HAS AMERICA REACHED ITS TIPPING POINT?

BLOG #40, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
HAS AMERICA REACHED ITS TIPPING POINT?

October 1, 2014

Unbelievable that we could even be discussing such a thing, but recent events in Colorado are serving as not only a state-wide but national groundswell of concern on the issue. Might it be that we as a people have become so complacent about our 225-year-old democracy that we have missed the ominous cracks that are only now being taken seriously?

In history, rare is the great nation that remains great long-term. We, as a people, however, have blithely assumed we’re an exception to the rule in that respect.

IS COLORADO A WAKE-UP CALL?

This is a question many people across the nation are beginning to ponder. Since we locals are in the eye of the storm, so to speak, we tend to take for granted that most Americans are aware of the raging debate over Colorado’s Jefferson County School Board. Permit me to fill you in on the story:

An unusual situation developed during the last six months when three of five board member positions became open at the same time. Since many local citizens felt strongly that they had little voice in how the district was being run, three centrist locals decided to run for those seats. In spite of being greatly outspent media-wise by union supporters, all three were swept in, giving them a three-fifths majority.

What disturbs so many people is what followed: The media regularly categorizes the three new board members as “Christian extremists,” and passes up no opportunity to disparage or discredit them. The teachers’ union orders district teachers to storm the board meetings, along with union operatives from all over. Without defenders, these board members tremble as hecklers turn their deliberations into virtual lions’ dens. One of the new board member’s own children has been so viciously harassed that the parents were forced to pull the child out of a local school and transfer to a charter school some distance away. Teachers have so openly maligned and discredited these board members that many of the 85,000 students in this large district are now seething with hatred against them. So much so that these board members dare not even step foot in any of the classrooms they are legally in charge of.

At first, the storm of media negativity was general: in essence, trying to make life such hell for the new board members that at least one of them would resign. And daily life for each of the three has become just that. “Daily discouragement” a mild term for how they feel from day to day—and unpaid positions at that!

They were first attacked for hiring a new district superintendent [the original one resigned rather than work with the new board members] who was empathetic to the desire of ordinary citizens to have a say in the running of the district.

They were next attacked for their attempts to tie pay-increases to excellence in teaching. The two original board members voted against it. The union unleashed a storm of outrage that the poorest-performing teachers wouldn’t get the same salary increases the best-performing teachers would.

Then there is the latest storm of outrage over the board decision that some form of positive patriotism in the teaching of U.S. history be encouraged. Deconstructionists raged: How dare they encourage patriotism when so many terrible things have been done in the past!

During the last week, teachers have been disrupting family-life by staging sick-ins; by not showing up for classes, parents are forced to stay home with their kids.

Well-founded rumor now has it that as soon as the fall election is over, a massive recall of the three new board members will be organized and funded.

All this is making many people, not only in Colorado but across the country, wonder what has happened to our nation that such things can be? That such tactics of intimidation and poisoning the well against an opponent can be condoned. Indeed, locally and nationally, Republican candidates are blistered in a media frenzy of attack ads for their right-to-life stances (which is in essence an attack on all American Christians who believe in the sanctity of life).

Woven through all this is a nation-wide tide of ridicule and scorn directed at all conservatives, Christians, and people who still dare to defend traditional marriage and family. One of the new board members’ cars had a Defense of Family bumper sticker depicting stick-figures of a man, woman, two children, and a dog defaced during the last week: defaced by the addition of a painted-on meteor on collision course with the family.

I’m in a personal quandary here because I have wonderful relationships with area teachers and administrators in five area elementary schools, where I’ve worked in tandem with them for eleven years now, as we together try our best to get more elementary students into reading. There are so many individual teachers who continue giving their all each day.

Reflecting national concern over one aspect of this controversy is a September 27-8, 2014 Wall Street Journal major opinion essay titled “Democracy Requires a Patriotic Education” by Donald Kagan (Yale University historian and professor emeritus), in which he weighs in on the issue in observations such as these:

“Our schools have retreated from the idea of moral education, except for some attempts of what is called ‘Values Clarification,’ which is generally a cloak for moral relativism verging on nihilism of the sort that asserts that whatever feels good is good.”

“Just as an individual must have an appropriate love of himself if he is to perform well, an appropriate love of family if he and it are to prosper, so, too, must he love his country if it is to survive.”

“Neither family nor nation can flourish without love, support, and defense.”

“Assaults on patriotism are failures of character. They are made by privileged people who enjoy the full benefits offered by the country they deride and detest, but they lack the basic decency to pay it the allegiance and respect that honor demands. But honor, of course, is also an object of their derision.”

“The encouragement of patriotism is no longer a part of our public educational system, and the cost of that omission has made itself felt. This would have alarmed and dismayed the founders of our country.”

“The story of this country’s vision of a free, democratic republic and of its struggles to achieve it need not fear the most thorough examination and can proudly stand comparison with that of any other land.”

* * * * *

So, my question is this: What can each of us do to help avert further cracks in the foundational structure of our republic? Is our current culture of disparaging, discrediting, and ridiculing conservatives, Christians, right-to-lifers, defenders of traditional marriage, and defenders of traditional family, irreversible? If it is not, what can each of us do to help fix it?

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Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club #33 – Lois Lowry’s “The Giver”

BLOG #35, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #33
LOIS LOWRY’S THE GIVER
THE BOOK AND THE MOVIE
August 27, 2014

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In the case of this book, I put the cart before the horse. Connie and I were invited to see an exclusive advanced screening of the upcoming movie, The Giver at the Carefree Cinema in Colorado Springs on the evening of July 31, 2014.

Neither of us had read the book. All we knew was that the book was first published in 1993, and became a Newberry Award winner in 1994. The book has been required reading in a host of schools–especially middle schools–across the country for many years now. Colleges too.

We went into the movie blind since it had not yet been released; not even movie reviews were available yet. We did know, however, that the movie had a stellar cast, including Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Taylor Swift, Katie Holmes, Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush, and Alexander Skarsgard.

We did know it would be a futuristic movie.

Our hostess was the genial Jane Terry, who explained why each of us had been forbidden to bring any recording devices into the theater. Nor were we to divulge the contents of the film to anyone prior to the movie’s release, or review it before the release date.

Then, the movie rolled. In somber black and white. It took us some time to understand just what it was that we were watching. And what might be significant about the upcoming twelfth birthdays of a group of good friends. At which time, each would be assigned a life profession, hopefully compatible with each individual’s primary interests.

The first jar had to do with the age: they most certainly didn’t look like twelve-year-olds, but rather eighteen-year-old high school graduates! What gives here? But the story-line was so mesmerizing that most of us did willing-suspension-of-disbelief and watched the story-line unroll.

It didn’t take me long to discover we were watching a dystopia, a subject area I was already very familiar with, having written my masters in English thesis at Sacramento State University on utopian and dystopian books. My wife, not having been herself immersed in the genre earlier on, was forced to fly blind into the movie.

Nor did it take me long to realize how eerily prophetic the story line was: too much appeared to either be already reality in contemporary society or be approaching it. Then the story grew darker. But it was still a long time before either the young protagonists or the audience were aware that something awful was happening.

In the movie discussion afterwards, it was noted that the author, back in 1993, had predicted it might become reality in fifty years from then. I declared that it might very well become reality in twenty from now.

But later, I purchased a copy of the book and read it through. I was fascinated. When the movie was released I eagerly read the reviews to see what their take on the movie might be.

REVIEWS

Raymond Flynn (August 15 Wall Street Journal) titled his review “‘The Giver’ and the ‘Totalitarian Instinct.’” Included in his insightful commentary are passages such as this: “As the lights came up after the screening…, my thoughts were on Poland and communism, but soon turned to the broader subject of totalitarian regimes robbing individuals of their God-given rights. So often, one of the first jobs of the totalitarian is to declare that God is dead and that government is the final authority on truth and justice–we see it now in North Korea…. In the movie, we are in a world where all human misery has been eliminated. There is no rage, no war, no wealth and no poverty. But at a cost. There is also no music, no art, no literature, no beauty. And no memory. Just to be safe, all memories are the possession of a lone individual.”

In the August 16-17 Wall Street Journal, Alexandra Wolfe’s review of Jeff Bridges’ role quotes Bridges as saying, “I think it’s an impulse for human beings to want to suffer less, and we’re kind of addicted to comfort at all costs–at least I am. And of course comfort has a price. So the film is asking…what’s the true cost of our comfort, and what are we willing to pay?”

Lisa Kennedy, in the August 15 Denver Post labels the film “a gentle, chilling dystopian primer,” and notes that both recent films Divergent and The Hunger Games owe much to Lois Lowry’s earlier book. The movie “is a class act, the kind of respectable rendering of a literary source we’ve come to expect from Philip Anschutz’s Walden Media, the indie force behind ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ ‘Holes,’ and other engaging family fare.”

MY OWN TAKE

My mind is still at sea with Lois Lowry’s unique approach to the utopian and dystopian genres. George Orwell paints his Stalinist world in bleak gray. Both Freedom and Family are dirty words. Love is an obscenity. Aldous Huxley’s world is closer to ours: Give the world all the sex, sensations, and pleasure it wants–and few will even care that World Controllers make all the really significant decisions, what’s left is meaningless, which is whatever sensation, pleasure, high, or pill one wishes to turn to. Free sex is so ubiquitous it no longer has any meaning, nor do any of the standard building blocks to a great society: God, Love, Marriage, Fidelity, Commitment, Honor, Patriotism, Empathy, Faith, Integrity, Courage, Dependability, Longing, etc.

Lowry’s world is also gray, and is just as totalitarian as Orwell’s and Huxley’s, even though it appears to be benign. All the highs and lows of life have been eliminated. Sex does not even exist, no small thanks to injections and pills. The power of making individual choices is not even an option, not even in careers. Marriage is a travesty, as is “family,” but is instead a mockery of the real thing: catbird egg children (not your own), and celibate “parents” who are not permitted to really love anyone. Puberty is not even permitted to happen. Children happen somewhere off-stage via women who somehow churn out babies from no one is permitted to know where or how. The only learning is standardized meaningless pap. Big Brother–or in Meryl Streep’s case, Big Sister, is omnipresent. Even thought-crime is punishable by death. Unwanted babies disappear. Same with unwanted retirees. All is placid–yet terrifying. All human knowledge is housed in one room, guarded by one person only. No one else must have any access to it–ever.

Nevertheless, I personally predict that society is drifting into Lowry’s orbit: In America, spiritual faith–unless it is of the East or mystical–is routinely ridiculed and disparaged. Marriage (commitment for life) is being reduced to live-in relationships, one-night stands, and meaningless “hook-ups.” Children all too often are merely frisbees tossed between one household to another, with no real home to call their own. Porn of all kind (a la Huxley) is so addictive that real marital commitment cannot even compete. Virtual reality is replacing real reality. The very concept of faithfulness is mocked. The gay lifestyle is all too often replacing the heterosexual; result: androgynous individuals without clearly defined sexual differences. Why spend years studying and learning when you can escape into substance abuse and virtual reality? Boys especially, lacking traditional fatherhood role-models, are bailing out of education at an ever earlier age. College and university degrees are becoming worthless: substituting amorphous masses of meaningless observations for the traditional building blocks of western culture: history, biography, geography; great art, great music, great literature. More and more, one can earn doctorates in areas such as history without taking any history classes. Patriotism is continually ridiculed and downgraded, and is no longer taught in most of our schools. Our democratic way of life is being rapidly subverted by corporations and big money determining election results rather than people-driven elections. Since people are discouraged from reading, elections are now being decided by vicious below-the-belt attack ads that result in more and more cynicism, most terrifying–even in children and teenagers. Big Government is taking over more and more of the decisions parents used to make. Big Governments the world over are discouraging all rural life in favor of megacities that can be more easily manipulated and coerced.

When you add all this up, who is to stop totalitarian systems such as Lowry’s from obliterating what is left of freedom in our world?

That is why everyone–young or old–ought to read Lowry’s book and see the movie…so that course-corrections can be implemented before it is too late. Especially should tweens and teens read the book and see the movie.

The book can be found everywhere. The movie version was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2014; the original (1993) was published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. Find a copy and read it.

The Talleyman Ghost and Other Mysteries for Girls

BLOG #33, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE TALLEYMAN GHOST AND OTHER
MYSTERIES FOR GIRLS
August 13, 2014

N E W S    R E L E A S E

Just out is this, our 88th book. In last week’s blog, I discussed with our readers the three-and-a-half-year fuse that led to the eventual publishing of The Talleyman Ghost and The Secrets of Creeping Desert. How it was thanks to Larry Weeden (Editorial Director ) and Bill Flandermeyer (then bookstore manager) at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs that these two books came to be.

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In this case, our discussion that December 3, 1910 evening centered on the individualized book needs for boy-readers and girl-readers. We concluded that both boys and girls love mysteries. After all, generations of young readers have grown up reading The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mystery stories. Both Weeden and Flandermeyer urged me to consider putting together mystery story collections for both audiences. Finally, three and a half years later, here they are.

I have raided the entire twentieth century for its most memorable girl-related mystery stories. I chose the very best by popular authors whose stories have stood the test of time; not easy given how few stories survive for two generations. A number of the writers were already familiar to me: prolifically published writers such as Catherine R. Britton, May Hurley Ashworth, Albert Payson Terhune (America’s greatest dog story writer), Augusta Huiell Seaman, Eric Philbrook Kelly (renowned writer of stories dealing with Poland and Europe), and Malura T. Weaver.

It is much more difficult today to choose mystery stories that uplift rather than degrade, that help inculcate values worth living by rather than those likely to darken the inner skies of its readers. Not surprisingly, I discovered that most of the best stories had been written earlier on rather than today.

Since far more girls than boys are enthusiastic readers today, I have no fears for the popularity of this collection.

Over the years it has become abundantly clear to me that, generally speaking, book covers are the determining factors in terms of which books are purchased and which are passed over by bookstore browsers. I’ve been lucky with most of our covers; however, two were just plain awful. Not surprisingly, the sales correlate. I’d guess that 95% of impulse book-buying is almost predetermined by the cover illustrations and graphics.

Which brings me to the covers for Talleyman Ghost and Secrets of the Creeping Desert. When Todd Hoyt (president of eChristian/Mission Books) sent us sample cover illustrations for each book, it gave me a brainstorm: quite a few years ago it was when Kiwanis of Conifer members decided to put most all their fund-raising eggs in one basket. Since Kiwanians recite every week this mantra: “Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world one community and one child at a time,” our only question had to do with how we’d focus our energies. We concluded that it had to do with reading. Reason being that for several decades now our national reading test scores have continued their prolonged death-plunge. Reason being: most parents today are themselves non-readers; consequently there are hardly any books, magazines, or newspapers to be seen in their homes. And gone too, for the most part, is the traditional story hour during which parents read to their children. The results add up to a national catastrophe.

Since studies continue to show, conclusively, that if a child fails to fall in love with reading by the third grade—it’s not likely to ever happen at all, we decided to make addressing that need our first priority. Since I’ve directed our Kiwanis Reading Program since its inception, I’ve been deeply involved in helping to make it happen. We’ve raised over $70,000 to buy books for the students (third-graders, highest priority) in five elementary schools: Deer Creek, Elk Creek, Marshdale, Parmalee, and West Jeff elementary schools in the Colorado Front Range. Each year, at our annual reading celebration for third-graders, I personally invite all the kids to attend at Ron Lewis’s barn in Marshdale. We give them a great time, including a chance to personally check out Lewis’s buffalo and elk herds, get their faces painted, get to have one of my books (of their choice) inscribed as a gift from me, and be part of the receiving groups when annual checks are handed out (usually $1,500 or so per school). Last two years, since we have a vibrant homeschooling community here in the mountains, we added them in as well.

So, when the subject of choosing covers for these two books came up, I decided to corral Wendy Woodland, principal of West Jeff Elementary School, and ask her if she thought third-graders would get a kick out of helping to choose two book covers before they were published. Woodland loved the idea. “It would be a real first for them!” was her response.

She felt boys would choose a mysterious-looking cover devoid of frills, and implying overt action. But, as for girls, she prophesied that since they tend to recoil from covers that convey graphic violence, much preferring understated covers that, while they appear mysterious and perhaps mystical, lean toward beauty rather than crude or overt action. “And,” she added, “girls love cursive writing more than block writing. Mark my words, they’ll, hands down, choose the mystical green cover with swirly cursive writing.” She was right: the boys gravitated to the one you’ll see on Secrets of Creeping Desert and the girls almost unanimously chose the one that graces Talleyman Ghost. I can’t wait to show the students these covers this fall when they are fourth-graders.

Here are the chosen stories included in the book:

“The Talleyman Ghost,” by Catherine R. Britton
“The Clock Stopped,” by Mae Hurley Ashworth
“Portia and Xenophon,” by Albert Payson Terhune
“That Darling Chin,” by Grace Lyon Benjamin
“Aunt Honoria’s Legacy,” by Helen Minshall Young
“Butterfly Ranch,” by Mary Beth Oliver
“The Mallory Inheritance,” by Augusta Huiell Seaman
“A Royal Mystery – Unsolved,” by Eric Philbrook Kelly
“The Missing Chessman,” by Dorothea Castelhun
“Wings of the Wind,” by Kenneth Payson Kempton
“Buried Treasure,” by Mabel Cleland
“The Ebony Box,” by Malura T. Weaver

Girls of all ages will revel in this timeless collection. As you’re making up your Christmas stocking list, write down the names of your girls, granddaughters, nieces, godchildren, etc., and have me inscribe the books personally to them. Ditto for birthdays or other special occasions.
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ORDERING INFORMATION

Binding: Trade Paper
Pages: 144
Price: $14.98
Shipping: $4.50

Personally signed or inscribed by Joe Wheeler, if requested, at no extra cost. You may secure your copies from us, so give us a call or email or letter, and we’ll fill your order for you,

Mail your request to Dr. Joe Wheeler, P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.
Or Phone to 303-838-2333.
Or send an email to: mountainauthor@gmail.com.

THE SECRETS OF THE CREEPING DESERT AND OTHER MYSTERIES FOR BOYS

BLOG #32, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE SECRETS OF THE CREEPING DESERT
AND OTHER MYSTERIES FOR BOYS
August 6, 2014

N E W S R E L E A S E

Just out is this, our 87th book. It was born three and a half years ago and contracted for three years ago. Due to unexpected developments, the manuscript was given a three-year-nap. Result: we have a surfeit of books carrying my name out this year; such a thing is not likely to ever happen again. Here’s how it happened.

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The date was Friday, December 3, 2010. Each first Friday of December, for many years now, I spend with my extended family at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs. That particular Friday, for the fifteenth Christmas in a row, for morning worship, I shared with them a story included in the latest Christmas in My Heart® collection. The rest of the day, I spent signing books in the Focus on the Family bookstore. As is true with most epiphanies, I never saw this one coming!

As I inscribed the last couple of books, my long-time cherished friend, Editorial Director Larry Weeden, walked in to debrief on my day. As God would have it, then bookstore manager Bill Flandermeyer joined us for the same reason.

After we’d reviewed the events of the day, one of us posed this question (completely out of the blue–no antecedent for it): “When people come into this bookstore, is there anything that many of them are searching for that we don’t have–and they sadly leave without?”

It was a rhetorical question, not one we expected a definite answer to. Instead, without even stopping to think about it, Flandermeyer shot back: “Yes! Books for boys!” He went on to note that buyers young and old (grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, friends, children and teens), found all too few books for boys on the shelves. Then I was put on the hot spot: “What do you have for boys? Can you step in and fill the need?” I had to admit that though almost all of our books would appeal to boys, nothing I had was geared just for boys.

We had also discussed the subject of books that would appeal just to girls. We could all think of available options for them. But the problem was even bigger than that: today, we have a national crisis on our hands that has profound implications for America’s tomorrows. Boys are bailing out of education at an ever earlier age, veering instead into escapist virtual reality–be it video games, texting, alcohol, tobacco, pornography (their options are legion) rather than eagerly preparing themselves for productive adult careers. Since their parents don’t read much themselves, and there are all too few books, magazines, and newspapers in homes today, there are few incentives for their children to read either.

* * *

After I returned home, I couldn’t get the discussion out of my head. Was God directing me to become more pro-active rather than re-active? What could I do personally to help turn the tide? I’ve learned over the years that when God sets you up for action, you don’t have to wait long for His follow-through. In only weeks Dan Balow (the new publisher for Mission Books/eChristian) was in our home, with Greg Johnson (our long-time agent); the agenda had to do with possible book projects I felt strongly about. Fresh in my mind was the discussion at Focus on the Family. I brought it up. The result was a contract for six books, two of which came out right away: Showdown (sports stories for boys) and Bluegrass Girl (horse stories for girls). But not long after, Balow left the company, and we wondered if the other four books would ever see actual publication. Serendipitously, recently Todd Hoyt, the president of the company, reinserted the four titles in the pipeline: Only God Can Make a Dad and A Mother’s Face is Her Child’s First Heaven came out some months ago; and now, finally, here comes our second book just for boys.

In that 2010 discussion, specific emphasis had been placed on my consideration of mystery stories for boys. After all, almost every boy is fascinated by books and stories that incorporate mysteries in the narrative.

So, finally, here they are, the result of an exhaustive search for the most powerful value-based mystery stories I could find. I specifically sought out stories that were compatible with Judeo-Christian values, that didn’t veer into darkness–as all too many youth-oriented mystery stories do today. I searched for stories that were not merely good-reads but would also result in the reader’s positive inner-growth. In the process, I discovered that mystery stories for boys tend to be longer than those written just for girls. Possibly because boys revel in taking things apart to find out how they work. They want to know both how and why. In detail.

By the way, the third-grade boys at Jefferson County Elementary School in Conifer, Colorado helped to choose this cover illustration. More about how that happened in next week’s blog.

So here are the stories:

■ “Jimmy the Sleuth,” by Frank Farrington
■ “Black on Blue,” by Ralph Henry Barbour
■ “The Prisoner,” by Jeannette C. Nolan
■ “Mystery of the Missing,” by Ruth Herrick Myers
■ “Black Canyon Mystery,” by John Scott Douglas
■ “Jack’s Electric Signal,” by F. Lovell Combs
■ “Pluck and ‘Thousand Acres’,” by A. May Holaday
■ “The Egg Mystery,” by Earl Reed Silvers
■ “The Gassoway Goats,” by Ruth and Robert Osborne
■ “Scoop,” by E. Mark Phillips
■ “Four Men In Boats,” by Russell Gordon Carter
■ “The Secrets of the Creeping Desert,” by Richard N. Donelson

For this collection, I drew from the finest mystery stories for boys published during the twentieth century. I was already familiar with many of the authors, for their works were prolifically published by the leading magazines of the time–authors such as Ralph Henry Barbour, Ruth Herrick Myers, John Scott Douglas, A. May Holaday, Earl Reed Silvers, and Russell Gordon Carter.

Next week, I’ll tell you about The Talleyman Ghost and Other Mystery Stories for Girls.

You may secure copies from us; let us know if you wish any of the books to be individually inscribed. They ought to appeal to boys of all ages; they certainly appealed to me. Great stories are enjoyed by the old as well as the young. Get a head start on your Christmas stocking list by gifting a copy of this book to each son, grandson, nephew, godson, or friend.

ORDERING INFORMATION

Binding: Trade Paper
Pages: 174
Price: $14.98
Shipping: $4.50

Personally signed or inscribed by Joe Wheeler, if requested, at no extra cost.

Mail your request to Dr. Joe Wheeler, P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433.
Or Phone to 303-838-2333.
Or send an email to: mountainauthor@gmail.com.

 

WE DON’T TAKE SNOW FOR GRANTED

BLOG #17, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WE DON’T TAKE SNOW FOR GRANTED
April 23, 2014

Much of the Southwest is in drought mode. Even California, the breadbasket of the nation.

Snow and rain. Human life could not live without moisture, consequently millions of people are concerned about climate change. Each year, here in the Colorado Rockies, many worry that this year we won’t have enough moisture for our crops, this year the rivers won’t bring life to counties or states fed by rivers born in the Rockies, this year lack of snow may cut the ski season short, this year our wells may run dry, this year wind and fire may combine to burn up everything we own. The list could go on and on.

But one thing is for sure: we do not take weather for granted. Mankind never has.

In a service club I’m a part of, every week we collect what we call “happy dollars” (which we then donate to our annual literacy campaign). As each of us weighs in on what we are happiest about, almost always weather comes up: if we’ve had a good snowfall or a good rain, invariably at least one member calls attention to it; in the opening invocation, God is usually thanked for whatever moisture comes our way. And when moisture does not come, God is reminded in the invocation that we’d sure appreciate more snow, or more rain.

At the elevation where we live (9,700′), we get lots of snow. In fact, a neighbor and I keep track year by year. Over an eighteen-year period, we have averaged 200-230 inches of snow a year. We’re under normal for this year, but we keep hoping more snow will fall–and if it doesn’t, we’ll hope and pray that God will grant us a long summer monsoon season of rain.

How good God is.

Published in: on April 23, 2014 at 5:00 am  Comments (2)  
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Once Upon A Time 141 Years Ago

BLOG #11, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
ONCE UPON A TIME 141 YEARS AGO
March 12, 2014

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What’s so significant about 1873, 141 years ago? Let’s find out.

Lincoln had been assassinated at the end of the horrific Civil War during which virtually every family, North or South, had been bathed in blood. The terrible Reconstruction Period was bringing a new species of hell to the South. To add even more misery, the terrible bank panic of 1873 was blighting the hopes and dreams of millions of people, for there was then no FDIC to fall back on.

But in the midst of all this, something totally unforeseen took place: Roswell Smith (1829-1892), cofounder of Scribners and founder of the Century Publishing Company, woke up one never-to-be-forgotten morning with a dream; but, unlike most people, this publisher believed in constructing lasting foundations under his dreams. Since he had more than enough money, all he lacked was a young energetic visionary editor who’d help him to change the western world. He found her, a widowed Mary Mapes Dodge, whose best-selling book, Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, eight years before, had elevated her to the pinnacle of national popularity. Once she’d signed on, the stage was set.Scan_Pic0080

On my lapboard this stunning late winter day in the Colorado Rockies, is a very old book containing two 141-year-old magazines and four 140-year-old magazines. The crystallization into reality of Smith’s and Dodge’s dream: the very first volume of a life-changing magazine, St. Nicholas.

I’ve always been attracted to visionary dreams that change the world. I can only imagine what it would have been like in that New York editorial office when Smith handed Mrs. Dodge that very first magazine. In my introduction to “A St. Nicholas Magazine Christmas” (Christmas in My Heart® 17, 2008), I took our readers back in time to what it would have been like for a child or a teen to have been handed a copy of that magazine.

The fastest speed known to man was the train; transportation in general was still dominated by the horse. The telegraph office and the newspaper in each town were their windows to the world. The center of home life was the stove, kitchen, or fireplace–here is where family reading took place in the evenings. Paper was so rare that children, both at home and at school, tended to write with chalk on slate rather than using a pencil on paper. Childhood, as we know it today, didn’t exist back then, for children were expected to work as hard as adults. Education was all too brief; maybe, if you were lucky, three or four grades in a one-room schoolhouse. Girls especially faced an unenviable future for few careers other than marriage and motherhood were open to them. They were expected to marry by the ages of 14 to 17 (boys 15 to 18); children would then arrive on an average of every two years. No small thanks to the failure of doctors and midwives to wash their hands between patients, untold millions of women died of puerperal fever or childbirth “complications” – hence men tended to go through three wives in a lifetime. Life expectancy was short.

So just imagine yourself as an 1873 child or teen, as this magazine created just for you was delivered to your door. You’d be not only hungry for knowledge, you’d be voracious: all that knowledge out there, but inaccessible to you. Now here come, in your mailbox, windows to the world: history, biography, religion, literature, art, music, mythology, biology, architecture, anthropology, philosophy, technology, folklore, popular culture, and on and on. Authors and poets such as Jack London, Rudyard Kipling, Anthony Hope, Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Longfellow, Bret Harte, Whittier, Frances Hodgson Burnett, William Cullen Bryant; and artists such as Arthur Rackham, Maxfield Parrish, Howard Pyle, Rembrandt, Rubens, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Frederic Remington, Charles Dana Gibson, Arthur Keller, etc.

Faithfully, for two-thirds of a century, three generations of young people received 1,200 pages of fascinating reading material every year. Without preaching or moralizing, the magazines helped inculcate principles of right living in its readers: character traits such as integrity, kindness, self-sacrifice, empathy, industry, courage, fortitude, self-respect, patriotism, respect for their elders, sportsmanship, etc.. – traits that bridged to the Golden Rule and service for others. Interwoven into the very fabric of the magazine was God’s leading in each of our lives. Thus, in its 66 years, St. Nicholas had a huge impact on the American people and British Commonwealth.

And yet, miraculously, defying all the odds, here is this refugee from another time, this 1873-74 artifact, on my lapboard! Thoughts and reactions almost overwhelm me. What will be the thoughts of people in 2155, 141 years from now, when they look back in time? Will there be any paper books left outside of mega library vaults? Will the average person be able to experience the thrill of touching and reading actual paper pages from times past? Or will the closest thing be digital? Digital recreations that lack any real connections to the real artifact itself. In that probable age of Orwellian Big Brother will they be forced to enter the Ray Bradbury world of Fahrenheit 451 and seek out those who memorized seminal books from the past (reason being totalitarian rulers have now erased all printed records that such books ever existed)? Even more terrifying, will there yet exist civilizations based on the Judeo-Christian belief system generations of children once grew up internalizing?

In a way, thousands of homeschooling parents are already circling their wagons around their children, earnestly seeking to preserve values worth living by for their children. Searching out real books, with the known potential to change lives for the better if their values are internalized. In a world that increasingly devalues real books, a revolution has already begun, a revolution every bit as significant as the one begun back in 1873-74 with this priceless book resting on my lapboard today.

Why Are We Americans Becoming So Dumb?

BLOG #50, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WHY ARE WE AMERICANS BECOMING SO DUMB?
December 11, 2013

It was while listening to the “Sunday Morning” broadcast that I was jolted into shock by a broadcast segment. In it, the program regular admitted how traumatized he was to discover that his increased use of electronic gadgetry such as Smartphones and aps was destroying his brain. The catalyst was his rueful discovery that he couldn’t even remember his wife’s phone number without retrieving it from an electronic index. Even more horrifying: to realize he could no longer remember how to spell common words such as “spatula,” no matter how much time he took to probe his mental memory banks. The same was true with mathematics: the electronic crutch ends up crippling the ability to do even simple math. Witness the number of individuals at restaurant and store checkout stands who are incapable of making correct change unless the machinery does it for them!

Every time I look at new lists of intelligence rankings (by nation), I wince as the U.S. continues to slip ever further down. Long gone are the days when we led the world.

In November and December of every year, I spend a large percentage of my time at book-signing tables; often with fellow Kiwanians at my side (because of our literacy program for area elementary schools), where for eleven years now, we’ve targeted third-graders. Reason being: studies reveal that unless a child falls in love with reading by the third grade, it’s not likely to ever happen at all. We are often permitted to set up our tables in large supermarkets because of this program. So we have plenty of time to watch people, young and old, as they come into, and leave, these chain stores. More and more often we are noticing a disturbing new phenomenon: children who are connected to electronic gadgetry tend to pay no attention to the books on our tables—or anything else, for that matter. But even when electronic gadgetry is not a variable, we’ve noticed that it has almost become a norm: when an approaching child’s eyes light up at the sight of books, almost invariably it turns out that the child is a homeschooler.

Even as I was watching this most recent “Sunday Morning” broadcast, and simultaneously signing complete sets of Christmas in My Heart books, I belatedly realized that the books were taking twice as long as normal to inscribe, and that my memory was fogging over and my accuracy continuing to deteriorate. Finally, I had to leave the room where the TV set was on so that I could complete my signings in the time I allocated for them.

All this causes me to question many of the so-called benefits of technology: if electronic gadgetry continues to erode our abilities to read, comprehend, articulate, write, understand, and effectively utilize abstract thought, then might we as a nation be paying way too high a price for so-called progress? Might it also turn out to be that it is not progress at all? But rather, the reverse?

In the thirty years of research poured into my 1993 book, Remote Controlled, I discovered that the more time an individual (of any age) spent watching TV, the dumber that person proved to be. And the more muddled the brains of the recipients. By extension, might it not also be true that overexposure to electronic imagery other than television will end up dumbing down the receiver’s brains even further? Reason being that those who receive pre-fab (created by someone other than the receiver) imagery rather than creating connotatively imagery through reading, being read to, radio or live drama, end up incapable of communicating effectively either in oral or in written forms. Only the reader, it turns out, is capable of writing coherent sentences and paragraphs. Non-readers, having little that is original to them in their brains to draw from, find it almost impossible to write anything creative or coherent at all!

DOES GRAMMAR MATTER ANY MORE?

BLOG #36, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DOES GRAMMAR MATTER ANY MORE?
September 4, 2013

What triggered this blog is Mark Goldblatt’s column, “Welcome Back, My Ungrammatical Students” in the September 3 Wall Street Journal. Mr. Goldblatt teaches English at State University of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Set off in bold type is this jolting line: Unlike your friends, who will excuse your errors, your college professor may or may not like you.

Goldblatt, in his very first line, leaps into the heart of the matter: “The fall is mere weeks away, another college semester either under way or soon to be. If you’re one of thousands of freshmen nationwide, you’ve just discovered you’ve been placed in a remedial English class.

“‘How can this be?’ you’re asking yourself. ‘I got straight A’s in high school! I love writing stories and poems! I’m good in English!’”

Needless to say, Goldblatt postulates that it does matter whether or not a student uses correct English.

But I must confess I am a tad grateful I’m now a full-time writer rather than being an English
teacher barraged by poorly written essays that have to be daily evaluated and responded to. But I put in my time–34 years worth. However, no English teacher is ever permitted to escape his/her calling. Just ask any English teacher this question: “What’s it like when your introduction to a group of people includes this line, —is an English teacher.” What do you get? How right you are: dead silence. The ultimate example of clamming up. And it’s even worse if you happen to be an “English Professor.” To be an English teacher is perceived to be at least human; but to be an English Professor is perceived to be someone possessing grammatical infallibility. Whatever you do, don’t even talk to such a sage–you’re sure to get zapped!

But there are other downsides to being an English Professor, chief of which is the sadistic delight people–especially one’s former students–take in catching grammatical mistakes you may occasionally make. Case in point, my last week’s blog. By the time I got to the last line, I was too tired to re-check the exact meaning of a word I’d used before. Sure enough, here came a zinger from my dear friend and fellow writer, Elsi Dodge, chortling with glee that she’d caught me confusing “enervating” with “energizing.” What could I do but grovel and promise to mend my ways?

THE LONG, LONG GRAMMATICAL FUSE

Goldblatt, in referencing “grammar,” does so in these words: “to refer to the overall mechanics of your writing, including punctuation, syntax and usage.” And he negatively singles out those who don’t know how to put sentences together in ways that clarify, rather than cloud, what they’re trying to say.

Permit me to approach this issue pragmatically. The inability to write or speak correctly is not likely to hurt you too much among your peers and friends. Not in the short-term, that is. And especially not if you are charismatic, cover-girl-beautiful, or a candidate for sexiest man alive hunkhood. If you’re perceived to be one of these “golden ones who seemingly can do no wrong, you’ll suffer little more than winces from such disasters as “me and Joanie were like, wild about like see’n Tony.” But, in life, there are such things as fuses. When one’s proverbial “fifteen minutes of fame” are over, and the long descent takes place; when you are no longer drop-dead beautiful or headturningly handsome, what then? You may have been hired because your looks and contours were impossible to ignore, but inevitably there will come a day when your looks can no longer make up for your embarrassing mistakes in writing and speaking. When one more mangled syntax, misspelled word, or misplaced punctuation mark costs the firm one of its most valued clients—and out you go.

The problem is this: there is no one-day-seminar that can possibly fix such deficiencies. It is anything but an easy fix. Even if you memorize Strunk and White’s timeless masterpiece, Elements of Style, you’d only be part way there. Only by reading widely, reading selectively, and avoiding slangy, slovenly, poorly structured prose whenever possible, can you begin to improve the quality and enhance the power of your writing and speaking.

Which is a good time to reference another Goldblatt zinger: “While there definitely is such a thing as good writing, there’s no such thing as good grammar.” I agree 100%. One does not become a good writer by simply mastering grammar. Untold thousands of potentially significant writers have lost their love of writing because teachers sold them a bill of goods: that, unless they mastered grammar first, they’d never become good writers. Which is only partly true. They are on far safer ground if they are encouraged to write, write, write, even with occasional grammatical mistakes, and deal with one problem area at a time, not all of them at once. As problem areas–one at a time–are called to their attention by wise and empathetic mentors, who value substance over grammatical correctness, and, most important of all, consider the individual’s God-given one-of-a-kind voice sacrosanct, and not to be tinkered with, they can, over time, become “great” writers. Here I must qualify “great,” for I often say and write, “There are no great writers–there are only great stories.” By this I mean that no writer ever “arrives,” but rather we continue, as long as we live and breathe, to be works in progress. If we take too much time off–at any age—inevitably we lose our edge and become irrelevant and not worth reading any more.

So in conclusion, I invite each reader of this blog, to take grammar seriously. By so doing, you will avoid devaluing the substance of what you have to say. Recognize that effective communication is the key to success in almost every area of endeavor one may think of. Believe me, today’s world is almost desperate in its searches for men and women who are capable of writing coherent, persuasive, and interesting sentences and paragraphs.

What none of us want is a long-fuse, a ticking time-bomb, that is guaranteed to explode down the line. And let’s face it, if you are someone who is afraid to open your mouth or write an opinion on a piece of paper, then you do a grave disservice to the God who created you to do less than your best in correcting the problem–in becoming all you can be.

If this describes your condition, make today the first day of the rest of your life; if you are one who is already there, why not mentor someone who is not?

WSJ – Best Kept Secret in America?

BLOG #22, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
WSJ – BEST KEPT SECRET IN AMERICA?
May 29, 2013

It certainly was a secret where I was concerned, for all those years I just considered the Wall Street Journal to be merely the best-known of all financial newspapers, and what tycoons and wannabe tycoons subscribed to. Was I ever wrong!

Perhaps up until recently I just wasn’t ready to find out, lulled as I was by the assumption that, after half a millennium years of cultural dominance by print and paper, nothing significant was likely to alter that state of affairs.

But then came the long societal earthquake which triggered a seemingly endless succession of toppling dominoes. Small-town newspapers were first; then large dailies such as Rocky Mountain News in Colorado. At first I managed to console myself that the demise of that beloved old paper might not be all bad if the surviving paper, The Denver Post, would thereby become twice as strong, twice as rich, twice as interesting – but that didn’t happen. Then I began to hear of the demise of other well-known newspapers. And the ones that managed to survive seemed to be but pale shadows of what they once were, kept alive only by advertising; and when that too began to go elsewhere, massive staff layoffs became the norm.

Magazines were next. Actually, this equally sad development was anything but new, for magazines had been in steady retreat ever since the Great Depression hit in the 1930’s. Indeed magazines had ruled supreme over all other media in the 1910’s,1920’s and 1930’s, magazine editors paying writers more than book publishers or movie studio producers. Even though my wife and I had subscribed to both Time and Newsweek over the years, we’d always preferred Newsweek. Then I began to hear rumors I first considered to be all but impossible: my favorite news magazine, after a century of vibrant life, might not make it. And, not long before its last print issue; same for another news magazine I’d often read or consulted: U.S. News and World Report.

And then came what I first assumed would be merely a fad: e-books. Not in my wildest dreams did I envision electronic books ever challenging the supremacy of printed books! But like Dickens’ immortal supplanter, Uriah Heep, in David Copperfield, e-books seemingly were determined to supplant traditional ink and paper.

Just when I’d almost given up on print, one day at an airport, I idly picked up a copy of WSJ. Huh? Couldn’t be! After all, USA Today had a monopoly on national newspaper readership. Or did it?

I kept buying WSJ, then subscribed to it. An eye-opening series of daily newspaper thefts (always the WSJ, never The Denver Post), jolted me. Was the WSJ so good that people would break the law to steal copies that didn’t belong to them? Evidently so.

Gradually I became aware that a phoenix was arising from the graveyards of print. A newspaper that was a print window to the world. In depth, well-written, fascinating articles, columns, reviews, etc., that kept me informed on events, not just local, not just national, but global. And not just financial, not just political, but something I as a historian of ideas had only seen in Smithsonian’s incredible monthly magazines – art, music, books, fashion, religion, history, anthropology, geology, biography, cinema, television, burning cultural issues, sports . . . on and on. And Friday and Saturday’s expanded issues were so fascinating it would sometimes take half a day to fully digest them. I no longer missed Newsweek.

Having said all this, in many respects the same conclusions could be drawn for newspapers such as the New York Times, that also deliver well-drawn windows to the world. Indeed, a case could be made for reading both newspapers in order to arrive at a balanced synthesis of opposing political viewpoints.

Nor am I maintaining that faithfully reading newspapers such as WSJ or NYT each day may alone result in Renaissance men or Renaissance women, for today we are bombarded by such incessant streams of knowledge and information (mostly electronically) that the big problem may have to do with the distillation of it: making sense of it all.

We ought to be concerned about the demise of journalism, evidenced by the killing off of elementary and secondary newspapers, for the result will be a further diminution of adult journalistic minds. For make no mistake about it: electronic sound-bytes, thirty-second attack ads, electronic infomercials, and half-hour news broadcasts that include no more news substance than would fill one-half-page of newspapers such as the WSJ or NYT, are no substitute for thoughtful in-depth reading; for simplistic pre-digested information, not offset by broad in-depth reading, inevitably will result in adults crippled by myopic views of life and current issues.

Which brings me back to the reason I walk out each morning to the mailbox: to pick up The Denver Post (that fills me in on local/regional news) and the Wall Street Journal (that broadens my horizon so that I can see the broad global picture – the Zeitgeist).

What a pity that so few Americans today realize what they are missing by their disregard of newspapers, magazines and books.

THE PARALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN MIND – Part Three

BLOG #18, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE PARALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN MIND
Part Three
May 1, 2013

So what do these three blogs mean? Is there a solution?

Before dealing with those two questions, let’s look at what we’ve discussed in the earlier two blogs:

We’ve learned that Internet social networks such as Facebook, are seeking to take control of every aspect of our lives and by constantly intruding, rip apart the fabric of our lives. For starters, let’s look at the issue of productivity, beginning with the current issue of Success:

SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!

          There’s a good reason to hang a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your door when you need to concentrate. Researchers for Michigan State University and the Navy have determined that people make double, sometimes even triple, the errors immediately after they are interrupted, even when the diversions last only a few seconds. It doesn’t take much to get off track, which occurs whenever people have to shift attention. Three-second distractions doubled errors in the study; 4.5 – second interruptions tripled errors.

          Scientists call the delay in finding your place in the original task ‘resumption lag.’ . . . .It’s agreed that multitasking—essentially a cycle of interruption and resumption of work—acts like a brake to momentum. The takeaways: Turn off the phone, shut down email and close the door to avoid mistakes and work efficiently.
Success, May 2013

In the same vein, it has been aptly stated that today Americans tend to “Major in minors and minor in majors.” Most of what we read, see, discuss, and internalize is meaningless trivia. Contestants on Jeopardy who know all the actors and roles even in third-rate movies routinely miss the simplest questions from the Bible. Across America, there is an abysmal ignorance of even our own history. We have seemingly lost the importance of differentiating between significant and the meaningless and trite.

We have also discussed the alarming trend towards spending more and more of one’s life energy dwelling in a vicarious world rather than dealing with the day-to-day realities of the real world.

And even when we do dwell in the real world we often choose to accept a distorted view of it. In that same May issue of Success, its publisher, Darren Hardy, postulates that “News media has become a competitive blood sport for our attention. Their focus is finding the half-dozen most violent, tragic, scandalous and ugly things that happened in a day and parade them morning and night. Their goal is to trigger our fear, worry, threat and distress responses so we keep tuning in.”

Hardy wraps up his column with these sobering words:

          This barrage of negative input devastates our productive potential and creative capacity. What we see and hear is what we think about. Our thoughts become our expectations. Expectation leads to manifestations. It’s a dangerous and damaging downward spiral.

We’ve also discussed the significance of who each of us is, in terms of whether we are other-directed or inner-directed. If we are other-directed, inescapably we are bundled into the paralysis of the American mind.

And we’ve tackled, at least superficially, the issue of pleasure: Are we permitting the pleasure-principle to dominate our own life journeys? Furthermore, if sexuality becomes more significant than its God-given reason for being: cementing the life-long relationship of a man and a woman (the bastion of family life and security with our children), then of what value are our lives?

We’ve discussed too the increasing separation between us and our fellow-travelers-to-the-grave in this journey we label “life.” Are we willing to permit technology to replace day-to-day human relationships?

Nor should we forget that reading is at the very core of our creativity. If we are settling for the simplistic and narcissistic media world rather than studying books, magazines, and newspapers, then we are ourselves to blame for the myopic blinders we create for ourselves.

Ever since Gutenberg, reading has anchored civilization and made possible the Renaissance and the subsequent explosion of knowledge. If we desert reading in favor of sound-bytes, we thereby contribute to the decline of America. For if we forget God, forget our Founding Fathers, forget the principles our nation stood for during our first two centuries, our end can only be categorized as tragic.

* * * * *

But let me conclude with this sobering thought: In His earthly ministry, Christ hammered home no injunction more than time-management. In parable after parable, He reinforces His expectations that each of us would prioritize life thus: Each day should result in growth/achievement and in selfless service to God’s sheep. Everything else is secondary.

With this in mind, how can so many millions of us dare to fritter away the bullion of the universe—our time—on things that neither contribute to our daily growth and achievement nor make a positive difference in the lives of others less fortunate than us? Every moment of His earthly life, Christ considered precious.

So should we re-prioritize each remaining day left to us.