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Sunday, August 28th, 2016
9:09 pm - This is what makes typing at the keyboard so difficult these days
My baby

My baby
Hera curling up in Daddy's arms

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Wednesday, August 24th, 2016
9:11 pm - Adventures in Cooking, Part Two
Scotch Barbecue Sauce, Continued

So, how did I get into this? I mean, who'd'a thunk of using Scotch in a barbecue sauce? Well, it all happened years ago when I came into possession of a $90 bottle of Laphroaig. It was a full 18 years old, which made it smooth as could be, but being from the western Isles, it was also unbelievably smoky. Too smoky for me. I thought it was a shame to waste a $90 bottle of anything, so I cast about for some other use for this whisky than holiday toasts. In a flash of perverse insight, I decided it would make a good base for a barbecue sauce. My first batch made with the Laphroaig was okay, but needed a little sweetening. So I added apples for a smoother sweetness. The pulpiness of the apples thickening the sauce was a bonus. And there we are.

And now that intermission is over, let's get back to the show.

Blending in

Blending in
All the cool guys drive a stick (blender)

All done

All done
Beautiful color, ready to eat

A jarring sight

A jarring sight
Divvying up the swag

Cannery Row

Cannery Row
Saves refrigerator space

In addition to our own use, I make this for dinners we host, for the Scouts' Winter Rendezvous, to give away as gifts, etc. I made the original recipe for a modest batch, but I find it's easier to make a triple batch at a time. Herewith is the recipe.

Scotch Barbecue Sauce

Single Batch / Triple Batch
1 oz butter or olive oil / 3 oz butter or olive oil
½ onion (depending on the size of your onions), rough chopped / 1 ½ - 2 onions
4 cloves garlic, minced / 12 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup young single-malt, Islay-style Scotch whisky / 1 Fifth Scotch
4 small-medium sweet apples, peeled and cored / 12 small-medium apples
2 cups ketchup / 6 cups ketchup (= 64 oz. bottle)
½ cup cider vinegar / 1 ½ cups cider vinegar
½ cup molasses / 1 ½ cups molasses
½ cup brown sugar / 1 ½ cups brown sugar
1 small can (3-3.5 oz) chipotles in adobo sauce / 1 large can (11 oz) chipotles
½ Tbsp salt / 1 ½ Tbsp salt
½ Tbsp ground mustard / 1 ½ Tbsp ground mustard
½ tsp black pepper / 1 ½ tsp black pepper
Heat Dutch oven to medium-low. Add butter or oil. Sweat onion and garlic until they become translucent. Add Scotch and apples. Simmer 5-10 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Drop heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour. Stir occasionally to keep from sticking.

Puree sauce (I use a stick blender). You can chill and serve or can the product. Makes about 3 pints (9 pints for triple recipe).

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7:28 pm - Adventures in Cooking
Scotch Barbecue Sauce

The time has come to make another batch of my signature Scotch Barbecue Sauce. I usually make a triple batch, because it's a pain to make this -- and besides, I keep giving it away.

The recipe is simple. It yields a nice sauce with just enough heat, just enough sweeetness, just enough smoke. It adds greatly to brisket or pulled pork (or whatever), but the taste doesn't linger after you're finished with the dish.

The secret ingredient is a young single malt Islay-style Scotch whisky. This gives a nice smokiness to the sauce and an underlying barley strength. The alcohol mostly cooks off. The only other out of the ordinary thing is my use of apples as a sweetener. Raw sugar is the usual sweetener in BBQ sauces, and they come out harsh. The apples add a smoother sweetness, as well as some pulp that affects the final texture of the sauce.

Anyway, here's the process up to now.

Mise en place

Mise en place
French for "the fixins"

The cauldron

The cauldron
Double, double, toil and trouble

Sweating it out

Sweating it out
Garlic and onions begin the parade

Apples inprocess

Apples in process
For sweetness and thickening

Whisky, whisky

Whisky, Whisky
Nancy Whisky

Apples join the party

Apples join the party
Now we're getting somewhere

Chipotles for kick and a bit more smoke

Chipotles for kick and a bit more smoke
Imagine yourself wearing a kilt and a sombrero

Everybody into the pool

Everybody into the pool
The remaining ingredients are added

The sauce will now simmer on the stove top for the next hour. It will be a rich, reddish mahogany color when it's done. More pix to follow.

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Sunday, August 21st, 2016
9:14 pm - It's not a feature, it's a bug.
Had a couple of these big ol' things in a sapling by the side of my drive at Wilderstead. Nearest I can tell, it's a Cecropia Moth caterpillar. They mostly eat maple leaves, but are found in other trees, as well. This one and its companion were in a box elder sapling. Box elder is in the maple family, for what it's worth.

Cecropia Moth Caterpillar

Cecropia Moth Caterpillar

I don't keep track of bugs much, but I saw a Diana Fritillary in the holler, along with some grasshoppers, a wasp or two, etc. I'll be waiting to see the Cecropias one of these days.

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7:35 pm - A little target practice
Just for the heck of it, I got out my B-B gun while out in the holler and took a few shots at -- oh, big leaves and such. I figured I'd see the leaves ripple as I shot them, but B-Bs move so fast, they punch through without a quiver. In fact, at first I thought I'd just missed entirely.

But out of seven shots, I could see seven little pinholes in that dinner-plate-sized leaf. Funny thing, though, they were all off about three inches to the left of the center I was aiming for. They were up and down a bit, too, but then, I was shooting standing up with no support. It was the consistent off-to-the-left pattern that concerned me.

So I aimed at another leaf and ripped off seven shots left-handed. Years ago, a rifle instructor diagnosed me as cross-eye dominant, and I got better scores when I shot left-handed. Now, I thought I'd learned to correct for that, but when I went up to this leaf, I saw six little holes, still up and down, but all of them in the center of the leaf.

I shoot better left-handed. It feels really awkward, but my dominant eye sights in on the target so much more easily. Whether it's B-B gun, .22 rifle, or bow, I just do better when I switch. Except for shotgun, which for some reason I do as well right-handed as I do left-handed. Maybe because it's more instinct, and less about lining up the sights.

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12:49 pm - Ave et vale: Lightning
Lightning has died. I came home overnight to do some laundry and get some rest. He was fine at 4:00 p.m. Thursday, August 19. He came up to me to get his butt scratched. I packed up and set things in order and left for Wilderstead about 5:30. I was last upstairs about 5:00.

Deanne got home about 6:00 or so, and was looking for Lightning to give him his pill about 7:00. Hera was impatiently waiting for them both to be fed. Deanne went upstairs a little after 7:00, and found Lightning at the head of the stairs, dead and already stiffening. She called me on my cell phone as I was passing through North Vernon.

"Lightning's dead!" she said, in a frantic tone of voice. I pulled over to talk. She asked where I was and if I could come back and get him to bury him in the holler. I explained that I was two hours down the road; if I returned to fetch him and then went on to Wilderstead, I wouldn't arrive to dig his grave until midnight. So Deanne called in at Middle Way House to excuse herself from service that night, placed Lightning in a pillow case and put him in the trunk of her car and starting driving for the holler.

I arrived at our cabin. The sun was going down behind Akes Hill. I fetched a shovel and headed across the creek to the Hallows. Luckily, I had mowed the trail to our little pet cemetery -- even mowed around the cairns -- two days before. I finished digging the grave just as the light failed. Deanne drove up to the cabin some time just after 10:00. I put Lightning in a wheel barrow and took him across the creek.

As I was gathering him up to place him in his grave, I pulled back the pillow case. His head was as handsome as ever. He seemed to be merely sleeping. I tucked him back in the pillow case and snuggled him down into the bottom of the grave. Then I carefully packed the dirt in around him and filled it in. I left the wheelbarrow upside down over the grave overnight, since I didn't want to go blundering around the creek in the middle of the night, gathering stones for a cairn.

Deanne stayed overnight in the cabin and looked over his grave in the morning, before returning to Ellettsville. I went on to do lots of other work in the holler. As the evening was coming on, I gathered several loads of creek rock and built his cairn. He rests besides Sassafras.

His sudden death was probably some sort of heart attack, but we'll never know. Deanne and I were both very sad at his passing. We thanked God for the gift of his life, and we were glad to have been so faithful in our responsibility for him.

Lightning was a shelter cat. We got him and Hera in early 2010. He was the younger; in fact, he was probably too young to be separated from his momma, too young to be neutered. The vet warned us that he would have some developmental problems because of his hurried start on life. He certainly had personality problems. Deanne described his attitude as "I hate you -- don't leave me." He could be affectionate, on his terms. He liked being petted, but hated being held. And he would strike out on a whim. He would even chase James. We had to fit him with SoftPaws while the boys lived with us.

Here are a few pictures of our boy Lightning, the White Leopard. The first is an early one, from his kittenhood. The second is one I took just a couple of weeks ago. The last is a typical pose. We didn't dare leave the butter out; it was about the only human food he would get into.

Dinner for one

Dinner for one

Who, me?

Who, me?

I want lots of butter and sour cream

I want lots of butter and sour cream

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Thursday, August 18th, 2016
11:35 pm - Book Review
A Week in the Life of Corinth,
Ben Witherington III

I got a package from my old seminary this last week. I opened it up, and there was this book by Ben Witherington III, Amos Professor of NT at Asbury Theological Seminary. No letter accompanied the book, no explanation why it was sent. It obviously wasn’t sent to all alumni, or Deanne would have gotten a copy, too. MDiv recipients? People who answered the alumni phonathon? I have no idea.

Still, the book looked interesting. It was a novel of sorts, a fictional presentation of some of the events alluded to in Acts 18, including Paul’s appearance before the governor, Gallio. Real, historical personages mix with fictional figures in this book. Sidebars give explanations of historical practices, 1st Century Roman and Greek culture, and so on. So, we have education as well as narrative.

Witherington has a very high reputation among evangelical scholars, so I looked forward greatly to reading this book. That said, it wasn’t long before I began to make critical notes in my copy. For a scholar dealing with the 1st Century, I thought, his grasp of Latin is pretty sloppy. No doubt he could run rings around me in Koiné Greek, but even my high school Latin is apparently better than his.

For instance, he has a priest of Aesclepius calling for silence before an offering, saying to the assembled guests, ”Tacit!” (“Be silent!”) Except he wouldn’t have said that. I mean, I’ll give him that an offering conducted by the Roman governor might be in Latin – I would have thought they would be speaking Greek at this occasion – but even then, tacit is not a recognized form of the verb tacere. The 2nd person singular imperative would be Taci! or in the plural, Tacete! "Tacit" is an English word derived from tacere.

“Oh, picky, picky, Art,” I hear you say. Who cares if the ending of a verb is wrong? Well, I would think Dr. Witherington would. After all, when he exegetes the Greek New Testament, I’m sure he analyzes each word to determine exactly what it means. A student mishandling an inflection would be sure to be corrected. These little grammatical things matter, and often great matters of interpretation hinge upon them. Nor is this the only instance of the author's Latin that made me question his usage.

For instance, take this cultural mistake. At one point, he has Paul sweeping leather shavings from his tent-making work from his toga as he gets up to go someplace. Now, Paul, as a Roman citizen, was entitled to wear a toga, but I’m guessing that Paul the Jew from Tarsus would have thought it an affectation to wear one. And he would probably be sneered at by the Romans in Corinth if he did, too. The toga was the Roman male dress suit – rather like “white tie” for us. Paul wouldn’t be wearing it to work in, even if he owned one. I’m sure what he was wearing was a tunica -- a tunic. Likewise, Witherington refers to Camilla, wife of Erastos, pulling her toga over her head when looking out in the rain. I’m sure she did no such thing. The toga was male attire (except in the case of prostitutes, who evidently paraded in flame-colored togas on festival days – the probable source of the Whore of Babylon’s appearance in Revelation). Camilla’s wrap would probably have been a palla, assuming she was in Roman dress, rather than Greek.

Once again, “picky, picky,” I hear you say. But if we’re just considering the narrative for what it’s worth, well, it’s a nice, well-constructed story, but it’s not exactly deathless prose. Witherington’s characters tend to speak in late American clichés, as when Nicanor says, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Let’s face it, y’ain’t readin’ this for the literary value. Or why include the historical sidebars? No, this book’s readers are reading it because it is by Dr. Ben Witherington, the scholar of early Christianity. They trust that he will give them an accurate presentation in all respects of what 1st Century Corinth – and the 1st Century Christian Church – were really like.

And here, too, there are things that boggle me. The author explains Roman roads, dining customs, all kinds of trivia – but then he drops in details that are essential to his story that are just begging for explanation. He explains the practice of 1st Century prophesying, but then punts on what 1st Century Eucharistic liturgy might have looked like. In effect, he has Paul presiding over a low-church protestant/evangelical/charismatic communion like what we might find on a Walk to Emmaus. Even in the 1st Century, before composed Eucharistic prayers, nobody would have conducted a service that casually. And to have Nicanor – and his bodyguard, Krackus – be invited to the dinner and take communion with everybody else, unbaptized and uninstructed as they are, is one giant anachronism. So far as I know, the first church leader to shrug off unbaptized persons taking communion was John Wesley, who was dealing with an evangelistic situation in which there were many baptized persons who had no faith and no instruction, all mixed together with unbaptized persons who were also coming to faith in Christ. Wesley thought it a barrier to separate the baptized and unbaptized before communion in a Methodist setting, since all were more or less on the same faith level, and began to talk of communion as a “converting ordinance.” So this is an entirely modern practice.

Then there are all the little details. One of the puzzles of the NT is why Sosthenes is the ruler of the synagogue accusing Paul in Gallio’s court in Acts 18, but then winds up the co-author of 1 Corinthians, which Paul sends later from Ephesus. There’s a story there, but Witherington decides not to tell it. He makes Erastos the host of the church in Corinth, though Acts is clear that when Paul left the synagogue, he went next door to the house of the God-fearer Titius Justus. He says his villain, Aemilianus, is a direct descendant of the dictator Sulla. (I presume this character is fictional; his descent – real or imaginary – would, I guess, be through Sulla’s daughter Cornelia Sulla, who married Mamercus Aemilius Lepidus Livianus. The –anus ending shows that he was born a Livius, but was adopted into the gens Aemilia; the villain here would then be supposed to be a descendant of Lepidus and Cornelia, adopted into the gens Aurelia. All top-drawer families to be connected to.) He has the snooty Aemilianus offer to adopt the freedman Nicanor as his heir, without even a previous patron/client relationship. (This is preposterous.) And on and on and on.

If you don’t know any better, this is a nice story, an easy read for the summer. But if you go to this expecting to see a great scholar bringing the New Testament world to life, I’m afraid you will find it a weak reed to lean on. Dr. Witherington could have used a good editor to make this better as both a novel and New Testament interpretive demonstration.

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Monday, August 15th, 2016
10:42 pm - Nothing like a pot of stew
I made a pot of venison stew for dinner tonight. There was enough left over for Deanne to make up six pints of stew to take to work this week. It was quite good.

Venison stew is pretty much like beef stew, but there are a couple of tricks I like to use on deer meat. For one thing, in my seasoning of the stew I add a generous amount of rosemary. For some reason, game really likes rosemary, far more than beef does. I also add a bit of barley to the stew -- not enough to make a porridge out of it, but just enough to thicken it a bit. Barley also adds a hearty flavor to the stew. I could achieve much the same effect by using a good ale instead of water or stock, but no matter how you cook it, Deanne can taste the ale, and she doesn't like it. Barley in moderation really helps a stew along.

As we discussed our life as empty-nesters last week, Deanne asked me to help by making one of my specialties each Monday -- such as stew or coddle or whatever. That way, if she's late on Monday, as she often is, dinner isn't ruined; it's just in the pot -- nor am I delayed for any meetings I have. And, she has leftovers that spare her fussing with lunches that week. We worked out half a dozen things I can make in my sleep that she'll eat. And so life moves on.

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Sunday, August 14th, 2016
8:06 pm - Vacation 2016
Deanne and I embarked on our first vacation together in over ten years last Tuesday evening. We drove over to Wilderstead to get a jump start on driving to New York. Wilderstead to upstate New York is a day's drive; Ellettsville to upstate New York is a penal sentence. It was blistering hot and humid. We drove along the edge of a front. Rainbows abounded.

We spent a sweltering night in the cabin. Got up early and had a quick breakfast. I brought along my quart-sized backpacking French press, so we had really good coffee every day. And then we were off on the road: Cincinnati; Columbus; Cleveland; Erie, PA; and finally, Lake Erie State Park, just inside the western NY border in just about seven and a half hours.

Lake Erie is one of my favorite places to have camped. It's a small park, but the campground is well-taken care of, shady on the edges and open in the middle. We set up our tent and used this park as our staging area over the next couple of days. There was a restaurant a couple of miles outside the park entrance, where Deanne had a nice Broiled Haddock sandwich, and I had a very good Beef on Weck. Very tasty, but the portions could have been a little bigger.

Erie happenings

Erie happenings
Lake Erie State Park, NY

Early next morning, we were up and on the road for Niagara Falls, NY, which is just 75 miles from Lake Erie SP. We drove around Buffalo and arrived about 10:00 a.m. Parking was cheap and easy. We walked a block and entered Niagara Falls SP on foot. Bought a couple of tickets for the Maid of the Mist and joined the line of pilgrims heading for their journey to the Falls.

All aboard!

All aboard!
Maid of the Mist

Once everybody was on board, we donned our disposable blue raincoats and the boat pulled away from the dock. Dead ahead loomed Niagara Falls. We were well positioned on the starboard rail near the bow. The main waterfall is 170 feet high. Going over in a barrel is strictly prohibited; daredevils have been arrested trying it. The drop is not the real problem, of course; it's the probability of being held under the Falls by the force of the water until the amount of air in your barrel or capsule runs out that's so dangerous.

Approaching the Falls

Approaching the Falls
Horseshoe (Canadian) Falls

Both the Maid of the Mist and the Hornblower catamaran, over on the Canadian side, take you right up into the plunge pool at the foot of the falls. The water churns and boils like a kettle. After a while, you can't take any more pictures, because the mist has become a shower bath. This will have to do for a closeup.

Getting closer

Getting closer
After this, any pix would look like they were taken in the shower

Horseshoe Falls carries the main channel of the Niagara River over the falls; however, the American Falls off to the side aren't just a cheap sideshow. The rapids that flow beyond the foot bridge to Goat Island is one of those places in America that has been given the name "Hell's Half-Acre." And anything swept over the American Falls would hit the rocks, 180 feet below.

Coming back to shore, Deanne declared that her boat ride on the Maid of the Mist was the best twenty bucks she ever spent on a holiday attraction.

American Falls

American Falls
On our way back down river

This view of the Falls is from the Observation Tower bridge. One can also walk right up to the Falls on both the Canadian and US sides.

View from up top

View from up top
American Falls on left, Canadian Falls beyond

We ate lunch at a grill in the park. A black squirrel was hustling to get whatever he could, in competition with the usual gray squirrels. The sun was blistering the pavement, and Deanne ran out of gas early. So we walked in short stages over to the Top of the Falls, then took the trolley back to the State Park entrance. We drove back down toward camp, stopping for a light supper at a Tim Horton's in Dunkirk, NY.

Refugee from Mirkwood

Refugee from Mirkwood
Niagara Falls State Park, NY

I got up briefly in the middle of the night and saw a big, fat shooting star. Some outlier of the Perseids. The heavens were brilliant, and the Milky Way shimmered. No time for star-gazing, however. I went back to bed and we got up very early the next morning at 6:00 o'clock. By 7:45, we had breakfast cleaned up, camp broken, and we were heading for the interstate.

We tootled back down to Erie and then drove south to pick up I-80, heading east into the Allegheny Mountains. There are no straight roads east and west through central Pennsylvania. The reason is that the mountains run all through the State in a great arc of many ridges. After skimming those ridges for a while, we switched over to a highway that took us through Happy Valley (home of Penn State), and down into the great central valley of Pennsylvania, where Harrisburg, the capital, sits.

This wide valley is part of the same landform as the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The Great Philadelphia Wagon Road was the route taken by the Scotch-Irish, who came from the eastern ports into central Pennsylvania, then down through Virginia, and into the Piedmont area of the Carolinas.

After six and a half hours of driving, we arrived in Hershey, PA, the other item from Deanne's Bucket List. We toured Chocolate World and shopped for candy. And then we were off again.

Sweet and Sour

Sweet and Sour
No, really, she was happy to be there, I tell ya

About an hour back down the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road -- er, I-81, we pulled into Pine Grove Furnace State Park. We got some very nice wraps at the park's General Store for supper. And there, Deanne put up her feet to do some light reading.

Now, I brought along a popular history book and a couple of novels for my down time. Deanne is plowing through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), in preparation for her counselor's licensing exam, which she hopes to qualify for some time this fall.

Studying on it

Studying on it
Reading the DSM in camp

On Saturday, we broke camp early and headed for Gettysburg. We drove around the battlefield and shopped for souvenirs. Deanne wasn't in good form. I couldn't inveigle her into climbing up to the roof of the Pennsylvania Monument. So, we left early.

Nope, I ain"t a-goin" up there

Nope, I ain't a-goin' up there
Pennsylvania Memorial, Gettysburg

It was a long, hard drive. We left Gettysburg about 10:30 and arrived at Wilderstead back in Indiana just before 9:00. We skimmed through the edges of rainstorms much of the way. It was still very humid, but much cooler. We spent a fairly restful night in the cabin. Slept in a bit, got some breakfast, and drove the last two and a half hours back to Ellettsville, finally arriving some time around 12:30 or 1:00.

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Tuesday, August 9th, 2016
1:45 pm - Sunflowers
I looked over at the corner of the yard today while packing for our trip, and Behold! Daniel's sunflowers are not only sky-high, but they're opening up. Something to tells me these aren't going to make the trip to Richmond when Anna takes the rest of her container garden.

Daniel"s sunfllowers

Daniel's sunflowers

Opening to the sun above

Opening to the sun above

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10:27 am - For a pot of beans
Schools are back in session all over Hoosierland, and the summer is thus officially over. The weather continues, but August's traditional enjoyments are a thing of the past, run over by the Mack truck of the school calendar, which regulates the community's life with as iron a hand as ever the calendar of saints' days and religious observances did the life of the typical community in the Middle Ages. Once upon a time, summer stretched in a long, blank canvas over three months, with plenty of time for VBS, for Little League, for Scout camp and church camp and picnics and fairs and festivals, not to mention family vacations. Now all of that must be crammed into a bare eight weeks or so, which means many fine things that we once enjoyed -- both kids and adults -- can no longer be savored as before.

This is a process that has been going on for some time. The expansion of the school year, the re-ordering of the calendar into more or less year-round school, the addition of many extra-curricular programs of schools that continue to operate even when the school is officially "off," and finally, the push for assessment by tests and summer remediation programs to raise scores began in the early 1980s. The School Reform movement had both an inside and outside aspect. On the outside, critics of schools argued that schools weren't doing a very good job. The publication of the government report A Nation At Risk (1983), Mortimer Adler's The Paideia Proposal (1982), E.D. Hirsch's Cultural Literacy (1987), and Ravitch & Finn's What Do Our 17-year-olds Know? (1987) are some of the landmarks of the outsiders' bid to reform schools in America. The insiders' response was to say that the solution to the problem of poor schooling was to provide more schooling.

The fact that the insiders won the argument and took over the School Reform banner is pretty mind-boggling when you put it that way. After all, the one statistic that is undeniably true is that increased numbers of days in school correlates with stagnant or decreasing test scores. Of course, we all know that "correlation ≠ causation," but still, the failure of "more of the same" is pretty obvious. So, why do we keep buying the idea that the solution to poor schooling is more schooling? Why not better schooling? Well, there are two primary reasons for the ever-expanding reach of the public schools, and these have been obvious since the mid-80s, even at the height of the School Reform ferment.

First of all, education professionals -- what used to be called "Schoolmen" -- see their work as salvific. They are the priests of a secular enlightenment, and the idea that you can reach a point of satiety with their ministrations is not an idea they can entertain without committing apostasy. Public schools are the secular counterpart of the seven-day-a-week, programmatic Mega-church, equipped with budgets that even a TV preacher would envy and the police power of the State to compel where they cannot convince. Not only is more of what they offer always seen to be a good thing, they sincerely believe that to take a pass on their offer of enlightenment is to condemn oneself or one's children to the outer darkness. In their view, this would not only be an everlasting loss to the individual, but would endanger society as a whole.

This not only explains their desire to expand the number of their programs and the number of days those programs are in operation, but it explains why they are impervious to criticism. As priests of their own brand of enlightenment, they believe it is their duty to bring all children under their tutelage. The control they exercise over the child's life -- and the family's life, thereby -- is utterly necessary in order for every child to receive full advantage from what they do. And not only do they therefore seek to expand the number of programs and the days of their operation, but also the control they exercise, formally and informally, over the lives of the children and their families. To question their right to do so, or even their competence in doing so, is to blaspheme.

My friends who teach in public schools may take offense at this characterization. I would hope they would not. I do not intend to malign them, nor scoff at the value of teaching as a profession. I'm merely pointing out that education ≠ schooling. Schools are one way in which people further their education, but it's not the only way. And too often, the view that the whole school IS the curriculum has been allowed free reign, which ultimately means that learning to ride the school bus, deal with the playground bully, and eat beans on Wednesdays are considered as equally important to learning math, or literature, or history. I'm merely pointing out that school, as an institution, is, like all institutions, prone to consider its own survival and growth as an ultimate value, regardless of what it achieves, and that as an agency of the State, it pursues its blind, octopodean reach with an in-built power few corporations, religious or commercial, can match.

The other reason for the ever-increasing expansion of school, however, has to do with the changing social and economic dynamics of our society. Beginning in the 1970s, many women began entering the full-time workforce. At first, this was about empowerment, about women being able to do things and reach levels that had previously been denied them. But the Law of Supply and Demand, applying as it does to labor as well as to commodities, meant that a vast increase in the number of workers seeking employment would retard the growth in real wages. By the 1980s, therefore, people were already complaining that it now took two full-time incomes to afford what had once been within the reach of a single income. The two-earner household was no longer a bonus, but had become a necessity, for most families.

And for those households with two full-time earners, providing child care was becoming a pressing problem. They could cobble together supervision for a week or two, here or there: short vacations, holidays, that sort of thing. But three whole months without a place to send their children, and to feed them, was a strain on the average family. So families, by and large, welcomed summer school programs, extra-curriculars, "enrichment" of all sorts. And as State governments mandated more days of schooling and schools re-ordered their calendars so that those days were spread more evenly around the year, this took significant pressure off of parents. In this way, one could say that the schools were merely responding to market pressure in taking over a third of the summer.

That said, "something's lost and something's gained," as the old song puts it. And still, that nagging question remains: What good is more schooling if it stays poor schooling? Where is the virtue in the bargain that gives up a whole month of summer vacation in return for more bus rides, more bullies, and more beans? Especially if, in the end, it doesn't mean better teaching and learning of math, of literature, of history? That's a bargain only Esau could love.

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Monday, August 1st, 2016
11:20 am - The Bones of the Ox
So, I was reading this post by somebody that was going on about cultural appropriation. At some point, I get that you might be ticked if somebody not from your group makes money off his presentation of your culture -- especially if he misunderstands who you are. And if people are mocking your culture by indulging in irritating stereotypes, yeah, that can get irksome.

Some things, though, ought to be beneath notice. I mean, throwing a St. Patrick's Day party with lots of faux leprechauns and green beer doesn't bother the real Irish, who are mostly bemused by it. Likewise, complaining that serving tacos in the cafeteria on Cinco de Mayo -- especially if they've been Americanized with non-Mexican ingredients and flavors, yada yada -- is petty. I mean, all foods get appropriated and reconfigured, by everybody. Pizza in America is not the same as its traditional antecedent in Italy; in fact, it's so different, I once saw a photo of a pizza parlor in Rome, whose sign declared in neon, "New York Pizza." Even over there, some people want it that way. And what do we do with Chicken Tikka Masala, which was invented in Scotland, for heaven's sake, because somebody wanted it with gravy: is it Indian cuisine, or Scots?

But let us not get distracted by food. Let's go for high culture: art and literature. Should it bug African-Americans that the folktales associated with Uncle Remus were written by a white author, Joel Chandler Harris? I could see where it might, particularly if Harris had used his black narrator as a mask for his white point of view, a la Amos and Andy, or if he told his own stories using characters from plantation folktales, so that their African heritage were mere window dressing. But critics then and now usually concede that Harris's Uncle Remus persona was accurate to the late plantation blacks of his youth, that his use of dialect was dead-on, and that the tales as he presented them were pretty much as they were told in their original context. Which is why Harris is often referred to as a folklorist rather than a writer of fiction. Still, he was white, and that rankles some folks.

Or take the case of George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward's opera, Porgy and Bess. The story is powerful, the characterizations respectful. The music was composed in the style of African-American folk music. African-American artists still sing "Summertime," but some of them have ambiguous feelings about the first great black music drama being written by three white guys. More of their whiteness shows through in Porgy and Bess, probably, than does Harris's whiteness in Uncle Remus, but still: it's a great work, and it presents an African-American story faithfully and well.

And here's the thing. At the time each was produced, could anybody else have done these things? Could any authentic plantation story tellers have gotten published during Reconstruction? What African-American composers and librettists had the training and resources in the 1930s to produce a work like Porgy and Bess? And shouldn't knowing Uncle Remus or Porgy and Bess whet one's appetite for more? Shouldn't we appreciate Harris and the Gershwins and Heyward for creating an audience to be addressed by African-American poets and artists and storytellers?

Yeah, I know. It's still too racially charged. Some people won't be able to hear my argument because of who I am, making it. So let me consider the issue from my own cultural tradition.

The first modern publication of Beowulf was in 1815 by Grimur Jonsson Thorkelin, a Dane. He came across the only manuscript in England and noted right away that Danes were mentioned in the first line: Hwæt we Gar-Dena in geardægum ("Lo, of Spear-Danes in days of yore"). He thought he'd stumbled across something like a Danish national epic. Pity it wasn't in Old Norse.

Actually, Beowulf only takes place in Denmark. Its hero is a Geat, a Gothlander. Swedes and Frisians and Jutes and Heathobards also make appearances. The only thing English about it is the language, and that is a thorough job: even all the names have been translated from Old Norse into Old English (e.g., Hroarr becomes Hrothgar). So, did the English poet appropriate a Danish story? Or was it originally a Geatish story? Or is it a quintessentially English story set in a romantic, foreign past? It may seem silly now, but in the 19th Century, Danish and English and German nationalisms fought over the possession of their ancient literatures. Jakob Grimm raised hackles in Denmark and Norway over his insistence on referring to their languages and literatures as "Germanic," especially since the oldest written works in this culture area were in Old English, and the most extensive were in Old Norse/Icelandic, and the whole idea of a standard German language isn't even older than Martin Luther, thank you very much.

Or let's talk about King Arthur and the stories of Camelot and the Grail. How English can these be? Arthur himself, if he existed, would have been a Briton: what the Angles and Saxons called the Wealas, "(Romanized) foreigners," from which we get Wales (and walnuts, incidentally). Arthur fought the Germanic invaders to a standstill at Mount Badon. He was on the other side, for pity's sake. He's not English at all.

The earliest written sources of Arthurian tales are mentions in the Welsh Triads and a few Welsh short stories. Then, the Matter of Britain was taken up by Anglo-Norman writers, who wrote in French. Wace and Layamon wrote in Norman French, Chretien de Troyes and others wrote in Parisian French, and both were enjoyed by a French-speaking court in England. By the time people like Thomas Malory started writing all these things down in Middle English, fashions had changed in the court, and it was no longer vulgar to speak English. But all this raises the question: to whom does Arthuriana belong? What culture does he represent? Oh, that was long ago and far away, you say. But once upon a time, it mattered.

I am sympathetic to those who are proud of their culture and want it presented authentically. At the same time, all aspects of culture are, as Tolkien pointed out, quoting George Dasent, the bones of yesterday's ox from which new cooks are always making today's soup. Everything goes in the pot and everything influences everything else. Irish step dancing was appropriated by African-Americans and became tap dancing. German immigrants in Texas couldn't find the pork or venison they liked to make the kind of Schnitzel they did back home, so they used beef and we got Country-fried Steak. The driving bass line we all love in Rock 'n' Roll was first explored by some classical composers who were originally trained as church organists. The ideal of the medieval knight is a fusion of the Germanic warrior hero converted to Roman Christianity. New combinations do not mean that the traditional combinations are no longer good. You can appreciate a thing in its original form, but you can also appreciate what it became when other people picked it up.

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Saturday, July 30th, 2016
9:11 pm - The Internet was invented in order to share cat photos
I took these pics this evening of our two kitties. Lightning, the "social leopard," as Mammy Yokum would say, is acting uncommonly friendly. But he's poaching on Hera's turf, and she doesn't look too happy about it.

Who, me?

Who, me?
Lightning, caught off guard

Yes, you.

Yes, you.
Hera, thinking her place on the bed has been usurped

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Friday, July 29th, 2016
9:18 pm - Through the Evangelical Looking-Glass
So, I came home today to find that I had been quoted in a Charisma magazine internet post; however, I had been quoted out of context, and it wasn't clear that my thoughts were actually separate from the unnamed "source" the writer was relying on. Very sloppy reporting, though it could have been much worse.

This is not the first time I have found myself unintentionally famous (or notorious) at the hands of what should have been my spiritual allies.

In the late 1970s (c. 1976-7?), when I was in seminary, there was a movement gaining momentum in churches across the USA to petition Congress to pass a Right to Food Act. Congregations were being asked to endorse the petition in worship services and business meetings. It was described as a "simple liturgical act."

I opposed this, and when the issue was raised at Asbury Theological Seminary, I wrote to my seminary student newspaper to say so. Mind you, I wasn't opposed to feeding the hungry, here and around the world, but I was deeply troubled by what I saw as a movement asking the USA to declare a Right to Food. For in our legal tradition, rights are not just aspirations; they are part of the Constitution, enforceable even upon governments. Establishing a juridical Right to Food is not the same as expressing the desire that we should all work to eliminate hunger.

Well, my letter went largely unnoticed until we had a special speaker come to campus: Paul S. Rees of World Vision. Somebody handed him my letter and he took special care to denounce the uncaring attitude that infected even such a bastion of the Spirit as Asbury in his magazine (I forget whether he mentioned it in his address to the student body).

People leading moral crusades of one kind or another are always apt to see anybody who objects to their pet projects as either enemies or dupes of the other side. They don't see those who point out the pitfalls and constitutional tangles as being their kind of people. But those of us who do the wonk-work and think through what is actually possible to accomplish aren't opponents of the goal; we're just not going to go along with the crowd and think that sloganeering = policy. A "simple liturgical act" may make you feel all warm and fuzzy, that you did something to combat hunger, but if that movement had gained its object and been passed into law, it would have been either unenforceable or a confounded nuisance; and either way, I doubt it would have fed many hungry people.

Now, I was not mentioned by name in Paul Rees's magazine column. I was shamed anonymously. Quite the opposite happened a few years later, when I ran afoul of Moody Press.

It was c. 1980, and the fear of Satanic cults, of human sacrifice and cannibalism and whatnot, was being fanned by evangelical leaders all over the US. And just at that time, what should become the hot new toy, but the game Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. TSR, the company which produced AD&D and other game-related products, was under siege by religious conservatives. In addition to the bad press, they had kids writing in to them saying things like, "My Sunday School teacher thinks I'm in danger of going to hell/playing with the occult/worshiping false gods; what do I do?"

Now, several of us had gotten into playing AD&D shortly after graduating from seminary. For us over-educated types who had read fantasy and science fiction and fairy tales our whole lives, this was a neat way to play with the same concepts. I even wrote an article that was accepted by what was then called The Dragon, TSR's monthly gaming magazine. Having established a relationship as a budding writer, I mentioned -- by the way -- that I was also an ordained minister. Would they like an article written by a clergyperson that explained the Fantasy Role-Playing Game phenomenon sympathetically?

Boy, howdy, would they! "Reflections of a Real-Life Cleric" was rushed into print as soon as I could get it to them. And so began my journey as one of the few clergy in the country who had written on these games in terms other than condemnation and dread. And soon a whole book appeared in Christian book stores -- published by Moody Press -- called Playing With Fire, which stoked the hysteria. I was one of the few published writers who'd written for the other side, so my little article was extensively quoted. My wrong-headedness was critically analyzed, as if I were a public danger whose works might influence the destiny of thousands of souls. Not that anybody told me I was being attacked, by name, in a popular book issued by an evangelical publisher. But my fundamentalist brother-in-law bought the book and gave me a copy -- for the good of my soul, I'm sure.

Sigh. I'm afraid there is a long history of distrust among Puritans of all sorts for works of the imagination. Only Milton, among Puritans, really embraced the imagination, though sadly he was also a heretic. But really, the small-minded fearmongering of evangelicals can get too much too fast for a lot of us. I dropped my subscription to The Moody Monthly after this. A year or so later, I dropped my subscription to Christianity Today, when they published a ridiculous article on fantasy gaming, replete with dark hints born of ignorance. For instance, they mentioned that kids play these games with something called "hex paper." Occultism? No, it's just paper with a hexagonal grid printed on it, like a honeycomb. It allows movement in six equal directions instead of the four that a square grid gives you. If they'd bothered to actually ask anybody who played games what hex paper was, they'd've been set straight -- which only demonstrates that they didn't ask anybody, they just wrote up their tendentious screed and considered it a duty well done.

Ya know, I believe all the right stuff, and I fight to maintain our doctrinal and behavioral standards in The UMC. I have done so for over forty years now. But there are times when evangelicals -- holiness people, charismatics, fundamentalists, revivalists, the lot -- just weird me out. And I'm so glad that Good News and The Confessing Movement seem to get it, that the orthodox believers and clergy in United Methodism are a larger category than just the evangelicals, though they may be the largest portion of us. But here's the thing: we are trying to maintain an orthodox United Methodism, not just an evangelical one.

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Monday, July 25th, 2016
9:36 pm - The unvarnished truth
I got some hike reports from Scouts tonight. One of them is a classic. Here is a transcription, without any editing on my part. This is a 12-year-old's summary of a 20-mile hike.
Logan B's hike report

20 miles! A hobbits Tale

We got up a 6:30 and ate breakfast and left and 7. We had 2nd breakfast at Jesus Christs church Barn and headed off! We walked and walked and walked and walked some more to lost creek bridge and ate lunch with pain killers. then we walked along the ridges and then ate trail supper. Finally we got laughery creek and crossed it. Then with a 1/4 mile left don was dehydrated (dramatic music) Matthew helped him then we went back to Arts cabin and ate supper!


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Sunday, July 24th, 2016
9:15 pm - Drove by here today
Beware of feral halflings

Beware of feral halflings

Only a few will get the reference, I'm guessing.

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Wednesday, July 20th, 2016
9:41 pm - A word for our times
Today's Patented Pastoral Profundity™ is: Respectability ≠ Holiness.

When I was young -- the late '50s and early '60s -- people worried a lot about their reputations. They did not want to be thought persons of low character. Character was about honesty, about cleanliness of all sorts, and so on, as well as about sexual behavior. Particularly as regards sexual behavior, though, people didn't want to be caught out in less than respectable situations. No doubt that fear of being shamed kept many people from doing things they shouldn't do anyway, but there is also no doubt that a lot of people did them in spite of that -- but as long as nobody found out, or there were no consequences (pregnancy, disease, scandal, whatnot), then the appearance of good character would suffice for most folks.

Now, holiness is at all times difficult to explain, and even more difficult to follow. The fact that "without holiness no one shall see the Lord" was left to the grace of God to sort out; meanwhile, people lived by respectability. Unfortunately, the Church allowed itself to teach respectability, too -- to conspire to let good character be about appearances rather than reality. No doubt the Church hoped that would be a first step only, and "growth in grace" would soon lead people to an engagement with the more challenging aspects of life in Christ. In this, the Church was mostly disappointed. Moreover, when the standard of what was respectable in our society changed, the Church found herself left behind and playing catch up in her mission to call people to holiness.

The Sexual Revolution that began in my youth with easy and effective contraceptives went on to establish (inter alia) the habit of living together before marriage, bearing children out of wedlock, no-fault divorce, the hook-up culture, and the acceptance of a wide range of sexual lifestyles. And the important thing to point out here is the complete lack of shame or discomfort on the part of anybody engaging in any of these today. Even in Church, everybody takes it as normal that people should live this way, without losing their respectability.

Holiness, meanwhile, has not changed. It has just gotten ever harder to explain to people for whom the new respectability is a thing achieved. And those who want their behaviors and lifestyles validated often show their disappointment or even anger at those who still testify to the upward call to a holy life in service of a holy God. But what can we do? We have to love people as they are -- but we have to tell them the truth about themselves, as well as the truth about God. To tell people lies -- even comfortable lies -- is, in the end, unloving.

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Tuesday, July 19th, 2016
10:18 am - Moving Day
Moving Day for Anna and family finally arrived. By 7:30 a.m., T.C., T.J., and Zach (three of our Venturers) were all here. Anna got the little boys ready. We got to the U-Haul place by 8:00 or so and signed out a massive 26-foot furniture van. T.J. rode with Anna and the grandcubs. Zach and T.C. piled in the van with me. Zach remarked, "This thing is a tank." Yep. Been a long time since I've driven a beast that big.

We drove up to Indy through the rain and got to the PODS place. The worker got his forklift out and fetched Anna and Brian's two pods and put them indoors where we could load up without worrying about rain. I backed the beast into the warehouse just like I knew what I was doing.

Anna's stuff had been stored in these two pods for nearly two years. Surprisingly, everything was pretty much as they left it. Very little shifting. As we began to dig out the bigger, heavier pieces to load into the van first, I remarked that the moving crew was now Pod People. Or maybe Podlings. Anna and I then started riffing on quotes from The Dark Crystal, which went over our crew's heads.

Peas in a pod

Peas in a pod
Pod People? Podlings?

Daniel and James were very excited. They wanted to help, which mostly involved getting in the way. They wanted to play with everything they hadn't seen for two years. They wanted to treat the back of the truck like a jungle gym (this was mostly Daniel). All normal for little boys. My family moved way too often when I was young; I remember.

Rediscovering hidden treasures

Rediscovering hidden treasurers
The lion rocker was bought for Daniel, who is now too big for it

It took us three hours to load the truck. We didn't pack it to the ceiling, just to about eye level. Still, that meant we were packed all the way to the back door. Then we went to a nearby Subway and had lunch. Shortly after 2:00, we were barreling down the interstate toward Richmond. We arrived in good order. Brian was there to meet us. Once again, excited little boys got in the way. Neighbors came to check us out.

My house.

My house.
James at the front door

It took two and a half hours to unload the truck and put everything more or less where it needed to be. I explained to Daniel that Mommy is in charge on Moving Day: she gets to tell everyone where stuff goes. My job was Loadmaster; I mostly stood in the truck and dismantled the stack, handing it forward to the crew. T.C., T.J., and Zach groaned as I kept calling out, "More books!" (Hey, Anna and Brian only had about forty boxes of books. Last time I moved, I had a hundred.)

Once everything was unloaded, more or less, Anna left to pick up pizza and breadsticks to feed everybody. We relaxed in their spacious and beautiful front yard. Their house is old and much-remodeled, but in excellent condition. It has a lot of room, plus a 3-car garage onto which a workshop and lawnmower sheds have been built. Lots of trees, a beautiful front lawn, a nice, fenced-in back yard. It's a great place to raise boys.

Out front

Out front
Taking it easy

And here is where they plan to raise them. They hope to be here at least ten years. So this is the home Daniel and James will remember the rest of their lives as "where we grew up." God bless them and make their home a happy one. I'm so glad to see them established somewhere at last.

Home at last

Home at last
Daniel showing off his new digs

After supper, we loaded up our people and drove back to E-ville. Anna had to drive back with us in order to get all the crew returned. Then she drove back to Richmond the same night. But now, everybody's where they belong. I'll be borrowing a trailer in a couple of days and taking over a few big things they have stashed here. But now, they can start unpacking, sorting out, and beginning their new life, with everybody together just like it's meant to be.

I'll miss having them here (though I hope soon not to be so tired all the time -- there's a reason children are born to young adults). But I'm glad to have been able to help them out in their need, and I am deeply grateful to everybody in EFUMC and our Scouting ministry who welcomed Anna and Brian, Daniel and James and loved them so well. God bless you all.

When I paid the crew, they said some things that moved me, too. Zach felt it was odd to get paid for doing this. I think T.C. was surprised at how much I paid them (he wasn't there when I made the initial offer). They would have done it for friendship's sake. But having asked them to work all day at an adult job, I felt I should pay them what I would have paid strangers I had to hire to do it. They did a great job, and I'm proud of them.

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Saturday, July 16th, 2016
4:18 pm - Cataract Ten-miler
Today was our latest ten-mile hike for Troop 119's Hiking Merit Badge crew. Andrew could not be with us today, since he is attending NYLT at Maumee Scout Reservation this week. So we just had Matt and Logan. Matt took the role of Hike Leader, and Logan carried the map. Don drove.

We parked at the Cataract Baptist Church and looked over our map route. Then we set off through the little town of Cataract, heading for the State Recreation Area just out of town to the north. It was just about 9:18 a.m. The morning was cool, the skies were blue, all around was an intense green. Summer was in full array.

Matt set a fairly stiff pace as we entered the SRA and headed down the road to the Lower Falls. This is typical for teenage boys. They have lots of energy, so they barge off, as if they are going to eat the elephant in one sitting. I gave him his head for a mile or so. Then, I noticed that Logan had merely slipped his boots on without retying them. His left foot was slipping in and out of his boot as if it were a flip-flop. Not good. I called his attention to it, and he asked for a break after a while to tie it right. I spoke to Matt, and thereafter we had fewer problems with him overworking his crew by the pace he set.

Lower Falls

Lower Falls
Cataract State Recreation Area
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Friday, July 15th, 2016
2:24 pm - Why Pence?
Richard Nixon once declared that, for the Presidential nominee, your VP candidate can only hurt you. Which is why his choice in 1968 came down to two, what he called, "political eunuchs": John Volpe and Spiro Agnew. Agnew got the nod, Volpe was made Transportation Sec in the new Cabinet.

My guess is, Trump's ego won't let him run with anybody who isn't completely colorless and easily led. Mike Pence certainly fills that bill. He has -- had -- excellent conservative credentials, and then turned out to be easily cowed as Governor by various opposition pressure groups.

So, Pence won't hurt Trump's chances, or upstage him. Trump's on his own, which is where he wants to be. For Indiana, Pence's moving up means someone else will run for Governor, and the chances of the GOP retaining the Governor's seat in Indiana just went up a notch.

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