Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Pema R.I.P.

Pema in her prime.  Click photos to see in full.  BK photos

She was in all senses a rescue cat--rescued from starvation by friends who found her in their barn.  They didn't think she'd make it through the night.  She was probably about two years old, but nobody knows.

We met her shortly afterwards, twelve summers ago, and she adopted us.  We named her Pema, after the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron.  As I've said (or bragged) before, she soon lived up to her name, impressing our next door neighbor (not a fan of cats) by sitting still in one place in the back yard and just being.

 Eventually we would say "Meditation, Pema!" and she would stroll into the living room, where she would sit on my lap and I would meditate on petting her just the way she liked it.

She was semi-feral at first and only Margaret's patience and persistence got her out of the cat carrier in the kitchen.  It took a lot longer for her to warm up to me, but once she did, she was all in.

She was smart from the start.  She learned how doors work, and soon opened them herself.  It wasn't long before she became the queen of the household.  But she was never any trouble, except for her various health problems in recent years--she kept within the backyard boundaries outside, and did no damage to anything inside.  Except for a salamander she brought in a few times (and it survived), she never hurt another creature.  She was more of an indoor cat, and in recent years exclusively so.

She had her peculiarities.  She didn't drink water from her water dish (only in with her wet food); she hid from everyone but us, and she refused to be picked up.  All of that changed, mostly in her last weeks.

I nursed her as best I could through her final illness, and with courage she proved the adage about nine lives. Though she had to be in pain much of the time, she insisted on living her life as normally as she could, and even as we adapted, she was sweet and gentle and affectionate.

I learned a lot from her, like always know you have a clear exit before you enter a room.  We got to a point that she understood my words and I understood her non-verbal communications, most of the time anyway. But I won't go into what she meant to me, which was a lot: this is about her.

She was beautiful as you can see (a vet told us that a female with her coloration is rare.)  She was more than rare: she was unique, because of who she was, and who she became in relationship to us.  She became Pema, and she was Pema to the end.  May she rest in peace.  We will miss her every day.

Friday, August 10, 2018

History of My Reading: Two Cultures (Part 2)

It was either just before or just after I committed to Knox College that I saw Galesburg, Illinois for the first time, sort of.

In our senior year of high school, my debate partner Mike and I won the district debate championship for both the Catholic Forensic League and National Forensic League.  The CFL national finals were in Denver, and along with winners in other categories from our school and the other Catholic high school in the diocese, we went west on trains.

In those pre-Amtrak days, the trip from western Pennsylvania to Chicago was woeful.  The B&O line cared little for passengers, and the train cars were old, stripped nearly bare and were always either too hot or too cold.  But in Chicago that changed.  The eastern trains were limited in height by the tunnels.  But the western trains were taller and above all, newer.  Passenger service was a dream.  The whole gang of us (plus our chaperone/advisor who thankfully was from the other school-- a young male teacher with a casual manner) had a great time, mostly in the dome car of the Denver Zephyr.  Gliding through Nebraska in a crashing thunderstorm, and watching the lamp on the front of the train swing back and forth across the Colorado range were unforgettable.  (Not to mention the girl I'd met that day who fell asleep with her head on my shoulder.)

I knew that the train would pass through Galesburg, and even stop briefly.  On the way to Denver I nervously awaited Galesburg and tried to see whatever I could.  I didn't see much: a sliver of the CB&Q station that I came to know well, but which is no longer there. Nothing however that looked like a college. Still, this meant that I could travel to college and back by train, which added to the romance.

After I made my decision and my commitment, I endured the countless School of Hard Knox jokes that spring and summer, and other reactions that wouldn't have been different had I enrolled in the University of Mars. (Though I was grateful for the indifference of my high school's nuns and priests who thereafter considered me a lost cause, if not a lost soul for not choosing a Catholic college.)  Even without such uncomfortable questions and comments, I had my moments of doubt.  If I'd made a big mistake, it seemed irreparable, final, leading to a doomed life.

But in June 1964 a letter arrived from Knox with my first college reading assignment.  It was from Hermann Muelder, Dean of the College.  It was a formal but tidily written letter, saying that incoming freshmen were asked to read two books on the Two Cultures controversy "that has prevailed in scholarly circles on both sides of the Atlantic since 1959."  If we couldn't find these books where we lived--and it was dead certain I couldn't--we could order them from the Knox bookstore, which I promptly did.

They were The Two Cultures And a Second Look by C.P. Snow, featuring the essay that originally had sparked the debate, and Cultures in Conflict: Perspectives on the Snow-Leavis Controversy, a collection of essays edited by David K. Cornelius and Edwin St. Vincent, which included the first and most famous rejoinder by literary critic F.R. Leavis, and more.

There would be a panel discussion by faculty members and group discussions by--us!  Freshmen! during Orientation Week, the letter said.  "Topics from these readings may, in fact, be used for your examination in Speech and for themes in the English course which you probably will take," the letter added.

Though I noted the extra incentive of preparation for an exam and graded course, I was most impressed that I would be introduced to college with a class-wide consideration of ideas based on writings on the subject, and could participate in such a discussion myself, along with classmates and faculty members.  It was exciting, challenging and above all an affirmation of the Knox Idea and therefore of my choice.

Then in September it came time to set sail, or to tie down the boxes, trunk and my new suitcases on the luggage rack of the 1961 Mercury station wagon.  As the time came nearer, I became fitfully aware of the seeming finality of it all. That day would be a demarcation line in my life.

I was going to college some 700 miles away, a bewildering folly that only as the day came nearer my family came to terms with, just as I was having new doubts. In a way I owe this propelling away to a couple of slightly older young men whose names I don't remember, and to Sister Cornelia.

Sister Cornelia taught religion in my senior year.  Her nasal drone was full of scorn for any attempt to question the textbook version of church history, let alone any nuances of doctrine or morality.  I was her particular target.  I couldn't get far enough away from the likes of her.

That summer of 1964 I started out working on a painting crew for the county hospital.  It was an education in misery in general, but I noted the two older boys on the crew who were both in local colleges, and obviously unchanged by it.  They were the same brutal, contemptuous, unthinking and unfeeling boys they'd obviously been in high school.  One fantasized about what it would be like to shoot someone.  He was studying to be a doctor.  Again, I couldn't get far enough away from them.

When the day came to leave however, I suspiciously came down with a cold.  So I started this journey with Corricidin sloshing through my clogged head, as we turned away from the distant overlapping rows of blue mountains to the east, and headed west.  My father drove, my mother in the front seat, my 10 year old sister Debbie in the back seat with me.  My 14 year old sister Kathy didn't come with us.

The day was as cloudy as my head. The drowsy drone of the Pennsylvania Turnpike shortly became the Ohio Turnpike and for awhile the landscape remained basically familiar, as home was left imperceptibly behind.  But on the other side of Indiana the gradually gentler hills began to resolve into a constant flatness.  By Illinois began the endless fields with the blackest soil I'd ever seen.

My mother passed sandwiches back from the front seat along with sweetened tea from a thermos for my cold. My grandmother had sent along a supply of her pastries she called jumbalones.   As we crossed Indiana my mother remarked that she'd never been this far west.  My father hadn't either.

The roads rolled on all day. There was some room left in the back of the station wagon for Debbie to crawl over the seat and play or nap, while I stretched out a bit to doze my cold into submission.

Then we were in Illinois west of Chicago, which was as far west as I'd been until the previous spring's debate trip to Denver.  I'd gone to Chicago in my 6th grade by train, the result of a contest among paperboys to sell subscriptions.  The gang of us--all boys this time--stayed at the Morrison Hotel and ate at the Forum Cafeteria across the street.  We saw a movie (Hitchcock's Vertigo) and made a brief side trip to the Great Lakes Naval Training Base.  We spent almost as much time on the train to and from Chicago, where I learned to play poker.

There was no interstate with a Galesburg offramp in those days, as there was when I drove the huge Ryder truck to California almost 22 years ago.  As evening came on, my parents started looking for a motel near a junction to Rt. 150 into Galesburg.  We overshot the mark a bit and wound up near Moline, where we stayed overnight in a wood frame cabin at the Green Acres Modern Motel.

I felt better after a night's sleep, though it may have just been excitement and anxiety that blunted my cold.  It had rained hard during the night and as I would discover later, my mother's fears that the rain would penetrate the canvas covering on top of the luggage rack proved partially justified.  There was a little water stain in one of my new Samsonites, but no real damage to anything.  The stain is still there.

 After breakfast at the Green Acres Cafe at the motel, we got onto 150 and, after some worry we were headed in the wrong direction, started seeing the signs for Galesburg.   Once inside the city I saw no sign of a college building, until we passed a very large white frame building with a lot of activity in front of it--especially men and boys carrying suitcases for young women.  It was Whiting Hall, and a few blocks more, there was 261 West Tompkins and Anderson House, my assigned residence.

Pres. Sharvey Umbeck
After checking in (which I described elsewhere), I went off to campus for lunch with my classmates, while the parents lunched with college president Sharvey Umbeck.  Our lunch was a kind of cookout on the Gizmo patio. By then it was sunny, and I could feel my sinuses expanding as I sat eating, probably a burger, although all I remember is potato chips on a paper plate.  From there I got my first view of the Knox campus.

I returned to what was now my room, took a shower in the facilities at the foot of the stairs on the second floor, and began to unpack in the quiet.  Something I read in a recent Knox Alumni magazine (a new mandolin album from Rick Willy Lindner)  reminded me of a memory: looking out from my third floor turret window to see Rick Lindner below, apparently just arriving, toting at least one black guitar-sized case and a smaller one, which must have been held a mandolin.

Then my parents and sister returned from a shopping trip in downtown Galesburg with extra items for my room.  While my father affixed a lamp on the wall by my bed, my mother put out a soap dish and toiletries on our small sink with the orange-brown stains from iron in the water.  Debbie gave me a paper bag of candy for my first night of studying.  They were ready to get back on the road. When my mother was in high school she listened to Notre Dame football games on the radio, and once asked me if I might apply there.  It turned out that South Bend, Indiana wasn't far out of their way, so she was finally going to get to see that campus on their way home.

After helping my father secure the returning empty luggage on top of the Mercury, I stood in front of Anderson House with my mother and sister with the afternoon sun in our eyes, while he snapped a photo.

And then they were off, and I was on my own.

That night we met with senior student advisors, who outlined the rules, put the fear of God into us about the amount of time we needed to study, and warned us against the college health center and its doctor.  In the days after that, a blur of assemblies, events such as the various clubs and organizations presenting themselves, and tests (where we were introduced to Professor Stipp's signature multiple choice exam questions in history: which of the following event happened third?)

Western Civ Prof. John Stipp
But somewhere in there was the promised day of discussions on the Two Cultures books.  This time the two cultures were the sciences and the humanities (or at times, just literature.) The premise (more or less) was that each misunderstood and disdained the other, and members of each culture did not communicate with members of the other, even in the academic institutions to which they all belonged.

 I still have a copy of the main text, C.P. Snow's lecture that started it all.  I lost the other book somewhere along the way, but I have a similar collection published at about the same time called The Scientist vs. The Humanist (edited by George Levine and Owen Thomas, Norton 1963) which probably has many of the same essays.  (For example, it has the same excerpt from Dickens' Hard Times that I actually have a sense memory of reading in the assigned collection.)

It's difficult to summarize what the debate was actually about.  In his "Second Look," Snow wrote that he'd only wanted to talk about the dominance of the traditional emphasis on literature at the expense of science in British education, by which he really meant Oxford and Cambridge.  He didn't see the same problem in American colleges.

The anthologies further muddy the waters by presenting essays on a similar theme from the 19th century, when what universities taught in literature and the humanities (classics in Latin and Greek, logic and rhetoric, for example) as well as in science (or natural philosophy) was vastly different than even the most traditional Oxbridge curricula in the early 1960s.

Jonathan Miller (medical doctor and theatre director, performer and creator of science television) later agreed that it was a rather parochial argument among academics.  But it struck a chord and became about something larger, if harder to define.

So I read these books, maintaining something of an open mind, largely because I didn't have the background to know much of what they were arguing about.  (And I must add that re-reading them is still pretty confusing.)  So off I went, probably to the theatre in Alumni Hall that was in its last few months of use as an auditorium, to hear the big faculty discussion.

My remembered impression is that while the speakers were informative (unfortunately I don't have a list of them), it became clear after awhile that the discussion was less about whether there were Two Cultures on campus, and more about whose side are you on.  Or maybe that's just how I heard it. To me it felt like a contest, with the loyalty of members of my class as the prize.

I remember the science side as being less than impressive.  I recall a few evenhanded speakers, probably somebody like Gabriel Jackson giving historical perspective.  But the only faculty member I can positively identify as being on that panel was a professor of English, William V. Spanos.

With black hair and beard and a booming voice that made him seem a great deal taller than he was, Spanos was characteristically combative.  He undoubtedly railed about science and technology in the same terms as he wrote about them in his book A Casebook on Existentialism, which he finished the next year:

Scientific rationalists and the technological society "locate reality in the objective realm of measurable matter, and value in the production and utilization of objects. In so doing, they subordinate man to the tool, consciousness to efficiency, and the individual to the social and productive organizations (including educational institutions.)  By the inescapable logic of this system of valuation, the individual becomes dehumanized.  Defined according to his function and evaluated by the degree of his utility, he is reduced to the status of an object..."

It was a sweeping and even breathtaking argument, especially to innocent first year ears.  While this kind of opposition is implied in the Dickens' Hard Times excerpt (Mr. Gradgrind's insisting on nothing but facts, and forbidding the arts as mere fancy) it goes much farther than Snow or other essayists.   Snow's insistence that the future belongs to the scientist (much is made, for example, by literary critic Lionel Trilling of his assertion that scientists "have the future in their bones") does leave this opening, however.  Literature and the humanities were feeling beleaguered--as indeed they were, at least in society at large--and undervalued, or even considered irrelevant.

Probably someone took up the Dickens thread to declare the importance of the derided faculty of imagination as well as the collection and organization of facts. In those days as I recall the role of imagination in science was not emphasized, or even acknowledged.

I started out equally sympathetic to the science side, thanks largely to my romance with science fiction and its heroic scientists, but I also had a respect for the scientific method and for the accomplishments of science.  But when it came time to pick a side--and that time came when we broke up into discussion groups chaired by one or another of the faculty members on stage--I chose to scamper over to Old Main to hear more from Mr. Spanos.  (As I've mentioned before--in fact several times-- if Paul Shepard had not left the faculty the previous spring, I may have made a different choice.)

It is interesting by the way that the one place that science and literature meet--namely science fiction--is never mentioned in those books, nor was it likely noted in those Knox discussions, for it was much more academically disreputable at the time.  But several science fiction authors and editors talked about Snow's thesis, and even agreed that literature was dangerously isolated from science and its influence on the future (which remains a valid argument concerning mainstream fiction.) Science fiction not only portrays a future shaped by science and technology, but offers critiques of such societies (present as well as future) partly by placing human characters in that context, which is a chief role and function of literature and more generally the humanities.

Considering these books and this debate today, it's hard not to conclude that science and technology have won, in academia and elsewhere, relegating literature and the humanities to the margins. (Though both at times lose out to finance and economics, not to mention leisure studies.) A recent survey suggests that in the US humanities majors have dropped even more steeply since the Great Recession of 2009, notably including majors in the elite liberal arts schools whose families were statistically likely to survive and recover from the downturn better than others.

Yet science today is deeply troubled by previously undervalued complications, flaws and self-inflicted crises of confidence because of sloppy and dishonest work.  That's without some blindness to consequences that has plagued science since at least the Manhattan Project.  The great physicist Richard Feynman who said so many wise things, was wrong to suggest that a philosophy of science is irrelevant.

The most obvious and damaging problems are in the social sciences, particularly behavioral psychology and economics, which threaten to merge.  They are at once heedless of the possibility that human flaws identified by literature for centuries can infect their sciences, filled as they are with hubris, and clueless that some of their astounding findings about human nature have already been dramatized with more accuracy and irony in the oldest stories known.

Snow raised a political argument that Trilling in particular wrote about (and then Snow doubled-down on it in his "Second Look.")  Snow basically said that while scientists are committed to using their knowledge to lessen suffering in the world, literary writers are indifferent, if not reactionary.  He cited several modernist writers with racist, totalitarian or other destructive political views.  Even Trilling (Snow said) wrote that the essence of modernism was the individual, with no concern for society, therefore for others.  At this remove, it must sound strange to many that Snow is asserting, in today's terms, that scientists (and by extension, professors of science) are liberal or left while literary types are on the right.

As for the needs of the individual vs. the demands of society, modernism indeed did champion the individual.  As Spanos argued, the individual was the subject for existentialist and modernist writing partly because technological, mass society was threatening the humanity and integrity of individuals. (Spanos may not have agreed with that "partly," but he wasn't a fiction writer.)

But while some views on the subject were extreme (though sometimes mostly for contrast, shock and dramatic effect), a concern for the individual and repugnance for conformity did not necessarily add up to a dearth of care for others and the social welfare.  Snow's socially conscious and caring scientist is equally a caricature. Selfishness and careerism were hardly unknown in the sciences, and literary types were known to join the Peace Corps.

Knox College Alumni Hall as it was
Snow concentrated on modern writers, though modernism was pretty much over in the mid 1960s. But
it was pretty much the most recent writing covered in Knox literature courses. The New Criticism of the 40s still dominated there as well.

 Whatever the flaws within these categories in the literary world, they were merely a preview. Since then we've had postmodernism, a largely silly category, and the once enlightening but ultimately even more ingrown and incomprehensible deconstruction and semiotics dogmas that throttled literature departments 20 or so years later.

Trilling's point that students could appreciate the brilliant work without agreeing with the writer's politics or other views is worth re-considering in an age and atmosphere in which current and fast-changing values and behaviors tend to shrink what's acceptable in past literature to an intolerant vanishing point, if the writer has one or more currently defined flawed or repugnant views.  But now as then, it's all too complicated to be reduced to a unreal division into Two Cultures.  It's much too overlapping and complex.

But we love to chose up into two sides, and start demonizing the other.  Still, if there was more heat than light in the Two Cultures debate, and less than meets the eye in our two assigned books,  it was stimulating.  And rightly or wrongly, probably useful to first years during orientation, pondering their choice of courses, if not their majors.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Border Separations: Voters Speak

Word cloud created from responses to the question asked of a sample of likely voters, What is the first word that comes to mind when you [read/hear] the following information from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security: In recent months the U.S. Government has placed many young children into custody after separating them from their migrant parents at the border.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The Fire This Time.2: That's The Way It Is

With a load of our furniture, clothes and books, I drove the biggest truck Ryder rented from Pittsburgh to Arcata, CA almost 22 years ago.  I'd never driven a big truck before. I drove mostly on interstates until I was on the 5 north of Sacramento.  There are only two routes from the 5 west to 101 near the coast, and north to Arcata.  One of these is route 20.  I knew it would be on my left, and as I drove on the flat superhighway outside Sacramento I glanced in that direction to see a line of formidable mountains.

The Ryder was heavy and the mountain was steep on the twisty two-lane 20.  When I pulled over at a truck stop near Clearlake, I asked the guy I bought coffee from if I had more to climb.  He looked at me and must have seen my harried, wild and weary eyes looking back.  No, he assured me, you're pretty much at the top.

In fact the road soon started downward, sometimes steeply, another challenge.  It skirted the lake itself and then Upper Lake, and I marveled at the lush mountain scene, especially the wild flowers, though controlling the truck on that road absorbed most of my attention.

All that area--and much more--is now either in flames or black and desolate.  It's the Mendocino Complex fire, now officially the largest fire in California history.  By Tuesday it covered 450 square miles-- more ground than New York City and almost as much as Los Angeles.

It is the largest of more than 70 major fires in California right now, with some 14,000 firefighters in action.  These fires are uniformly described as spreading faster and behaving differently and more ferociously than fires in the past.

Here on the North Coast, the smoke from fires to the north and east of us is dense at higher elevations (a resident of Kneeland said it was the worst she's ever seen) and mixes with the marine layer here below.  Parts of both route 299 and route 20 connecting to the 5 are in fire zones and are closed.

The height of the fire season would usually be a month away, so it's likely that this will be the worst fire season in California history--although the record might not last very long.  The previous record for the largest fire in the state's history was set eight months ago.

The AP story quotes Governor Jerry Brown from last week: “We’re in uncharted territory. Since civilization emerged 10,000 years ago, we haven’t had this kind of heat condition, and it’s going to continue getting worse. That’s the way it is.”

It is going to continue to get worse just because of past greenhouse gases emissions, and whatever level heating reaches, it will stay at that level for centuries.  But if the causes of this heating continue--if greenhouse gases continue to pour into the atmosphere at accelerating rates, even at current rates--then things could get exponentially worse in the farther future.

Last week yet another report by scientists concluded that the planet is headed for catastrophic heating that will begin feeding on itself.  After an unknown tipping point is reached, the feedback mechanisms that keep the planetary temperature within livable bounds will not only break down but in some instances reverse.  A gradual, fitful climate crisis will become a cascade, and the Earth's fate will be sealed for thousands if not millions of years.

It's quite possible that human civilization will destroy itself even before the runaway climate crisis takes hold.   Meanwhile, the New York Times Magazine has the first part of an extensive report describing how real efforts to address the climate crisis and prevent it from becoming unmanageable almost happened in the 1980s.  It's like a sci-fi movie in which skeptics become alarmed and people in power recognize the common threat, and move to meet the challenge.  But unlike the movies, it was just almost.

I read earlier how the Carr Fire last week created its own tornado but I thought of it only as a normal tornado of wind.  But it wasn't.  It was a tornado of wind and fire.  That should suggest the kind of destruction the climate crisis will bring.  Sometimes it will be relatively sudden and obviously horrific.  But even when it isn't, when heat waves get hotter and longer, droughts get longer and dryer, and the seas rise a little more each year, until they rise a lot in one year, there will always come a time of reckoning.

"That's the way it is" will increasingly inform the pragmatic attempts to address the effects of the climate crisis.  The only prospect for perhaps stopping short of runaway global heating is a complete stop to carbon emissions and only unavoidable emissions of other greenhouse gases, globally, by 2050.

The chances of that happening seem very remote. Some I suppose by then will acknowledge that as human civilization, we did this to ourselves.  Humanity destroyed the planet's ability to support us and much of the life we know.  But whether or not we admit it will not matter, except perhaps in clearing the psychological space to deal more deftly with the effects, for as long as we can.  Because that will just be the way it is.

Friday, August 03, 2018

History of My Reading: Two Cultures (Part 1)

According to what I hear and read, a high school student selecting a college these days involves at least one family road trip to target campuses, follow-up visits to the short list and then serious negotiations with the top choice (or two), involving conversations in person and on the phone with administrators and teachers.

Colleges often bus or fly "prospectives" to campus for group and personal tours, while prospective interest expressed in a particular field of study might mean texts, emails and a phone call from the relevant department chair.

So my experience in choosing a college in the early 1960s might seem unbelievable. But when I committed to Knox College, I hadn't spoken to a single person there. Until I got out of our black Mercury station wagon in front of Anderson House, my first year residence, I had never set foot in Galesburg, Illinois. The first representative of Knox College I'd actually met was the student who ticked my name off his list and showed me my room at the back of the third floor.

Nevertheless, I had carefully considered what college I would decide to go to. But my decisions were made mostly sitting at my old varnished wood desk in my room, reading. Or lying on my bed, staring up at the light fixture that had been there since the room was new, and I moved in at the age of five.

The Roy Rogers bedspread of my childhood was gone by then.

Probably the brown linoleum with cowboy scenes that covered the hardwood floor of my room was gone by then, too. But the shade on the overhead light was still there: a gold colored fixture shaped like the wheel on the bridge of an old sailing ship, with a pearl white shade that had various nautical decorations on the sides. But facing down at me was a kind of compass, with the four cardinal directions marked in red. The question was: which way would I go?

I wasn't sailing east, down Route 30 a few miles to St. Vincent College, where many of my high school classmates were headed. But should I go south, to Georgetown in Washington, D.C.? That was unlikely. I only applied there to keep my Central Catholic high school teachers off my back--their only interest seemed to be that I go to a Catholic college. I deliberately chose a school that was unlikely to give me the scholarship I would need even to think about it. If lightning struck however, it was the one Catholic university I knew of that I might consider. But basically I wanted out of the stifling insistence of Catholic schools. I had some idea colleges wouldn't be as doctrinaire as high school but I didn't want to take the chance.

I could go north, to Michigan State. The only person I knew who was actually in an out of state college, a second cousin, was going there, and she was enthusiastic. Plus it was pretty cheap. My shot in the dark was Columbia University in New York, which I had visited for a high school journalism convention, but  it was very expensive.

Or I could sail west--either a little ways west, to the University of Pittsburgh. Or farther west, to this school nobody I knew had ever heard of, that liked to call itself the Harvard of the Midwest.

From a 1960s Knox Idea.  Male students in coats and ties--
it didn't last in my years.
I'd only heard about it because I'd entered a Scholastic Magazine Writing Awards contest my junior year, and I placed in one of the categories (Dramatic Script.) It turned out that in addition to a small cash prize, this award made me eligible for a Scholastic Magazines Writing Awards Scholarship at the two institutions of higher learning that gave one: the University of Pittsburgh, which I certainly knew something about (it was 30 miles away, and I'd been on campus several times) and this other place, Knox College, that I knew nothing about. They were both described as full four year scholarships--just what I needed.

I wanted to go away to college. But any chance of college necessitated a scholarship.  So I applied for both.

As for the choice, I was pretty much on my own. Neither of my parents had gone to college. I was the oldest in my generation on both sides of the family, so nobody else had yet gone through this. I literally did not know anyone who had gone to college, except my Aunt Toni (who lived far away in Maryland), my Uncle Carl, and eventually a few students a year ahead of me in high school who were just starting. (I don't count the priests and nuns who taught at my high school, at least some of whom presumably had degrees. They were useless.)

Nobody I knew had experience in this process.  I talked about college a little with classmates, but college shopping was still basically yet another middle class mystery. My uncle and aunt had gone to the two local Catholic colleges, and had lived at home. Most of the students I knew from high school were going to these same schools. Those that weren't--who went off to Pitt or Carnegie Tech or Penn State--just seemed to disappear. I didn't have much of anyone to talk to about my strong need to seek a bigger world, let alone how best to accomplish it.

So I researched the only way I knew how. I read. And most of what I read was what these institutions sent me.

Probably in the spring of my senior year, and certainly by the time I was getting ready for college that summer, my parents presented me with two new matching Samsonite suitcases. They looked like this:

I used one or another of them on trips home, and for years of train, air, auto and bus travel. Decades later they became storage units, repositories of whatever improbably survived from high school and college. In one of them is stored a number of items relating to that college decision (though it was my mother who saved the important papers.)

Such as the letter received by my high school principal on May 3, 1963 from the Scholastic Awards announcing that I had won a second in the national writing awards.  In addition to a $25 check and a pen from the Sheaffer company sent three days later, I learned in a separate letter from the Scholastic Awards that the University of Pittsburgh and Knox College each gave a four year scholarship in connection with the Writing Awards, and as a junior I was eligible.  I could apply for either or both. The letter included forms to fill out and send to them in the fall (between September 15 and November 15), to be passed on to the respective schools. I applied for both.

Junior and senior years involved taking a lot of tests related to college and eligibility for scholarship, the most important being the S.A.T.  There were few guides to taking these tests in those days--too much help was considered unethical. But we did take the PSAT and then the SAT in both junior and senior years.

I remember towards the end of this test-taking process being roused on a Saturday morning and driven to an unfamiliar school to take one.  I was drowsy and in a bad mood and I did badly.  But fortunately I had a good day for the senior SAT, soaring over 700 in verbal and actually topping 500 in math--each being at least 50 points higher than my junior test.  Of course these numbers don't mean much now--the tests have apparently changed several times since then.

I didn't do as well on my senior Achievement Tests, and actually scored higher on American History than English.  Maybe those were the ones I took that Saturday.

I have a December 1963 letter from Michigan State about sending them a deposit to confirm that I was coming, so I must have received the acceptance letter earlier. In early January 1964 I got a letter accepting me into the University of Pittsburgh, with a scholarship offer a few weeks later.  I don't have anything surviving from Georgetown, but I was accepted without scholarship.  I believe I was wait-listed at Columbia.

In February 1964 I got a letter from Allan Christiansen, Director of Admissions at Knox, informing me that I'd been awarded the Scholastic Magazines Scholarship. I had until April 1 to notify them if I was accepting.  Pitt wanted to know by May.

So then it was time to decide.

I'd read somewhere--probably in some august publication like the Reader's Digest--that to make a big decision you should list all the pros and then all the cons.  So that's what I did, and I actually still have the three legal size card stock sheets I used.

I had apparently already eliminated Michigan State.  I'm sure one factor came in the envelope asking for my deposit.  It was my student punch card, the kind with the little holes.  The "do not fold, spindle or mutilate" cards that were even then a symbol of depersonalization.

I was a little leery of such a big school anyway.  High school was claustrophobic, so a large university had some appeal.  But it was also overwhelming and hard to make judgments about.   Their academic programs seemed lost in skills and prep-professional majors, like hotel management. Anyway, once acceptances came in from elsewhere, I had no interest in Michigan State.

So my decision sheets started with what had to be the first consideration: cost. Surprisingly, on paper, Georgetown was not more expensive that Pitt or Knox--in fact, even with room and board, it was slightly cheaper.  But no scholarship. Once scholarship offers came in from elsewhere, it wasn't a practical choice.

Cathedral of Learning interior first floor
I'd marked Georgetown as "large, urban, fairly distant."  Pitt was "large, urban, close."  I actually did know someone who was a first year there, and she loved it.  But Linda tended to be enthusiastic about everything.

She showed me around one day. There were three new high rise residence halls shaped like cleanser cans.  They were officially designated buildings A, B and C, but the students had dubbed them Ajax, Bab-o and Comet.

I'd been to the Pitt campus before (and a few more times at Forbes Field across the street, where the Pirates played.) I was always impressed by the Cathedral of Learning--a building that should be more famous than it is--and the magic I felt the first time I walked into its small offspring, the Steven Foster theatre, never left me.  (I subsequently saw a lot of Shakespeare there.  And eventually, taught a writing course in the basement of the Cathedral.)  Still, I left that visit with the campus still a blank of buildings.

One day my Uncle Carl visited, and came into my room for a private chat.  We sat on my bed, under those four directions on the ceiling lamp.  He suggested that I would make a lot of contacts at Pitt that would be useful to me later.  He was assuming I would stay in western Pennsylvania, an assumption I wasn't making. But this was the best informed advice I got in my decision-making process.

Pitt had sent me a few sheets of information they distributed to Scholastic Magazines applicants, about the English and writing programs.  I noted that these looked good.  My comment was "could not make a mistake going here."  That was the ultimate consideration: the fear of making a huge mistake.

Pitt made sense in many ways.  The campus was far enough away for some independence, close enough for whatever support I might need.  I knew of at least one high school friend who was likely to go, so I wouldn't be starting out completely alone among strangers. So for awhile, it must have looked like Pitt was it.

I'd gotten my first letter from Knox in September 1963, when I'd first applied for the Scholastic Awards scholarship.  That's when they sent me several brochures and a course catalog.  I'd been looking at them for months, but now in the early spring it was time to give them one last examination.

Prof. Douglas Wilson from 1960s
Knox Idea
Unfortunately I no longer have the actual material they sent me, though I picked up similar brochures in 1968.  In addition to the course catalog, the probably sent a brochure introducing Knox College, and they certainly sent the more substantive Knox Idea, and a thin brochure, probably four pages counting the title page and the back, on heavy cream white paper.  On the cover it said "The Writing Program At Knox."

The contents of the late 60s Knox Idea I have appears to be largely the same as the one I received in 1963, especially since the photos of students seem from at least a few years before my time (though I do seem to recognize one or two), and all the faculty are familiar, though perhaps younger.

I remember the same photos of dorm rooms, which made them look improbably large, as students later complained.  I  remember the same photo of Everett Dirksen (Republican Senate leader from Illinois, who bowed to the Civil Rights bills with the quote about an idea whose time has come) in the section on guest appearances.  (And there were no examples of notable guests from my years or later.)

 But the booklet itself is not as I remember it.   I recall the Knox documents I got as being on glossy paper with a unique but old fashioned typeface, and borders and backgrounds of purple and gray.

One element that is definitely different is the trees.  The brochures/booklets I got had photos of the Knox campus, with many trees leafily lining the brick walks and sheltering the grass between earnest old buildings.  The trees were a comfort, a hope, as they were to me in my western Pennsylvania reveries.

 Later editions don't have these photos, probably because most of the trees were cut down.  Those trees gave me an impression of the campus that was very important to its appeal.  But Dutch Elm Disease came.  Some of the trees were gone when I got there, and I awoke in Anderson House too many mornings to the portentous whine of chain saws several blocks away on campus.

Still, many trees survived, including the persimmon trees in Standish Park that Mary Jacobson loved during our few walks there in a future year.

What turned me towards Knox? The financials were slightly better than Pitt, enough to cite to my parents as a basis for my decision.  That cream white brochure on parchment paper called "The Writing Program at Knox" was modest but elegant, and gave me a sense of the writing program's independence, importance and its context.

 That my scholarship was identified as the Scholastic Writing Awards Scholarship.  That it was a coeducational liberal arts college.  That it was an unknown land, and yet, in a town I might understand, in the Land of Lincoln.  The campus, the trees, and above all how they filled out the image of the Knox Idea:

The Knox idea of education is to lead students to learn and to think.

The Knox idea encourages students to enter into the spirit of free inquiry essential to a liberal education....Knox College wants its students, in and out of class, to question, to probe, to decide for themselves what is true--and to accept the responsibility for their decisions.

The Knox idea emphasizes that the faculty has, as its principal concern, the intellectual development of Knox students.  Faculty members are firmly committed to the belief that the students' progress is most important and must be served by, rather than subordinated to, an interest in research or in books, buildings, or equipment.

It said that Knox students are expected to "acquire certain abilities:"

To think logically
To speak and write clearly and effectively
To be resourceful in obtaining further knowledge....

And so on.

All of this represented the culture I wanted to be part of.  It meant leaving the culture I was in.  Leaving the limited and deceptive "free inquiry" of  Catholic schools, and the limitations of the time and place that had brought me up so far. Though it was becoming economically middle class, the world I knew was culturally working class.  Most men didn't see the point of college, when there were secure and well-paid jobs in union plants.  But even those who saw college as a step up into professions, expected those students to return to home and family.

It was a delicate dance at best.  Even those who got their education locally and stayed near would run into the attitude expressed in the phrase we all heard: "Who do you think you are?"  Improving your earning ability or even status was understandable, to a point.  But suddenly, betterment meant you think you're better than us, better than me.  Their sense of betrayal and alienation, or simply of inability to understand why, were never far off.

My world had been expanded by television, newspapers, movies, magazines and books.  There was a world I saw in ideas and images, though had not yet touched. A world of principles and expression, of potential to be realized, of gifts to be developed and then given.

So I set sail for Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.

Did I find any substance to the Knox Idea there?  It was never that pure, seldom articulated, often lost.  But in the end that wasn't the point.  It wasn't a question of whether Knox College believed in the Knox Idea and tried to live it.  It was that I did.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Fire This Time

Redding, CA.  From the Washington Post article linked below.
Tuesday's moody gray skies on the North Coast suggested imminent thunderstorms but it was more a case of a marine layer meeting smoke from fires elsewhere in northern California.  The Carr fire in Redding and beyond is burning an area the size of Denver.  At least until today we've been spared the worst of the smoke, which is drifting down central California to Sacramento and eastward as far as Montana.

Humboldt is receiving evacuees from Redding.  And we're all getting glimpses of the world to come, soon.

From the Mercury News: California’s wildfire season is off to its worst start in 10 years. Through Monday morning, 196,092 acres have burned across the state since Jan. 1 — an area seven times the size of San Francisco and more than double the average by July 9 of the previous five years — according to an analysis of federal and state fire statistics by the Bay Area News Group.

Typically the fire season is at its most intense in September and October.  A hot July combined with a lot of dry brush and trees that died during the drought.  But it goes beyond that.

From the Washington Post: “What we’re seeing in California right now is more destructive, larger fires burning at rates that we have historically never seen,” Jonathan Cox, a Cal Fire spokesman, told CNN on Monday morning.

The Northern Hemisphere is warming faster than the planet as a whole, according to the World Meteorological Organization. “That heat is drying out forests and making them more susceptible to burn. A recent study found Earth’s boreal forests are now burning at a rate unseen in at least 10,000 years.”

“The incidence of large forest fires in the western United States and Alaska has increased since the early 1980s,” the assessment concluded with high confidence, “and is projected to further increase in those regions as the climate warms.”

One wildcard is wind, from strange bursts to fires so intense they create their own tornadoes. The result has been devastation, deaths, burnt homes and evacuations.

One practical harbinger of the new reality:

If you ask the crews on the ground, they will tell you it’s not just the hot and dry weather that’s making fires worse. Firefighters have noted recently that fires are behaving differently than they did in the past. For decades, officials depended on a tried-and-true process to prevent wildfires from spreading: fight them from downhill. Fires naturally expand uphill because heat rises, creating uphill winds, and because the lapping flames extend upward, making uphill grass the easiest target.

But KQED reports that firefighters say that process isn’t working as well anymore — the Carr Fire being an example — and no one has a clear explanation as to why.

Monday, July 30, 2018

This Side of Shame

An article by Nick Miroff, Amy Goldstein and Maria Sacchetti in the Washington Post on the failure of this administration to reunite migrant families by the court imposed deadline--excerpted below at length--is detailed and enlightening, but perhaps necessarily does not state the basic inference.  For the "core" of this "debacle" is not management incompetence but the attitude that these migrants are not fully human, that their children are not people and that they are not families.  In fact, as the Post story points out, one agency involved designated them as "deleted families."

The racial and socioeconomic contempt is clear enough in the antipresident's own statements comparing migrants, including those seeking political asylum and fearing for their lives, to vermin.  As "criminals" who end up being charged with misdemeanors, they forfeit their humanity, and their children will pay for it the rest of their lives.

There are many crimes committed by this administration against this country (including the equivalent of treason) and against this planet.  This is a crime against humanity.  Other policies and actions were and are tragic.  This earns shame.

Incidentally, at this end of this story, one of the Homeland Security Advisory Council members who resigned in protest, and who called this policy "child kidnapping" is the same Elizabeth Holtzman who, as a Member of the US House from New York, served on the House Judiciary Committee that voted articles of impeachment for President Nixon in 1974.  I remember being impressed with her then, and told friends I hoped she would run for President.

Here are the Post article excerpts:

"Compounding failures to record, classify and keep track of migrant parents and children pulled apart by President Trump’s “zero tolerance” border crackdown were at the core of what is now widely regarded as one of the biggest debacles of his presidency. The rapid implementation and sudden reversal of the policy whiplashed multiple federal agencies, forcing the activation of an HHS command center ordinarily used to handle hurricanes and other catastrophes.

After his 30-day deadline to reunite the “deleted” families passed Thursday, U.S. District Judge Dana M. Sabraw lambasted the government for its lack of preparation and coordination.“

"There were three agencies, and each was like its own stovepipe. Each had its own boss, and they did not communicate,” Sabraw said Friday at a court hearing in San Diego. “What was lost in the process was the family. The parents didn’t know where the children were, and the children didn’t know where the parents were. And the government didn’t know either.”

"Most of those parents [picked up at the border] were charged with misdemeanors and taken to federal courthouses for mass trials, where they were sentenced to time served. By then, their children were already in government shelters. The government did not view the families as a discrete group or devise a special plan to reunite them, until Sabraw ordered that it be done."

"One result was that more than 400 parents were deported without their children."

"It is the act of separation from a parent, particularly with young children, that matters,” [Sabraw] told the government in court proceedings.

"On June 28, two days after Sabraw’s reunification order, DHS officials held a conference call for members of the DHS’s Homeland Security Advisory Council, a group of security experts and former officials who provide recommendations and counsel to the secretary. One member, David A. Martin, said officials had few answers when dismayed members asked how they planned to bring families back together: “They were saying, ‘Well, we’re working on it.’ ” Two weeks later, he and three other members quit the panel in disgust.

In his resignation letter, Martin said the family separations were “executed with astounding casualness about precise tracking of family relationships — as though eventual reunification was deemed unlikely or at least unimportant.”

Another member who resigned, Elizabeth Holtzman, said the failure to create records to track parents and children demonstrated “utter depravity.”

“This is child kidnapping, plain and simple,” she wrote in her resignation letter, urging Nielsen to quit."

"The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit that led to Sabraw’s order, said it could take months to track down hundreds of deported parents and make arrangements to return their children. Some parents may be hard to reach or hiding from the very threats that prompted them to flee their countries in the first place.

In the meantime, the government will try to place their children with vetted guardians. Otherwise, they will remain in shelters.

“It’s going to be really hard detective work,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants Rights Project. “Hopefully we will find them.”

Friday, July 27, 2018

Soul of the Future: Literature of Change

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the shape of the space helmets suggest the heads
of the apish pre-humans in its first section, "The Dawn of Man."
 This visual metaphor, part of the cinematic toolkit, is an analog
  to literary metaphors in the toolkit of science fiction stories and novels.
Science fiction is a method, a way we see the future—a kind of storytelling by which we imagine, evaluate, contemplate the future in something close to a usefully comprehensive way. Some argue that, in our age, it is the only possible way of envisioning and interrogating the future.

So what is it?

"Attempting to define science fiction, " wrote science fiction author and futures studies pioneer Arthur C. Clarke, "is an undertaking almost as difficult, though not quite so popular, as trying to define pornography."

After reviewing distinctions and definitions, Clarke finally allows that “it is, preeminently, the literature of change...”

Others tend to agree. Though he has his own technical definition, science fiction writer and historian Brian Aldiss wrote, “The greatest successes of science fiction are those which deal with man in relation to his changing surroundings and abilities.”

“Science fiction accepts change as the major basis for stories,” Lester del Rey assented. Author James Gunn called “a belief in a world being changed by man’s intellect” the “one indispensable ingredient of science fiction.”

Historically it was a response to “the conclusion that change was now going to be man’s fate, and that if he wished to be the master of change rather than its victim he would have to start thinking about the consequences of his actions and decisions,” Gunn concludes.

Change implies a difference from the past and especially the present, which seem to be known quantities.  The past however is deceptively solid, its actual ambiguity revealed by changing interpretations of past events. (For example, various “objective” accounts over the years have depicted General Armstrong Custer as the hero, villain or fool of Little Big Horn.)  The present is circumscribed by what we know and accept, not necessarily all that there is. Like the future, neither past nor present is known or stable.

Nevertheless, a fiction of the future seems fanciful to many, and disturbing to some. We know the present involves change, but we naturally try to maintain stability. Fast changes are upsetting, in reality and emotionally. Otherwise, our experience of the slowly rolling present lulls us into assumptions of permanence. (If this seems not to be a contemporary affliction, consider the fortunes always lost when an ascending stock market fails to keep rising and shockingly plunges.)

Science fiction however (as Mark Rose writes) “challenges our sense of the stability of reality by insisting upon the contingency of the present order of things. Indeed, science fiction not only asserts that things may be different, as a genre it insists that they will be and must be different, that change is the only constant rule and that the future will not be like the present.”

This has been true since its beginning. According to science fiction scholar Darko Suvin, “Wells’s basic historical lesson is that the stifling bourgeois society is but a short moment in an unpredictable, menacing, but at least theoretically open-ended human evolution under the stars.”

However scary it might be, and however preposterous stories of the future appear, looking towards the future is a human attribute. An argument can be made that honing abilities to be curious about the future, to imagine and plan and create a future, are key characteristics of a developing human species.

Such curiosity and wonder are within us still. They are so strong that we thrill and are beguiled by the basic question that every science fiction tale poses: What if?

Because new technologies and how people use them constitute such a crucial determinant, and because fiction is often best equipped to explore possible uses, implications, ramifications and effects on individuals and society within a complex context of life as it is lived, science fiction is the best lens on the future.

Or as contemporary science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson suggests, double lenses. Because fiction (or any form of speculation) cannot entirely escape its origins in the present, and because it is often metaphorically a critique of the present to various degrees, it is a lens on the current world and its place in history. But in depicting changes and resulting patterns and relationships, science fiction is also a lens on a possible future.

Understanding science fiction is a matter of seeing through these lenses simultaneously—as most science fiction readers and viewers informally learn to do. The result is a perspective that glimpses possible futures as well as seeing the present from a different point of view.

The double vision of science fiction to simultaneously view the present and future (both with their implied pasts) is only one of its characteristics that mediates, combines and synthesizes otherwise separate categories.

In fact a key characteristic that enables it to depict present and future simultaneously is the combination implied in its name, the label that Gernsback gave it: science fiction. It brings science to fiction, and the tools of literature to science.

Those tools include not only the logic of stories and the repertoire of literary effects, but the observations and insights we may now associate with the social sciences of psychology, sociology, anthropology, which study aspects of life first examined in literature and storytelling. Literature also traditionally applies philosophic points of view.

Partly because science fiction is informed by a literary sensibility, it can depict change not just as a linear way forward, not simply as progress, but also as cyclical, or as repeating aspects of the past in a new guise.  Or even as retrogression, as in The Time Machine.

 Fiction brings the human element, the persistence of underlying social and cultural systems, to technological change. Literature applies vestigial beliefs, human needs and emotions, patterns and archetypes to imagine effects of the sudden products of science.

Seen broadly as a popular as well as refined art, literature (including various kinds of stage plays and their descendants in newer media) can examine and express all levels of experience.

"Science fiction, we have been in process of discovering for some years now, is not the tawdry, sensationalist literature of the half-educated inhabitants of a roboticized society, but rather one of the few authentic mythologies of the twentieth century, a reexamination of the most ancient psychic dilemmas in the vocabulary of a distinctively contemporary world-view, “ writes Frank McConnell.

“To describe it as a mythology, moreover, is to imply that, at least at its best, science fiction bridges the gap—otherwise a widening one in our [20th] century—between so-called popular culture and so-called high culture.”

It is in popular culture that the pulp era assumes special significance, particularly in expressing unconscious fears and desires concerning the future—as will be explored in later posts in this series.

Yet science fiction also represents the relatively new approach of science—not only new technologies as subject matter, but science as a point of view.

In both areas—literature and science—the model is H.G. Wells. “The question most asked about science fiction is: ‘But is it literature?” notes Sam Moskowitz in his history of science fiction, Explorers of the Infinite. “To this, the science fiction world has one powerful and overriding answer, and that answer is expressed in the name of H.G. Wells.”

As for science, “Wells was the first significant writer to started to write SF from within the world of science, and not merely facing it,” writes Darko Suvin.

Wells applied science to human history to envision the future as partly the product of changes in the past and present. And he wrote about the future using the tools of literature, from describing effects on ordinary people to applying metaphors and creating a literary structure. Most serious science fiction follows both of these models.

By combining aspects of literature and science, science fiction mediates between crucial elements of human concern at all times, but essential to considering the future. “Science fiction’s role as mediator between the spiritual and the material is in alignment with its role as mediator between the human and the nonhuman,” Mark Rose observes.

Such a mediating and synthesizing in humans is, according to some contemporary commentators like Thomas Moore and James Hillman, a function of soul. According to the tradition they follow, mediating body and spirit, thinking and feeling, are the defining characteristics of soul.

Given the role of science and technology, mediating, synthesizing and simply exploring the relationship between science and the provinces of literature are essential to imagining, considering and creating the future.

"If our art…does not explore the relations and contingencies implicit in the greater world into which we are forcing our way, and does not reflect the hopes and fears based on these appraisals, then the art is a dead pretense,” wrote scientist Hermann J. Muller, discoverer of the genetic effects of radiation, in 1957. “But man will not live without art. In a scientific age he will therefore have science fiction.”

What then are the futures that science fiction imagines? There are many and yet, there are only two.

To be continued.  For earlier posts in this series, click on the "Soul of the Future" label below.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


Amidst the overwhelming noise, there is signal:
Japan's highest recorded temperature ever was Monday.  The record might not last the week.

"Less than two weeks after torrential rains wreaked destruction across Japan, the country is facing yet another weather-related crisis: a record-breaking heat wave that forecasters say could last until early August. More than 30,000 people have been admitted to the hospital for heatstroke, and at least 77 deaths have been registered in the past two weeks...“This heat is a threat to life,” a spokesman for Japan's Meteorological Agency said in a news conference Monday. “We recognize it as a natural disaster.”

A scorching heat wave that has cooked Japan since the second week of July brought the country its hottest temperature ever recorded on Monday, July 23: 41.1°C (106°F) Forecasts go higher.

"A deadly heat wave across Asia is stretching electricity grids from southern China up to Tokyo and Seoul, sending prices to multiyear highs and sparking warnings of more power stress to come."

At least 74 people are dead in Greece after wind-driven fires swept through areas near the capital of Athens on Monday afternoon. The two largest wildfires--one 10 miles east of Athens near Rafina, and the other 30 miles west of Athens, in Kineta--broke out Monday during hot, dry, windy conditions."

A hot July across much of western Europe will climb to another level this week as a heat wave builds from Spain to Scandinavia. Anyone living in the core of this heat wave will be at a high risk for heat-related illnesses, especially the elderly and young children..."

"The continued hot, dry weather in Sweden will hinder efforts to put out numerous wildfires that have affected the country in recent weeks. Firefighters from several other countries including France, Italy, Norway, Germany and Poland have assisted in the efforts to tame more than 50 wildfires..The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency has called the recent fires the country's most serious wildfire situation of modern times."

Some locations that may have their highest temperatures of the year this week include Madrid, Spain; Paris, France; Frankfurt, Germany; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Stockholm, Sweden."

The heat wave, which has included the U.K.'s highest temperatures in 50 years, has also extended through northern Europe. Blistering temperatures and an ongoing drought has turned fields dry and brown from Poland and Latvia to Finland and Sweden. Many European farmers are dipping into their winter food supplies already. They have also warned that crop yields and milk quality will be lower due to the lower quality of the grass."

"An excessive heat warning was issued for a broad swath of the southwestern U.S. on Monday with temperatures expected to approach 120 degrees -- almost 49 Celsius -- this week in what forecasters say could prove to be the hottest days of the year."

US Southwest Suffering Heat And Drought Not Seen Since The 1930's Dust Bowl: "At this moment, almost the entire Southwest is in some stage of drought. Agricultural production has been absolutely devastated, major lakes, rivers and streams are rapidly becoming bone dry, and wild horses are dropping dead because they don’t have any water to drink. In addition, we are starting to see enormous dust storms strike major cities such as Las Vegas and Phoenix, and the extremely dry conditions have already made this one of the worst years for wildfires in U.S. history. "

Health officials issued a heat alert for Los Angeles County’s inland valleys Monday, warning that a multiday heat wave expected for Southern California this week will put the community’s most vulnerable residents at risk.
Temperatures aren’t expected to be quite as blistering as they were during a heat wave that shattered records two weekends ago, but the one expected this week will last longer and reach from the San Gabriel Valley and high desert to the coast, the National Weather Service said."

"At the height of the tourism season, Yosemite Valley is choked in smoke from the Ferguson Fire, and now officials say they plan to close large sections of the national park in California's Sierra Nevada as air quality reaches hazardous levels....The areas of the park will remain closed until at least July 29... "

"The remainder of July will be dominated by a resurgence of heat across the northwestern United States. The recent reprieve from the mid-July heat wave in the Northwest has come to an end as the heat intensifying over the Southwest has expanded northward. "This stretch of heat actually looks to be longer than what was experienced in mid-July," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski said. "The heat could last right through this weekend."

"The National Weather Service is warning that another round of heavy rain could bring "potentially dangerous, even life-threatening" flooding to the east coast Tuesday and Wednesday. Flash-flood watches and warnings have been issued from North Carolina to Pennsylvania."

On July 5, it reached 124 degrees Fahrenheit in Algeria: an all-time record both for the country and the entire African continent. The following day, Los Angeles set an all-time record at 111 degrees."

If the message carried by the signal isn't clear enough:

Like the heat itself, much of the media coverage was stupefying. “Major broadcast TV networks overwhelmingly failed to report on the links between climate change and extreme heat,” according to a Media Matters survey. “Over a two-week period from late June to early July, ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 127 segments or weathercasts that discussed the heat wave, but only one segment, on CBS This Morning, mentioned climate change.”