Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Ghost of 1812

When the normally pleasant stroll to the grocery store reminds you of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow and you begin to think that in the spring your bones might be found in a parking lot, you know that winter has come to Minnesota.
Merry Christmas to All, and remember, books (especially those listed below) make fine presents.

And Gladly Teach
Storm Approaching
Gold and Glory
The Free Lands 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


While taking my daily walk I was overcome by a desire for chocolate. The nearest place to get a Hershey bar, or similar treat, was--I fondly thought--a liquor store directly across from my apartment building. A teetotaler, I do not usually patronize such establishments, but, visions of Milky Ways dancing in my head, I boldly entered, and, making my way past the displays of potent beverages stacked shoulder-high, located the counter and looked about for a display of sweetmeats. I looked in vain. Upon my inquiry, the genial clerk informed me that “liquor stores aren’t allowed to sell that sort of stuff”. Feeling ignorant and vaguely embarrassed, I smiled weakly and departed.

 I had to wonder why this prohibition exists. What prompted our Solons to pass such legislation? Was it, perhaps, that impressionable tots might toddle in to buy a peppermint patty and mistakenly leave with peppermint schnapps? Was it to avoid giving innocent Youth the notion that a store that sells candy must only sell innocuous things so they might as well get a bottle of gin to wash down their Snickers? Was any thought given to simply prohibiting liquor stores from selling M&Ms to those under 21 (and carding questionable patrons)? I wonder…

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Not Original, but Worthwhile


Introducing the new Bio-Optic Organized Knowledge device, trade-named BOOK.

BOOK is a revolutionary breakthrough in technology: no wires, no electricity, no batteries, nothing to be connected or switched on. Even a child of four can operate it.

You can use the compact and portable BOOK anywhere, even sitting in an armchair by the fire.

BOOK is constructed of sequentially-numbered sheets of paper (“pages”), each capable of holding thousands of bits of information.

The pages are locked together with a custom-fit device (the “binder”) that keeps them in correct sequence. Opaque Paper Technology (OPT) allows manufacturers to use both sides of the sheet, doubling information density and cutting costs. Additional density can be obtained by varying the size of the type and the width of the margins. Pages are completely recyclable.

Each page is scanned optically by end-users, registering information directly to the brain. A mere flick of the finger takes users to the next page. BOOK requires no passwords and may be used at any time by simply opening it.

BOOK never crashes or needs rebooting. The “browse” feature allows users to move easily forward or backwards. Many BOOKs come with an “index” feature that pinpoints the exact location of any selected information for instant visual retrieval.

An optional accessory, the BOOKmark, allows users to open BOOK to the exact place they left when shutting down (“closing”) BOOK. BOOKmarks fit universal design standards; the same one can be used in any BOOK. Several may be used in the same BOOK to store many views.

Users can also make data entries in BOOKs by using programming tools: Portable Erasable Non-Complex Intercommunication Language Styli (“Pencils”) or Portable Enhancing Nibs (“Pens”).

Portable, durable, and affordable, BOOK is being hailed as the crest of a new entertainment wave. Also, BOOK’s appeal seems so certain that thousands of content-creators have committed to the platform and investors are flocking in. BOOK has already been embraced by such noted programmers as Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Tolstoy, and Faulkner.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

This Week's Revolution in Education

This essay will be most meaningful, I imagine, to those who toil in the groves of Academe. Laymen may be unaware of the tremendous strides made with remarkable regularity in secondary education. One of the latest is the idea of "blended classes," which means classes that meet only twice a week or so. Students are expected to do much of the course work on their own. I do not see why this tremendous notion--that students learn as much by meeting with their teachers only occasionally--cannot be pushed to its logical conclusion; hence this article.

NeverNeverLand Academy announces an addition to its many centers with the inauguration of the NO CLASSES AT ALL CENTER of PERFECTION (NCAACoP, pronounced “Baloney”).

This latest innovative, imaginative, ground-breaking, awe-inspiring, state-of-the-art, cutting-edge golly-gee gobsmacking it’s-so-brilliant-I-can’t-stand-it brainstorm of our Headmaster, Mr. Dick Pebble, a man already trumpeted throughout the nation—the continent—the world—indeed the entire cosmos—as the most brilliant pedagogical innovator since the people who said that filmstrips would change the face of education forever, involves the notion that in throwing out the bathwater you may as well toss the baby as well.

We know beyond argument that the traditional method used by high schools, “teaching classes,” is hopelessly obsolete. Expecting young people, in our frenetic age, to accustom themselves to punctuality, regularity, and listening, is obviously an anachronism, as of course is thinking that a “teacher” can actually get someone to “learn” something. Indeed, most of this traditional “learning” is mere accumulation of valueless “facts”. When all facts are easily available on Wikipedia and other websites, what possible point could there be in forcing young people to “master” such trivialities as punctuation, the grammar of foreign languages (or of English, for that matter), chemical formulas, abstruse mathematical concepts, or silly historical trifles such as whether the Civil War preceded or followed World War I?

Instead of forcing these young folks to go to “classes” where “teachers” dominate the room and use their decades of experience to instruct them, should we not allow “students” to organize their own schedules and pursue their passions? Who is to say that an intense interest in the welfare of whales or developing an app should not take predominance over Spanish verb forms?

Therefore, NeverNeverLand Academy has abolished all classes. Our Baloney Center will allow our young clients to do all their work “online” at whatever times they wish. Also, they will all serve as interns in local businesses (where they will be a useful source of unpaid labor in the least desirable activities). And they will all complete a Major Project, under the genial supervision of somebody, which will enable them to demonstrate poor grammar, inarticulateness, and the lack of basic knowledge they would have learned in traditional classes. They will also, of course, still practice their sports several hours each day.

There are a few trifling points yet to be worked out. The mighty brain of our Headmaster just scintillates with a myriad of brilliant innovations; you can’t expect every detail to be filled in until the Baloney Center actually starts to operate. Do not worry. Shortcomings will be covered up so cleverly that no one will know, or at least no one will admit, that they exist. Those “teachers” involved in the Center will tacitly understand that they are to lower standards, inflate grades, and generally ‘curate’ (i.e. reduce) content so everything seems to be working just fine.


Parents whose children are here primarily to take part in our grotesquely huge athletic development programs may rest assured that none of this innovative stuff will affect any sports teams. Athletes will continue to punctually attend daily exhausting practices under the watchful eye of autocratic coaches whose slightest word is law, and woe betide any kid who shows up a second late. (Indeed, since students will no longer have any mandatory commitments to attend classes, our enormous coaching staff will doubtless be able to schedule even more practices than before.)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Education for the New Century

This little item will probably mean more to teachers at highly 'progressive' schools than to laymen.

A reminder: 1517 was the year that Martin Luther nailed up those 95 Theses. 
Siena Superior Merit School
                                                  Siena, Italy

                                   Prospectus for the Year 1517

Parents and students who wish to embrace the future and who realize that the traditional dull, stultifying rote learning of the Trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy) do not prepare young people for the exciting world of the future should consider enrollment in Italy’s most innovative and creative educational institution, the Siena Superior Merit School.

At Siena, we strive to equip our scholars with SIXTEENTH CENTURY SKILLS, the skills they will need to succeed in the exciting modern era of the new century, a century that is so different from all preceding centuries that entirely novel educational methods are required.

We have instituted CENTRI DI ECCELLENZA (CdEs) to allow students to pursue their passions in areas of great importance for this dynamic new century:
ü The ASTROLOGY CdE:  Advances in the highest celestial art make traditional astronomical studies all but obsolete. As sure knowledge of this science progresses, those who grasp it fully are assured of profitable employment. Why study the past when you can predict the future?

ü The ALCHEMICAL CdE:  What young man would not thrill to the exciting pursuit of the Philosopher’s Stone? Turn lead into gold! Experiments in our newly-completed, ultra-modern facility  (a gift from an alumnus most successful in the manufacture of gunpowder), will not be without some danger, but the survivors graduates of this CdE will be fully equipped to lead the way in further advances in Alchemy, the Science of the Future.

ü The THEOLOGY CdE:  Those students whose passion is for truth and certainty will surely thrill to the careful exegesis of sacred texts and close study of Canon Law. What can be more certain than that, as the Holy Catholic Church enters its 1,500th year of existence, its eternal truths assure its unchallengeable domination of our continent, and eventually the world? We plan to open a branch school in Wittenberg, Germany, under the direction of Father Johann Tetzel, Europe’s foremost expert on indulgences.
We have also instituted CLASSI MISCELATI (“Classes that are Blended”) to give students adequate time to pursue their passions. These classes meet just twice per week. By a magical process that has to be experienced to be understood, students will learn just as much as before, even though they meet 60% less than before, in those rather obsolescent areas—such as Italian, History, and Foreign Languages—that are really no longer as relevant in the dynamic Sixteenth Century as they were in the benighted twenty centuries that preceeded our new, exciting age. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Writing Across the Curriculum

At the start of each school year the Administration of most schools announces some great innovation or 'improvement' as the annual obsession. Naturally, this new program will make little work for the people who are mandating it, i.e. administrators, but much work for those expected to implement it, i.e., teachers. One such program is "Writing Across the Curriculum". If this brainstorm is your school's current hobgoblin, academic departments will need a large number of highfalutin expressions for use in various forms, tables, Moodle applications, etc. to assure their masters that they are accomplishing this integration.
Here, for your convenience, is the Writing Across the Curriculum Phrase Finder (WACPhraF). Simply choose one word from Column A or B and one from Column C—or, if an especially impressive effect is needed, one from each column—to get the desired level of pretentiousness. For an interesting random effect, just pick three numbers, e.g. 612, and write down the result. "Extended Comprehensive Discourses" sounds as good as anything, doesn't it?
Type 1/2/3/4/ or 5
You will make a much better impression on the higher reaches of the pedagogical bureaucracy if, instead of saying something as jejune as “students will write essays” or “in the second term, we will practice descriptive writing,” you sonorously declare that “all Physics examinations will make use of Expository Free-form Dissertations” or “Collins Comprehensive Compositions form the basis of instruction in Algebra II.”
Having made the required genuflection to this year’s fetish by larding your required documentation with enough gobbledygook to placate the bees in administrators’ bonnets, you may resume teaching your courses as before.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Chain of Command At Work

This is my rendition of an old military joke. The original may date from Roman times...

The Colonel to the Major: 

At 0900 tomorrow there will be an eclipse of the sun, something that does not happen every day. Parade the men in the company street in fatigues so they will be able to see this rare phenomenon. If it rains we will not be able to see anything, so march the men to the gym.

The Major to the Captain:
By order of the colonel, tomorrow at 0900 there will be an eclipse of the sun in the company street. If it rains, which does not happen every day, we will not be able to see it, so march the men in fatigues to the gym.

 The Captain to the Lieutenant:
By order of the colonel, tomorrow at 0900 the eclipse of the sun will take place in the company street. We will march to the gym if it rains in fatigues, something that does not happen every day.

 The Lieutenant to the Sergeant:
Tomorrow at 0900 in fatigues, the colonel will eclipse the sun in the company street, which does not happen every day. If it rains, march to the gym.

 The Sergeant to the Troops:
Tomorrow at 0900 the eclipse of the colonel in fatigues will take place by cause of the sun. If it rains in the gym, which doesn’t happen every day, march to the company street.

 Comments Among the Privates:
At 0900 tomorrow, if it rains in the gym, it looks as if the sun will march to the company street in fatigues and eclipse the colonel. It’s a shame this doesn’t happen every day.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


I have at last laid down the dry-erase marker, turned off the overhead projector, stopped making Power Points, and archived my lecture notes. After 38 years of pedagogy at an independent boarding school, I am leaving the teaching of European History to others and have moved off campus--only about a thousand yards--to a decent apartment.

It all seems very strange to be in the much-touted ‘real world’. I just paid my first electric bill. I must pay for food and prepare it myself. My life will no longer be regulated by the ringing of bells and the decrees of various administrators. Such things will take getting used to.

However, I am not retiring from writing. I hope to post more regularly here. I will be making efforts to publicize my books--which is one purpose of this blog--in any way I can devise. What span of years is yet allotted to me I do not know, but it is my hope to use them partly to encourage the reading of the Mercenaries series and of And Gladly Teach and Hodgepodge. I hope indeed to write more books, if sales of those already out increase substantially. Perhaps some YouTube videos about history?

If you have not sampled my books, why not start today?

And here is “Libby’s Last Lecture”:     

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Wondrous Thing

Socrates, when visiting the agora, the great marketplace of Athens, and seeing all the things offered for sale, once exclaimed, “How many things there are that I can do without!”  I feel much the same when receiving a Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue, as I did today. And this item is perhaps the one I can do without the most. When I first looked at the picture, which fails to convey any sense of scale, I thought it a strange vehicle running on two wheels. I find, however, that it is a special kind of hat. As for what it is alleged to do, I wonder that buyers—if any there be—are not also furnished with some bottles of snake oil and a deed to the Brooklyn Bridge. And the price… But I suppose it is good for our economy that there exist mechanisms for separating some money from foolish millionaires.