Music at Mass – road trip – 10/24/10

This past week, was out of town on business, attended Mass at a hip parish near the convention I was attending.

This parish had money – it’s in a resort town full of the kind of people who move some place to retire. (Aside – if I ever am so foolish to move away from where I’ve lived my life in order to retire with a bunch of elderly strangers, just shoot me.) The church building was in the modern ‘talk show set’ form factor, with amphitheater-style seating, huge speakers hung from the ceiling, an orchestra pit to the left for the musicians, and a tabernacle tucked away on the right so that, unless you were really looking, you’d never see it.  The sanctuary was dominated by a huge crucifix that looked like happy-bendy bronze Jesus sitting on the cross-piece of a giant upright X. His limbs were flat and twisted – the theological and artistic reasons for this are just one of the baffling items that we must accept, it seems, as mystery here. The quality of the structure and furnishings was high. Continue reading “Music at Mass – road trip – 10/24/10”


Guess where and when this little quote is from:

Against Homework

“A child who has been boxed up six hours in school might spend the next four hours in study, but it is impossible to develop the child’s intellect in this way. The laws of nature are inexorable. By dint of great and painful labor, the child may succeed in repeating a lot of words, like a parrot, but, with the power of its brain all exhausted, it is out of the question for it to really master and comprehend its lessons. The effect of the system is to enfeeble the intellect even more than the body. We never see a little girl staggering home under a load of books, or knitting her brow over them at eight o’clock in the evening, without wondering that our citizens do not arm themselves at once with carving knives, pokers, clubs, paving stones or any weapons at hand, and chase out the managers of our common schools, as they would wild beasts that were devouring their children.”

Curious? After the break:

Continue reading “Guess where and when this little quote is from:”

Another Basic Point about the Economy, or Today’s Downer

Do You Want to Know the Real Problem with Our Economy?

I’ll answer that rhetorical question right up front: no, you don’t. Because, fundamentally, what we consider our current high standard of living is based on almost everybody being consistently stupid, selfish and greedy. If too many Americans started acting reasonably, generously and with prudent frugality, our economy would collapse. Continue reading “Another Basic Point about the Economy, or Today’s Downer”

A Small Clarification

“Larger vehicles are safer.”

Um, no, they are not. Simple physics says: as a fragile human being, you’d want the roads populated by *less* massive vehicles, which cause *less* damage in accidents. If I’m worried about safety when I’m out driving, regardless of  whatever vehicle I personally am in, I want all the other vehicles on the road to be as small and light as possible – that way, if anyone hits me, I’m less likely to get hurt.

But that’s not what people mean – what they mean is: all other things being equal, *I* am safer in a bigger, heavier vehicle. Safer for me, maybe, but more dangerous for everybody else. But that’s their problem.

Yet another reason why if you look inside an needlessly huge personal vehicle, you’re likely to find a narcissist.

The Piano Lesson

Learning to play the piano is hard – it takes years of practice to get really good, and months of practice just to get to the point where you can even play a non-childish song or two.

Yet millions of people, over the years, have become quite good at the piano, almost without exception using more or less the same approach:

– Take lessons from a piano teacher for half an hour to an hour once a week or so;

– practice from 15 minutes to a half hour a day.

Following that method, you can pretty darn good in a few years. Of course, if you want to get really good, you eventually must ramp up the practice to several hours a day – but even without a grueling practice schedule, you can get pretty good at 30 minutes a day. You just have to be consistent about it for a number of years.

Now, it’s almost a truism that music and math are related talents. I’ve even heard it said that they are the *same* talent. Yet, with rare exceptions, we teach math – I should say, attempt to teach math, since it almost always fails – by lecturing to students as a group for 40 minutes to an hour day after day, year after year, then assigning math homework which, in high school, can run into several hours a night. We do not work one-on-one with a student for a limited time once a week and then give them lots of space to practice on their own, as we do with piano.

Oddly, we do use something much more like piano lessons to teach people in college – at least, the amount of time students get to work on their studies outside the classroom is more like the ratio of piano lessons than like high school. In grad school, it’s gets even less like high school and more like piano.

Once, on a business trip, I sat next to a man who was doing some really hairy wave function type math around some sort of sensor he was consulting on. I asked him how he learned all that math. He told a story of having joined the Navy, having gotten good scores on an aptitude test and getting assigned to work in the radio room. From there, he took whatever classes were available, worked his way through a number of increasingly technical jobs, adding, along the way, to his math chops – until, to my pretty-good-at-math eyes, he was a master.

His closing comment: ‘It’s just like leaning the piano – just do a little work on it every day, and you’ll get good at it.”


NYT reports today that European governments are now rejecting the Keynesian prescription to spend your way out of a recession/depression/panic economic bad thingie.

Now, I’m largely economically illiterate – read Adam Smith a couple times and took a few econ classes in business school – so I probably just missed this point. Simple question: what’s enough? I’ve never yet come across a formulation of the Keynesian policy that said: you can spend up to X or X% of Y or any limit whatsoever. Nope. Just spend.

So, if $1 in deficit spending is good, $10 is 10 times as good. If a trillion dollars is good, 2 trillion is way better! How about $10 trillion? $100 trillion? Seriously, not only have I never heard what the natural or logical limit to debt spending is, I’ve never heard any Keynesian argument that there even is a limit.

I’ll consider getting on board the good ship Keynes as soon as it’s clear where it’s planning to dock, or indeed clear it has any interest in docking at all.

Another Song from Mass 10/17/10

Parish A this week. Wading into the enigma shrouded in mystery wrapped in a ‘huh?’ that is: Marty Haugen.

Eye Has Not Seen

Eye has not seen,
ear has not heard
what God has ready
for those who love him;
Spirit of love, come,
give us the mind of Jesus,
teach us the wisdom of God.

Continue reading “Another Song from Mass 10/17/10”