Digging in Rock and Re-Learning the Stars’ Names

We spent all of July 3 and 4 in a house possessed of little furniture, as yet: a small table, three deck chairs, a pocket-sized refrigerator retrieved from a college dorm, and a cot (I slept in a bedroll on the floor).  By day, I spent most of my time swing-blading weeds that had grown waist-high since the construction crew last plowed an industrial mower through them (obviously months ago) and trying to pound holes in rock for my garden transplants.  The scything was urgent.  Wild critters tend not to approach a domicile too closely if you make and maintain a clearing, but they grow pretty bold if you have underbrush scratching at your windows.  As for the rocky soil, which thoroughly shocked me… I finally figured out that the builder had bored down to bedrock for the house’s foundation—good, very good—and had then simply strewn his stony shavings and scrapings all over the lot, to be kneaded into the red clay by massive treads.  Not so good.  And the same bulldozers had left piles of brush along the original clearing’s boundary rather than hauling off the deadwood.

I don’t know how much of such “minimalist” execution of duties is routine these days.  I recall my grandmother’s house in Austin, built in about 1875.  Yes, the floors creaked and the plumbing and electricity presented constant problems, even when I was a child; but the faux fireplaces were true works of art, and the plastering and wallpapering had lasted for decades without showing wear.  Frankly, the woodwork, for all its creaks, was sound and fresh.  All the corners joined.  In my new house, occasional stretches of molding are not even glued or nailed in along the floor.

I have to conclude that, a hundred years ago, people cared about the job they did.  They depended more on word-of-mouth advertising and repeat custom, true enough; but I also tend to believe that they just took more pride in their craft.  Now contractors are forced to engage gangs of laborers who move from job to job almost like gypsies, many speaking no English and having no sentimental tie to the region where this week’s contract takes them.  “In and Out” is apparently the name of a trendy hamburger franchise.  It might as well be the brand name of our entire private sector.

All of that having been said, I got a lot of satisfaction from clearing most of my “compound” out with my two hands in just a few hours.  I infinitely prefer such labor to pushing a snarly mower around the lawn, back and forth and forth and back, so that my curbside doesn’t embarrass the neighbors and draw a pink slip from the homeowners’ association.  The litter piles probably aren’t as bad as I’d thought at first.  I can burn the deadwood in a trench, little by little, and fertilize my grounds with the ashes.

Pounded rock and all, the soil in its present state hadn’t dissuaded most of my transplanted peanuts from greening up by the time we left.  (I’m going to let them stay in the ground and spread this fall; they’re my future protein source in the event of societal and infrastructural calamity.)  The Georgia rain had murdered two out of my three cactuses—but the antioxidant-rich prickly pear were booming along.  My blueberry and goji bushes were nestled in soft soil next to the house, safely within the deadly shoals created by the bulldozers.  They, too, would be fine in my absence.

On the outskirts of the rocky shoal, I at last found sufficient good dirt to plant my trees.  Oddly enough, the orange tree (which represents the last of any kind that I’ve been able to grow from grocery-store produce: GMO proponents take heed) seems to resist all efforts to kill it.  The pomegranates didn’t appreciate being blown about in a 70 mph wind for eleven hours… but some of them, too, will survive.  The pecan and apple had been dug up too soon in Texas, thanks to the builder’s continual fudging about our move-in date, and the former has undoubtedly fled its roots to wander Pecan Shadowland in spirit; but the apple, miraculously, was sending up the tiniest of green shoots out of an unpromising stump as we prepared to leave.  I thought of Noah’s doves.

For housing my tools, I had hurriedly bought a prefab shed at Home Depot.  (Rubbermaid, of all people, makes them!)  One of the features I liked was the solid floor pad—but I discovered that I hadn’t leveled a space with enough attention to create perfect stability.  I’ll carry back some old plywood pieces from Texas on my final run to slip beneath the pad.  Here and on several other occasions, I was struck by the importance of being “on the ground” and actually doing the job if one is to know what the job entails.  That our preferred method of operation, in all official—especially governmental—undertakings is instead to stick to some master-plan generated by remote bureaucracies doesn’t bode well for the nation.  There’s probably more energy, time, and expense wasted in conforming to inefficient boilerplate models than you’d spend in entering a work zone with no plan at all and flying by the seat of your pants.

The county code, for instance, requires that hot water heaters have pans beneath them if placed in the attic—but the dopes who drafted this wording assumed the presence of a single-story dwelling. Our tank is on the second story, not in the attic; so it lacks the pan necessary to ensure that the house isn’t ruined in the event of a rupture, and we’ll have to get a plumber out on our own to correct the gaffe.

At dusk on our final day, as she adjusted the cot, my wife alerted me that a “cougar” was walking along the gravel drive.  It turned out to be a bobcat—a colorless, long-legged silhouette ambling into the shrouded west.  I’m going to have to convince her to carry a small sidearm on her walks if she’s making T-Rexes out of geckos… and I thought she was a country girl!

My bedroll held down the far side of the fort (since we’re still a little unsure of what visitors might prowl by night).  From the floor, I stared for a long time at rising stars whose names I once knew but have mostly forgotten.  Sirius, Betelgeuse, Altair… Arcturus, Deneb, Antares… was any of these any of those?  Four decades have passed since I was a kid on the fringe of Fort Worth, inhabiting the last house before a prairie began.  Now all of that area is concrete, tarmac, traffic, and smog—and I’ve been living in other cities similarly immersed in a suffocating progress.  I need to go back to school and re-learn my constellations.  I should have plenty of leisure to do so, if God is patient with me.

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Denver, Part Two: Tilting at Unenergetic Windmills

Don Quixote concluded that the giant who had cleverly morphed into a windmill in order to unhorse him was the work of an evil sorcerer.  I wonder if the grotesque titanic claws defacing our Southwestern horizons are not similarly the product of some squalid hocus-pocus magically worked between policy-makers and private-sector sleazes as an idiot public gapes and applauds… or am I as insane as the Knight of La Mancha for asking so many questions?

Properly speaking, this bit of musing has little to do with Denver; but when you drive across West Texas and through Oklahoma or New Mexico into southeast Colorado, you see thousands of wind turbines (not hundreds—thousands).  Therefore, turning (or not turning) blades have come to be associated in my mind with bronco country.

Besides that, the progressive lunacy justifying our plague of wind turbines has something distinctly Denveresque about it.  So… here goes:

Why are wind turbines spread so far apart?  Yesteryear’s clipper ship was able not only to pack sails one beside another on her masts, but also to create productive drafts from the proximity that channeled greater thrust into sheets farther forward.  I would estimate that no turbine is within ten blades’ length of its neighbor.  Why is this so—why do these monstrosities have to take up so much real estate?  Is it a safety precaution?  If the blades are likely to fly off and helicopter over that kind of space… aren’t they a menace to every nearby farmhouse?

Can blades be turned to draw most effectively on the day’s prevailing winds?  If the wind backs from north to southwest (as it frequently does in these states at certain times of year), can the rig be rotated to tap the shift?  I think the answer has to be “no ‘; for why, otherwise do so many blades stand utterly motionless on a given day?  If turbines cannot be thus rotated to a new quadrant, then doesn’t that introduce immense inefficiency into the system?  But if they can indeed be shifted (a confirmation which all of the gung-ho wind energy websites I viewed suspiciously evaded), then how much energy is consumed in the shift, and what proportion of the turbines’ daily yield does this gnaw away?

Why are some blades, once again, oriented differently from others in a large group if all turbines are not fixed inflexibly?  If the issue of adjustment were ever to be addressed, I suppose the operation would have to be centralized; you couldn’t very well send out a crew to dither with each one in a forest of hundreds.  I catch the malodorous scent of hidden cost once more. Either a centralized or a unit-by-unit adjustment would introduce astronomical expense.
And in the matter of centralization… if wind energy is such a great idea, then why cannot individual residences be equipped with half a dozen windmills on their roofs?  We seem to be saturated with images of futuristic domiciles sporting solar panels… so why not spinning blades?  Why is there no private enterprise addressing this market as there is for solar power?  Why must the harvesting of wind be centralized?  Such complications as wind variation could certainly be addressed much more promptly and thriftily on the micro- than the macro-level, at least when the individual consumer is putting money in his own pocket by being attentive.

And on the subject of blades… why blades?  Why not sails, and why not a horizontal rather than a vertical mount?  That is, what about a kind of double bicycle wheel with sails between its spokes and perched parallel to the ground on a great axle?  Several wheels could actually be mounted up and down a single axle.  This rig would turn whether the breeze was blowing north, south, east, or west.  It would also be far less likely to interfere with avian traffic.  Passing birds might be grabbed up in the revolving door and slightly accelerated in their flight plan, but they wouldn’t be guillotined by a mighty arm descending invisibly from nowhere.  Who decided upon the present design?

Was it a band of engineers working for oil companies?  Because our wind turbines, you know, are primarily constructed of petroleum products like epoxy.  The popular assumption that their gargantuan fingers are clean of any association with black gold is the kind of canard which industry insiders and their bought-and-paid-for political shills find so easy to sell to the iPhone generation.

When we discover within the next ten years—as we surely shall—dramatically cheaper and more efficient ways to produce energy, what we will do with all of these tens of thousands of insolent middle fingers across our landscape?  I suppose they’ll stand there giving the bird to our lichen-brained “green” voters for the next five or six centuries.  Removing them will be unconscionably, prohibitively expensive.  We’ll just have to let them sit and scoff at Don Quixote’s crumpled body.  Even an EMP won’t make them budge.

All of us do stupid things every day.  What so irritates me about wind turbines is their “emperor’s new clothes” quality (and, no, the iPhone generation will not recognize the folkloric reference).  All of our progressive, morally superior, intellectually scintillant young people (picture David Hogg in a biking helmet and riding a skateboard) are “down” for turbines as soon as the words “wind” and “energy” are juxtaposed.  I realize that many of my questions reflect a basic ignorance of the process: that’s why I’m asking them.  I lack information.  Maybe the emperor is wearing some kind of diaphanous space suit.  I’m just remarking that, to me, he looks naked.  At least I’m observing and asking—but our “savior generation” acquires less information on a subject that you could squeeze into a Tweet, then calls everyone who fails to march lockstep with them a Nazi or a mass-murderer.

Well… guess what, young Einsteins?  You will have to live with the consequences of these choices a lot longer than I will—always barring an EMP.  Google that.

Denver, Part One: Beneath the Shifting Smile of Unfriendly Skies

My wife and I appear to have survived our semiannual trip to Denver for a visit with our son.  Since we’re still picking up physiological and psychological pieces, I can’t guarantee that Humpty Dumpty will be back together again by the end of the week.  In fairness, I cannot lay this trauma at D-Town’s mountainous doorstep.  A fifteen-hour drive would be a tall order for two sexagenarians even with the Pearly Gates as its destination.  Neither of us has flown in years—the slaughterhouse chuting and prodding and penning up that goes with air travel these days makes my libertarian blood boil.  Yet car trips of long duration in any direction tend to give me horrible migraines.  The Extremely Low Frequency Waves transmitted constantly by the vehicle’s motion do something really painful to my nervous system.  This time I kept a bag of quartz crystals behind my neck to draw off some of the energy, and that worked pretty well (quartz is an All Star conductor of electricity); but I’d still rather be on foot in strange places, as I was when I walked two different 600-mile tours of the British Isles in my twenties.

About now, you’re thinking, “Gee, this guy sounds like he should fit right into Denver culture.”  I know, I know: it has been my lot as a true conservative throughout my life to puzzle people on both sides of the aisle.  Faux-cons can’t understand why I don’t warble excitedly about the benefits of technological progress for the free market and individual economic opportunity.  (But wouldn’t such excitement indicate… oh, I don’t know—maybe progressivism?)  Meanwhile, what has very carelessly come to be called the “liberal” manifests a concern for preserving life’s natural rhythms… up to a point.  The trouble with “liberals” (and I wish that faux-conservative propaganda would allow me to call them “progressives” without ambiguity) is that they know little about nature and nothing about life.  They play at knowing and loving both; and in their childish fantasy, they usually end up destroying one without soaking up any wisdom from the other.

Which brings me back to why I just can’t stand Denver (or, for that matter, contemporary Austin, where I passed the happiest years of my childhood): The place is a Disneyworld sitting on the crater of a supervolcano.  This is quite literally true, inasmuch as the next eruption of the subterranean dynamo upon which sits Yellowstone Park will most certainly prove a Hiroshima event to Colorado.  Yet what I have in mind is more figurative.  Denver society is a stew of fantasists.  Like Austin, it has a substantial hippie-refugee population; and the abuse of the word “refugee” reminds me that both cities are also “sanctuaries” for adventurous migrants in search of tax-free cash and tax-funded freebies.  The old hippies, to the extent that they recognize the eventual collapse of the commonwealth in open-border politics, cheer the ruin of the capitalist system.  The younger ones…

I know you don’t call them “hippies” now, and I haven’t heard “space cadet” used for years.  I have no single word for them.  They wear rings in any or all portions of their face, sport tattoos in places that clothing used to cover, design their hair with hedge-clippers before dying it with whatever’s among the kindergarten art supplies, select mates for a week or a month without any apparent attention to gender, devote most of their loving attention to small screens in their palms, and will probably bequeath whatever wealth they may amass in life to their dog.  Dogs… wow!  Mates come and go, children are a rare sight unless trailing after a Third World migrant in staircase order—but the shaggy canine is lover, child, and very best friend.  (I think the Denver word for that is “bae”, a term to which I was first exposed through a Littleton  billboard that showed a white chick and a black chick in lip-smacking embrace).  If a dog’s legs could only pump pedals, you’d see human-canine pairs, both helmeted, on their Schwinns all around the town.

So what’s my big problem—I who drive balancing a bag of quartz behind my neck—with thinking outside the box?  My problem is that I don’t perceive the thinking: I see only children dressing in outlandish combinations of clothes while Mom and Dad are away and the babysitter is taking a nap.  Question: if you have to overhaul city streets expensively amid great swirls of dust and pitch in order to create biking lanes, how is bike-riding a boon to the economy or the environment?  Or if you drive up into the Rockies three times a week with your bike strapped to your 35-mpg buggy, aren’t you nevertheless contributing to tremendous traffic congestion while also overrunning the wide-open spaces along with other cycle-meditators of your faith?

And as for religious faith… why are Denver churches never Baptist or Methodist or Episcopal?  Why are they the Gopher Gulch House of Love or the Cowboy Christ Worship Family?  Just because you can’t abide subordinating your thoughts and inklings to any established designation doesn’t mean you’re a free thinker or a true believer.  It may mean you’re a mush-head who has no notion of how to think or feel about anything profoundly.

And speaking of marijuana… one really devastating, perhaps fatal, unforeseen consequence of legalizing weed may well prove to be the legislative magnet thereby created for unproductive social leaches.  As a quasi-libertarian myself, I understand the appeal of the general argument; but the practical effects of making “artificial paradise” readily available include drawing in people dedicated to fleeing reality.

I’ll bet native Denverites are every bit as dismayed at what has happened to their homeland as my grandfather was by what happened to Austin.  I feel for them.  Their dream—yesterday’s reality, now a fantasy as remote as any socialist utopia—is irreparably shattered.

I’ll close this ramble with one more example of reality slamming into Playtime at Daycare.  I’ve always dreaded Denver weather.  The bottomless violet dawns are invariably traitors: by mid-afternoon you may be running for your life from a hail storm.  During this trip, however, I began to notice how many contrails immediately start collecting across the sky as the sun strokes the mountain peaks.  There are two commercial airports and one military strip in the Denver area.  It’s unimaginable to me that the dizzying accumulation of cirrus streaks from all the jet activity plays no role in the region’s schizophrenic weather.  While all the conscientious young liberals are denouncing us as planet-murderers for not outlawing industry and legally requiring of everyone the purchase of a 35-mpg Virtue Buggy, a much more credible and observable engine of weather change (who knows what long-term climatic effects it may have?) is air traffic.  What would the “wee brainy things” (as a Scots woman aptly termed them during one of my European tours) do without their jets?  How would they get to the next climate conference?  How would they get home for Thanksgiving, or how would they get to Seattle to rekindle an old flame for a weekend?  With 87,000 flights per day in U.S. (out of 100,000 worldwide—and those figures are likely just commercial jetliners), we are directly and immediately seeding the upper atmosphere with heat disruptive of natural pattern.  Yet we’re supposed to be worrying about SUV’s?

What a place.  It has its charms, as do all amusement parks; but as a viable major metropolis whose influence increasingly dominates the Midwest, Denver is a nightmare-in-becoming to this tree-hugging conservative.

Big Brother’s Tentacles Begin in Paperwork and End in WiFi

I was shocked recently to discover that my state university campus (from whose hallowed halls of ivy I am retiring) has a policy against destroying any and all student papers of whatever age.  This is a bit insane.  Maybe it strikes me as more so because I’ve always required that my students do lots of writing.  If everyone in my department levied similar demands, a small room or large closet would be filled up with papers by the fifth year, I’m guessing.  The result would be more than a waste of precious space: it would constitute a fire hazard, and even a health hazard.  (Roaches love old papers; and while they don’t spread the bubonic plague, they’re dirty little critters, and plenty of students haul their Starbucks purchases into our classrooms.)

I should clarify that I actually give most of my papers back—with written comments, representing the most exhaustive part of the job.  I would so part with those papers, at least, before our curriculum started to shrink and I found myself teaching almost nothing but composition.  At about that point, the paperwork started viciously boomeranging back on me.  The freshman composition instructors (whose director can’t abide the word “freshman” and insists on “beginning student”) were suddenly commanded to round up all the semester’s essays in portfolios which a select few would sample and brood over in order to generate reports satisfying accreditation boards, state officers, etc., etc.  The “portfolio years” numbered about three or four, as I recall, before they were declared null and void and we were newly commanded to shift everything to an online campground.  I resisted, because I knew that I had just one more year left.  Now I’m almost sorry that I held out.

For this imbecilic decree from the bureaucrats of higher echelons (possibly, again, the state capital) to create and preserve vast document cemeteries has suggested to me why our campus rolled out its “go paperless” initiative: mere survival.  I’d assumed that the shift of all assignments to the digital was a marketing tactic, meant to titillate the public with “cutting-edge technology”—or else a marginally legal political payback, engineered to nudge business in the direction of certain software and hardware providers.  It clearly wasn’t done out of any genuine consideration for students, many of whom do not like entrusting their arduous labor to the vagaries of e-space; nor did it take into account the much higher probability of deliberate thought and careful proofreading that accompanies the preparation of hard copy.  But as a means of not drowning us all in dusty, moth-eaten cardboard boxes, the digital crusade was likely a pretty smart move.  I just don’t know why we have to sacrifice teaching efficacy on the whim of some idiot board of mandarins.

Or perhaps I do.  It almost has to be some sort of prophylactic move against lawsuits, doesn’t it?  What kind of lawsuit?  Oh, I don’t know… a student’s claim that his papers were never graded because of his green Martian skin—something in that genre.  If there’s a chance in a million of needing your ordinary trash as an exhibit in a court of law, then you will not be allowed to empty the trash can.  Our legislators are all lawyers themselves these days, so they all think the same way.  They’re all scared stiff of frivolous legal wrangles because they know only too well how successful frivolity can be before a sleeping judge or a cerebrally challenged jury.  They’ve played the game themselves enough times—and won at it—to know that, for instance (and I’m not kidding), no horseshoe arrangement of tables can be permitted in a classroom lest a fire occur and some unhappy person prove too clumsy or stupid to find the way to the exit.

I could go on teaching for years: there’s nothing wrong with my health, thank God.  But in doing so, I would probably shorten my life as my blood pressure rose and my dismal sense of the futility overhanging every corridor of Western civilization grew darker.  We increasingly resemble the old Soviet Union, dead of arterial sclerosis as its mammoth bureaucracy eradicated flexible elements from every element of society.  The things we do make no sense except as answers to concerns entirely extrinsic to quality of job and initial purpose.  We’re designing a plane that won’t fly because the mechanics’ union demands wings 200 yards long to justify its wages and every interior seat requires wheelchair access.

Finally, I’ll also admit that I worry about the ramifications of these permanent document reserves.  Is there not a Mueller in every department now who will potentially nab all of us sooner or later for saying, “Man up!” or, “God help me!”?  Might I be tried five years from now for sexual harassment because of scrawling on a paper five years ago, “You’re a beautiful and talented young woman, and you should write with greater confidence”?  Where does it end?  Only this morning, after one of the last email log-ins I shall ever trudge through, an announcement reached me of a seminar in “microaggressions”—how to spot them in oneself and how to purge them from one’s speech.  Could the shift of everything to the digital, in fact, be intended to create a readily searchable database for incidental infractions of Groupthink?

Call me paranoid, if you like.  I’m retired now—I don’t give a damn.

Utopian-Fantasist Obtuseness: The UFO Crowd’s Strange Flirtation With the Left

I was commenting the other day (okay, I was tweeting: my son says it’s the only low-budget way to find an audience) about the premier episode of Ancient Aliens’ new season that aired on April 22.  It was dismaying that several regular commentators, like journalist Linda Moulton-Howe, were all but jumping into the tank for Hillary at the end of the episode.  If elected (went the narrative), Hillary would have gotten to the bottom of all the UFO secrecy; she would have demanded transparency of the Defense Department; she would have fired anyone who refused to pony up with complete disclosures, etc., etc.  Now, I can vividly imagine Hillary conducting bureaucratic purges: that would have happened even without the UFO issue.  I can also imagine her riding roughshod over sensitive security matters because she felt like it.  She has what they call a “proven track record” in that regard.  What I cannot imagine is her pressing a point from which Bill had previously backed off.  The Clinton who successfully pursued the presidency once confessed candidly (if semi-confidentially) to one of his buddies in the press that poking about the UFO issue could be very bad for his health.  He represented the response given to him by nameless career insiders as practically a threat on his life.

It has been said that Hillary knows a thing or two about silencing inconvenient witnesses.  Whatever the truth of that, she most certainly would have known about the ominous wall of men in black that had terminated her husband’s country-fried snooping.  Hillary was playing the UFO-truther crowd for an easy endorsement.  John Podesta, no doubt, was playing Ancient Aliens for a bit of public exposure readily parlayed into speaking honoraria (for who remembers John Podesta these days?)… but Moulton-Howe should have known better.

Why didn’t she?  Why, indeed, does UFO-mania tend to lean so far leftward?  It shouldn’t, if a recurring theme is the abusive secrecy of big government.  Apparently, centralized authority is evil when it’s in the hands of the military-industrial complex; but when Tinker Bell utopians are promising to sprinkle stardust over every aspect of our private lives, the faintest libertarian tinge of resistance is abandoned.  Bestowing dictatorial powers upon a Beloved Leader so that he—or she—may cashier all the would-be dictators in uniform makes perfect sense to the Left.

But why, I repeat, do alien enthusiasts lean left?  I myself am pretty sure that our planet has been visited by extra-terrestrials—and that hasn’t made me want to book a flight to Cloudcuckooland.  In some members of this group, perhaps many or most, I perceive a disturbing tendency to cultic religion.  Everything in every ancient literary text is potentially a sign of “extra-terrestrial visitation”.  Zeus’s thunderbolt can’t be a sublime image coined out of primitive reverence for natural forces: it has to be an advanced technology that Stone Age minds didn’t comprehend.  Our history is also of no interest except as a reservoir of clues about ET activity.  How did the bubonic plague come to spread so rapidly and wipe out so many populations?  Must have been a bid on the part of hostile aliens to thin out our numbers.

This sort of thing reminds me for all the world of the m.o. I’ve seen working in academic feminism and Marxism for decades.  Are you given a novel to read from a few centuries ago?  Look for the woman or the peasant: there’s nothing else worth paying attention to.  If you can’t find either one… well, why are they being excluded?  Must be a conspiracy!  Are you presented with a historical period to study?  What’s going on with women at this time, or with the underclass?  Not much information on that?  Well, there wouldn’t be, would there?  Males and the upper classes have sought to airbrush all those significant details from the record for millennia.

Ultimately, the driving force behind such cultism is the adoration of progress.  A better tomorrow for women, for the poor… a better future for Earthlings once they are told by aliens where their destiny lies.  All of it shares a boredom, and indeed a disgust, with the present and an indifference to the past except insofar as years past and present supply steps to the ascending staircase.  The faithful of these cults seem tormented by a distaste for the contemporary world and for human nature generally: they crave a transformative experience, an orgastic Nirvana that will mystically show forth as a photographic negative of hateful realities.  They so long for Scottie to beam them up!

Alas, not only does such delirium not draw us any closer to the truth behind UFO’s: it discredits serious attempts to find that truth by tarring all sincere investigators with the stick of childish fantasy.  We may be moving farther from the truth than ever.

The Legacy of a Thirty-Five Year Teaching Career: Bubbles and Driftwood

I have one more week of teaching to go before I retire from the classroom, probably forever.  I’ve been exing out each surmounted day all semester, thinking the while that I would take some kind of rising pleasure in the exercise—that this final week would bring exhilaration to my ritual.  Hasn’t happened.  If anything, I feel steadily gloomier.  Why?  Because I’ll have nothing to do with myself after April?  Hardly!  Because I’ll miss interacting with my students?  Well, somewhat; but I’m a pretty withdrawn person, and solitude has never threatened me with despair.

No, it’s more like this.  Imagine that you are on the good ship Titanic as she begins to list.  Bottles slide off tables, and waiters can scarcely walk uphill sufficiently to restore them.  Chairs from one group of diners wander into another group.  Yet the band plays on, and anyone who raises a note of alarm is killed by scowls from all directions.

That’s the world of education today.  I have students on the verge of graduating who either don’t read much of anything or else retain almost nothing of what they read.  I quiz them on their assignments at the end of class after giving away most of the answers in my hour of discussion: many struggle to get half the questions right.  Can they not hear, either—or can they not attend to what they hear?  Do they not know how to concentrate?  Has the ubiquitous Screen, in all of its many forms, done something to their auditory faculties even as it has destroyed their vision?  (Yesterday I put a matching quiz up on the screen that has replaced our blackboard.  Several students had to move to the front row, from where they still sat squinting.  I walked to the room’s back wall and found that my sexagenarian eyes could distinguish each character without difficulty.  Frightening.)

And speaking of blackboards… we professors were required to communicate with our classes through some formatting program called (with unconscious irony) Blackboard until very lately, when we were commanded to switch to something called (inscrutably) Canvas.  On Blackboard, I would always post a PDF of my syllabus from which students could either run a hard copy or which they might simply download onto their “devices”.  Canvas, in contrast, appears to want to array your assignments instantly on the screen without the hassle of downloading and opening (and I write “want” because the damn thing is treated as if it were our new boss, beamed down from a superior planet).  Most professors have obligingly translated their documents into the “instant access to relevant page” format.  As a result, freshmen have been unable to follow my syllabus since last August, having been initiated into the new method from Day One by the rest of the campus community.  “Go to the PDF icon, download, open, and scroll to the present date….”  Nope.  Too hard.

And speaking of programming young minds so that they can’t reason in any direction but one… I tell you here and now that colleges aren’t primarily responsible for turning your children into progressivist snowflakes.  They reach us in that condition already: high school and a lifetime spent on social media have done the job before they ever see the inside of a dorm.  Big corporations are mean and greedy (yes) and locked in a war-to-the-death with big government (no: absolutely wrong).  Donald Trump is a crude buffoon (okay—most of the time) and responsible for our power grid’s not being secure (idiotic: Trump has done what he could to repair two decades of criminal negligence under Bush and Obama).  Slavery existed only in the South (that’s wrong… but let it pass) and the Civil War was fought to combat racism (which explains why Lincoln wanted to ship all blacks back to Africa, I suppose… you poor, ignorant blockheads!).

I can hear water rushing up the ship’s corridors… and the revelers are ordering more champagne.  Why should I be happy that I’ve found a lifeboat and have cast off from the imminent calamity?  I spent my whole professional life trying to keep the old edifice afloat (for she’s really much more like the Fighting Téméraire than the Titanic)—and I’ve failed.  So I’m off to my island; and I leave behind me a spoiled treasure of unusable debris and a dissolving foam that contains the strangled shrieks of wretches realizing, in their last breath, that they have been betrayed.

Death by “Answers”: The Suffocating Narrowness of “Education”

My father’s mother dabbled in oil painting.  The best thing she ever did was probably a Southwestern landscape copied from Mexican-American painter Porfirio Salinas.  The foreground is flooded with bluebonnets, as is typical of a Salinas canvas.  On an overcast day (enhanced in the copy, since amateurs always have trouble with light), a prickly pear cactus rises front-and-center, a stone wall humbly navigates the distance, and a campesino’s hut crouches lifelessly off to the right.  Whatever the copy’s weaknesses, I like it, and it hangs over my mantelpiece.  It takes me out of myself.  I see a faraway place that people have left largely untouched because they have found no way to turn a profit from it (such as by littering it with windmills)—a place where the cry of a solitary caracara carries for a mile, and where a horizon-prowling mountain and you can exchange stares for an hour without blinking.

The Newly Minted Scholar in the Humanities, though, would see the same scene a different way.  He would zero in on a socio-political issue the way a hound sniffs out a rabbit.  That hut, so dilapidated and shorn of luxury… what an outrage, that people should still be living almost like cavemen when our world contains such wealth!  Where is there any evidence that the peasant has electricity?  Where is his running water and plumbing?  What does he do for health care?

The Newly Minted Scholar knows how to ask questions that quickly reduce everything to the tight parameters of a few answers.  If the answers are satisfactory, we move on.  If unsatisfactory, they indict some crime or other that becomes grist for the activist mill… and we move on, once again; for the mill can never have enough grist.  There’s nothing more to see here as soon as a new Incident Report has been logged.  A distant mountain ridge?  Why mess with that?  It has no purpose, and hence no meaning.

Now, the Newly Minted Scholar may see one of the china horses that I bought as a child (or that was bought for me, I should say) at the Alamo, and he may suddenly be filled with missionary zeal for nature.  Those poor wild horses!  The Bureau of Land Management is brutally chasing them with helicopters, penning them up, and selling them off as “adoptees”.  The BLM will claim that it absolutely must prune their numbers so as to prevent overgrazing and eventual starvation… but the Newly Minted Scholar sees right through that.  Nature establishes her own balances.  Leave her alone!  (Let’s forget that horses are not native to North America.)  All of this rubbish about over-grazing is a problem created by ranchers who want to milk a filthy profit from wide open spaces never intended for ruthless exploitation.  Leave it all alone!  Get the ranchers out of there!  Let the horses run free!  (A few thousand windmills… well, they would disrupt nothing: they would be serving the Common Good, and the mustangs would grow to love their wild, windy blades.)

Others in our corrupt, venal society are too sick to hear the voice of moral obligation… but our Newly Minted Scholar is receiving signals loud and clear from a higher dimension.

As for me, I remember the nobility and love of freedom that I once saw in my white horse’s high-held head… and now I also understand that it’s made of cheap china.  So I see the mass-produced, exploitative capitalist bauble that the Scholar would be sure to sneer at, yes; but I also, even now, continue to understand how that tawdry little article was able to reach a child’s heart.  Like my grandmother’s painting, this is no masterpiece.  Yet all of us—especially children, perhaps—are drawn to powerful symbols thanks to a spirit within us constantly seeking overt expression… if, that is, our spirit retains any vital signs.  As children, we were insulated from the stigma of cheapness.  Even an adult, though, can appreciate the pathos of a favorite toy—something that has the mystical magnetism to draw an unformed mind into a much broader world.

In a way, I regret that we adults so readily notice the seams where the toy fell out of the mold, and that we tend to murmur with a smile, “Just a dust-catcher.”  Sometimes the genuine article doesn’t fare much better with us, and we mutter with a frown, “Just another mouth to transform good prairie into a dust bowl.”  To that extent, the Newly Minted Scholar is right about many adults, all too often.

But how true is our Scholar’s devotion to freedom, or natural beauty, or any of those loftily soaring ideals which he claims as exclusively his?  How receptive is he to taking a holiday from his painfully constructed, finely manicured identity?  Where is the magic in his materialism?  For in his obsession with answers, he is as insistent on having things justify themselves—having them pay their way—as was the shopkeeper who put a price sticker on my china horse. To him, even a real horse is but a token worth X bonus points in establishing his environmental bona fides, as is indicated by the uncompromising fury with which he opposes measures to enhance the horse’s life roaming the range.  Not surprisingly, he himself is often the child of professionals who put price tags on things. If his parents hadn’t left him comfortably well off, how would he have time to stage protest marches against the BLM?  And when he attends “cutting-edge” conferences pledged to effecting “meaningful change”, how much more fuel does his jet to Seattle consume than would a lowly bourgeois pick-up truck making the same transit?  Isn’t everything he sees quickly funneled down a chute whose vortex is his own ego, the hub of the universe?  Does his spirit ever leave its centripetal straitjacket to circulate in the broader world, fleeing “answers” and “meaning” in favor of an elusive but irresistible oneness?

I observe this phenomenon in all “politically correct” positions.  Our enlightened superiors see a beggar and quickly bottle him up as Exhibit Q in the ongoing prosecution of mainstream society… yet the beggar is never given a name.  He may receive food stamps and a health-care card, but never an invitation simply to converse about how trusted colleagues stole his business or how his infant son perished.  The self-appointed custodians of our society’s pity and conscience are pitiless in their programmatic crusades and robotic in their reduction of life’s complexities to checklists.  They are indeed well adapted to the process referred to, in their corridors, as “transhumanism”, the next great leap forward: fusion of human beings with Artificial Intelligence.

The spirit will have no haven in this new destination, because the spirit bloweth where it listeth; it dissolves answers rather than forcing them to crystallize and makes a reverent space for the inexpressible rather than deleting unused blanks.

Inasmuch as the Newly Minted Scholar is the footsoldier of an onslaught that would annihilate mystery, he is unwittingly, perilously serving the cause of darkness; and the inspiration of this cause is nothing less than the active power of evil.