Picture Page #40
(A scant half dozen pictures...but a good deal of PG-13 grownup rumination)

Lincoln Elementary classroom

Mrs. Underdunk had no objections to my publishing this photograph of a Lincoln Elementary classroom, but only if I did not mention its date. Why? Because she is in it, and though she is remarkably well preserved, she has of late become a bit sensitive about her age. Lincoln was one of four elementary public schools in Centerboro. It no longer exists, having been razed after some school consolidations back in the '50s.

With all the silly rhetoric of the No Child Left Behind confusion, I wonder if the politicized policy makers, the nincompoops running "schools of education," the dullards sitting on school boards, and the classroom escapees in school administration are not missing some very obvious (at least to me) considerations. For example, how is it that those literate adults over the age of 50 in the USA learned to read using the antediluvian Dick and Jane primers? Well, for starters, we were not rushed to read before we were ready like the poor little kiddies today. My goodness--you'd think that Piaget had never written a word!

Most American adults with a fair mastery of mathematics (i.e., those who can apply the four operations with aplomb, calculate percents, use proportions in practical situations, etc.) were taught the basics in grades 1-6--as they still do in countries whose students beat the tar out of American students every which way on ability tests. Kids "over there" are not pushed to grasp concepts their minds are not ready to comprehend. I have it on good authority that kindergarten pupils are "learning" about perimeters and areas in schools around here. I think kindergarten ought still be for teaching kids how to tie their shoes, to color within the lines, and to keep their grubby hands to themselves.

Do you not feel sorry for the kiddywinks entering compulsory education today? The poor little geese are being force-fed abstractions way too early--and to what end?

My neighbor's church

A few nosy residents of Centerboro have tried to find out for whom I shall vote in November, and when I tell them that it is none of their bloody business, some of the more persistent blighters don't take the hint and try to persuade me one way or the other, as though their naive opinions deserve any kind of serious consideration at all. I mean, I'm talking about simpletons whose political views are derived not from any kind of active and intelligent consideration of facts, but from watching television and swallowing the predigested pap they've been fed by politicians, spinmeisters, speech writers, and all the rest of that disgraceful sub-tribe of the acting profession.

Particularly irritating to me is a tender-minded neighbor who faithfully attends the Centerboro church on the left, and who is convinced that I will be doing a great injury to the U.S.A and my immortal soul if I do not consider what Jesus would do in the voting booth. "What Jesus would do?" I responded when he first floated this "idea" past me. And then, rather than risk an accusation of being anti-Jesus (as good as suicide in Centerboro), I told him that I have already considered precisely for whom Jesus would vote, and that he could now sleep better knowing that my vote will most definitely reflect what Jesus would do--although I think he (my neighbor, not Jesus) would scarcely agree. To be completely truthful, though, I told him I'd vote the Jesus way just to shut him up. In actuality, I would not presume to guess Jesus's pick for the CEO of the USA and will vote the way I always have. I pick the candidate who's likely to do the least amount of damage (especially to the least among us), enter the voting booth, hold my nose, and pull the lever.

Though I do not exactly qualify as a WWJD type, I do respect some of the simple philosophy of Jesus as expressed in the New Testament, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount, and I wonder how Jesus himself would fare as a candidate for the highest office in the land of the free and the home of the brave this November. How do you think his platform would fly? Does it sound Republican? Democrat? Or would he be a voice crying in the wilderness?

Let's see...who do you think would vote for a man who reportedly said...

  • Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourself treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
  • It is more blessed to give than to receive.
  • You have heard that it was said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
  • Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
  • Let him who is without sin throw the first stone.

Honestly now, d'ya really think Jesus would win the upcoming election? Can you begin to imagine the scorn and abuse that would be heaped upon him in the campaign ads unleashed by his devious and calculating (i.e., political) opponents?

My copy of Moby Dick

I have read most of the books on my lifetime reading plan which I started in 1946. However, I have to admit that I was unable to get beyond a certain point in a number of them before nodding off within five pages of the same place every time or finding my attention wandering to more mundane things like my to-do-around-the-house list. People seem to like lists of ten, so here are ten works I think I should have read by now, but which I have fatally bogged down in and never will finish.

Topping my list is Moby Dick, my worn copy of which you can see on the left. I have attempted to sail through this book off and on since 1957, and I have finally conceded defeat, realizing that I don't enjoy anything written by Melville...not a single thing! And in the wake of the white whale, here are the next nine.

Swann's Way
This is the most unrelentingly dull book I have ever picked up. The very thought of picking it up again fills me with an indescribable f
atigue.

Oliver Twist
I enjoyed David Copperfield, The Pickwick Papers, Great Expectations, and Bleak House, but I just can't get interested in Oliver.

The Lord of the Rings
I've managed to slog through The Hobbit, but I can't get past Chapter 1 of The Fellowship of the Ring. I've given it at least ten good tries and find it more and more irksome with each attempt.

Henry IV: Part 1
I enjoy Shakespearean tragedies more to begin with--especially Lear and Hamlet.

Mostly Water
Yes, I have plugged Axon Spardoze's magnum opus on my website, but between you and me, I have yet to penetrate more than 30 consecutive pages into it, though I have skimmed the whole thing. It seems as though every other sentence contains some literary, mathematical, or historical allusion that I cannot fathom, and in the finite time I have left to read, I think I'd rather move on.

The Republic
As a member of the Centerboro High School class of 1939, better educated, therefore, than the typical (i.e., fearfully ignorant) college or university graduate of today, I know I should have this one under my belt, but I cannot, cannot make myself finish it.

Catch-22
I was very forbearing with this book, but it just never captured my interest, perhaps because I find Mr. Heller's style excruciatingly grating.

Gravity's Rainbow
I do not mind reading about mankind's ineradicable bent for self-destruction, but I much prefer the visions of Conrad (or even Vonnegut) to Pynchon's.

Finnegans Wake
I will tackle difficult books with enthusiasm, but not those for which I have to read volumes of explication to achieve any genuine understanding.

And so, what books are on your should-but-probably-won't reading list? Might this question not make for an interesting side discussion among the members of the Yahoo! Freddy group.

Doc Winterbottom

This old photo is an office record of a youngish Dr. Samuel Winterbottom and his nurse Mrs. Ramswell attempting to save the life of poor Theodore Rana who had been bitten in the leg by a timber rattlesnake up in the Big Woods. Unfortunately, Theodore was too far gone by the time he reached Doc's office.

Good old Dr. Winterbottom! He always took as much time as necessary to make a proper and accurate diagnosis. Why, if you visited him in his office, he'd even call you up later at home to see how you were doing. Once, when Mrs. Underdunk was seriously ill in the hospital, Doc stayed up all night pacing the corridors and checking in on her until he was sure she was in the clear. Just imagine that happening today!

Speaking of the medical industry of today, are you as sick and tired as I am of hearing this drug company shibboleth and its variants: "Ask your doctor about...." Oh, yes, I'm sure my doctor would be absolutely delighted to spend hours telling me all about this drug and that drug. Actually, my doctor is encouraged by the bean-counting overlords of the HMO which employs him to spend as little time as possible with me. Anyway, instead of asking my doctor about drug "X" or drug "Y," here are some questions I really did pose to him, somewhat to his annoyance, but shouldn't I have the right to know the answers? I mean I asked the fellow who came to give me an estimate on a new furnace more questions than I asked my doctor, and the furnace guy was more than happy to answer them all...in detail.

Why did you decide to become a doctor? What did you want to do more: fix sick people or make money?

What medical school did you attend? Is that a good school?

Where did you place in your graduating class? Top ten percent? Lower third?

What was your overall average (if you call it that) in medical school? Were you an A student? a C student? Do they inflate grades there?

Did you have to repeat any class?

How many times did you have to take your medical board examination? Did you ace it or just squeak by?

Do you enjoy practicing medicine? If you don't, would you please recommend another doctor for me--maybe the one you go to when you're sick?

Luckily for me, I guess, his answers were satisfactory, so for now I don't have to go doctor shopping in the immense mall that the medical profession has become. Am I overstating my case? I don't believe I am at all. For example, just a few days ago while I was on my exercise bike watching an episode of Leave It to Beaver on TVLand, I was startled when ambushed by a commercial for Valtrex®, a drug for genital herpes!
My good old Series 500

Years ago, my Series 500 telephone was all I needed to contact someone should I not have had the time to write a long letter or if a matter were so pressing that it made a phone call necessary. I still have the phone, but it's no longer useful as designed. Sometimes as a jest I'll place it on the dashboard before going, say, to the grocery store or to the coffee shop. Those still capable of recognizing irony get it, but I have been asked by doofuses if it works.

I am spurred to discuss my old phone by half a "conversation" I overhead a little 30-something twerp having with the air (he sported one of those hideous Bluetooth headsets) in the coffee shop the other day about how hard he has to work to cover the mortgage on his pretentious starter castle in that new development north of Centerboro Road where the west end of the "Big Woods" used to be, to make payments on the great big fat SUV he can't afford to get rid of (I saw him climb into something called an "Avalanche" in the parking lot afterwards), and so on and so on. He even jokingly complained about how much his wife's extravagances (e.g. trips to the day spa) cost him a month---but only half-jokingly. I might have felt as sorry for him as I would for anyone stupid enough to fall into his kind of economic hole were it not for the obvious and off-putting pleasure he evinced by bragging about all his possessions (including his wife) in the guise of complaining about his debts.

Now, truth be told, I myself went through a materialistic phase like this after I got back from WW II and started up my real estate business, so I can't in good conscience put on too much of a holier-than-that-guy act here. It's so easy to buy (literally) into the huge and stupid hoax that has been embedded in our national consciousness through the pervading cults of materialism and consumerism. It took me quite a while to shake loose of it myself and to stop being hoodwinked by the marketers' and traffickers' notions of what I must have in the pursuit of happiness. Perhaps this horrid misdirection of human energy is just another Martian tactic leading to the immolation of the human species upon the kindling of its own stupidity---I don't know for sure, but I wouldn't put it past them. What I do know is that it need not be so. Perhaps I'll expand upon this notion in the future. But, then again, perhaps I've said enough. I'll leave you with a powerful technique to drastically reduce materialistic impulses. Whenever you feel the urge to make yourself happy by opening your wallet to buy the most up-to-date consumer junk...for example, the most technically advanced cell phone available this week...pause a moment to ask yourself exactly why you want it...and how it will make your life measurably better. You'll be surprised at how hard it is to answer these questions. But perhaps you won't have to bedevil yourself with such introspection if the little thingy in the next picture ever gets loose.

Martian von Neumann machine

That is an image of a greatly magnified Martian von Neumann machine which was given to me by the Centerboro Martians shortly before they lifted off from Sibney Memorial Plaza in downtown Centerboro in 1955. Two Clicks himself handed it over and warned me to keep it out of sight until either (a) I got fed up enough with human shenanigans to destroy the entire world and myself along with it or (b) the Martians gave me explicit instructions to unleash its powers not long before picking me and my guests up to transport us to a brand new life on Mars. The Martian brand of ethics doesn't allow them to take direct lethal action, although they don't at all mind contracting such work out. In this respect, they strongly resemble human beings.

Of course, I didn't believe Two Clicks, who can be quite the joker when he's in the mood, and I regarded this thingamabob as a mere curiosity to store on the top shelf in my toolshed. But when a short time ago I realized exactly what it was, I thought it would be prudent to place it in a much more impregnable setting. This machine is now isolated in a secure container deep within the labs of Eha Industries. Be assured, that barring its accidental escape, there is no immediate danger to anyone. But why, you ask, is such a little gizmo so hazardous?

Let me explain. A single, microscopic von Neumann machine capable of processing common ingredients of the Earth's crust (as I suspect this one is ) would quickly make a copy of itself. Then there would be two, and then four, then eight…. Do the math. Use the y to the x key on your calculator, and you'll see that it wouldn't be long before the little huggers would completely consume the earth. That's the downside.

The upside of such a scenario is that the solar system would be rid permanently of its most pernicious parasite. Yes, it is like burning a house down to get rid of termites--but you have to admit, it's effective! I believe that the only creatures that would sincerely miss the human species would be the hundreds of strains of bacteria who make their living in the human gut and, possibly, bedbugs ...but then they'd be gone, too, wouldn't they?

Now, would you like to hear of something really scary? Of course you do! I learned a little while ago that Cornell scientists have come up with a way for robots to create copies of themselves. This technological advance could lead to the creation of...guess what...yes, von Neumann machines! Oh, my! This doesn't sound good at all, does it? Well, bye-bye for now until next time...if there is a next time!

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