The Invisible Catholic

On December 12, Town and Country Magazine asked, “Where will Barron Trump Go to School in Washington, D.C.?”

When President-elect Donald Trump and his family move to D.C.—Melania and Barron are planning to stay in New York City through the end of the school year—Barron Trump will be the first First Son since John F. Kennedy, Jr. to live there.

Kennedy was the first, and last, Roman Catholic President of the United States. jfk-jrHis son, John Jr., was only 3 when his father was assassinated, so his schooling was not an issue -but would it have been?  When Kennedy ran for president, there was still a lot of suspicion about Roman Catholics among the predominantly white Protestant electorate. If his son had been of high school age, this might have been an interesting dilemma -would the president’s son go to a Catholic school in D.C. or to an Establishment Protestant school? Because, once upon a time, the two were different.  Joe Kennedy picked elite Protestant schools for his sons, Catholic schools for his daughters.

John Jr. ended up attending St. David’s, an independent Catholic boys school (Pre-K through 8) in New York after his father’s death, and then Collegiate, an elite Ivy League prep school in New York, for 9th and 10th grade. He finished his last two years of high school at Phillips Andover Academy, a classic New England establishment school.

The Town and Country article goes on to list several private schools in Washington where Barron might go. From the elite, Quaker Sidwell Friends School, which educated Chelsea Clinton and Barack Obama’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, to the more “Republican friendly”  elite, Protestant Establishment school, St. Alban’s. But is there a Protestant Establishment anymore?

Since Kennedy’s presidency, Catholics in the U.S. have “come a long way, baby!” Currently, five Supreme Court Justices are Catholic by birth, and the late Justice Scalia was Catholic as well. The other three are Jewish.  There are currently no Supreme Court Justices descended from the Anglo-Protestant founding stock of this country.

Interestingly, not a single Catholic school in Washington is mentioned in the Town and Country article.

Interior: Gonzaga HS Chapel

Gonzaga High School, founded in 1821, is the alma mater of Patrick Buchanan, to name one of many famous alumni.  Other alumni run the political spectrum: from Republican “Virtue Czar” William Bennett to Democratic Presidential Candidate Martin O’Malley, former Governor of Maryland. (Maryland was the only colony founded by English Catholics.) And Trump ran on Buchanan’s trade policy to some extent. Melania Trump, Barron’s mother, is a baptized Catholic.

Georgetown Prep is another elite D.C. area school, founded in 1789 as part of the vision of Bishop John Carroll that included Georgetown University. John Carroll was the first Catholic bishop in the United States, and the brother of Daniel Carroll who signed the

Georgetown Prep

Constitution and sat in the first Congress. Interestingly, the Carrolls were prohibited from political activity in the colonies because they were Catholic (Samuel Adams, for example, was rabidly anti-Catholic). Charles Carroll, their cousin, was also, at the time of the Revolution, the richest man in America, and signed the Declaration of Independence.

Through the influence of George Washington the anti-Catholic rules were abolished.  Washington even forbade the celebration of the anti-Catholic Guy Fawkes Day during the siege of Boston.

Washington, known as the most elegant and well-mannered man in the colonies, had little formal education. But from his Catholic friends, the Digges, across the Potomac who had gone to University in the Low Countries (where all exiled English Catholics had to go) he learned “civility”. (In colonial times, the most Americans with University degrees were Catholics who studied abroad).gw-rules-of-civility

By age sixteen, Washington had copied out by hand, 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. They are based on a set of rules composed by French Jesuits in 1595. They clearly impacted the development of his whole being.

The Heights School, in Potomac, MD., where I went, was also not mentioned. The Heights has grown from a fledgling Catholic school in the 1970s under the spiritual direction of Opus Dei, which is a Catholic Personal Prelature focused on the sanctity of daily work and a reaction to pre-Vatican II “clericalism”.  [Opus Dei is often mistaken as “Conservative” even by its own members.]

The Heights School

My father and uncle, both Catholics who had gone to Harvard -my father when Catholicism was still somewhat looked down upon, my uncle nine years later when it was “fine”- were the Headmasters who grew the school into one of the pre-eminent liberal arts high schools in the D.C. area.

While both Gonzaga and Georgetown Prep have establishment Republican and Democratic credentials, The Heights recently emerged as the more hardcore “Conservative” Catholic school in D.C. during the George W. Bush Administration. Senator Santorum, Senator Hagel, Louis Freeh (FBI), and Erik Prince (Blackwater) sent their sons there.

There are other excellent Catholic schools in the Washington, D.C. area, but it is interesting that Town and Country is blind to their existence and did not mention a single one.

Similarly, both parties continue to take the Catholic vote for granted.  Republicans take the pro-life vote for granted, and therefore will never resolve the issue so that they can continue to run on it. And Democrats take the social justice Catholic vote, rooted in the FDR alliance with unions and the working class, for granted.  This was reflected the fact that Robby Mook and the Hillary campaign, with high level Notre Dame alumni on staff,  ignored this essential Catholic demographic -despite Bill Clinton’s warnings.  How could Notre Dame Catholics ignore their own people? That is what universities like Notre Dame exist for -to turn American Catholics into “white people” -consumers and workers without rooted identity and without sacred community, except football.

In the election post-mortem and hand-wringing among pollsters, pundits, and prognosticators, many factors will be identified as contributing to Donald Trump’s decisive victory, including race, class, and gender. But one other factor that deserves more attention is religion. In spite of reports indicating that Trump was having “problems” with the Catholic vote, exit polling indicates that he won Catholics by 52% to 45%. This marks a substantial change from the previous two presidential elections when Catholics voted for Obama by margins of 9% in 2008 and 2% in 2012.

Fortune Magazine

Since FDR, Catholics have been “ethnically” Democratic, but since the Sexual Revolution and Roe v. Wade, Republicans have picked up Catholic votes by being “pro-life”.  Though no federal action has done anything about abortion, and the traditionally un-Catholic Republican party has often disappointed pro-lifers in its judicial picks.

So the Catholic vote is split between two post-Protestant parties.  Some Catholics became Republican because of abortion, and their kids became Capitalists because they were Republicans. Some Catholics stayed Democratic because of economic justice and worker issues, and their kids became Cultural Marxists.  But you cannot be a Capitalist and a Catholic just as you cannot be for abortion and be Catholic.

There are fours sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance.

There are particular mortal sins that are so evil that they are said to be sins that cry to heaven for vengeance: murder (Gn 4:10), sodomy (Gn 17:20-21), oppression of the poor (Ex 2:23), and defrauding workers of their just wages (Jas 5:4).

The first two seem to be the Democratic bailiwick, while the second two are Republican strong points.  But both parties have converged in recent years as usurious oligarchs.

Wikileaks revealed the contempt that even fellow Catholic John Podesta had for Catholic voters, and Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer laughed when the Catholic Question was proposed to him: “Catholics are now just a denomination of suburban spirituality, they are not a threat to anything.”

As Hillaire Belloc said: Europe is the Faith and the Faith is Europe. I agree with Spencer that America is “European”, but I am also disappointed that the Faith that once compelled an emperor to crawl on his knees to Canossa, is no “longer a threat”.  Catholics have “arrived” in America.  We have reached the levels of those who condescended to us, but have adopted a shallow life of status-seeking and consumption.

Trump won by flipping traditional ethnic-Catholic, working class Democratic strongholds. Even though Trump’s rhetoric was aimed at the Catholic ethnics of the rust belt, a prominent Catholic, Deal Hudson, still had to convince him to do specific outreach. Trump listened to the guy, did the outreach, and won the Catholic swing states he needed.

It nearly didn’t happen. Trump’s outreach people were tone-deaf about Catholic voters. They were putting their eggs in baskets marked Evangelicals, African-Americans and Hispanics. Catholics were of secondary importance.

But one Catholic leader, Deal Hudson, didn’t believe this, and he single-handedly organized a big-name Catholic Advisory Committee, a conference call with state campaign directors, a conference call between Trump and Catholic leaders, a tweet and video from Trump when Mother Teresa was canonized and an interview with Trump on the Catholic EWTN television network.

Meanwhile, the liberal press ran stories about how Catholics hated Trump and bishops condemned Trump’s immigration rhetoric. As for the Catholic intellectuals, they mostly went full-bore NeverTrump

It’s as though Catholics don’t realize their political power could make a 21st Century America that transcends the narcissism of either side of identity politics.  Catholics have access to the endowment of the civilization in which we live -the scientific method, Universities, guilds, social justice, a fair wage, etc.  And yet we are satisfied to assimilate to the lesser culture, the post-Christian consumerist culture.  We Catholics became suburban whites, and we lost our agency because we lost our culture, our processions, our feast days, our “otherness”. We remain essential, though ignored.

Both the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, and Town and Country Magazine revealed in this last year that the Invisible Catholic is not worthy of consideration. America will fade away one day, but the parishes will still be here. The “Establishment” ignores us -our schools, our achievements, our electoral power over and over. We accept their bourgeois definitions of success. I say we stop. Consider the riches of your Catholic and human heritage and invite your fellow countrymen to partake and Make America more human and humane.  Or there will be no America…

Bishop John Carroll




I had lunch today with a former student, David Stoughton, from my first year as a teacher. David has turned his high school landscaping business in Maryland into a burgeoning real estate enterprise in the Triad area of North Carolina. He started it out in his parents’ garage of course.
Our lunch was in the oldest building in downtown Greensboro, which he owns, at the Liberty Oak restaurant, rated one of the best in the South by Southern Living magazine.
The owner of Liberty Oak is from Italy. I met him today as well.
Many years ago he was driving a cab in Italy and his passenger was an American businessman from Greensboro, North Carolina, who was gregarious and loquacious about his love of his hometown.
“Eddie” Gramisci was sold and somehow made it to Greensboro where he cleaned the bathrooms at New York Pizza, a local chain.
He now owns all of the New York Pizza places in the Triad, as well as Liberty Oak. He also owns other restaurants from the Piedmont to Myrtle Beach. Eddie also owns Ferraris… So these things still happen.
I taught David Trigonometry. I came in mid year to teach at my old high school. I was back from Austin, TX for the holidays and wasn’t going back. A teacher had unexpectedly left mid year and the Headmaster asked if I wanted to finish the year out teaching math. The Headmaster was my uncle, who had been my math teacher and basketball coach when I was in high school.
I taught for the Spring term and I loved it. Coached some baseball too.
On one of my first days in class I was checking homework. When I got to David, his books were closed and he said, while rising up out of his chair to tower over me at 6’8″ (it’s all blurry to me once someone is 6’3″ or more), “I didn’t do my homework. What are you going to do about it?”
Not only is he tall, but he is as strong as an ox. Legend has it that he actually once saved a guy’s life, stopping at an accident scene and lifting up a car to allow others to drag the guy out.
In a split second every tactic I had ever witnessed a teacher use to assert authority flashed through my mind. Nothing would quite fit this moment. Then David smiled and said, “just kidding, here it is.”
And there it was.
I remember talking to his parents at a parent teacher conference about this moment. They were kind of embarrassed, but I went on, “so then I checked his homework and he doesn’t use any of the steps I show in class but he gets it right, and I can follow his steps and they make sense. It’s really neat and methodical but it’s like his own kind of poetry.”
“Yes, that sounds like David.”
And as he smiled and joked at lunch today I remembered that first challenge. Such a cheerful guy, who is writing his own entrepreneurial poetry.
After lunch he took me over to another office building on the main corner of downtown Greensboro. As we walked in it dawned on me, “wait, you own this too?!”
“Shhhhh!,” he said, “everyone just thinks I’m a maintenance guy.”
It was a good lunch.


I recently spoke about Friendship to the high school youth group of my parish -about 150 students. Later, small group discussions were to focus on the Book of Sirach, Chapter 6, on True Friendship, so I tried to incorporate that. These are my edited notes with some of the images from the juxtaposed slideshow that I had going behind me. Many of the pull quotes here were also in the slide show.

Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure.
Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth. Sirach 6:14-15

Have you ever had someone say to you, “Be careful, or your face will stick like that!”? Well, my wife said that to my 6 year old son once and his response was, “is that what happened to daddy?” Then my boys were watching Despicable Me and the evil banker came on the screen and my 2 year old said, “he looks like you daddy!” And I’m not even bald yet, though I am getting fat.Perkins

So, with that in mind, I, whose face is stuck with this semi-permanent scowl, am going to talk to you about Christian Friendship.

Now how many of you have ever described someone as NICE ? “Oh she is a nice person.” We use “nice” a lot. But “nice” has lost some of its meaning. You might as well say, “Oh, she is breathing,” or, “She has feet.”

“Do you know John?”
“John? Oh yeah John. The guy with the body and the mouth?”

In some ways the word friend or friendship has lost meaning too because we use it so often. It’s a TV show, a book, a meme. It has even become a verb. “He friended me.”

When we say someone is “nice” we often mean that they don’t bother us. They are not annoying, they are not challenging. But it doesn’t really mean a positive good, just the absence of hassle.rainbows puppies

Similarly when we think of friendship we imagine rainbows and puppies and unicorns and all sorts of wonderfulness coming our way. Friends are nice.

But Christian friendship is an action, it is heroic, it is adventurous, it is dangerous. You can get hurt. Friendship is sacrificial because it is about love.

“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” ― Bob Marley

The Patron Saint of Friendship is St. John the Apostle. Christ nicknamed him and his brother James ‘Boanerges’ which means Sons of Thunder! Of the Twelve Apostles, John is the only one who continuously stood by Jesus and never once rejected Him.

I think saccharine notions of Christian friendship disappear when we realize the patron saint of friendship is a ‘Son of Thunder’ who also wrote the Book of Revelation.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13

Friendship is epic and adventurous, but do not be troubled, there is a place for simplicity and shallowness!  Which are not bad things in themselves, only if you stay there in the shallows!

The Lord said Duc in Altum! –Put out into the Deep! He asks us to take risks!boat

But you have to start in the shallow part, you can’t already be in the deep part, it’s hard to get on board a boat unless you’re standing on the shore, or in the shallow water.

Like a lake or a sea, like the Sea of Galilee, there are gradations of depth and there is a whole ecosystem of friendship.


In America we often think of happiness as the reception of pleasure. Receiving pleasure from food, drinks, sugar, teevee, gadgets, clothes, comfortable furniture… from other people… but true happiness actually requires action.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle said that happiness is an action so it has to be true.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not a single act, but a habit. -Aristotle

Similarly friendship is the activity of loving others, not the mere passive reception of pleasure from their company, their jokes, their status etc.

In fact, Aristotle (THE GREATEST PHILOSOPHER EVER), spends more of his time discussing the importance of friendship in his book on Ethics than on any other subject.

Friends have the greatest effect on who you become, on your character.

Now that you know that your friends will have the greatest impact on who you will become you might be looking around this room and panicking a bit. But, Be Not Afraid! be not afraid

The good news is that there are different kinds of friends. There are friends of pleasure, friends of usefulness, and friends of excellence. And we will have all types of these friends throughout our lives.

“Oh how mean and ridiculous to categorize friends like that” you may say.

Indeed. But guess who said you can categorize friendship this way? The greatest philosopher in the world! Aristotle!

Now, this does not mean that you need to have an app on your phone where you promote and demote friends (though that is an idea that will probably make money) “Josh just said something really stupid, I am going to demote him from friend of excellence to merely a useful friend because he has a car.”

But you will find one day that the friend who gives you so much pleasure with his or her jokes and stories, is not the friend to talk to about the existential question of whether or not you were truly contrite during your last confession and whether or not your sins were really forgiven, etc.

I am sure you worry about things like this every Saturday afternoon.good looking

Or, will that fun friend keep it quiet that you wonder if is it a near occasion of sin to be really, really, ridiculously good looking?

Others are friends, table companions, but they cannot be found in time of affliction. Sirach 6:10

“Table companions” mentioned in here in Sirach are what Aristotle would call friends of pleasure.

A friend of pleasure, for example someone who is great at telling stories and who cracks people up with jokes, might not be the best person in whom to confide. Because guess what makes a funny story?! Your existential crisis!

Friends of usefulness –the word sounds terrible right?- like you’re using someone… but it’s mutual usefulness so it’s okay.

But seriously, you are friendly with people you deal with in business, on a day to day basis –the people who do your dry cleaning, the waiter work friendsat your favorite restaurant.

I have friends in business and we are mutually useful to each other. I sell their stuff and they give me stuff to sell. It helps if this relationship is friendly, but I don’t feel it necessary to invite them to my son’s baptism. At trade shows and conventions I have seen the tragic mistake of people confiding too much in their business friends, thinking they were their best friends. It’s not pretty.

There are friends of excellence who are both of these also, useful and pleasurable; and with whom you can discuss the meaning of life, your marriage, your angst, and whether or not your good looks are near occasion for sin…

But these friends are rare and it takes a while to cultivate that friendship.

Those who fear the Lord enjoy stable friendship, for as they are, so will their neighbors be. Sirach 6:17

Fear of the Lord –sounds so Old Testament! (Because it is, and we are in the Bible belt after all…) What I take from this is that both people in the friendship fear the Lord –they have the same values, the same ethical starting point and the same ethical goals. You will have a stable friendship with those you associate with -your neighbors, when those people are ethically (and culturally) aligned with you in principle. You all have the same ethical vocabulary.

You can only have a deep friendship of this sort if you agree on some basic things, which it may take time to discover.

The beauty about something like a desire for truth, a desire to gain heaven, or a desire for complete honesty, is that you will find others who want the same thing and these can become great friends. They may be from other cultures and religions but once people have committed to a love and desire for truth, accidents of birth, race, and culture will only serve to enrich.

A friendship of excellence and virtue may grow from another type of friendship. You may find yourself leading someone along into a love and desire for deeper Truth, just because you were friendly and cheerful while discussing college basketball… or while working together…

The college fraternity brother with whom you drink beers, a friend of pleasure, may turn into the best man at your wedding or the godfather to your child.

On the other hand, the best friend with whom you discussed the meaning of life while an athlete in high school, may just become an friendly acquaintance after you go off to art school and become a sculptor.

Your spouse, whose beauty sparked the fire which was a mere pleasure at the beginning of your relationship, will grow into a friend of excellence, your best friend. “One soul in two bodies”, as Guess Who? said. Yes, Aristotle!

“Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” -Aristotle

You will grow into and out of friendships and someone you thought was a friend of excellence will turn out, in hindsight, on your first Fall break back from college to have been a different kind of friend. Or they will find that you have become a different kind of friend.

Act in a friendly manner (that’s an adverb now, not a noun), or be friendly (an adjective). [A little SAT verbal prep for you, no charge.]

You don’t have to stay friends … And that is okay.

Sometimes personal character solutions require friendship dissolution –breaking bad habits, or developing new interests and good habits means leaving old friends behind. You can be sad about it, you should miss the person… if you don’t miss a friendship, then it wasn’t a friendship, but it is okay to move on.  Be sad, but don’t feel guilty.

But how do we get friends in the first place?

Pleasant speech multiplies friends, and gracious lips, friendly greetings. Sirach 6:5

Our disposition will help us find friends. If you have no friends, imitate someone who is friendly until it becomes second nature. Fake it until you make it! To paraphrase the greatest philosopher ever!  But you have to imitate what you want to become, develop the habits until it is truly who you are.

“Only friendliness produces friendship.” -G.K. Chesterton

Smile and the world smiles back, as they say.

From Psychology Today:

Each time you smile you throw a little feel-good party in your brain. The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness.smiling is my favorite
For starters, smiling activates the release of neuropeptides that work toward fighting off stress. Neuropeptides are tiny molecules that allow neurons to communicate. They facilitate messaging to the whole body when we are happy, sad, angry, depressed, excited. The feel good neurotransmitters dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well. This not only relaxes your body, but it can lower your heart rate and blood pressure. It also stimulates these things in those who see your smile.

Blah blah blah… hashtag science. You feel better and smiles are contagious! You make others feel better. It becomes a virtuous cycle!

Rainbows and unicorn puppy dogs!

Let those who are friendly to you be many, but one in a thousand your confidant. Sirach 6:6

Have some standards people! Always be open to friendship but do not trade quantity for quality, depth for breadth. Be friendly to all, but be friends with your friends and know who is which type of friend…

Never turn away a cheerful person but do not mistake cheerfulness for ttragedyrue friendship. Mistaking a friendly acquaintance for a best friend in whom you confide your dark secrets may lead to gossip (a violation of the Commandment not to bear false witness against your neighbor.”) and who knows what other Mean Girls scenarios… Burn Book!

If disaster comes upon you, they turn against you and hide themselves. Sirach 6:12

Difficult times, tests, will show you who your real friends are… also, your friends’ trials and tests will tell them how much of a friend you are. Do you hide? Do they hide?

We need friends to fill in our imperfections. -G.K. Chesterton

But we need friends to receive our love. And we must be open to receiving love and friendship in turn, we must help fill in the imperfections of others with our gifts and allow them to participate in the virtues of charity and active love by being their friends. Love and Charity can only be done if there is someone to receive it… a Direct Object (more free SAT prep for you, if they even do that on the SAT anymore…)

But what if you have no friends? Or think you have no friends?

The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people. -G.K. Chestertonneighbors

You might not. At this time of your life. If you are an introvert, or a “go deep or go home” conversation kind of person, the cultivated immaturity of high school may not be the environment for you to develop excellent friends or deep friendships. But that does not mean others are not having deep friendships, don’t write everyone else off as shallow.

You are obliged to be cheerful and open to friendship yourself. Step up and being willing to be hurt. Practice.

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

If you have no friends remember Mother Teresa who lived a life dedicated to God and to serving the poorest of the poor. At one point she went through what is called the Dark Night of the soul, a test from God of total abandonment. A dark night that lasted for over 50 years. She persevered through the most lonely of times anyone can experience, she had forsaken the world and loved God and God had forsaken her… And now she will be a saintmother teresa

For more than fifty years following her initial visions and locutions, Mother Teresa was wrapped in a dark, pitiless silence.
She only once more heard the voice of God, and she believed the doors of heaven had been closed and bolted against her. The more she longed for some sign of his presence, the more empty and desolate she became.
We always saw her smiling. She had a playful smile, mischievous, as if privy to some secret joke. Especially when she was around children, she beamed with delight. In private, she had a quick, self-deprecating sense of humor, and sometimes doubled over from laughing so hard. So many people who spent time with her came away saying that she was the most joyful person they had ever met.

Look, it’s not all about right now, in high school… though it is a good time to practice!

  • Life is an action over a long period of time
  • We need friends in order to exercise the virtues of charity and love. These are actions that need an object.
  • Love your enemy, make them your friend
  • Be open to being hurt
  • But “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves
  • Do not try to get friends, try instead to be a friend to others
  • Start by being friendly: smile! … endorphins, neuropeptides and all that

Pleasant speech multiplies friends, and gracious lips, multiply friendly greetings.

love the unloveableNow, I need to go take my own advice… thank you for your attention and for laughing when you were supposed to!

Easy? No. Kids today do not have it easy.

Easy? No. Kids today do not have it easy..

We vaccinate them against every disease, buckle them into their car seats, teach them not to run near the pool, and we think we are keeping them safe. But it’s their souls that we should be especially protecting, and that’s where we often fail.

Like I said in Brain Food:

If genetically modified dwarf wheat leads to wheat belly, if high fructose corn syrup contributes to liver damage and diabetes, can Dick and Jane and the whole word methodology lead to literacy anemia?  Is there a cultural analog to garden variety Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or worse, to bowel cancer?

We get worked up about the physical health of our kids, but not as much about the industrialized and over-processed culture-like and education-like products they are exposed to everyday…

via Easy? No. Kids today do not have it easy..

Brain Food: What Are Your Eyes Eating!?

Recently an infographic has been making the rounds about the six major companies that control 90% of the media content that we consume.  Those six companies are GE, Newscorp, Disney, Viacom, Time-Warner, and CBS.

This parallels the few large companies that supply most of the food in the US.

You’ve got a small group of multinational corporations who control the entire food system.  From seed to the supermarket, they’re gaining control of food. –Tony Roush, Indiana farmer in Food Inc.

The 2008 film Food Inc. called into question what was actually in the food we consume and what effects it might have on our bodies.  What is industrial food?  Are there health consequences?

The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000…Although it looks like a tomato, it’s kind of a notional tomato.  I mean, it’s the idea of a tomato…

… In the meat aisle, there are no bones anymore.  -Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma in Food Inc.

Those who have seen the film, or who are aware of the issue in other ways, tend to govern their own dietary intake by growing their own food, shopping at farmers’ markets, participating in CSAs, etc.  Even Wal-Mart started selling organic products upon seeing the trend.

Given that these six companies control 90% of media content, and if the eyes are truly the windows into the soul, what exactly is getting into our souls and what is the effect?  What is the nutritional value of this food for thought?  What are the consequences of industrial processed media and cultural content?  Is it real or notional?  Is there an obesity of the mind; is there diabetes of the soul?

Our intellectual and cultural diet, our “consumption of meaning”, has changed a lot over the last 100 years –not only the media but the message. Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, fathered the field of “Public Relations” in the early 1900s, by which he doubled cigarette sales and sold war.  He felt that the term propaganda was too negative, but that is what he had done for Woodrow Wilson during WWI.

“Age-old customs, I learned, could be broken down by a dramatic appeal, disseminated by the network of media.”  “The group mind,” he continued, “does not think in the strict sense of the word. In place of thoughts it has impulses, habits, emotions.”  -Edward Bernays

We may eat organic and local food, but our brain food, our cultural content, is far from local and organic.

Food Inc., among other films, books, and articles, suggests that many of the health problems in the  US  –the “obesity epidemic”, diabetes, heart disease, E. coli tainted food, etc. are related to our distorted and unnatural industrial food system.

There’s a hypothesis that obesity, a multifactorial condition, can be caused by an absence of nutrition in food.  Mastication, gustatory, and olfactory senses ramp up biological function to digest, deliver and store nutrition.  When nutrition fails to arrive, the body asks for more food, which it gets in the form of yet more calories devoid of nutrients.  Corporate food scientists then seek to override leptin signaling (which alerts the brain of satiety), so that the consumer consumes more product absent of nutrients, which the body is craving.  Instead the mouth is ingesting more of nothing.  –Stephen C. Brown, coffee roaster and buyer, food blogger

If those six companies are the mind’s content supermarket, what about the seed?  How is the appetite for cultural junk whetted?

Industrial schooling was initiated at the end of the 1800s.  Most of our intellectual consumption through our early years is monopolized by a few educational conglomerates such as Pearson, Wiley, Macmillian, McGraw-Hill, and Reed Elsevier.  It is only after we graduate that we turn our intellectual nourishment and ocular consumption over to GE, Newscorp, Disney, et al.

Cows are not designed by evolution to eat corn.  They are designed to eat grass.  And the only reason we feed them corn is because corn is really cheap and corn makes them fat quickly…  I mean, the reason those calories are cheaper is because those are the ones we’re heavily subsidizing…  By making those calories really cheap, that’s one of the reasons that the biggest predictor of obesity is income level.  –Food Inc.

The subsidization of the food industry, especially via corn, has resulted in distortions in the food market and in the relative pricing of what is healthy and what is not healthy.

Education conglomerates are likewise subsidized by the property taxes of a completely captured market.  They do not have to convince each household to buy their product, only the school board or the superintendent.  Once that is done they have our money.  Their market is not the final consumer but instead the “reseller”, or distributor of the product to a captive market –our kids.  Can you imagine if we had to buy TVs or groceries this way?

If you were a school textbook publisher, what would you think about compulsory schooling laws?  It would mean guaranteed consumption of your product!  But what about the nutritional value?

I think killing phonics was one of the greatest causes of illiteracy in the country. –Dr. Seuss, 1981

In 1951, entire public school systems were bailing out on phonics…

Mute evidence that [Publishers] Scott, Foresman wasn’t just laughing all the way to the bank, but was actively trying to protect its nest egg in Dick and Jane, was its canny multiplication of words intended to be learned.  In 1930, the word  look was repeated 8 times; in 1951, 110 times… in the first see gets 27 repetitions, and in the second, 176. –John Taylor Gatto, The Underground History of  American Education

If genetically modified dwarf wheat leads to wheat belly, if high fructose corn syrup contributes to liver damage and diabetes, can Dick and Jane and the whole word methodology lead to literacy anemia?  Is there a cultural analog to garden variety Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or worse, to bowel cancer?

Does the industrial, processed education system lead one to crave more content, because it is itself so devoid of real intellectual nutrients that our mind kicks in to consume more?  Most of what is consumed outside of school is equally devoid of intellectual and cultural nutritional content.   Do we over-consume media junk because it is devoid of “nutrients,” and because our appetite has been trained?  It is as if The Learning Channel and The History Channel are Monosodium Glutamate and Yellow # 5 for your brain.

Our food safety advocacy work started six years ago when my two-and-a-half year-old son Kevin was stricken with e. coli 0157:h7 and he went from being a perfectly healthy beautiful little boy … to being dead in 12 days.

There’s microorganisms –bacteria in [the cow’s] rumen, millions of ‘em.  The animals evolved on consuming grass.  There is some research that indicates that a high corn diet results in e. coli that are acid resistant.  And these would be the more harmful e. coli… a strain called e. coli 0157:h7…  The animals stand ankle deep in their manure all day long.

E. coli isn’t just in the ground beef now – it’s been found in spinach, apple juice –and this is really because of the runoff from our factory farms.

They did an E. coli test at the plant that was positive.  They didn’t end up recalling that meat until August 27th, 16 days after he [Kevin] died.

19% of high school graduates are illiterate.  63% of prison inmates are illiterate. Is there an equivalent to tainted meat in the realm of education and culture, a mental E. coli, tainted information that kills a person mentally and intellectually?   If so, can it be recalled?  Is there parental recourse?  Though mere illiteracy may not be the right metaphorical symbol for mind poisoning…

A modern textbook is the intellectual equivalent of the modern hamburger patty.  A hamburger patty comes from a feces covered cow, fed on cheap, subsidized, corn-based feed, which allows E. coli to grow in the cow’s belly.  The cow is shredded and processed amid the slinging excrement they live in, and then mixed with the meat of thousands of cows from across the country to form the uniform patty.  In a centralized processing facility, one sick cow can taint millions of patties sent out nationwide.

The processing plants have gotten bigger and bigger.  It’s just perfect for taking bad pathogens and spreading them far and wide.

In the 1970s there were literally thousands of slaughterhouses in the United States.  Today we have 13 slaughterhouses that process the majority of beef that is sold in the U.S.

When the Common Core is implemented, there will be nationalized standards for all schools.  One content slaughterhouse.  There will be no check on deleterious outbreaks.

In industrial chicken farms they desire a certain outcome and so they engineer fat, big-breasted (white meat) chickens, which grow so fast and fat their legs cannot carry them.  They are caged in, never see the light of day, and grown for uniformity.  They are also pumped with antibiotic drugs to counteract the unsanitary environment of chicken shit in which they are raised.

A lot of these chickens here, they can take a few steps and then they plop down.  It’s because they can’t keep up all the weight that they’re carrying.

…  There’s antibiotics that’s put into the feed and of course that passes through the chicken. -Food Inc.

Nineteen percent of all high school age boys have been diagnosed with ADHD, 10% are taking prescription drugs for ADHD.  A CDC survey found an estimated 6.4 million children ages 4 to 17 had been diagnosed at some point, an increase of over 50 percent over the past decade.  Roughly two-thirds of those currently diagnosed have been prescribed drugs such as Ritalin or Adderall.

The doctor prescribed methylphenidate, a generic form of Ritalin. It was not to be taken at home, or on weekends, or vacations. [Will] didn’t need to be medicated for regular life…  It struck us as strange, wrong, to dose our son for school…

I couldn’t help wondering why forgetting to talk to his friends was a good thing and why we were drugging him to become a good student.  –Bronwen Hruska, Raising the Ritalin Generation

If students are bored and antsy, why not change the class, or the school, or how the day is structured?  It is hard to change the efficient factory, but using Six Sigma and similar industrial quality-control methodologies, the factory can mitigate “variability.”

In the past Man has been first.  In the future, System must be first. –Frederick Taylor
In the past Man has been first. In the future, System must be first. –Frederick Taylor

Of course, the normal, non-variable, defect-free student product is not called normal or average.  They are all exceptional, accelerated, gifted, etc.,  –an IEP for all, to assure one outcome!

It’s all a science.  They [Tyson] got it all figured out.  If you can grow a chicken in 49 days, why would you want one you gotta grow in three months? –Farmer, Food, Inc

THAT was five years ago. Will is about to start his sophomore year of high school. He’s 6 feet 3 inches tall, he’s on the honor roll and he loves school. For him, it was a matter of growing up, settling down and learning how to get organized. Kids learn to speak, lose baby teeth and hit puberty at a variety of ages. We might remind ourselves that the ability to settle into being a focused student is simply a developmental milestone; there’s no magical age at which this happens.  –Bronwen Hruska

It’s all highly mechanized.  So all the birds coming off those farms have to be almost exactly the same size.  –Eric Schlosser, Food Inc.

The rebellious boy acting out will not lead to the desired outcome of a stable consumer in a materialistic culture.  He might throw off the efficiency and the timetable, might not ripen fast enough.  There are chemicals for that.  Also, earners and consumers are desired –not someone who possesses the faculties to recognize, describe, and resist the notional culture he or she is being force fed.

I have undertaken to get at the facts from the point of view of the business men… who have the right to say what they will have in their schools. –Charles Thurber, Annual Address of the NEA, 1897

What should a bureaucrat do to train compliant workers for the business class?

“[Edmund Burke] Huey was even more explicit: he said children learned to read too well and too early and that was bad for them.” –John Taylor Gatto, The Underground History of American Education

If a regular educational diet is the intellectual equivalent of Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, charter schools and private schools who adhere to the educational status quo (they buy the same products, adhere to the same industrial standards, etc.), are like the rebuttal to Supersize Me which is Tom Naughton’s movie Fat Head.

Both Spurlock and Naughton still ate industrial food, but with some tweaking in how the processed stuff is consumed.  Spurlock’s health declined, but Naughton lost weight and improved his health.

Michael Pollan talks about the supermarket tomato as a “notional tomato”.  Most of education is “notional education”, most of the culture we consume via movies and television, on the web and in print, is “notional culture”.  It’s processed culture-like stuff, devoid of human wisdom.  But, while organic, natural food might be artificially a bit more expensive; gourmet, organic, heritage education is as easy as a family library and the arts.

Supersize Me and Fat Head indicate two different health outcomes after intake of the same industrial food product.  Despite Naughton, some people are opting out of industrial food.  But somehow, industrial education is a given.  One Gallup poll stated that most people think that public school education is in decline, but that their district is above average.  It is like Lake Wobegon, where all our children are above average!  (But your children are falling behind.)

I’m always struck by how successful we have been at hitting the bulls-eye of the wrong target.  I mean, in cattle we have learned … how to plant, fertilize and harvest corn using global positioning satellite technology, and nobody sits back and asks, “But should we be feeding cows corn?”  –Joel Salatin, Food Inc.

We just try to get our kids into the “right” industrial, educational processing center.  We discuss the processes and the metrics, but hardly ever the goal of education -beyond achieving the next aspirational level of education!  There is no concept human teleology.

Well meaning teachers have had their jobs transformed too.  Teachers now read from a script.  They cannot “teach”, they have little control of their classroom, which is the environment of their work and creativity.  They have to meet desired outcomes.  There is little flexibility, nor the ability to use their judgment.  “Apply the formula,” as they say in Fight Club.  Teach to the test.

They changed the farmer.  Today, chicken farmers no longer control their birds. –Eric Schlosser, Food Inc.

We have become a culture of technicians. –Joel Salatin, Food Inc.

Could there be an equivalent reaction to the industrial, processed education industry?  Organic Education perhaps?

Famed independent farmer Joel Salatin, author of Everything I Want to Do is Illegal, calls his method “heritage farming”.  Farming based upon inherited wisdom.  Inherited wisdom does not preclude the use of technology.  If we had no inherited wisdom, no father would have taught his son an easier way to make fire, or the benefits of making a wheel round.

Industrial food is not honest food.  It’s not priced honestly. It’s not produced honestly.  It’s not processed honestly.  There is nothing honest about that food. –Joel Salatin, Food Inc.

Inherited wisdom grows and became more subtle, building upon each generation.  Start with, “make the wheel round” and build from there:  “Don’t tease the lion”, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”, “don’t cross the streams”, etc.

Homer taught the Greeks, and the rest of us, through the Iliad and the Odyssey, “that all life is a battle, and all life is a journey.”  Moreover, he highlights that the battle and the journey are made more difficult if your leader relies on force alone (Achilles) or cunning alone (Odysseus), all their friends and followers die.  There is more to leadership among peers than strength or charm, a foundational insight that informed later Greek political/economic innovations.

From Homer on, the subtlety of inherited wisdom increases –whom to marry, how to handle pain, how to handle slights, how to handle pride, how to handle technology and that power, how to improve upon previous knowledge and technology.  “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” -Sir Isaac Newton.  Our giants are our heritage, our customs, manners, tradition…  Education, in short.

We have an obesity problem in America -nourishment devoid of nutrients so much that we all but involuntarily consume more stuff than is healthy –buzzfeed, failblog, Kardashians, Housewives of Wherever, The Bachelor(ette), the NFL…

When we are in school a small group of conglomerates, with their faculty textbook committees, design the ammonia-dipped pink sludge we consume for learning.

Even more disturbing is that because ammonium hydroxide is considered part of the “component in a production procedure” by the USDA, consumers may not know when the chemical is in their food. –David Warner

After we finish our formal schooling, six corporations fill our minds and conform our palettes as to what life is all about.  The E. coli has left the meat market, and is now in other things.

-58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
-42% of college graduates never read another book.
-80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
-57% of new books are not read to completion.
-Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.

Every culture hands down wisdom learned from the hard interaction of reality and life, from mistakes with natural consequences, from “fire is hot” to the more complex concept of moral hazard.  It would be a shame to forgo these customs and traditions, the inherited wisdom of our respective peoples –be we Italian, Sengalese, Peruvian, Czech, Korean, etc., for a mess of processed crud, verified by test scores devised by the industrial crud producers.

Imagine if McDonald’s had a 90% monopoly on food and also a Federal mandate to verify if you were healthy or not?  Would you be healthy if they said so?  What if you decided to become a “home-fooder”?  Would your peers mock you for being anti-social or elitist for foregoing the nearby fast food?  Would people try to convince you that your kids won’t be “socialized” unless they are playing in the McDonald’s ball pit and collecting Happy Meal trinkets with other kids?  What would a local educational CSA, a CSE, look like?

Food Inc. came out in 2008.  The top food cop at the FDA under President Obama is Michael Taylor, who was the top lobbyist for Monsanto before that.  He is in charge of telling us about healthy food.  Is Arne Duncan just a mouthpiece for “Big Ed.?”

Even if you don’t eat at a fast food restaurant, you’re now eating meat that’s being produced by that system. – Eric Schlosser, Food Inc.

Education is to inform the free citizen, whereas schooling gives you just enough knowledge to be managed by someone else. –John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year, The Underground History of American Education

You do not have to consume what you are told to consume, via your mouth, or your eyes and mind.


The Locker Room

I was sitting on the training table in Knott Arena at Mt. St. Mary’s about to get my ankle taped.  It was my first time in uniform for the soccer team at Johns Hopkins University, and it was our first preseason scrimmage of the year.

Coach Butler walked in and looked at me, looked at our trainer Lisa, looked at starting forward Chris Boris, and said, “Man, what the hell you taping up McPherson for, he ain’t gonna play!  Get Boris first so we can get going.”

Lisa moved over to tape up Boris, who then left and returned to the locker room. I was the last player in the quiet room, getting my ankle taped -now for no apparent reason, since I was unlikely to play.  I raced down the hallway to the visitors’ locker room to finish getting my socks, shin guards, and cleats on.  I got there just as Coach Butler was finishing up his pregame.

The team filed out, full of the exuberance that comes at the start of any new season.  Even though we were a Division III team and Mt. St. Mary’s was Division I, there was hope.  It got really quiet in the locker room and as I tied my last cleat.  I heard the door close and the dead bolt turn.

I walked over to the door, incredulous. No way was this happening, no way.  I tried the door.  Sure enough, it was locked.  The locker room was at the far end of the hallway, the last room in fact.  I banged on the door, but I didn’t want to scream.  How much of a loser was I already?  Coach said I wouldn’t even play; I got left behind and locked in the locker room.  I was a freshman walk-on and probably the worst player on the team.  No, I wouldn’t scream, I had my dignity.

I pondered the various outcomes: if they came back at halftime could I hide in the showers and then emerge as if nothing had happened?  The lights were off in the shower room and it was very dark.  I did some sit ups and pushups to break a sweat, as if I had been out there doing warm up drills at least.

This is how I started college.

Sometime during the spring of my senior year of high school, after I had been accepted to Hopkins and had accepted their acceptance, I received a letter from Hopkins Soccer informing me that the preseason would start in August.  I was invited to join training and attempt to walk on to the team.

Playing college sports had not really been on my radar.  It had been a dream to play college basketball since middle school, but the reality of that faded as I finished up my high school career.  I had never been recruited, or scouted, or anything.

In any event, I considered myself a basketball player, and had started playing soccer as a way to get in shape for basketball season. I also went to a small school where bodies were needed.  But I had come to love soccer, becoming team captain my senior year.  I had a teammate who had been on Real Madrid’s junior team; I had marked an opposing player, Bert Reid, from Trinidad, who had been signed by Inter Milan.  But my skills had not caught up to my love for the game.

Included in the letter was a series of suggested work outs over the summer, targeted times and distances.  I drove around my neighborhood and found the mile markers and started running.  On Saturdays I rode my bike over to Sligo Creek Park and tried to get into the pickup soccer games with the Central Americans.  There is nothing like being 18 and in great shape and getting juked by a fat, 30 something Salvadoran to put you in your place.

After a summer of trying to make up for years of treating soccer as a hobby, I packed up the car and my parents drove me up to Hopkins.  The general fear of college and starting something new led me to see making the team as a desperately needed crutch of the familiar.  I would not boldly go to college and remake myself; I would sneak in under the guise of being a jock, in a milieu where I was at least comfortable.

I arrived on the second day of preseason.  “Didn’t you get the other letter?” said Coach Butler, “we changed the start date to yesterday.”


So I, and Nate Anderson, who was injured I believe, sat on the sideline and watched practice.  We also had to wait for the next time the Athletic Department doctor was available to get our physicals to allow us to play. And so we missed a few more practices.  At one point the assistant coach, Winston Earle, a native of Jamaica and a great man, came over and said, “Man, you see these boys runnin’ and they see you sittin’. You don’t have to wait for no doctor to play on the side.”

And so Nate and I ran and did what drills we could, outside the fence.  Nate and Coach Earle were the first friendly faces and handshakes for this terrified kid, who wasn’t very good, and who didn’t read his mail.

Since I had not anticipated playing soccer at Hopkins, I did not know they had an Astroturf field.  I had brought my cleats, but I did not have flats –except for the Lotto flats that I wore as my walking around shoes.  They happened to be about a size too big, which was for comfort.  But for playing on turf, that extra size meant that I tripped a lot.  They called it getting bit by the turf monster.  I had permanent, oozing scabs on my knees until I had made the team and was outfitted with shoes that fit.

So I sat there in the locker room at the Mount, in the bowels of the arena where I had gone to numerous basketball camps, having missed several days of practice because I missed a letter; the worst guy on a team that I don’t think won a single game all season, who just tripped all the time through practices, with scabby knees.

Eventually I heard the door unlock and a Mount athletics staffer walked in. He looked at me, I looked at him.

“Oh no, have you been locked in here the whole time?”

“Yes I have. Is it halftime?”

“No, the game is almost over.”

What to do, what to do?  I walked out, down the hallway, out of the building, across the parking lot, to the field and sat down at the end of the bench for the waning minutes of a blowout.  I might have gotten into the game after all!

I don’t remember whom I sat next to, but he asked me where I had been.  I couldn’t feel any lower, so honesty was easy, “I got locked in the locker room.”  “Don’t tell coach, don’t ever tell coach,” he said.  He turned and told the next guy, and as I looked down the bench I saw heads turn and the telephone exchange of whispers, and then the smiles and laughs, and the looks my way.  I was very popular when we stopped for dinner on the way back to Baltimore.  “Seriously! no, seriously McPherson!?”  Lots of laughs.  I mean, what else could I do?  It was a pretty funny situation.

McPherson got locked in the locker room.  Nobody tell coach.  Solidarity.

I don’t think I played in a single game that year, but I did get a lot better at soccer, I made some good friends, and eased my way into college with those friendships.

Towards the end of that terrible losing season I was walking though the lobby of the Athletic Center after practice, one of the last guys out of the showers, and Coaches Butler and Earle were sitting on a table smiling.  Coach Butler said loudly, “Yo, McPherson!  I see you made it out of the locker room.”

Someone told.

Later that year I ended up walking on to the basketball team too.  The next year, my sophomore year, I chose to focus on basketball, two sports and Hopkins academics were exhausting, -even if you ride pine.

Two years later the core of that terrible soccer team played in the NCAA Division III finals.  I got a ride up to New Jersey to cheer them on.