book.

I’ve drafted a few chapters here and there. Some of the posts on this blog are approximately rough drafts of some. But I need to get much more organized.

I need to do some outlining somewhere. Why not here? Rough draft:

Book 1: Let the Little Children Come: Towards More Catholic Schoolings

Intro: “Let the little children come to Me”

  1. Christ is attractive: ‘let,’ not ‘make,’ the little children come.
  2. The goal of Catholic education is not different from the goal of Catholic life: Everything flows from and is directed toward the Eucharist.
  3. We educate our children to be more fully members of the Body of Christ;
  4. Catholic education is not job training. Being ‘productive members of society’ is not primary – our God-given value is much more fundamental than our ability to produce, and does not depend on it.
  5. Thus, a Catholic school and the education it provides will allow children to be welcomed by Jesus, be directed toward and flow from the Eucharist, and will see in each child as a unique child of God apart from and prior to anything they can do.
  6. Catholic education will necessarily reject anything that interferes with any of the above.

Chapter 1: The State of Affairs

  1. Where our current system comes from
  2. What our current system is designed to do, in the words of the people who built it.
  3. Our parish schools built in response to the blatant and relentless anti-Catholicism of the public schools
  4. How the Church won battles and lost the war.
Image result for monastery library

Chapter 2: Educational traditions other than the age-segregated graded classroom (touching very lightly)

  1. Jewish schools
  2. Ephebia
  3. The Greek ‘schools’ – Plato, Aristotle, the schools of Alexandria
  4. Tutors
  5. Apprentices
  6. Monasteries
  7. The Great Universities – the Questions method, the trivium and quadrivium.
  8. One-Room Schools
Image result for University of Oxford

Chapter 3: Experimentation & Bad Ideas

  1. Sparta & the Republic
  2. Luther
  3. Pestalozzi
  4. Fichte

Chapter 4: The Modernist Foundation

  1. Von Humboldt & the Prussian Models
  2. Horace Mann & the American Dilettante Invasion of Prussia
  3. Back Rooms and the Establishment of State Education Departments
  4. The Killing of the One Room Schools
  5. The Frankfurt School & Critical Theory
  6. Bella Dodd
  7. Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed
  8. The Mask has been dropped – this whole system must be rejected
Image result for one room schoolhouse

Chapter 5: Catholic Educational Traditions

  1. St. Jerome’s advice to a woman asking how best to educate her daughter
  2. Christian Brothers
  3. Salesians
  4. Waves of Sisters & the Parish School
  5. Montessori
  6. Observation: education of the orphaned and abandoned child is different than education a child as part of a family: the former must provide the structure present in the latter before education can take place.

Chapter 6: The Eucharistic Approach to Education

Comments? I’ll get to Book II soon, I hope.

Flash Fiction: Datakill

(Let’s try something completely different. For me, at least. I have no idea what I’m doing here…)

“We need 11 seconds.”

No, he thought, you don’t need anything. You want me to murder a little girl.

Part of the Plan was that he, Vlad Alexander, knew only very little of the Plan. It was also probable that most of what he ‘knew’ was incorrect. He operated in a gray area straddling the cyber and human domains. Somewhere, other people knew some aspects of the Plan as it concerned their expertise in the air, land, sea, and space domains, little pieces of truth mixed with nonsense. They had all been trained to execute baffling assignments that meant nothing to them.

Vlad Alexander did not want to murder a little girl. The only reason he had been given was that the murder, executed in precisely the manner and at exactly the specified time, would buy 11 critical seconds for the Plan. Perhaps it was telling that Ops had broken, if not protocol, certainly tradition, to tell him anything at all. Why had they done that? They certainly knew he would notice.

He was aware of things, some dimly, some crystal clear, that he might be better off not knowing. He had spent years training to see and use information, how it was obtained, stored, analyzed, disseminated, and used as a weapon. He had also spent years learning how people react to information. Sometimes, the right message delivered in the right way to the right people in the right order could be more devastating than a large-scale military attack. When an executive, say, bursts out of his office to see terrified looks on his office staff, or calls home only to hear his wife scared out of her wits, he is a much softer target, much more manipulatable, than if he thinks he knows a terrible secret he is protecting his people from. Sometimes, you need a riot to make a point, to shorten the decision window, to compel the right people to make the move you want.

Vlad Alexander arranged such panics, surprises and riots.

One thing Vlad Alexander knew was that his superiors in Ops viewed him as part of the information domain he was trained to use. Another thing he knew was that his emotional landscape, his loves and hates and predilections, were part of the human domain those same superiors used him to weaponize.

Ops had laid out the outline of a plan, leaving all details to Vlad. Vlad was more an expert on these things than his superiors. They knew that as well. When they ordered him to kill a little girl, they had a very good idea how he would react.

Vlad Alexander very much did not wish to kill a little girl.

Great composers generally use the second most likely device, familiar yet unexpected. The first time through, a work should sound surprising; subsequent hearings sound inevitable.

They would expect him to prepare. Vlad called Enrique, using a first level secure channel. A first level channel has almost certainly been hacked, meaning Vlad’s message could not appear critical or even coherent to third parties. Or that the message was intended to be heard by third parties.

“Hey, man, let’s grab a beer, catch up a little.” Vlad’s voice was even.

“Sure, man.” Enrique’s voice was equally bland. “The usual place? 5:00?”

“Can we do 4:00?”

“Man, I gotta work to 5:00. Maybe 4:30?”

“Make it 4:00, and I’ll make it worth your while.”

“Oooo-kay.” A slight hesitation. “I’ll see you at 4:00.”

Calling Enrique would be slightly unexpected, but well within normal parameters. Vlad headed out to the nonexistent usual place. He stopped at Sven’s Scandinavian Pastries on Wabash, under the elevated tracks. A Chinese man peered at him from over the display case in the tiny shop. “Hey, Gustav. Long time.”

“Week before last Wednesday.” The Chinese Gustav eyed him with a slight frown. “I’m not sure you’re being sufficiently discrete.”

“Can I use your restroom?”

“Customers only.”

“I’ll take a spandauer.” Gustav nodded, threw him a key and looked towards a curtained doorway.

Vlad unlocked a narrow door, and eased himself in. Opposite the toilet was another door. After locking that door behind him, Vlad sat in the one chair in front of what looked like a stack of vintage stereo equipment. He put on headphones and pulled from his jacket pocket a small plastic rectangle with a rat tail ending in a 1/4″ plug.

Helene Sachiko Bernatone watched the stray cats play and beg from her perch on a stone bench in the Boboli Gardens. The early fall sun was about to touch the treetops to the left of the Pitti Palace. Takashi should be arriving in a moment to take her to ballet lessons. Alone, she was nevertheless fearless. Hidden eyes watched her; hidden eyes watched everyone.

10 hours earlier, Vlad Alexander had popped out of existence. This was not usual for this stage of such assignments, but within the realm of reasonable. 11 hours. It was difficult, for someone who didn’t exist, to get from Chicago to Florence in 11 hours. He caused an airplane to pop out of existence, as far as anyone in Ops could tell.

Cameras, sensors, and satellites saw nothing when he covered the 50 meters from the hanger to the Tupolev TU-444. His presence did not register with the pilot, or any of the on-board systems. The plane was heading to Peretola, although he was the only one on board to know it. The Tupolev was outfitted in communication gear; with the help of Enrique, Gustav and 2 more contacts upon which he had bet his life, that communication gear had been taken off-off-grid.

Almost all comm traffic was machine-to-machine. Speaking from the system’s perspective, data was data, and humans were towering roadblocks to speed and efficiency. The Tupolev’s systems would give the other systems plenty of busywork. Vlad Alexander intended to keep the humans in the system busy as well. He knew about them what he knew about anyone he studied: their emotional landscapes, their loves and hates and predilections. He needed to keep them entertained for another 10 hours.

Image result for Tupolev TU-444

Vlad Alexander sure hoped Enrique had gotten the message. He hoped his contacts were what they seemed to be, but, again, seeing people for what they are is what he did, or a big part of it, at least. He got to work.

File:Pianta del buonsignori, dettaglio 228 fortezza di belvedere.jpg
I, Sailko [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

Helene had taken note of Takashi’s tardiness, but remained calm. Then she saw him walking briskly up the hill. He gave Helene a slight bow, and took her hand. “Miss Bernatone, your father has requested you to accompany me on an adventure. Will you please follow me?”

They proceeded together up the hill toward the Forte di Belvedere, a slight Japanese man and slender girl of 9. He touched his watch and ventured a slight look around. “The Medici, who constructed this garden and built this fort, were very much experts at subterfuge and secrecy, even by the standards of the Renaissance.” Takashi often filled their time together with little history lessons, which Helene generally enjoyed. He did not look nor act like Helene’s idea of a ninja, which is what the daughter of Chef had whispered her mother had told her he was. But wasn’t that exactly like a ninja? The Medici were not the only masters of subterfuge and secrecy.

The Tupolev landed without any notice taken by the Peretola tower. It taxied to a building off main runway, stopping just long enough for Vlad Alexander to deplane, and then took off again.

Inside the building stood three men. “Signor Bernatone sends his greetings,” said a large man in an apron, who looked like he’d just stepped away from making some porcetto. Which, given this topsy-turvy world, he just might have. “And his gratitude.” Vlad nodded. He hoped this gratitude would extend to keeping him alive and invisible for a few decades. He was now Out. The only question was if he were dead Out, or alive Out. The first was routine and often unexpected. The second was, by the nature of things, unheard of.

Enrique and Gustav had, of course, never explained their exit plans to Vlad; neither, of course, had the two others whose names he prudently didn’t know. He sure hoped they made it. He himself was at the mercy of Signor Bernatone. He knew his emotional landscape, his loves and hates and predilections. He had sorted them out from the purposeful and expert chaff meant to hide them. If Vlad Alexander had done his work well, Signor Bernatone was not the sort of man to kill a man who saved his daughter.

“I thought they built this for the view.” They had reached the top of the hill, and the tremendous panorama of Florence it provided. Takashi answered, “From here, the Medici Dukes could observe their offices at the Uffizi and the Palazzo Vecchio, the Pitti Palace and all roads leading into Florence. Forte di Belvedere is a difficult place to sneak up on.” Helene was listening while her eyes soaked up the landscape in the fading autumn light.

Image result for corot florence

They stood atop the point of one of the fortifications. A flicker, a subtle change in light, on the edge of perception such that you were not sure in the next moment that it had happened, radiated out across the landscape from where they stood. An utterly still moment passed. A light drizzle of what appeared to be insects and birds fell to the ground from trees and building facades, followed a moment later by a half dozen small drones in quick succession falling from the sky.

Takashi scanned the horizon without expression, and continued. “The Medici also put in various escapes and hidey-holes, ambushes and traps. From the time of Cosmo the Great, who had his grandson murdered in the Duomo, the family has taken steps.” He turned and took both her hands. “Your father, although only distantly related, has inherited their caution as well as much of their former empire.”

City lights which had just begun to illuminate the ancient city flickered then grew dark. An unearthly quiet, as if the trees themselves had paused to listen, veiled the city. Takashi whispered, “Follow me.”

(For reference. Miniaturization is not just for smart phones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOTYgcdNrXE&t=1325s )

WWII Bombers, the English, Recap, Links

Incoming Potpourri!

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-17. The Germans referred to them as ‘Flying Porcupines’ due to all the guns.

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.

Lancaster.

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.

Chesterton, St. Francis of Assisi

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.

ibid.

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.

D. This is funny.

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:

Prolegomenon to Any Future Old-School SF&F Adventure – the A. Merritt tribute opening;

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.

I’m not sure what to do at this point.

Quick Note on “Those Shoes”

In case all 14 of you are wondering: That little story began with me thinking about NBA shoe collectors. Yes, they really exist:

Johnson's shoe closet
Not a store. An NBA pro’s personal shoe collection.

So, in your standard post-Apocalypse setting, people scrounge stuff. Stuff that’s sort of tucked away in private homes might be a little more likely to survive than other stuff.

And rich women have been known to have a pair or 50 of cool kicks. So, there you go.