Five Things I Wouldn’t Want to Do Without

Topic credit: @rusty2rusty at .

In order to make this challenge interesting we have to leave out the basic survival needs of food, water, air, shelter, and companionship, and write about five other things we, individually, wouldn’t want to try living without. (“Hot water” is not the same as “water.”) That way everyone who takes this challenge has a different list. Here’s mine, for today–another day I might think of different things.

1. The resident cats at the Cat Sanctuary. They’re my friends, not on the same level that human friends are, but on a level that’s more necessary to my day-to-day life. Writers don’t really need people to talk to–what we instinctively want to do is write, not talk–and, although the cats and I can and do “converse” about some things, we belong to different species and don’t really have much in common. In human-to-cat communication you’ve had a tremendous success, which some (of both species) don’t even want to believe is possible, if you can reliably “say” and “hear” messages like “I think what you’re doing is dangerous.” But the resident cats are more valuable friends than other humans who merely talk about what they and I think and feel with our convoluted human brains. The cats don’t talk or think or feel that way at all, but they do keep mice from nibbling our home down to the ground.

2. The mountains around the Cat Sanctuary. I did too much travelling at too early an age. The effect of being told that too many different places “would be my new home” was not to teach me that all places are beautiful. It was to teach me that all other places are Not-Home, and although Not-Home can be interesting it’s never quite as nice as Home.

(Home is a place, not a person. Thank God. People don’t live as long as the earth and the mountains. My home is a place that recalls memories of people I’ve loved, but it’s fortunate for me that my home is primarily a place where I do things I love doing, because so many of those people I’ve loved are no longer alive.)

3. Writing. Writers don’t really stop putting words together, at least not when we’re awake. We think in words. We dream in words. We’re likely to feel that pictures, gestures, touches and other physical demonstrations are clumsy efforts to say things that Real Human Beings Like Us would say in words. We have to push ourselves to remember that our words need to mean things.

4. Cash. Writers are squeamish about mentioning this one. We like to imagine that, because the things we most enjoy aren’t usually products with specific price tags, we don’t need money to enjoy Finer Things like music, flowers, and good conversation. That’s all very well, and certainly people who dedicate their whole lives to piling up vast hoards of money, and neglect the Finer Things, are boring or insane or both. Nevertheless, if we don’t have any money, there won’t be much music, many flowers, or much good conversation in our lives either. If you want to debate about this, that suits me just fine. Send me all your money, live on roots and berries for six months, and then tell me what you think.

5. Freedom. Self-determination. Whenever I’ve said this, other U.S. baby-boomers who know me personally have thought it was an odd thing to say, because what I personally do with my freedom is not usually what was marketed to our generation as “liberation.” I harbor no grandiose dreams about doing anything for Humanity, although I enjoy helping my neighbor (the “near-be-er,” the person nearest to me at a given time) as much as anybody else does. I’m definitely not interested in drugs, polygamy, promiscuity, heavy metal music, or even flared-leg jeans. And I can take road trips or leave them alone, but preferably the latter. What I want the freedom to do is, in fact, to live a quiet, “conservative,” auntly life with a minimum of drama and upheavals. I find people who seek out “excitement” for its own sake deadly boring. But if other people crave more “excitement” than I want, good luck to them and let them have it–somewhere well out of my sight and hearing. The important thing is that people respect each other enough to leave each other alone.

Morguefile cat…Here, kitty, kitty…


Book Review: Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail

Author: Christopher Dawes

Date: 2005

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton / Thunders Mouth

ISBN: 1-50625-678-8

Length: 322 pages

Quote: “[T]he man who sits up there with Johnny Rotten and the ghost of Sid Vicious in the very highest of the high chairs of punk rock infamy was, quite literally, on my doorstep.”

Probably not altogether by accident, music journalist Christopher Dawes found himself living across the street from semi-retired punker Rat Scabies. The two became friends, and one day Scabies proposed a treasure hunt in France. The real purpose of the hunt was to find out how an obscure, probably crooked, French priest had gone from poverty to extreme wealth about a hundred years ago. Some reasonable explanations are discovered but, because they find it interesting, Dawes and Scabies report at length on the little international community of people who believe the priest might have found ancient treasure—possibly the treasure of the Merovingian kings who were supposed to have possessed the Holy Grail.

References to the Indiana Jones movies, which I’ve managed to avoid seeing, are scattered thickly throughout this book. Whenever someone does something bizarre there seems to be an Indiana Jones tie-in. There are also coded texts in Latin, references to a wildly speculative historical study called The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, and lots of visits to the kind of obscure attractions of France—intermittent springs, natural and human-enhanced rock formations, mountain landscapes in which medieval minds traced mystic symbols—that interest me more than resorts and museums. Neither Dawes nor Scabies speaks French fluently, so there’s also the plausible detail that all the people they talk to are fellow English-speakers, that they’re never told as much about an attraction as they might have been told.

They don’t come home wealthy, but they have a book-worthy series of comic, scholarly, and sometimes dangerous adventures. And, along the way, those of us who’ve never liked punk rock get a look at a real punker. Behind the atonal music and grotesque makeup, Scabies turns out to have matured as a gentleman, a scholar, and apparently a decent husband…quite a surprise for those who’ve assumed that all the original punkers must have OD’d or committed suicide by now.

Do I believe even as much of this preposterous story as Dawes claims is true? I think, on the whole, I do…because I’ve read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and talked to people who are into that kind of thing. They’re quirky, but real, and this is the sort of thing they get up to. They’re well worth knowing for about as long as it takes to read a 322-page account of some of their adventures.

Rat Scabies and the Holy Grail is recommended to those who like adventure, comedy, and/or medieval history.

Christopher Dawes is alive and still writing, though not apparently on the Internet (his other works include some unmentionable punk-appeal titles and a book about laser welding), so this is a Fair Trade Book. As usual, sending $5 per book + $5 per package to either of the addresses in the lower left-hand corner gets a clean secondhand copy sent to you and $1 sent to Dawes or a charity of his choice. If you want four copies, send me $25 and Dawes or his charity will receive $4.

Medieval French castle from NicH at Morguefile:


Book Review: Bake Your Own Bread (and Be Healthier)

A Fair Trade Book? Possibly…

Title: Bake Your Own Bread

Author: Floss and Stan Dworkin

Date: 1972

Publisher: Holt Rinehart & Winston

ISBN: 0-03-091886-3

Length: 197 pages plus index

Quote: “Bread baking is a lot like married love. The first loaves of bread you make are not the best you’ll ever make, but they’re better than any you’ve ever bought.”

The subtitle of this book is …and Be Healthier. True? Yes, in the sense that your kitchen probably contains fewer germs than a commercial bakery, and if you eat or freeze your bread while it’s fresh you won’t have to add any preservatives. When you start using whole-grain flour and meal you’ll be even further ahead.

That said, it’s also true that for some people, e.g. this reviewer, good health will not be possible until we stop eating bread altogether. Sad but true. The good news is that, once we achieve gluten-freedom and reprogram ourselves to think of wheat products as things that made us sick rather than things we crave, reading and even using this book won’t make us hungry.

Other people can safely eat bread in moderation, but when they bake bread and have it in the house they tend to binge-eat it. Some of these people are undiagnosed celiacs who will be cured of stubborn chronic conditions when they go gluten-free. Others are allergic to one or more of the other chemical compounds of which wheat is made, but are not gluten-intolerant, and may be able to use bread as long as they don’t binge.

Unfortunately, people in either of those two categories are likely to be drawn to the idea of baking their own bread. Binge-eating homemade bread may be a little safer than binge-eating factory-produced bread, but if you’re a carb-craver who really likes bread, baking bread may be a bad idea for you.

If you are not, and are not feeding, a carb-craver, you’ll enjoy having a book that contains complete recipes and detailed instructions for 34 different kinds of bread. Bread has its place in a balanced diet for most people, and learning to make your own is definitely worth the trouble. Baking bread at home is a great rainy-day treat for children; they’ll love all the mixing, kneading, and shaping. And you’ll always have not only good food to pack in a box lunch, but a conversation piece to take to parties and a gift your friends will recognize as “from the heart.”

Bake Your Own Bread also contains a long rant, unfortunately still mostly accurate, about the hazards of using factory-made foods. It’s not much fun to read but it does explain some, not all, of the emotion with which people discuss the pros and cons of “natural,” “organic,” and home-cooked food. Why do I say “some, not all”? Because in 1972 food crops hadn’t been genetically modified; selectively bred, yes, but bred only for traits that occur naturally in the plant genus being bred. The new hazards of gene-spliced foods, made from plants that have had DNA from animals or disease germs spliced into them, are only beginning to be confirmed. Much of the new information about these new hazards is still available to the general public only on the Internet; type “genetically modified grains” into your search engine if you want to spend a lot of time online becoming increasingly perturbed. Or you could skip the unpleasant reading and just start buying local organic grain.

Is Bake Your Own Bread a Fair Trade Book? I think it still qualifies. Floss Dworkin died recently, “suddenly” and “too young,” in her late seventies. Her obituary lists Stan Dworkin as a survivor. There’s quite a lot of information about Stan Dworkin on the Internet but, so far as I’ve read, what’s not about the books he co-authored with his wife is about a younger man by the same name. If you send $5 per book + $5 per package to either address in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, I’ll make a more diligent effort to find out whether and where the co-author of this book is living, and send $1 per book to him or a charity of his choice. As always, the “per package” shipping fee means that if you want four copies of this book, or the Dworkins’ other books or other books of similar size, you send me $25 and I send Dworkin or his charity $1 for each book by him in the package.

Bread image from Agathabrown at Morguefile:


Phenology: Blue Jay

The most noticeable life form in Kingsport these days is some sort of pathogenic microorganism. I’ve not learned yet whether it’s a virus or bacterial infection, but it has been going around. Most people seem to be “under the weather.” Some people are coughing. A few people, not necessarily even older people, have developed bronchitis and break out with horrific, painful-sounding coughs in public.

Last week Grandma Bonnie Peters’ near-professional-quality voice “broke” and she went around sounding like Tallulah Bankhead, or maybe even like Odetta, in between the coughs. That was bad enough but on Sunday morning, instead of coming out to meet me, she called to say she was unfit to drive. So of course I had to walk nine miles, and since I hadn’t been walking much all summer that took four hours, and for the rest of the day I didn’t have much more energy than she had.

It is actually easier to fend off infections on an empty stomach. For dinner I had a garlic clove. For breakfast this morning I had a garlic clove and saltwater. For lunch I had another garlic clove, saltwater, and an orange. I feel almost normal now.

GBP is still coughing. She has a lot of friends and a few patients in Kingsport, and sings in the choirs of two different churches. Of course she just loved missing both church services and not talking to her friends, even on the phone…NOT!

But anyway we have been back to the Cat Sanctuary and observed some birds and flowers. Flowers include out-of-season crown vetch, honeysuckle, and daisies, and more typical goldenrod, thistles, and asters. Birds include cardinals, mockingbirds, and a blue jay, Cyanocitta cristata.

Blue jays used to be very common and very easy to observe. They are often classified as songbirds, but they’re bigger than most songbirds, their squawks of “Jay! Jay!” (or perhaps “Thief! Thief!”) aren’t very musical, and in some other ways they seem more closely related to crows than to sparrows or warblers. One of the ways jays resemble crows is their susceptibility to West Nile virus. Jays and crows have not become endangered species, but there aren’t nearly as many of them as there used to be.

When they’re not bullying songbirds or raiding gardens, blue jays are attractive birds. Here’s a picture from Wikipedia, photographed by Saforrest and widely copied:

File:Blue Jay with Peanut.jpg

The blue color is an effect of the way the feathers react to light. Jays look bright blue in bright light, pale bluish grey in softer light.

Here’s a gallery of 24 different, cute pictures of blue jays. The crest feathers can stand up or smooth down behind the head depending on the bird’s mood; the body feathers can be fluffed out for warmth.

All jays have crests, but at the bottom of this page about odd-looking birds is a mutant blue jay with quite an amazing crest:

Jay called “Papa Smurf”

As shown in the picture, jays like nuts and use their long beaks to shell large nuts. They may hoard nuts in a hollow tree for future use, like squirrels. They are omnivores and also eat fruit and insects. If you don’t mind attracting jays to a bird feeder, offer peanuts and sunflower seeds. If you live near an oak tree, you will probably see blue jays, since they love acorns.

Like crows and cormorants, blue jays are curious and may pick up any kind of shiny or colorful little object they can carry, just to play with it. They have been known to steal earrings, although, for their purposes, bottle caps would be as good as jewels, or better. Though not as intelligent as crows, they seem cleverer than most songbirds; in cages, jays have been known to figure out how to use sticks or bits of paper to retrieve food, or even unlock the cage door. They also use paper, string, cloth, yarn, and ribbon to decorate their nests.

Blue jays are bold, especially in groups. They sometimes attack hawks, owls, cats, even dogs or humans, with the intention of chasing them off the jays’ territory. Successful gangs of jays have been reported to kill and eat bird-eating bats. Nevertheless, jays bully songbirds enough that songbirds seldom seem to welcome jays into flocks, even the mixed flocks that travel together in winter.

Some people claim to have taught jays to imitate human speech. I’ve never seen that in real life, but I have seen jays imitate red-tailed hawk noises to startle chickens. They can make several different noises, not all of which even sound loud and angry. If reading this on an audio-enhanced computer, you can listen to recordings of more than a dozen sounds blue jays make here:

Blue jays are found in the Eastern States. A larger, darker bird called Steller jays take their ecological place further west. Blue jays and Steller jays are usually considered two distinct species that hybridize easily.

Book Review: Chinese Handcuffs

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Chinese Handcuffs

Author: Chris Crutcher

Date: 1989

Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell

ISBN: 0-440-20837-8

Length: 220 pages

Quote: “When people ask, I tell them that you escaped back into the universe by your own hand.”

Dillon and Jennifer are teen athletes with terrible secrets. Dillon’s brother committed suicide while Dillon was watching. Jennifer is regularly abused by her stepfather. Sports are the medications of their choice. More effectively than pills, sports reduce their consciousness of pain to bearable levels long enough for them to do things to improve their lives. (One of the things they do is write out their feelings in the form of unsendable letters, like the one Dillon addresses to his brother, quoted above.)

Before he fell off his left-wing platform and started injecting pro-gay and anti-Christian messages into novels aimed at high school readers, Chris Crutcher was good at mixing sports coaching with life coaching. In Chinese Handcuffs, as in Stotan, he was at the peak of his form. Chinese Handcuffs hits hard, hits only its legitimate targets, and encourages teenagers who have Big Problems without giving unnecessary offense to anyone else. It and Stotan were the books that made Crutcher’s writing career.

Even so, does Chinese Handcuffs belong in the Children’s Room, even on the Young Adult Shelf? The characters are young, all right. The contents of the story aren’t graphic in the way real pornography would be, but the descriptions of rape, murder, and suicide are explicit enough that a fourth-grader who stumbled across this book would know what’s going on. That’s a good thing for troubled teenagers who may be reading on a fourth-grade level; it’s not so good if the book is going to be kept in the same room with The Cat in the Hat. Even for sixteen-year-olds who’ve been lucky enough to keep their emotional “innocence,” who find it upsetting to read about the peaceful deaths of old dogs, Chinese Handcuffs may be too raw.

Well…when this novel came out, I was well into my twenties; I’d talked a few people through crises but had never been raped or seriously beaten, and some scenes in this book still made me queasy. At the same time, I knew a fourteen-year-old who’d shared some of Jennifer’s experiences, who recommended Chinese Handcuffs to anyone who thinks he or she wants to know why some teenagers live in foster homes. Let’s just say that this is not a book you’d read for sheer pleasure. It’s a book you’d read if you want to help yourself or someone else cope with pain.

Crutcher is still alive, though he seems to have abandoned the blog at , so Chinese Handcuffs is a Fair Trade Book. As regular readers know, that means that when you send $5 per book + $5 per package to either address in the lower left-hand corner of this page, we send you a clean secondhand copy and Crutcher or a charity of his choice $1. If you wanted to fill a package with paperback copies of Stotan, The Crazy Horse Electric Game, Ironman and other older books by Crutcher, you could buy eight vintage paperbacks for a total of $45, and Crutcher or his charity would receive $8. Books become Fair Trade Books a few years after publication when they become easier to find used than new.

Book Review Cat courtesy of Morguefile:

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Book Review: 82 Sins of the Church

(No longer a Fair Trade Book, which makes reviewing it much easier.)

Book Review: 82 Sins of the Church

Author: Cobus Van Der Merwe

Date: 1995

Publisher: Jacobus Van Der Merwe

ISBN: 978-1494432362

Length: 230 pages

Quote: “Children with good manners are always pleasing to every­one.”

Jacobus Van Der Merwe was a Boer, or South African of Dutch descent, who spent his old age in Kingsport, Tennessee. His English was fluent, but irregular. His understanding of the Bible was likewise…not so much irregular as foreign. Although he joined a charismatic church in Kingsport, his Dutch Reformed background comes out in the form of unusual attitudes.

Although it’s meant to provoke discussions among Christians in any country, 82 Sins of the Church was recognizably shaped by Kingsport. I think this book is part of Kingsport’s history and should be preserved as such. Kingsport has attracted some very distinguished engineers and inventors from all over the world, and Van Der Merwe was one of them.

For devotional use, the value of 82 Sins of the Church may actually be negative. There’s politically incorrect, and then there’s…well…

I’m put off by the sexism on pages 108-109: “A couple should never get married if they cannot make do on the man’s income. The main reason for the job shortage in the world we live in today, is directly ascribed to the greedy women, taking away men’s jobs…God’s Word says clearly that the man is the breadwinner.” Actually, the Bible mentions women musicians, scholars, builders, merchants, and “prophets.” When a Bible writer describes the ideal wife, in Proverbs 31, he spends as many words praising her business acumen as her religious devotion. The perfect wife doesn’t just weave; she has a home textile business that employs several “maidens,” delivers finished products to the merchants, and expands her business by investing in real estate: “She considers a field, and buys it.” Sociologists have generally ascribed the job shortage to technological development, laborers being displaced by machines.

There is much to recommend the idea that being the mother of small children is a full-time job, in and of itself, and should provide the same kind of automatic recess from a corporate “career” that military service does…but “women shouldn’t take away men’s jobs” thinking doesn’t even work out well for young mothers. Some families preserve the biblical family-as-business model, using their home as their business base and integrating their children into the business. But the 1950s TV family structure, where childless wives stayed home all the time and made dusting and polishing into a job, was not an approach that ever served many people well. Nor was it biblical.

The Bible writers don’t prescribe one particular pattern for family life. The economic pattern they describe is the one where both parents lived and worked at home. Everyone was a “breadwinner.” Even small children were “known by their work” as soon as they were able to do any. Even disabled old ladies, like Dorcas, wove and sewed. The lady described in Proverbs 31 was an especially desirable wife because her weaving skills were good enough to earn money as well as saving money. When Paul wrote, “I would have the younger widows (re)marry (or) keep house,” he was telling the early church that his use of the masculine form in “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat” was applicable to able-bodied people of both sexes.

More confusion is to come. Van Der Merwe cites a letter from a friend in South Africa: “What the outside world (that’s you) does not real­ize, is that we do not have to do with civilized people, but barbarians—a sub-race that can never reach the standard of the [W]hite Christian race.” The writer of this letter complains that Nelson Mandela, like every other person who had a complaint against a non-Marxist government during the twentieth century, received some support from the Communist Party. He overlooks the fact that the Communist Party in its heyday treated it as their duty to try to support, and co-opt, every dissident on Earth; what people did with this support was up to them.

More disturbingly, he also overlooks the fact that Mandela was mentored by the nonviolent, non-Communist, committed Christian Albert Luthuli…and greed-blinded “Afrikaners” managed to ignore Chief Luthuli. The Christian magazine Van Der Merwe’s friend addressed had ignored his letter because Christians around the world felt that, when people refused to hear a message of peace from a man of God, those people invited a twisted version from the Evil Principle. Many were surprised and grateful that Mandela emerged as a left-wing Humanist leader rather than a violent, vengeful Communist Party dictator. Van Der Merwe complained that Christians in the United States had no right to denounce Bill Clinton unless they prayed for him. He does not write as if he spent much time praying for Nelson Mandela.

And what exactly was “sub-race” supposed to mean? Because the Republic of South Africa incorporated several pre-existing ethnic groups who had weakened themselves by wars with one another, it’s possible that Van Der Merwe understood Lane Sherman, as quoted on page 192, to be expressing resentment of the Zulu “sub-race,” or ethnic group, as distinct from the Venda “sub-race,” of which Van Der Merwe has written with less resentment earlier in this book. However, one can hardly blame uneducated readers for hearing in “sub-race” an echo of “subject race.” Like “niggardly,” “sub-race” is almost always an ill-chosen word.

Feminists are supposed to oppose “patriarchal” social structures, so I’ve always taken some contrarian pleasure in expressing love and pride about the patriarchs in my family. I know what Van Der Merwe has in mind when he writes about “Sin #49: Husbands Are Not Always Real Men” and praises the Real Man who “opens God’s Word at the breakfast and supper table…tells the truth at all times, regardless of the cost or consequences…provides for his family even if he has to do without…can give some leadership at home and work and is always prepared to listen to good advice” (pages 120-121), “rises early enough, works hard enough to provide enough…can apologize for any mistake…sets the example…visits the sick and bereaved and provides for the needy” (page 198).

Opposing patriarchal systems does not imply failing to appreciate that sort of men when we find them. What we oppose is the idea that a Y-shaped chromosome is enough to make any man a patriarch. In the Bible, Abraham travelled around with his flocks and herds and his extended family, apparently opposing cults that practiced human sacrifice. Kings called on Abraham for help and advice, yet he never called himself a king. Abraham listened respectfully to the advice of his wife and foster son, although they were less enlightened than he. When other people were around, his wife Sarah enjoyed basking in his glory by calling him “milord.” Privately, Sarah was a nagger (her name changed from “Quarrelsome” to “Princess” as her social status rose) whose demands reduced Abraham to tears. A patriarch never demands respect. He earns it—but, even so, he does not always get it. As C.S. Lewis once put it, he wears two crowns, but one is made of paper and the other of thorns.

Of course, many of the 82 Sins are theological rather than interpersonal issues. Van Der Merwe rebukes churches that are non-charismatic, that “do not seek or expect miracles, do not teach and practice demon exorcism.” He believes in “mandatory forgiveness”; some Christians believe that it is possible to talk about “forgiving” people who are still actively sinning. He thinks special liturgical interest should be given to Psalms 113 through 118. He objects to historical reading of the Bible when “the New Testament is not recognized as being directed to the church at all times.” He has an interpretation of the prophecies in the Bible, and thinks churches need to give more attention to this interpretation.

Others of the 82 Sins are social and political. Van Der Merwe identifies with those who seem to believe that “resistance” to abortion is a matter of political agitation, rather than personal ministry. He rebukes Christians for suing each other in court. He rebukes both the churches that “do not teach against divorce” and the ones that “condemn divorced people.” He complains, in his charmingly eccentric use of English, that “Pastors are fearful, muzzled, proud, greedy and affirmative.” (It takes him three pages to explain what he means by this, but he does have a point.) He thinks children need to participate in formal, audible prayers at school. He has been active in prison ministries, and thinks more Christians need to be. He thinks secular commentary, at least jokes and sports stories, have no place in the sanctuary and should not be used to liven up sermons.

Other “sins” are matters of church subculture. Kingsport is more heterogeneous than some of the towns around it, less dominated by First Families, more open to immigration. Cultural differences among its churches reflect the economic status as well as the temperaments of the congregations. So many of Kingsport’s churches do stress greeting rituals and eye contact that I suspect Van Der Merwe’s complaints here come from his having chosen a church where he seemed to “fit in” economically, and then realized that affluent Anglo-Americans look down on the folksy Dutch cultural customs Van Der Merwe wanted to bring with him.

Intensive eye contact is typical of mainstream Anglo-American culture. Apparently it’s also typical of mainstream Dutch or Boer culture, since Van Der Merwe fails to recognize it among the “bad manners” with which he reproaches “Ugly Americans”; much of the world would place our shameless eyeballing behavior high on the list of obnoxious American manners. Some cultures have rules that a modest person never holds eye contact with a member of the opposite sex, other than the person’s own wife or husband, for longer than a moment; or that younger people, or subordinates, never hold eye contact with senior or superordinate people; or that eye contact is optional, usually used for emphasis after a conversation has begun. Van Der Merwe places great emotional emphasis on people’s being able to “look you square in the eye.”

His list of 82 Sins is random, as his short reflections on these practices occurred to him, rather than categorical. There are sequences where one thought seems to have led to the next, and sequences where he seems to have put down his list for a few days and come back to it on a whole new train of thought. I’ve discussed the list in a more organized way than Van Der Merwe presents it.

So, this is not a book to share with non-Christians or with very young people. It is a book mature Christians can appreciate as historical commemoration of a distinguished resident of Kingsport. It could even be used by groups of mature Christians as a starting point for study and discussion—Bible and otherwise. It should never be used in such a way as to give Christian-phobics the idea that Van Der Merwe ever spoke for any substantial number of American Christians.

82 Sins of the Church ceased to be a Fair Trade Book last winter. I sold the copy I physically owned before that. Prices for this privately published book are already rising. At the time of writing I can offer it, should you want to buy it here, for $10 per book + $5 per package. But Van Der Merwe no longer needs $1.50, so if you don’t need this one to complete a collection of Kingsport history…there are better devotional books in the world, even at this web site.

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What I Learned in School

(Topic credit: Michelle Obama: #62MillionGirls . This is, of course, about Malala Yousafzai, the bravest and most beautiful girl in her generation; and about the young ladies in the Himalayan region, on whose behalf efforts were once made to recruit me as a teacher; and about the “Stones Into Schools” and similar efforts to provide schools for them; and about Gordon Brown’s effort, which I believe is well-intentioned if misguided, to force schools upon them willy-nilly.)

Ultimately, what I learned in school was that choice is vital; that any monopoly, even a nonprofit government monopoly, is always a bad thing.

I didn’t learn reading, writing, and arithmetic in school. True, I read some books at school that I wouldn’t have had at home, and I learned the remaining four years’ worth of arithmetic from my hateful girl-bashing fourth grade teacher who walked us through math problems…but I was one of the handful of children who are able to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic before they reach school age. (Most of us grow up reasonably intelligent but not, by any stretch, the geniuses sympathetic adults used to call us.) I learned those things, and also spelling and a considerable amount of science and history, at home. That music was a required subject at my school may have helped, but I clearly remember learning music at home; there, too, I was no genius but a bit ahead of the group.

I spent my elementary school years being bored witless and waiting for the group to catch up. Though I learned that it was nice to have an official school friend (and inevitable to have an official school enemy), and I usually had one or two official school friends, they weren’t what I would now call friends because they weren’t doing the same things on the same level that I was. Like most “gifted” children, I wanted to have friends, but until I was ten and my brother was seven years old, all the people I enjoyed being around were adults.

I did learn some things in elementary school. I learned that many people are hostile and likely to attack on whatever level they can. I learned that little boys are as easy to hit, kick, and shove as little girls are. I learned that little girls are not so much nicer than little boys as they are more mature, more likely to be able to use words to attack. I learned to be a mean, spiteful little brat whose first thought on meeting other children was how to hurt them.

I learned that most of my teachers thought they knew more than my parents, that sometimes they knew less than I did, even about the things they’d studied at school, and that most of them hated their jobs and their students about as cordially as we hated them. Most of them were just competent. A few were not. I had teachers who told us that “girls are beautiful but dumb” (meaning stupid); I had teachers who relied on the “right” to hit us with planks to maintain any sense of control of anything that was going on; I had one teacher who thought I needed some sort of deliberate brain damage in order to be more “normal,” one who routinely left thirty 13-to-19-year-olds in a small room with a 15-year-old as “teacher,” and one who used illegal drugs and shared them with some of the boys in his home room. I learned contempt for the older generation at school.

Thank God, nobody tried to “help” me adapt even better to this toxic emotional environment, so I didn’t become an addict or a serious juvenile delinquent, as many of my generation did. Increasingly from grade seven on, the school system in those days weeded out the people who didn’t want to be there. This produced a huge improvement in the social atmosphere. We didn’t automatically become friends, but we could keep our hands to ourselves and maintain a good healthy distance, so the hostility level did automatically drop.

In high school I began unlearning the toxic lessons I’d learned in elementary school. In high school there was still a huge difference between school friends (read contacts, or acquaintances, in grown-up terms) and real friends, but courtesy and even good will became feasible. In high school there were classes where I actually learned new things, and enjoyed it. This was possible because, as the principal said on the first day, attending my high school was a privilege not a right. Teachers were able to teach those who wanted to learn, rather than spending all their time contending with obstructions. Nobody wanted to be an obstruction. Everyone who was there had chosen to be there.

My high school’s trademark was defying expectations. It was a small, poor, underfunded school and tended to get stuck with teachers whose own field of study was something other than what they were hired to teach, who were desperate and would work cheap. We learned through competition. Most subjects taught in high school could be made into some sort of competition. If there was a trophy, the question was who was going to bag it for our school. Quite often someone did. There was another small, poor, underfunded school that provided almost half of the competition we had at the regional or even state level. I learned after high school how many other schools there were in the state and how unlikely it was that two of those schools, two of the most underfunded ones at that, would meet each other in competitions every year…but we did.

I learned in high school that, although it was certainly possible to be an alcoholic, addict, or single parent, and in the 1970s plenty of adults would help a teenager do those things, not one in a hundred people wanted to do those things. We were as young and ignorant as any other lot of teenagers but, since our choices included doing part-time jobs and earning scholarships to college, very few of us wanted to ruin our lives instead. Even more than sex I think teenagers want freedom and self-determination.

Another big thing I learned in high school was that, although I wanted more freedom and better choices for myself and other children, some teenagers were really fighting for those things. Like the choice between public schools, private schools, church schools, or studying at home. That’s called school choice, and it’s the best thing that could have happened to my state school system. When children have alternatives to going back to class the next day, even a teacher who likes hitting children with planks has to find some other way to get their attention.

And somewhere down life’s road, I suspect it was after more than during my first college experience, I even learned that it was possible to respect and appreciate teachers. Younger people who’ve grown up with school choice often seem to grow up knowing this. When my generation were young we didn’t know it; we “knew” that teachers were our natural enemies. Y’know, dogs and cats, foxes and chickens, teachers and students…

I suppose there may be some girls, somewhere in this world, for whom school-without-choice is better than no school at all. I myself chose to attend a public school, and enjoyed it, after grade nine. Still, I suspect I might have learned more and better things, in high school and college, if I’d never gone to elementary school at all. My experience was that only when school became a choice for everyone did school become useful.


Top Ten Reasons to Stay Sober on a Date

How can this article be made family-friendly? If you want to share pleasure, the same general principles apply to sex that apply to pleasures in which even younger people rejoice. So, young adults are hereby invited to read whatever they like into this brief consideration of a trip to an amusement park.

  1. You want to be fully alert and attentive to the other person’s reactions. You don’t want your body’s urgent messages (“get rid of some of this horrible alcohol”) to keep you from noticing whether your friend just said “I like carousels” or “I don’t like carousels.”
  1. You want your responses to be efficient, though under control. Is your friend screaming with laughter, or with pain?
  1. You want to be able to help the other person in case something happens to him/her.
  1. You want your stomach not to be too full to enjoy a sudden jolt on the Ferris Wheel or drop on the roller coaster track.
  1. You want to be clean. You want to be able to cling, cuddle, or even hide your face against the other person, without fear that the sight or smell of you will disgust her/him.
  1. You want to be fit to drive home.
  1. You want to wake up the next morning thinking “What fun that was!” rather than “I can’t believe I did that, wasted all that money I couldn’t afford, didn’t get to do half the things I wanted to do, can’t remember which things I did, and now I need to go to the bathroom but I feel too sick to stand up.”
  1. You want to know that you didn’t specifically cause yourself to acquire any horrible diseases. You never know who may breathe on you but at least you can be sure you didn’t collapse headfirst into a toilet bowl.
  1. You want the other person to greet you with “That was fun! Thanks!” rather than “You were disgusting and, by the way, you did $5000 worth of damage.”
  1. If you brought home any little teddybears or similar souvenirs, you want to remember when and why you got them; you want the sight of them to remind you of fun and friendship during the years to come.



(This visual reminder to stand up for our principles and not be chicken was brought to us by Morguefile.)



Book Review: Wee Sing Around the World

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Wee Sing Around the World

Web site generated by this series:

Author: Pamela Conn Beall

Date: 1994

Publisher: Price Stern Sloan

ISBN: 0-8431-3740-1

Length: 64 pages

Illustrations: line drawings by Nancy Spence Klein

Quote: “We have stayed true to the overall meaning of the song even though each word is not always a literal translation.”

Songbooks used in elementary school music classes used to be notorious for appropriating the melody of a traditional love song or murder ballad and printing it above innocuous, instructive, relentlessly cheerful new words. Pete Seeger cited the example of an English song, supposed to be a murderer’s confession: “They call me Hanging Johnny, because I hanged my Granny,” which he said had been Americanized as “They call me Smiling Johnny, because my smile’s so bonny.” Bah. None of the music books or classes of my elementary school days wanted anything to do with that one…I can see why not.

Composing completely new words for traditional songs is an honorable American custom; since few publishers could print sheet music before the late nineteenth century, most of the songs published in the English language were sold as new words to sing to a familiar tune. That’s how “God Save the Queen” turned into “My Country,’Tis of Thee.” It’s also how songs that were written and sung to commemorate an event in a country’s history turned into dreary little ditties about the principal exports of the country. Someone decides that the battle was too gory, the death of the old horse was too sad, or the song about the jolly ride through all the places on the local map was too complicated for children of a certain age, and the children end up learning to sing a grocery list or a refrain that translates as “Dance, dance, dance, tra-la-la.”

Actual translations of songs tend to come out, well, different. In order to preserve the original idea and mood, translators find themselves using new words, sometimes new thoughts, new images, whole new stories. For an official, public-domain example, consider the difference between the English words, and the literal English meaning of the French words, to “O Canada Our Home Our Native Land.”

The songs in Wee Sing Around the World seem, so far as I can tell, to have been juvenile in their original languages, and they remain juvenile in English. Several choices seem to have been made by the desire not to duplicate more familiar, more popular songs that you might already have in some other collection; how else can one account for the selection of an obscure commercial jingle for “Coulter’s Candy,” to represent Scotland, over “Loch Lomond”? In preserving the same general theme and tone, Beall seems to have done about as well as the translators of “O Canada Our Home Our Native Land.”

However, everything about the Wee Sing collection, from the original pun forward, seems designed to appeal to very young adults who want everything they buy for children to scream “For Tiny Tots Only.” Three-year-old won’t mind this book’s nursery image, but if you want to include school-age children in family sing-alongs, it may be more profitable to buy a songbook aimed at the whole family and let the three-year-old grow into it.

Most of the songs in Wee Sing Around the World will be new to American parents. These songs are very easy to learn, sing, and accompany on whatever beginners’ musical instruments you may have. If you’re far out of practice, these songs will help you ease back in. This collection is warmly recommended to adults and to parents whose oldest child is under age six.

Beall and Nipp are alive and writing (when not translating nursery songs, Beall is a screenwriter) so this is a Fair Trade Book. To buy it here, send $5 per book + $5 per package to either address in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, and I’ll send Beall and/or Nipp and/or a charity of their choice $1 per book. To buy ten volumes from the collection, send a total of $55, and the writers or their charities get to divide up $10.

Official Morguefile Book Review Cat:

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Each President Had Something to Teach Us

This post started out as an exercise in improvisation: “Improvise a speech supporting or refuting the statement that each of our past Presidents has something to teach us.” I limited myself to the ones that people I knew remembered…

Woodrow Wilson: Though not allowed to vote, a woman can function as President. (At least if she’s Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, who, even in Virginia’s Fightin’ Ninth District, was a woman you didn’t meet every day.)

Warren G. Harding: (It is hard to find good things to say about President Harding, but he did leave a generous bequest to a church college.) You don’t have to remain a member of a church to be loyal to the people whose fellowship you have abandoned.

Calvin Coolidge: Quiet is good.

Herbert Hoover: A person who genuinely rises above the love of money may be hated more than a corrupt sell-out like Warren G. Harding. (My grandfather was a great fan of President Hoover.)

Franklin D. Roosevelt: Polio survivors can be strong and tough.

Harry Truman: Any U.S. citizen can be President.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: Hating the Third Reich has nothing to do with hating German people.

John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you but…” Or, if the Old Left’s most beloved icon of the twentieth century were around in this century, he’d be mistaken for a Right-Wing Wacko Bird. (Though he could disprove the accusation.)

Lyndon B. Johnson: It’s possible to die from guilt, if you have been the worst President of the century.

Richard Nixon: It’s possible to live with the guilt if you were only the third worst President of the century. (Nobody liked President Nixon much, but at the time the EPA was a big improvement over what we’d had before–nothing–and the food stamps program was an even bigger improvement over what we’d had before–donations of incredibly bad food to poor people.)

Gerald Ford: A nice guy can be President if he’s tall, decent-looking, and extremely rich.

Jimmy Carter: The President of the United States can walk on his own two feet, in public, no matter how the guards carry on. (Carter may not be remembered among our best Presidents, but he’s been a world-class public relations man for a world-class charity.)

Ronald Reagan: An aging actor who’s never had a good part before can be a great President if that happens to be the type he plays best.

George H.W. Bush: American body-type prejudice is truly ridiculous. (Although he was taller, stronger, and more dangerous than President Reagan, fair hair and a tenor voice caused him to be tagged as a “wimp.”)

Bill Clinton: An easy way to distract attention from ordinary bad ideas is to blame each bad idea on a subordinate employee. An easy way to distract attention from disastrously bad ideas is to get caught in a stupid lie about whether you got someone else’s clothes dirty. An easy way to be fondly remembered afterward is to claim the credit for subordinate employees’ good ideas.

George W. Bush: If your father has started a blood feud, and you get yourself elected to public office and get thousands of your constituents killed in an act of war aimed directly at you, it is possible to look wholesome enough on TV that many Americans will forgive you for it.

Barack Obama: A President who has really learned from all the foregoing examples, especially that of W Bush, can sponsor some of the world’s worst ideas and still be reelected…at least, by virtual ballots.

Image of past Presidents, looking worried, by Sgarton at .