Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ideas Have Consequences Chapter 5 "The Great Stereopticon"

If you have ever seen the play Our Town, you will probably be humming the old hymn "Bless'd Be the Tie that Binds" for several days. There was a time in history when the tie that bound people together in community was religion. When that tie is broken, we are fragmented and left grasping for artificially generated projects that will keep up our community spirit.

Richard Weaver, the quintessential conservative, says that the liberal's solution to fragmentation is to
"let religion go but to replace it with education".

Not just the education of youth in the classroom, either. He means the day in, day out indoctrination of the entire citizenry through every channel of life and entertainment available. Weaver has dubbed the machinery that makes this possible "the Great Stereopticon" and it includes the press, motion pictures, radio, and T.V. (he wrote in the 1940's before internet).

Do you view new technology as progress? When a new device becomes available and affordable for home use, do you evaluate what it will take as well as what it will give? I confess to being sensitized to this type of critical thinking only very recently. I need men like Richard Weaver and Neil Postman to help me evaluate the choices.

As an example, take the newspaper. The pre-selected news articles are carefully arranged and worded to grab our attention. The press is something Americans are typically very proud of. It gives us information, disseminates issues and ideas. But what does it take from us?

Weaver contends it has taken away the art of discourse. Because we are passive recipients of information , we usually do not actively engage in serious discourse with others on these issue. Plato said that truth often leaps up between people engaged in discourse "like a flame." That doesn't happen when we each read the issues silently and alone. Discussion is minimized, deep reflection is discouraged because of the sheer number of ideas and articles to which we are exposed.

"...the decay of conversation has about destroyed the practice of dialectic."

The press has also taken away our modest sensibilities, sanctioning the romantic ideals of emotion and sensation. The dark, the gruesome, and the depressing articles take precedence over all else because that's what sells newspapers.

John Adams wrote, at the age of 70:

"I have given up newspapers in exchange for Tacitus and Thucydides, for Newton and Euclid, and I find myself much the happier."

I haven't entirely given up the newspaper, but I have given up the evening news and TV and I'm spending that time reading more deeply. I agree with John Adams-- meaty books contribute to my happiness. My husband is farther along than I am on this path. He can read the greatest book, the Bible, for three hours at a crack. And do you know what? When we are both reading substantial books, I find we have fodder for the most interesting conversations! I have experienced Plato's thrilling "flame that leaps up" when a truth is uncovered in the course of discussion.

Weaver's criticism of movies is a little different from what you have come to expect from most conservatives. Rather than to criticize the raw language, the sex scenes, and the violence, he zeroes in on the marring of the hero-image. The role models on screen he describes as "egotistic, selfish, self-flaunting, flippant, vacuous-minded." Virtue requires examples of highest quality and those models are not, he says, being promoted in the cinema.

Radio/T.V. is the third part of the stereopticon. Radio is inescapable, a "cheerful liar". The tragedies of the day are delivered in polished monotones.
"This is the voice of the Hollow Man",

dead to sentiment. Radio provides one-sided conversation, a conversation monopolized by one partner and rendering the listener mute.

The stereopticon brings a constant barrage of the cynical, the brutal, and the negative. How does this affect our psyche? It chips away at our very souls and it cuts us off from the past.

"Technology emancipates not only from memory but also from faith."

"The man of culture finds the whole past relevant."

How can we find relief?

  • From nature
  • By returning to primary data: good books
  • By remembering the enduring forms, the great universal ideas of the ages
  • By turning away from the brutal and sentimental

It's an upstream battle. I think Weaver would have been encouraged by the homeshool movement, had he lived long enough to see it. Many homeschool families I know have turned off the TV or severely limited it. Nature studies are a standard part of homeschool curriculum. And of course classical education may be a small minority, but it is still very much alive.

This chapter has strengthened my resolve to be one of the minority.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Book Review: A Year Without "Made in China"

I should have written this book. Though I have never engaged in a formal boycott of Chinese imports, I have been married to a man who, for 31 years has challenged me to buy American products. This is not because he has a vendetta against China. No, it is rooted in concern for the United States of America, her self-sufficiency, her economic health, and ultimately her sovereignty.

My husband tends to go a step farther than did Sara Bongiorni, who authored the book that tells of her year's experiment. Sara would buy merchandise from any country but China; my husband scouts out American products. While it makes the thrill of the hunt more exciting, it also makes targeted purchases more elusive.

There was the year my son needed a bike. The Preacher spent countless hours scouring the city for the one with a "Made in the U.S.A." logo. He found one. Exactly one. One that had big scratches. One that, sadly, literally fell apart the first time my son rode it. It was almost like being mocked, "Take that for your loyalty!"

Last year, it was the microwave oven that needed replaced. Our city boasts one of the largest appliance marts in the country, so we started at one end of a long avenue of microwaves and worked our way to the other end, confident that we would find the American product we were looking for. The sales clerk followed us each step of the way, proudly enumerating the virtues of each oven. My husband patiently listened to each spiel and then would open the oven door, look for the country of origin, shut the door, and move on to the next one.

I knew what he was doing. The sales woman did not. By the time we came to the last model, my heart was sinking because the chances of my walking out of this place with a new microwave were looking pretty slim. The lady was nearly out of breath, having given us every pitch for every model.

Politely, my husband said, "Ma'am, do you realize that not a single model you have shown us was made in our own country?"

She arched her eyebrows, looking incredulous. Then SHE opened each and every oven door, just to verify his statement.

"I never would have believed it! You're right. I have learned something today," she said as she walked away.

I was glad to have added to her education, but I WANTED A MICROWAVE.

As we were leaving, the Preacher spied an "orphan" microwave around the corner, all by itself. It was a Sharp model and it bore the proud words "Made in the U.S.A."


Sara Bongiorni has a whole year's worth of stories like mine to tell, but she's a better writer and has the knack of making their predicaments sound very funny. I think the fact that both she and her spouse had a sense of humor greatly enhanced their year long experiment as they had to go without Chinese toys for their young children, tennis shoes, seasonal decorating items, and ink cartridges. I laughed out loud several times while reading, feeling our sisterhood on this issue a little too keenly at times.

One incident that was particularly humorous was her husband's inability to find sunglasses. The alternative was an Italian pair for $150---definitely not in the family budget. So this resourceful man dug out his ski goggles and used them. She likened him to a horse with blinders---too funny!

What did this family learn by the end of their boycott? That it's next to impossible to buy electronics, lamps, tennis shoes, even candy canes without patronizing China. That young children are NOT damaged when they are denied cheap, poorly constructed Chinese made toys.
That other alternatives are often available if you take the time to search them out.

How did it affect their finances? Sara figured that many of the items they bought from countries other than China were more expensive. BUT, they saved a lot of money by buying fewer items and passing over the cheap "junk" that is so enticingly displayed at every turn.

This was a fun book with a serious point, and Sara writes with sensitivity. She was very respectful of the Chinese culture, but like me she feels uncomfortable about the power they are attaining over us economically. She didn't try to win others to her way of thinking or act self righteous because of her choices. It was all presented as a grand experiment.

Sara and her husband decided that in the future they would purchase Chinese products when there were no other reasonable options. She felt that they had been sensitized to the alternatives and that the habit of making thoughtless purchases had been broken. This in itself is a sane achievement in these days of economic turn down.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Book Review: Benjamin Franklin: His Autobiography

I didn't intend to read this book. It was something I ordered for my son to read when school starts again in the fall. But as I thumbed through it, I found every random thread I perused to be enthralling. I'm not sorry that I went back to the beginning and gave it the attention it deserved.

If I had to compose one quintessential description of Benjamin Franklin's life I would call him a "wisdom seeker". He could glean wisdom from old Quaker women, from books, from conversations,from drunkards, even from his enemies. He passed some of that wisdom on in his writings, but his greatest strength was that he was able to model it and live it.

If he had any fault, it was that he talked too much in his later years. But who could blame him? He was a virtual fountain of rich life experience ranging from swimming (did you know he was an athlete?), writing, business, politics, community service, diplomacy,science, journalism, and even military service.

There is nothing boring here. I loved his ideas about thrift, which are amazingly applicable to our time of economic turn down. It was almost a game for him to support himself on the least possible amount, without compromising quality of life. He writes:

"Thus I spent about eighteen months in London; most part of the time I work'd hard at my business, and spent but little upon myself except in seeing plays and in books."

B.F. could gladly subsist on plain food and simple lodging, but refused to starve his mind and soul by neglecting the living ideas found in books and the arts. His extensive reading made him a brilliant conversationalist so that one can say that providing himself with stimulating "mind food" was the equivalent of investing in himself.

His ideas on religion were disappointing to me; he rejected the divine inspiration of scripture but held to the tenets therein that he found worthy in his own estimation. As a Christian, I believe scripture should judge the thoughts of man and Franklin had it completely opposite~ he judged scripture with his intellect. But that is simply an evidence that he was a man of his times. The 19th century was the dawn of a new era where science would reign. Franklin, of course, could also be labeled a scientist as a result of his experiments on electricity.

I can't wait to discuss this book with my son. There are many, many life lessons here for a young man, yet he is not "preachy". Franklin does not simply catalogue his successes, but is also honest about his mistakes, which he calls "errata". He had the ability to learn from the mistakes of others, too, recognizing their flaws without a trace of malice.

This book has great historical value as it covers the years and events that led up to the Revolutionary War. Because he made so many trips to Britain during this time, one also picks up the perspective of the Tories in his writing.

Whether you are looking for a character study, a historical reading, or just an engaging story~~this book fits the criteria of all of these. I can't imagine why I was never led to this book in my younger years, but I am going to make sure all of my children read it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

After the Storm

Girl in Bed with Cat
Vintage Art Print

It's a fierce thunderstorm that's raging this evening, the kind that sends the cat skulking to his hiding place under the couch. I find my own place of refuge propped against the bed pillows, sipping a cup of PG Tips tea. My emotions have been as intense as the storm this evening, and I share the cat's instinct to take refuge in a safe place.

I reflect on the carefully planned dinner that a few hours ago took a downward spiral into a disastrous debacle. Where did I go wrong?

I had spent a lot of time preparing spareribs, fresh sweet corn, and oatmeal buns slathered with butter. I pictured a time of sweet family fellowship around the table. But instead of enjoying the food, a couple of the children rehashed an old argument. When my attempts to quash it failed, I became angry.


The long and the short of it is that I didn't act any more mature than they did.

A wise woman once said we need to love without getting tired. I guess that means I need to:

  • seek forgiveness
  • extend forgiveness
  • let it go
  • prepare another meal tomorrow

I learned a long time ago that victory is putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. It would be easier to quit trying, but then I know I'd miss out on that fresh new beginning that can only be described as a world freshly scrubbed after a thunderstorm.

As I finish writing these words, the thunder peals have become more distant. I can barely hear them. Tomorrow, I probably won't even think about them.

It will be a new day.

"It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed,
because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness."
Lamentations 3:22-23


This past week-end we enjoyed an outdoor, twilight performance of Oklahoma! in our community's new amphitheater. I'm still humming "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" and "Oh What a Beautiful Morning." I loved the raucous energy of the dancers and vocalists.

Do you know why Oklahomans are called "Sooners"?

April 22, 1889 was the first day people could stake a claim for a homestead in the Oklahoma territory. Some people tried to beat the noon starting gun, and they were nicknamed "Sooners".
Over a hundred years later, Oklahomans are still known as "Sooners", although most people have no idea why!

Monday, July 14, 2008


"Sisters -- they share the agony and the exhilaration. As youngsters they may share popsicles, chewing gum, hair dryers and bedrooms. When they grow up, they share confidences, careers and children, and some even chat for hours every day." ~Roxanne Brown

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

This is a semi-fictional memoir of a young woman who grew up in Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century. The author manages to sandwich sweet vignettes between the tangy and the tart. Life was hard in the city in those days; yet the main character shows no sign of self pity. Rather, the difficulties make her become like the "trash tree" that stubbornly grows through the cracks in the city concrete. This becomes the symbol of her life, and the title of the book.

One thing I found particularly fascinating was the contrast between Francie (main character) and her mother and Grandmother. Though the Grandmother was illiterate, she was sagacious and able to pass on gems of wisdom orally to Francie's mother. The mother had only a 6th grade education, and had to do menial labor to scrape a living. She wanted a better life for her daughter and came to the Grandmother for advice.

Here are some of Francie's Grandmother's gems of wisdom:

"Mother, I am young. Mother, I am just eighteen. I am strong. I will work hard, Mother, But I do not want this child to grow up just to work hard. What must I do, Mother, what must I do to make a different world for her? How do I start?"

"The secret lies in the reading and the writing. You are able to read. Every day you must read one page from some good book to your child. Every day this must be until the child learns to read. The she must read every day, I know this is the secret."


"What is a good book?"


"The Protestant Bible and Shakespeare."

"And you must tell the child the legends I told you--as my mother told them to me and her mother to her. You must tell the fairy tales of the old country. You must tell of those not of the earth who live forever in the hearts of people--fairies, elves, dwarfs and such. You must tell of the great ghosts that haunted your father's people and of the evil eye which a hex put on your aunt. You must teach the child of the signs that come to the women of our family when there is trouble and death to be. And the child must believe in the Lord God and Jesus, His Only Son."


"In teaching your child, do not forget that suffering is good too. It makes a person rich in character."

"If that is so," commented Katie bitterly, then we Rommelys are rich."

"We are poor, yes. We suffer. Our way is very hard. But we are better people because we know of the things I have told you. I could not read but I told you of all of the things I learned from living. You must tell them to your child and add on to them such things as you will learn as you grow older."

I thought this was fascinating because today so much of what is learned about child rearing is learned from books. Books are wonderful, but in some ways they are a poor replacement for that firsthand connection between the generations. The old Grandmother in this story proved to be prophetic in her words. Little Francie grew up to be a writer and was the first in her family to break free of the bondage of hard manual labor.

A bittersweet and poignant read~~very worthwhile.

Monday, July 07, 2008

On Growing Older

"Growing old is no more than a bad habit which a busy man has no time to form."
Andre Maurois, French author (1885-1967)

When I read this quote I immediately thought of my Dad. In his mid 70's, he has recently completed an amazing basement renovation in the little house he and my Mom are preparing to move into. I label it "amazing" because my Dad has recently lost much of his eyesight due to macular degeneration and he also has no feeling in the fingers of his right hand. My Mom helped him guide the drill when precision was needed, so she gets part of the credit, too!

Our family enjoyed an overnight with them on the 4th of July. They have the true gift of hospitality, and we felt as though we had just spent time at a lovely bed & breakfast. Hats off to them for showing how productive our older years can be.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

A Pie and a Poem

The cherry pie is the end result of a lovely day we spent in the country at the home of our friends. Their cherry tree was loaded, and we happily set to work filling buckets of the tart red gems. Then we spent a pleasant couple of hours around the kitchen table, pitting them and talking. I came home with cherries just begging to be put into a pie. I've never felt I was a good pie-maker; somehow I never could master the art of making a crispy crust. I used refrigerated dough for this one and turned out a reasonably edible pie. At least I can say that there was not one crumb left after our 4th of July supper!

Speaking of pies, I enjoyed this poem that I gleaned from an antique book (1907) entitled Dinners and Luncheons. Here it is:

Two Pies

If you would know the flavor of a pie,
The juicy sweet, the spice and tart, you must
Be patient till the fiery core is cool,
And bite a little deeper than the crust.

If you would know the flavor of a man,--
God's mud pie, made of Eden's dew and dust,--
Be patient till love's fire has warmed him through,
And look a little deeper than the crust.
--Aloysius Coll