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New Blog

February 24th, 2017 No comments
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Despite My Faults and Despite My Growing Fears

March 20th, 2013 No comments
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All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter – Part 4, Conclusion

November 11th, 2011 No comments

(Continued from Part 3…)

Grandma insisted on making Doug sit down and try the apple crisp with fresh whipped cream right away.  Doug didn’t really argue.  As he was polishing off the big bowl, his grandmother quizzed him on how everyone in Twin Springs was doing, from Jessie and his mom and the almost-baby, to old Uncle Bill.  “Where’s Grandpa?” Doug asked.  “Won’t I have to go over all this with him later?”
“Yes, but I still want to hear it first.  Your grandfather is still teaching at the Middle College.  He’ll be back for dinnertime.”

Doug busied himself helping his grandmother with dinner until Grandpa arrived.  “Well, hello Douglass.  You’ve gotten taller.  How about you show me that problem power supply, eh?  Hopefully I can figure something out before Mother calls us to sit down.  Set it up on my workbench while I change out of my teaching clothes into my farmer’s uniform.”
“You don’t farm, Grandpa.”
“No… not anymore.  Just a little gardening.  You don’t remember?”
Doug shook his head.  He had been four when Grandma and Grandpa moved out of Twin Springs into Ontonagon, so he didn’t have any memory of his grandfather working the farm.
Grandpa sighed.  “Well, that’s too bad.  Now I just farm brains at school.  I swear, sometimes those weeds are harder to pull.”
It didn’t take long to get the power supply disassembled on Grandpa’s electronics workbench.  Doug had only picked up the very basics of electronics, but the blown capacitor and charred traces on the main board were obvious.  “What do you think?”
“I’ll know in a minute.  Let’s see…”  He reached up to a shelf and pulled out a tablet with some cables attached.  “Here.  This is the debug port, let’s see…”  He attached one of the cables to a small connector on one of the power supply boards, tapped up a debugger app on the tablet, frowned, then started to check around the board with a meter.  “I don’t know – it’s still using CPU control rather than analog, and the brains might be fried.  Need to see if I can get some voltage to it…”  Doug watched, asking a few questions but mostly just trying to follow along.
Eventually, Grandpa shook his head.  “Nope.  Chip’s fried too.  So much for failsafes.”
“Could you replace it?”
“It’d be tricky – but no point.  We’d have to order it preprogrammed for this supply, and they charge more for that than for a new unit.  It’s spare parts now.”
Doug was thrilled for a second — this meant that he’d get to go to Houghton after all!  Then, he felt ashamed.  A new supply was going to cost most of the profits from this year’s log bonding.  A repair would have meant that a lot more money was available for the family.
“Dad’s going to be disappointed.”
Grandpa shrugged.  “Seems like it’s harder all the time to get decent electronics from the Brazillians, and nobody is taking up the slack.  Wish we could get some Yooper supplier, or at least NortAmerican, but that’s more than I’m going to take on at my age.”
“You telling me there’s a business opportunity?”
“I think there might be.  At least, I’d like to think so.  Why, you looking to start a business?” Grandpa asked, with a bit of an eager gleam in his eye that surprised Doug.
“Well, m-maybe,” Doug stuttered.  “I don’t like trees and sheep and potatoes the way Dad does.”
“But don’t you need to be rich to start something like that?”
His grandfather laughed a bit.  “Rich?  Well, money does help with that sort of thing, although not always as much as you might think.  You sound like you think you’re not already rich.”
“Say what?  We’re farmers, Grandpa.  And log-bonders.  Who have to worry about whether we can afford a new power supply.  That’s not rich.”
Grandpa looked at Doug over the top of his glasses.  “Oh, really?  You think you need to be a fancy mine chief, or maybe a shipbuilder, driving your car around town just to show off to be rich?”  He frowned.  “You need to look down instead of just up, young man, and appreciate your blessings.  Been hungry lately?”
“Just between meals.”
“Bingo.  Which I know are being put on your table at least three times a day.  Probably more like a Hobbit schedule, if I know you grandkids.” Doug chuckled at that – he and Michael had started asking for “second breakfast” after reading about Shire mealtimes.  “And fresh water to wash it down with?”
“It’s called ‘Twin Springs’ for a reason, Grandpa.”
“Bingo again.  One of the main reasons your great-grandfather bought the place before the Troubles, you know.  He wanted his family where he could be sure of a water supply.  Always said that, if the springs failed, worst case we weren’t that far from the biggest supply of fresh water on the planet.”
Doug stood up from his workbench stool and shuffled his feet a bit. “I don’t feel rich.  Seems like all we do is work, work, work.”
“Well, we’re not rich enough to laze around, that’s for sure.  But… you haven’t done your service trip yet, have you?”
Doug shook his head.  It wasn’t exactly mandatory — you could still be Confirmed without it, although the Bishop didn’t like it — but the Church was encouraging young people to spend at least three months with a mission order doing some sort of service.
“You should, you know.  It would be good for you to see more of the world than ‘Nogon and the Porkies. Compared to the beggars in New Chicago, you’ve got it pretty good.”
Doug didn’t answer.  It was true; compared to them, he was fabulously wealthy.  At least up here, you didn’t have to worry so much about whether the ground you were growing your food in was poisoned or radioactive.
Grandpa pushed his glasses back up on his face, and gave Doug a pat on the shoulder.  “You really are richer than you know.  ‘All that is gold does not glitter,’ of course.”
“What does that mean?”
Grandpa was surprised.  “You must not have gotten that far in the Fellowship.”
“They all just arrived at Bree.”
“Ah.  Well, you’ll see soon, then.”

They returned to the house and phoned Twin Springs to break the bad news about the power supply.  Dad reported no baby yet.  “But I can’t imagine she’ll hold on until you get back now, so be ready for a new brother or sister.”  Grandma said she would drive the team back to Twin Springs tomorrow and stay there until after the baby came.
“How am I going to get home?” asked Doug.
“We’ll do the reverse trip when you get back,” Dad said.  “Either your grandmother will come back with the buggy, or if we can’t pry her away from the baby, I’ll find someone to send.”
They said their goodbyes and hung up after that, to keep from running up charges.  Doug had to admit to himself that not everyone had phone service, so maybe they _were_ better off than he was used to thinking.
Doug had hoped that the pasties might be for dinner, but Grandma said those would be for tomorrow’s lunch.  Instead, she had concocted a mix of roasted vegetables with potatoes, parsnips, carrots, rutabagas, and turnips, with some goat cheese melted on top, and served it with salad from their hoophouse and the chicken soup she had been simmering.  He admitted this would keep his mind off the pasties until tomorrow.
“And mind you stay out of those cookies,” Grandma warned.  “Those are for All Hallow’s Eve.”
“Is that tonight?  I lost track.  If I dress up as a saint, can I have one too?”
“And just who do you think you are going to be?”
Doug walked over to the woodstove, picked up the kindling hatchet, and slung it over his shoulder like a lumberman’s axe.  His grandparents were puzzled for a moment, then Grandpa blurted out “Saint Boniface! Good choice.”  Grandma laughed.  “Well, then, you deserve a cookie for that one.”
“While your grandmother hands out cookies, I’m going to Mass tonight.  Are you coming?”
Doug looked uncomfortable.  “I really wasn’t planning on it…”
“Is there a problem?”
“No! Well, I mean… I guess I haven’t been to confession in a while.”
“No surprise, with only that little chapel out there.  But you’re here now.”
“I know, but I hate confession with Father Nakamura.  Half the time, I can’t understand him, and I end up being afraid that he didn’t hear me right or that I’ll mess up the penances and be worse off than before.”
“It doesn’t get easier if you put it off, you know,” said Grandma.
“I should be in Houghton in plenty of time to catch All Saints, if I get an early enough train.  I can try to catch a priest who speaks English then, eh?”
“Or at least who speaks Yooper.”

It ended up being a quiet evening.  Doug helped Grandma hand out cookies, but the rush of kids yelling “Trick or Treat!” only lasted about a half hour.  That left plenty of time to clean up from dinner, discuss details of what to look for in the next power supply with Grandpa and to get back to reading Fellowship before turning in.
“Oh, I see!  Aragorn’s verse is what you were saying earlier?  But what does that have to do with anything?”
“Think, Douglass.  It’ll come to you.”

It was early in the morning when they all got up.  Grandpa gave Doug some letters of introduction to Houghton’s two electrical shops, plus some of the Michigan Tech faculty.  “I want you to see Dr. Lynch while you are there,” Grandpa told Doug.
“Is he Electrical Engineering?”
“Mining and Geology, actually.”Doug couldn’t believe his ears.  He had wondered if it would be possible to get someone from Tech to validate his find, and now his grandfather was setting it up for him.  He wondered for a second if he actually knew about the nuggets, then dismissed the thought.  Just a coincidence.
“Sure, Grandpa.  What for?”
“I just want you to get introduced. He’s an old friend of mine.  He’d be a good one to talk to about getting off the farm, if you’re looking for a way.”
Doug blinked.  “I didn’t think you would take that seriously.”
Grandpa smiled.  “Why not?”

The train ride from Ontonagon to Houghton was delightful.  Doug was able to read and take in the fall color without the worry of having to drive a team of horses.  He noticed the increasing number of farms as they got closer – the Keewenaw was much more populated than the Trap Hills.  Leaving the train station, he checked Mass times at St. Frederick Baraga, and decided he had plenty of time to stop by the University and look up Dr. Lynch before the last service.  Besides, he was planning on staying there for at least one night anyhow – his grandfather had arranged that too.  Tech had more dorm space than students these days, and was willing to let out rooms, if one knew who to ask.

It took Doug a few wrong turns, but he eventually figured out the right building on campus.  It should have been simple, but the height of the buildings was a little disorienting – most were at least eight stories tall.  “Come in!” a voice said, when he knocked on the half-open door of the office.  The man at the desk looked up as Doug came in.  “What can I do for you?”
“Hello, Dr. Lynch.  Um… I’m just in the city for a day or two, and my grandfather wanted me to introduce myself.  My name is Doug Pakala.”
The man got up from his desk and extended his hand.  “Nice to make your acquaintance, young man.  I’m Bob Lynch.  So, you must be one of Professor Pakala’s grandkids?”
Professor Pakala? “My grandfather is Dale Pakala.  He said that you two are friends?  I never heard that he taught at Tech.”
“Wonderful!  I can see the resemblance.  Have a seat, relax.  Yes, he’s an emeritus now, but he did teach for several years, although after that he was a research fellow until he retired.”
“Grandpa was into electronics research?”
“Oh, no,” Dr. Lynch replied, “electronics are just his hobby.  Your grandfather is part of the Agriculture faculty.”
“I thought he was just a farmer.”
Just a farmer?  Oh, no.  That pollard / pasture mix that’s at Twin Springs?”  Doug nodded – he knew it well.  Taking trimmings from the high branches was one of his jobs.  “That’s starting to be used all over the State now?  The research that showed how productive that could be was done by your grandfather.  It’s still ongoing, even though he keeps trying to retire.”
Doug decided he was going to have to ask Grandpa more about this when he got home.  It would be a lot more interesting grazing the sheep on the back forty if he knew the rationale for the tree arrangement.
“Dr. Lynch?  Can I ask you something?  You are a mineralogist, right?”
“That’s part of what I do, yes.”
“Would you please take a look at these and tell me what you think?”  Doug brought out his two small nuggets, carefully unwrapped them, and set them on Dr. Lynch’s desk.
Dr. Lynch whistled, then started to examine them with a magnifying glass.  “Very nice specimens of native gold.  Where did you get them?”
“Found them out deer hunting last fall, to the west of Twin Springs.”
“What do you want to know about them?”
“Well, I was wondering… I found them near one of the creeks.  Do you think they show that there is a mother lode?”
Dr. Lynch shook his head.  “Ah, I see why you’re excited.  No, I don’t think so.  Look carefully at these.”  He handed Doug the magnifying glass.  “Do you see those fine striations, and the way there are those bits of fine gravel embedded into the gold?  That indicates that this gold was placed glacially, not weathered out of a mother lode.  It could have come from anywhere.  I’m sorry to give you the bad news.  They are very nice specimens, though.  I can offer you a premium over what you would get from a smelter so we can add them to the University’s collection.”

Doug walked back slowly to St. Baraga’s.  He hadn’t realized quite how much the daydream of striking it rich had gotten hold of him until Dr. Lynch had crushed it.  The money Tech was offering would make a difference, of course, but it wouldn’t make him rich.
Inside the church, there was a short line at the confessional.  Well, I don’t think that I’ve committed any mortal sins, but better safe than sorry, I suppose.  The waiting area had a pamphlet containing an examination of conscience.  Doug read through it casually, until he got to “Have I been motivated by avarice?”  Oh.  He was happy to find that the priest heard his confession and pronounced absolution in fluent Yooper.

Doug took his place near the back of the church.  It felt good to be at Mass again.  Usually, the family’s only opportunity would be the once every month or so Father Nakamura would come into Green.  Some months, they didn’t find out until afterwards.  Dad made an extra effort to get them to Ontonagon at Christmas and Easter, but the weather was always chancy.  More than one year, they’d been snowed in for Christmas.
The Psalm for the day was Psalm 16.  While Doug tried to be attentive to the lessons, usually the chanting of the Psalm made all the words jumble together in his mind.  Today, however, they came into bright focus:

O LORD, you are my portion and my cup;  

it is you who uphold my lot.

My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;

indeed, I have a goodly heritage…

As the words of the Psalm flowed, Doug saw Twin Springs in his mind, but as if he were seeing it for the first time.  It’s so beautiful.  Why did I let myself get used to it?  He wondered about his mother, and if the new baby had come yet, and if so, how Jessica was handling not being the littlest any more.
Maybe Grandpa was right and he was richer than he knew.  After all, he had a goodly heritage, and his boundaries enclosed a pleasant land.


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“So, what have you been reading?”

May 6th, 2011 4 comments

I was asked this by a friend tonight, and it made me think.  What have I been reading lately?  (I’m only going to count real, bound, ink-on-dead-trees books.  Blogs, Facebook, newsfeeds, and webcomics will not count for this purpose.)

Let’s see: fitness, gardening, more fitness, Carmelite spirituality, stage combat, economics, and bits of BritLit.

In case anyone wonders why this blog is named “Eclectic Amateur”, this should help explain.

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June 6th, 2009 No comments
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Happy Easter!

April 13th, 2007 No comments

The Lord is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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More on Usury

November 22nd, 2006 No comments

My previous post on the “death pledge” drew a good comment, which deserves pulling up into a post:

Usury was traditionally condemned for two reasons.

The first was that much moneylending was small amounts for personal consumption by the wasteful or desperate — rather like taking out a loan on the family farm to pay for your mother’s operation or to feed a gambling habit.

(Incidentally, farmers hate bankers — it’s sort of a natural antipathy, like dog and wolf.)

The second was a conviction that money was “sterile”, and that making it yield profit was somehow “unnatural” — partly an outgrowth of the above, and partly sheer economic primitivism.

S. M. Stirling

I’m well aware of the farmer-banker antipathy — I’m the first of my line to not farm since… well, possibly since Adam, as far as I know.

A story: One time, and one time only, my grandfather spoke to me about Jews. He didn’t think much of them and didn’t trust them. Now, this wasn’t for any high-falutin‘ theological reason like the old “Christ-killer” epithet. The Protocols remained unmentioned. It was for a much simpler reason:

“Jews are money people, not people of the land. You can’t trust a people that don’t have a connection to the land.”

And it became blindingly obvious: one doesn’t need much in the way of theological or sociological explanations to understand why farmers hate bankers. How much, I wonder, of historic European anti-Semitism is understandable by the simple reality that most Christians were peasant farmers, and that Jews were landless bankers? (Given that Jews were forbidden to own land and were requested to be bankers, I blame Christian princes for this setup.)

I also wonder if this doesn’t help explain the fervor of Evangelical sentiment in favor of Israel. Yes, there are theological reasons — but also, emotionally, modern Israel means that Jews are people of the land now. Which, to that old farmer’s logic, now means trustworthy, folks more like us.

Given the minuscule number of modern Americans who have any connection to the land anymore, I would say we are all money people now. I wonder what my grandfather would think of that?

Back to usury: as I think about it, I’m sympathetic to the notion of money as naturally sterile. Piles of gold bars (or pictures of dead presidents) don’t grow bigger on their own.

And I confess, it’s been a long time since I studied the “dismal science,” and this is my first encounter with the phrase “economic primitivism.” I assume this refers to something definite (a preference for simpler and more direct rather than abstract economic transactions?) rather than being mere chronological snobbery?

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Death Pledge

November 1st, 2006 No comments

A man who builds his house with other people’s money
is like one who gathers stones for his burial mound.

— Sirach 21:8 (RSV)

So much for the mortgage industry.

It is therefore worth remembering that the literal origin of the word ‘mortgage‘ is death pledge.

And perhaps it is time to remember that usury has been traditionally condemned as a sin against justice.

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On second thought

September 25th, 2006 No comments

In my previous post, I had some harsh words for a certain Islamic cleric, due to his quoted commentary on Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address and the subsequent hysteria.

On further consideration, I realized that I was failing to remember the Sheaism of “subtract 50 IQ points when the MSM discusses religion.”

And also, “do not attribute to stupidity what can only be explained by malice.”

So. Why was I thinking that I could actually draw a resonable conclusion from a MSM story regarding a religious issue? I mean, they can’t even cover local (American) stories right.

Mea culpa.

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"Dialogue", meaning "Shut Up and Be Like Us"

September 16th, 2006 No comments

No, this isn’t about “dialogue” within The Episcopal Church (although it could be).

This week, Pope Benedict XVI gave a lecture at the University of Regensburg on the relationship between faith and reason, and the importance of and legitimate position of Greek philosophy within Church teaching.

Dry stuff, eh? Not when he quotes, in the first third of his talk, the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos:

“Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

The reactions have been, unfortunately, predictable:

Across the Islamic world Friday, Benedict’s remarks on Islam and jihad in a speech in Germany unleashed a torrent of rage that many fear could burst into violent protests like those that followed publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad….

Chancellor Merkel is not cowed, and still remembers how to use the word ‘dialogue’ in its non-debauched form:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the German-born pope, saying his message had been misunderstood.

“It is an invitation to dialogue between religions and the pope has explicitly urged this dialogue, which I also endorse and see as urgently necessary,” she said Friday. “What Benedict XVI makes clear is a decisive and uncompromising rejection of any use of violence in the name of religion.”

However, CAIR is busy using ‘dialogue’ in its debased form (meaning, “keep talking until you see things my way”):

“The proper response to the pope’s inaccurate and divisive remarks is for Muslims and Catholics worldwide to increase dialogue and outreach efforts aimed at building better relations between Christianity and Islam,” the group said.

So far, this is all SOP. Here, however, is something deserves a bit more highlighting:

“The pope and Vatican proved to be Zionists and that they are far from Christianity, which does not differ from Islam. Both religions call for forgiveness, love and brotherhood,” Shiite cleric Sheik Abdul-Kareem al-Ghazi said during a sermon in Iraq’s second-largest city, Basra.

(Side note: “Zionists”? I think al-Ghazi’s anti-Semitism is showing.)

Get that? The pope isn’t a “real” Christian, because he’s critical of Islam. Real Christianity does not differ from Islam, according to al-Ghazi. (I’m sure his Chaldean neighbors will be surprised to hear this…)

So. A Shi’ite cleric takes it upon himself to declare what “real” Christianity is — and it turns out to be just like Islam! Those “Christians” who do not accept this vision are therefore not “real” Christians, but rather “Zionists”.

An … interesting approach to inter-religious dialogue, to be sure. One that I think will be rather unproductive with non-dhimmi Christians.

It might have a chance of working at the National Cathedral, however. I hear they go in for that sort of thing.

God have mercy.