Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Memoirs of a Meta-Author

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, essays, writing, books, books about books

What is the difference between a columnist and a blogger? This isn't a trick question. The columnist usually gets paid by the publisher. Of course, some bloggers are earning money from their weblogs, but they are paid more directly by advertisers or by subscribers. There is also a difference of tone. Most bloggers, myself included, primarily write what pleases them, and if others like to read it also, so much the better. The tone of a columnist's writing can range from very personal to hortatory to documentary, but is more outwardly focused than the usual weblog.

Here, a book combines literary criticism with a weblog: Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books, by Michael Dirda. The 52 chapters are weblog posts from a one-year assignment with American Scholar. The posts average about 1,000 words—similar in size to my posts in this weblog—which is about 2-3 times as long as is "recommended" in the various "advice for bloggers" pages. But if ever someone could merge column writing with blogging, it is he.

And if ever someone made a living out of writing about writing, Dr. Dirda is the prince of such meta-writers. His 1992 Pulitzer Prize was conferred upon his columns of book reviews. The columns/posts in Browsings are more personal than critical (in the positive sense of the word: evaluative). He loves books, and by his account reads such a great deal I am rather amazed he has time to write about it.

I couldn't really categorize the chapters into a coherent set of bunches. I thought I had wide-ranging interests, but reading this book put me in the presence of a mind of Galactic proportions (yes, that is a bit of a pun. He reads mostly fiction, including a large measure of science fiction). I can only systematize thus far: Some of the chapters are focused on lists of books or book sets, and some (the smaller quantity) are not.

For example, the chapter "Wonder Books" contains an annotated list of books be bought on a certain day at Wonder Books and Video in Frederick, MD. This is one of the shorter lists, 19 volumes, but 15 of the book titles are followed by a half-page mini-review. This is also the longest chapter, 11 pages (Yes, I counted them all from the table of contents. Two others approach 10 pages in length. And just FYI, early on the chapters average about 5 pages, but later they average 7).

The author describes himself as an "almost hoarder". He keeps shelves in several rooms full of books, but rotates them from piles and piles of boxes in the basement. In one chapter, "The Evidence in the (Book) Case", he lists the books at his bedside: at least 33 volumes, though some not mentioned as such might be multi-volume titles. I reckon that is enough to fill four feet of shelving, or two shelves of a substantial night stand.

Looking around, I am glad I learned to draw the line and limit my collecting of early books and "firsts" to a couple of dozen, the rest of my shelving being devoted to books my wife and I have found useful. In this "Cave", I have forty feet of shelving, very nearly filled. One four-foot shelf contains many years of Scientific American in box-sleeves and shorter runs of a few other magazines for which I keep only the past two or three years. Another three-foot shelf is mostly filled with our cook books, and the one just below it, with my wife's language-instruction volumes (she worked as a language tutor for many years). In an upstairs bedroom with built-in shelving, the "Library", another thirty feet are about 80% filled, sharing space with some knick-knacks and pictures in frames. That room's collections are primarily related to spiritual matters and Bible study.

Nearly all the books I've reviewed in this weblog the past ten years were borrowed from the local library. I don't feel the need to keep a copy of a book that I plan to read only once. About once yearly I like a book I've read well enough to go out and buy (or use Amazon to get it). Otherwise, my night stand contains, in addition to the one I'm currently reading, three or four volumes waiting in the wings, plus an omnibus volume of Shakerspeare's plays that I occasionally peruse, and The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen J Gould, from which I read a page or two at a time. I do intend to finish it…

One of the shortest chapters, "Grades", at four pages, is a personal musing about having to give grades to the students he teaches, and his own spotty grade record. He dislikes grades, though nobody has suggested a better way to efficiently evaluate learning, concluding, "People are individual, so how can you reduce them to an A, a B, or a C? Or even, sometimes, to a D – along with an invitation to stop by for a quiet chat with Dr. Calta, the high school principal?"

I have sometimes wondered what the bookish life is like. Reading Browsings has gone a long way toward satisfying that itch.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A "Roach Motel" for lost souls

kw: book reviews, horror, fiction, occult

The name Slade is distantly related to Glade, and refers to someone from a valley. But whereas a glade is pleasant, "slade" is too close to "slay" to seem nice at all. I don't know if there is a real Slade House in England somewhere—perhaps Cornwall, where the name originated—, but to the modern ear "Slade" sounds sinister. This makes it a good name to use in a horror novel.

Slade House by David Mitchell is of a genre I call Neo-Gothic Horror. You will not find the dreadly phrasings of a Stoker or a Lovecraft here, nor the heartbeat rhythm of Trochaic verse that Poe favored. Like much modern fiction, the writing here verges on being sprightly and upbeat, even when describing abysmal deeds such as soul-sucking.

This is cerebral horror. No blood and gore: only one stabbing, and that with a hat-pin. The soul vampires of Slade House use enchantments and guile to accomplish their ends. Simply put, they need to consume a soul periodically, and not just any soul: Their victim must be "engifted", what we often call a person with second sight. Ironically, such persons are uniquely qualified to detect and possibly counter occult spells. Thus the need for guile. I readily found parallels with the need for pure virgins and other innocent victims in older occult literature.

The word "orison" means a kind of prayer. In Slade House it refers to a bubble in reality, the occult version of "virtual reality", under the control of one or more soul-suckers. Thus the House can appear at a time of their choosing and vanish without a trace when not needed, as can sundry denizens of the temporary domain.

For a long time I've been unwilling to read horror, Gothic or Neo-Gothic, since being thoroughly spooked by Lovecraft some decades ago. Guess I'm more hard-shelled now. But I don't plan to make such books a steady diet. David Mitchell's book is a tour-de-force, and I suspect the book is a nearly unique pinnacle of the genre. I recommend it only if you are not inclined to connect with what you read in any visceral way, and can enjoy a yarn well-told while keeping your heart at a distance.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Making lemonade from the absence of a lemon

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, neurology, neuroscience, autobiographies

I seldom show a book jacket, but this book's cover illustration tells the objective story. Nicole Cohen has a hole in her brain the size of a lemon. It is not in a random location, but represents most of her right parietal lobe.

As she tells us in Head Case: My Brain and Other Wonders, this was not determined until she was in her early twenties and preparing to go to graduate school. She did not yet have a driver's license, but felt she really needed one at this point. Yet so far, she had been unable to pass a driving test. A long list of impairments finally convinced doctors to order MRI and other tests. Finally. Finally she knew she wasn't "just weird" or "not paying attention". A necessary bit of her brain was missing.

The parietal lobes integrate our sense for time and distance. They are necessary to form an accurate internal map of the world. We seldom realize that our ability to navigate the world requires us to sense the relationships of other objects to each other and to ourselves, both in space and time. If you can't judge how far an oncoming car is and how quickly it is approaching, you can't safely cross the street.

Children learn safe crossing by about age six or eight. Cole Cohen never has. She crosses with others, relying on their sense of time and space. While other children were learning to navigate the world safely, she learned how to rely on other people's abilities. Thus she could safely walk, but you can't drive that way.

Her writing is fluid and enjoyable to read; she is not "dumb". You don't need street-crossing skills to navigate your way to Bachelors' and Masters' degrees. She has learned to play well the hand she was dealt. As she writes, it hasn't been easy. Certain aspects of human relationships were as foreign to her as the distance to the nearest door. Touch is particularly problematic, probably because when she was quite young, touching something usually meant she'd misjudged where she was going and had just knocked something over. She learned to cope. She learned to thrive. A heartening story.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Blue is better

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, psychology, water

People are so incredibly variable that no generalization holds absolutely. An old riddle points this up: What is the average number of legs? The answer: A little bit less than two. And if you think about it, that's not just because of amputations.

But one thing is pretty close to universal. We like water. Not just to drink, that's a life requirement. But we like to be near it, or in or on or under water. Thus the title of a refreshing (pun intended) book by Wallace J. Nichols, Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows how Being Near, In, On or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. And I do believe that's the longest subtitle in my experience.

The opening image in the most beloved Psalm, #23, is "He leads me beside the still waters; He restores my soul." I don't care what denomination you belong to, if you went to church as a child, you probably memorized Psalm 23. The placement of this Psalm between 22 and 24 indicates that God intended it to evoke the experience of Jesus between his crucifixion and his resurrection. If ever a soul needed a rest beside still waters, it was His, then and there! The green pasture and still water restoring the soul are an image of paradise.

Traditional "earth tones" are a bunch of browns. As this photo shows, those "earth tones" are really "desert tones". Only the Sahara at right center is any color besides blue, green or white. The browns that grade into red are the "dryest" colors of all.

Dr. Nichols, universally known as "J" to his friends, as CĂ©line Costeau writes in her introduction, sets out to back up with science what we know from experience. Being by the water is nicer. And that "nicer" is worth a lot even in monetary terms. As he tells us in his chapter "The Water Premium", a tiny bungalow on the oceanfront in Del Mar, California was priced at more than $6 million in 2003 and had risen to about $9 million ten years later.

I just looked up Del Mar on It is strung out along the coast north of Torrey Pines near San Diego. None of the town is further than a mile from the ocean, and none of the houses is valued at less than a million or so. But the ones on that last block next to the Pacific Ocean are priced twice as high as the others, and quite a few are $10-20 million. Out of curiosity I looked further up the coast, to Seal Beach southwest of Los Angeles. It is not quite as pricey as Del Mar, with homes a "mere" half million or so inland, but along the beach, most range around $2 million. The premium is definitely in effect there also.

Darn few of us can afford to live in view of the ocean, or even a lake, stream or river. And, as Hurricane Sandy showed us, that view comes with certain risks. I live a block from a nice little creek. The few houses that are right along it do tend to cost more than those a street back, by 30% or so. But they also pay rather incredible premiums for flood insurance, if they have it at all. But where we live, a close walk from the creek, it is easy for my wife and me to take a walk with the gurgle of the stream to backdrop our conversation, and views of the creek where it loops nearer the path.

The book contains a great deal of science, but told very readably. The results of MRI and other kinds of mind and brain tests are discussed, but J's writing is not off-putting like so many "science writers". And he tells of other findings that don't require big, noisy machines: how a picture of a mountain brook in a room where students take a test improves their scores; how teaching an autistic kid to surf can radically improve his communication skills; or how muted surf sounds really do make it easier for an insomniac to sleep (well known to merchants of "white noise" and "ocean noise" machines).

I don't recall anything in the book about the theory that we evolved from water apes, that is, apes that got lots of their sustenance by fishing and shelling. The various books and articles that make this contention are a further indication just how we are tied to water, not just to slake our thirst, but to slake the thirst of our souls for peace and comfort.

Now that my father lives near San Diego, and my brother has a condo a block from the beach, when I visit them, I make sure to spend some time beachcombing. Whether I keep the shells I find or not; whether I take any pictures or just enjoy the stroll, it makes the cross-country trip even more worth it. It really does restore my soul.

The author closes by telling us of his Blue Marbles. Some years ago, thinking about this photo of Earthrise from Apollo 8, often called the "Blue Marble Image", he handed out clear, blue marbles to everyone who came to one of his speaking engagements. At the end, he asked them all to look at the marble, to look through it, and to think about all the pleasant things about being with water. Then he asked them to give the marble to someone later on, with a similar explanation. Since then, the marbles have traveled everywhere, and others have obtained blue marbles on their own, and hand them out.

As I said at the beginning, people are incredibly variable. Some hate to swim, whether they can or not, and many refuse to learn. Some remain affected by some early trauma and cannot abide the sight of open water. I've known (and smelled) one or two folks who won't bathe or shower, and at best will just do a sponge bath every week or two. Aside from such rare cases, humans like water. Water we can walk beside, swim in, boat on, or just a good soak or shower to start or end the day. We didn't need science to tell us that. But it's interesting just how consistent the science findings are. Guess what my current screen saver slide show is? The fifty best waterfall pictures I could find.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Guys - It may not be your prostate

kw: opinion, medicine, prostate health, kidneys

Gross Alert: Frank medical terminology ahead.

I frequently get up at night to urinate. Not always, but sometimes for a week or more at at a time. Other times, weeks go by without it. Interestingly, my wife pays a nighttime visit to the bathroom almost as frequently as I do. We are both rapidly approaching 70 years old. Thus, I have been pondering the "overnight express" phenomenon in older people in general, not just men. I am about to explain that not all nighttime urination is because of your aging prostate. But we're going down a rather windy garden path here…

We are bombarded with advertisements about "prostate health", typically promoting one nostrum or another that is supposed to make things better (and, they say with a wink and a nod, it "could" make your love life better). It is well known that the male prostate gland gradually grows throughout life. However, some grow more quickly than others, and if the statistics are correct, about half of men who are over 80 years old also have prostate cancer.

The ads seldom say anything about cancer. They address the more "normal" growth that has a cute medical term, BPH or Benign Prostate Hypertrophy. Those three words literally mean "not dangerous", "prostate gland", and "getting bigger". What ads don't mention is that some men's prostate glands have a harder "shell", and some have a softer shell. For the "hard shell" gang, growth of the tissues inside increases pressure on the urethra (the tube from the urinary bladder to and through the penis). So even when you pee at 3AM you have to push to feel emptied. For the "soft shell" guys (I am one), the gland just grows larger. Mine started out larger than average, and is now the size of a Jonathan apple, nearly twice the diameter of a normal prostate. If I had a hard-shelled gland, I'd have needed the "roto-rooter" operation by now.

A few years ago, I had a new doctor perform my yearly physical exam. She is blessed with long fingers, so a digital rectal exam is pretty easy. (I got rid of a short-fingered doctor who had to push so hard to reach the prostate that it hurt. And I got the sneaking suspicion that he kinda liked that, also.) The new doctor was concerned about my prostate, particularly because it felt a little off-center to her. I asked whether it is possible to do ultrasound to visualize the entire gland. She sent me to a Urologist with instructions to ask him that question.

The Urologist had me get a bladder ultrasound, one for which you drink a quart of water, wait an hour (it gets agonizing), and have an ultrasound test of the bladder. Then you get to pee, and the tech does another ultrasound to measure any residual urine in the bladder. I noticed that the ultrasound screen showed red and blue colors at times. I asked about it. The machine uses a Doppler technique to see motion in the urine, which shows the kidney pumping. It was doing so about once a minute. Did you know the kidney is a muscular organ? I had never thought of it. The active kidney during the test is a critical piece of information here.

The upshot: The technician measured 50cc of "residual urine", that I supposedly had not "voided". Back at the Urologist's office, he decided to repeat the test himself. I wondered inwardly why he didn't just do it the first time and spare Medicare some expense. Anyway, he got the same result, a 50cc "residual". He put on a rubber glove and felt my prostate, and said that, though it was large, it was soft and didn't feel like it should be causing trouble. He then wanted to do two things, a cystoscopy to look inside the tubes and the bladder, and a "Urodyne" test, which I'll explain in gross detail in a moment.

Firstly, the cystoscopy felt weird, like peeing in reverse as the tube went in. The doctor declared my bladder shows no signs of overpressure, and that the prostate was not tightening down on the urethra. He still wanted to go ahead with a Urodyne test.

Secondly, I did a lot of searching at sites like Medline, and found that there is no cause for concern until the amount of "residual" urine in such a test exceeds 100cc. I almost canceled the test, but went ahead. It was instructive, if uncomfortable on several levels!

The Urodyne test involves a different kind of catheter, that can be attached to a pump. It starts with having a thorough pee, then the catheter is put in and any "residual" is emptied through it. There was no residual in my case (another clue!). Then the pump was attached, and I was told to announce when I first felt "something in there", then when it felt like I "ought to go", then when it felt really urgent, "as much as I could stand". The nurse took all this down. Then she disconnected the catheter from the pump, told me I could pee freely into a measuring flask next to me, and left the room. She had performed the test unsupervised, which led me to doubt the doctor's judgement.

Once I was decently clothed again, the doctor and I talked. He said I had voided completely after the test, so there seemed to be no problem with my prostate. And he asked, "What was your original complaint?" I said, "I didn't have one. My PP sent me to you because she felt my prostate was off center or malformed." He got a look on his face like, "Oh, Sh**, he's gonna sue me!", but I said, "I'm glad everything seems to be in working order," and he looked relieved. He had me make an appointment with the clerk to return in a year, which I did, but the next day I called from home to cancel it. Less drama than just refusing to make it in the first case.

So what is the upshot? There is one more piece of medical evidence: the way our kidneys work and how that changes with age. From the time we gain nighttime "bladder control" at some age between two and ten, our kidneys greatly reduce their output when we are asleep. They resume normal operation when the light increases, and if we are not already awake, we soon wake up to rush to the bathroom. Here is all the evidence in one list:

  • At the ultrasound tests, both of them, the time from getting to pee and the tech beginning the ultrasound measurements of urine in the bladder was 10-15 minutes. At the rate a kidney produces urine when you've had a lot to drink in the past hour or two, that is plenty of time to generate 50-100cc of urine. I think that is why 100cc is the threshold of concern for Medline.
  • The Urodyne test showed I am able to void completely.
  • The cystoscopy showed I have not been over-pushing to urinate against prostate back-pressure.
  • It also showed that there was no tightness where the urethra passes through the gland.
  • Normal, young kidneys slow down at night, then speed up about sunrise. This is probably mediated by Melatonin.

My conclusion? In older people, most if not all, the kidneys don't slow down at night. At least, they don't slow down as much as they did decades earlier.

Fellas, if you are over 50, whether your prostate is "tight" or not, you probably will be getting up to pee at some early-morning hour like 3AM. The crux of the matter is whether you have to push hard to feel like you're getting emptied out. The need to push is the main evidence of a possible prostate problem. If you can just relax and the bladder empties out and you feel quite OK, you're probably OK. And gals, if you are getting along in years and getting up at night to pee, of course you don't have a prostate to blame. It's just aging kidneys that don't take a rest like they used to.

If you talk to a doctor about this, there's half a chance he or she will look at you like you are from Mars. If that happens I suggest you print out this blog post, pass it along and say, "See if you can prove this guy is wrong, then." I'll be interested to learn of any professional feedback!

Friday, January 08, 2016

Skyborne Jewels

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, animals, birds, hummingbirds, animal rescue, animal rehabilitation

Terry Masear rehabilitates distressed hummingbirds. She operates one of a handful of hummingbird rehabilitation "clinics" that is not run by the state of California. Her book Fastest Things on Wings: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood mingles powerful narrative with lyrical writing while taking us through a typical season.

Dr. Masear is a professor most of the year. By the middle of her Spring semester, baby hummingbirds begin being blown from nests, or they and their nests are inadvertently (or callously) cut out of trees during "spring cleanup", or adult birds amid full-tilt chick-raising duties bang into windows and cars and sustain other surprises. Various concerned folk bring them to her for care. Her home and its different levels of caged care, and a "graduating bird" aviary, fill up with as many as 50-100 birds at a time, as 150 or more pass through her routines of care on their way to full strength and release. At least, most of them do; a certain percentage are too badly injured or suffer radically improper "care" before desperate "rescuers" bring them to her as a last resort. Caring for hummingbirds is her summer "job", a costly one in terms of money and emotional stress and sheer physical labor.

Did you know that a growing baby hummingbird needs to eat at least 100 to 150 fruit flies daily to get adequate protein? The sugar water they get from backyard hummingbird feeders helps them keep up their energy levels for catching prey, as does the nectar they so avidly consume. Nectar, though, contains some protein and often has an extra amount from pollen that drops in. Sugar water? Nope. So they have to catch even more fruit flies. But the fast energy of sugar water has contributed to the booming population of these little jeweled flyers, particularly in temperate places like the Los Angeles basin.

The trouble comes when someone finds an injured bird and wants to help it get better, but feeds it only sugar water. It drinks it readily enough, but wastes away nonetheless. Or, possibly worse, someone who knows the bird needs protein tries to feed it house flies. They are too coarse and harsh. It'll snap them up, but its crop will fill up and get plugged, and without quick, expert action, it will starve to death. Only someone willing to buy browning bananas and let them rot and attract (and breed) fruit flies, and then lets the bird snatch them up, can hope to restore the bird's strength. Terry and her colleagues have a feeder mix with the right balance to feed them properly.

The bottom line? Call Terry or another specialized hummingbird shelter and take it there. I used the phrase "various concerned folk" above, and I do mean Various! The author has a chapter and more on her continual surprise at the people who bring her birds that need help…and some that won't. She spends at least as much time on the phone with people as she does with the birds in her care. Some people need to be talked through the best way to get a fallen or cut-off nest back to as nearly the same location where it was before. Others need to learn how to keep a bird alive overnight until they can bring it to her. Some need to be scolded for unconcern if they are too self-absorbed to do anything, saying, "Oh, well, maybe I'll just let nature take its course." Her retort, not always aloud, is "If you fell and broke a leg and were lying in the gutter, would you want every passer-by to "let nature take its course" until you died and were eaten by crows?"

The fact is, hummingbirds have hazards enough in their lives in places without people. They have a great many more hazards in our suburbs and cities. Why let "nature take its course" when the bird's need for help was not "natural" in the first place? Who cut the branch out of the tree? Who put up a house with large, almost invisible windows for birds to crash into? Wildlife of all kinds dies more often in our presence than in places we are not.

Near the end of the summer "distressed bird" season, the state-run bird shelters have a policy to take in no new fledglings. So Terry and the other private facilities get them all. A mixed blessing, just as she is getting ready to teach a new semester. But by late Fall, her cages have emptied and she can devote herself to her students.

I don't know what it is like to hold a two-ounce hummingbird in hand; by the author's account it is enthralling. The only bird I rescued was a seagull caught in fishing line, and that's a bird strong enough to do some damage if it doesn't agree with being handled. But people of all kinds, of all social strata and niches, seem to have a specially soft place in their heart for hummingbirds. They fall under the bird's spell, bring it to someone like Terry, and often get positively teary with thanks for her help. She wrote of getting a call from Pomona, and the guy said he'd "be right there". It is usually about an hour's drive. He got there in 20 minutes, roaring up her driveway in a big motorcycle. She asked how he came so fast, and he said, "Carpool lane," handed her a spark plug box with a tiny injured bird inside, and roared off.

Hummingbirds are spellbinding. So is Dr. Masear's writing. Excellence in action.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Don't let Peter Pan lead you astray

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, philosophy, adulthood, personal growth

I was not expecting a book of philosophy. I selected Why Grow Up? Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age, by Susan Neiman, as an end-of-year wildcard. Never have I so enjoyed reading a book of philosophy.

I confess that I have not read through the books of the "great philosophers". I never even finished The Republic by Plato. I have read quite a number of articles and even monographs, but always found the labor involved to decipher their turgid writing yielded little or nothing of use to me, so I eschewed their longer works. Instead, I have read various summaries, synopses, syntheses, and collections of extracts. I did read all of Who Needs Philosophy by Ayn Rand, and concluded, either Objectivism is no valid philosophy, or there is a genuine Objectivism out there that is quite different from her brutal scheme. I haven't found it, and I certainly don't consider I am capable to create it.

Come to think of it, I did read Dao De Jing by Lao Tzu, more than once. And if The Holy Bible is considered philosophical, or to contain philosophy, then that counts. Not much of a foundation, would you say? Yet one concept from Rand's book stuck with me: Note that her title does not include a question mark. It is instead a statement, that Everybody needs philosophy. I find this echoed in Dr. Neiman's book, though she might shudder at the thought. She does not come right out and say, "Philosophy is too great a matter to be left to the philosophers," but she comes close.

So the question remains, Why Grow Up? I would ask, Where do we see examples of genuine grownups to emulate and learn from? Are there some Adults out there, so we can see what adulthood is like? Has anybody grown up?

Step into any Men's restroom on the planet, and you'll be surrounded by evidence that few "men" were properly raised. Even in the Men's rooms of workplaces, where you wouldn't expect anyone under about 20 years old to enter the place.

So, our author asks, why indeed should we grow up? What's in it for us? A major theme, and perhaps the major theme, of philosophy is "How to grow up." The prerequisite to this is "How to think." Not what to think, but how, because very few ever learn how. People substitute almost everything for thought: their decisions are based on hunches, feelings, whatever their friends did or might do, what this or that "authority figure" says, and so forth.

I noticed when our son was in High School, that the program placed great emphasis on "critical thinking". But I realized, too late, that what he was really taught was how to avoid thinking critically, being rewarded only for regurgitating the thoughts of others who were the most "politically correct". Every attempt at genuinely critical thought was squelched, ridiculed, and rewarded with a low grade.

Fortunately, he found a refuge, for a time, in poetry. His main English teacher was "adult" enough to value her students' poetic efforts on their own merit, and our son wrote some very touching poems. The teacher called me once, to ask if our son was OK; one of his poems had made her "cry and cry". He wasn't suicidal or anything, was he? I asked her to read some of it to me, and then I asked, "Isn't this pretty ordinary teen angst? It is just more eloquently expressed than usual. I think that is a good thing." Hey, kids, do you want an A in English? Y'gotta know your teacher, but if she cries over your poetry, that's probably a good sign.

Why is it that the education system, with its stated mission of preparing valuable grownups, seems to do the opposite? Dr. Neiman points out something Immanuel Kant stated several times (and he probably had learned it from others): Governments prefer to govern dependent children, not independent adults. That goes for most teachers also. The more independent a student is, the harder she is to teach, and the more of a teacher's time she'll consume. So "teacher's pets" are the sweet, quiet, studious "tape-recorder" kids who do everything the teacher wants, and nothing the teacher doesn't want.

Some might quote Matthew 10:24: "The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master." (NIV) They may not realize that Jesus was talking about the level of persecution his disciples could expect; he was saying, "Don't expect to be treated better than I was, if you have learned well from me." He later told his disciples that they would do greater works than he had done. A wise professor who may never aspire to a Nobel Prize or Field Medal will be immensely gratified to have a student who is so honored.

Why Grow Up? reviews the writings on education of Kant, Rousseau and others, to conclude that, try as we might, we never really finish growing up. Yet that is no reason to abandon the effort. Learning begins when a tiny child first encounters frustration. A particularly diligent mother may be able to meet every need of her infant, but at some point there will arise a need that must be deferred or denied. It often comes with the first tooth, when the infant bites the nipple, only to have it withdrawn. Usually, a few repetitions of this will teach the child to withstand the temptation to bite until there is something else to bite; nipples are not to be bitten. Or the mother will switch to a bottle and let her sore breasts dry out.

To the infant's way of thinking, every need, even every faint desire, ought to be instantly fulfilled (many so-called grownups still think this). But the little one soon learns the word No, whether or not it is accompanied by corporal "consequences". These are the first lessons on the difference between "ought" and "is". Much of our learning, including our schooling, is devoted to learning the difference between "the way things ought to be" and "the way the world is." But the little frustrations behind the word "No" to a toddler will soon be superseded enormously by the major inequities of the world. Little children are bullied by big ones; the big ones may find themselves inwardly distraught that they are hated, but they usually respond with more bullying. Teachers do have "pets", who typically consume 1/3 or 1/4 of the available "A" grades, or even all of them in smaller classrooms. By High School graduation, many, many youngsters have heard, and may also say, "You can't win. You can't break even. You can't even get out of the game." In the quest for being loved and feeling useful, there is plenty of fodder for teen angst!

Thus, our author asks, "How do we prepare a child for a world that is not the way it should be?" (p. 75) We find a discussion of the tale of "The Emperor's New Clothes". Why is it that the child was wiser than the older folks (I dare not say, the grownups; they weren't)? It is not just that a child has no filter. An adult with no filter can be very unpleasant. The tale states this was a little child, one young enough to be indulged. Had a ten-year-old been the one exposing the emperor's dishabille, he'd have been shushed, dragged to the back of the crowd, and smacked. But a toddler? Just old enough to speak clearly, too young to be blamed for frankness, and just persistent enough to insist that he really does see an emperor in underclothes. These are qualities that Jesus also valued, and exhorted his disciples to become like such a child, if they were to have a place in his kingdom.

One of my favorite passages from the New Testament is in Ephesians 4, ending with verses 13 and 14: "…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming." Isn't this the perfect antidote to the deceitful tailors? This also answers, "What is in it for me?" Does avoiding being stolen from sound like a good thing? Does the wisdom to trip up scammers, phishing, and fast-talking, pushy salesmen appeal to you? Grow up!

Dr. Neiman gives us the best bits of Kant and others, without the drudgery of their badly written prose, to show that we need both reason and sense plus experience to attain good judgement. Kant's Critique of Pure Reason was not meant to turn us to thoughtless bundles of feelings, but to drag people into some kind of balance, contrary to the philosophy of Hume and others. Drink too deeply of Hume, and a person may learn to analyze any situation to the tiniest atoms, without achieving the slightest insight into why they go together this way and not that, or what usefulness might result.

I like the proverb, "Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement." The beauty of human communication is that not all the bad judgement from which we gain experience has to be our own. When someone has a tale of woe, mark it well and learn from it. I'd add another proverb: "Learn all you can from others' mistakes. You don't have time to make all the mistakes yourself". That is the beginning of growing up.

I truly enjoy the way Susan Neiman writes. She brings us a heavy subject with a light touch.