As I mentioned last year, Anthony now attends a private high school that suits his intellect and his interests and immerses him in an environment filled with kids much like him. We’re very happy with the experience so far–the kids want to learn, the teachers want to help them learn, and the facilities are top-notch.

The Politics of Purity
The Politics of Purity

But nothing is perfect. The teacher in Anthony’s Genealogy elective denounced capitalism out of the blue. Other teachers voice distrust in voluntary markets and great faith in coercive government over issues that have my son rolling his eyes.

The first week of classes, the kids were assigned The Poison Squad, a 2018 book that purports to tell “the dramatic true story of how food was made safe in the United States and the heroes, led by the inimitable Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, who fought for change.” The work by lefty author Deborah Blum has received buzz from media corners that are usually supportive of activist government. But it’s hardly the only book about Wiley, nor is it the definitive one. That might be 1999’s scholarly The Politics of Purity: Harvey Washington Wiley and the Origins of Federal Food Policy, which said of Wiley, “Instead of a champion of purity, we see him working hand in glove with firms that benefited from his enforcement of the pure food law.”

Unfortunately, the scholarly effort by Clayton Anderson Coppin and Jack High costs about $80 a copy–a bit rich for expanding the perspective of my son and his classmates. So I printed out a couple of key pages from Google Books to offer a different point of view. Then I grabbed, “Wiley and the Whiskey Industry: Strategic Behavior in the Passage of the Pure Food Act,” a 1988 paper by the same authors (the actual paper can be found through Sci Hub, which is your friend). Among the tidbits from that paper is this gem:

The actions of Wiley and the whiskey industry during 1903-6 had little to do with the public interest. Wiley’s efforts for “pure” whiskey were, if anything, harmful to the consumer, because he endorsed the more poisonous product.

Do you have to accept Coppin’s and High’s take as the “correct” one over Blum’s hagiography? No, but isn’t it nice to have another perspective on a key figure in setting regulatory policies with which we still live? Anthony is now sharing this information with his classmates, leading one to conclude of Wiley, “oh, so he was corrupt.”

A little counterprogramming is not a bad thing.

A Comprehensive American History Book That Doesn’t Suck

Land of Home, by Wilfred M. McClayI really, really wish that Wilfred F. McClay’s Land of Hope had been available when I started homeschooling my son, or a couple of years ago, or a year ago, but it wasn’t. This well-written and comprehensive treatment of American history was published in May, so while we’re certainly getting some use from it, it comes as my son is entering a private high school and so a little late for our educational needs–but perhaps it’s in time for yours.

Land of Hope was deliberately written as an antidote to Howard Zinn’s popular, but cartoonish A People’s History of the United States. While Zinn’s book continues to be inflicted on students around the country, even left-wing thinkers admit that it’s not a good take on history.

A People’s History is bad history, albeit gilded with virtuous intentions,” Michael Kazin wrote for Dissent in 2004. “His failure is grounded in a premise better suited to a conspiracy-monger’s Web site than to a work of scholarship.”

Zinn’s work continues to be popular, though, because so many of the competing offerings are unreadable, boring, and ultimately unsatisfying in their takes on what should be the fascinating and grand tale of the history of this country.

“We historians have for years been supplying an account of the American past that is so unedifying and lacking in larger perspective that Zinn’s sweeping melodrama looks good by comparison,” McClay, a history professor at the University of Oklahoma told the Wall Street Journal. “Zinn’s success is indicative of our failure. We have to do better.”

McClay sets out to do just that and–to cut to the chase–does it rather well. He does it not by picking heroes and villains and then tailoring the story to match, but by presenting a balanced treatment of figures and events in American history. It’s not a white-wash of America’s sins, not is it a vilification of the United States. Instead, it treats the country as a flawed, but aspirational project of human beings–a view captured by the book’s title, Land of Hope.

That’s not to say that I find the book perfect. There are points I would emphasize more or less than the author, and people I would treat better or more poorly than McClay does. For example, I don’t think you can ever be too critical of Woodrow Wilson, who did enormous damage to people’s lives and liberty. Although I wish this book was available years ago, I’m probably happier with the results of teaching my son from multiple sources and points of view, and the ability to dive in-depth into specific issues that DIY lessons gave us.

But if you’re going to lean heavily on one source for teaching American history, this is the best I’ve seen so far. I think it would be very difficult to top Land of Hope both in its balanced presentation and the very readable quality of the writing.

Leading up to high school, I realized that my classical history-obsessed son was more familiar with 5th century B.C. Greece than with the United States of the past 40 years. I set him loose on this book and he tore right through the relevant sections. A little discussion added the emphasis that I considered important.

Read an interview with McClay here.

You can buy Land of Hope at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

And don’t miss this list of homeschooling resources that you may find helpful!

New Developments In Our Educational Adventure

Well, our long educational adventure soon takes another interesting, and very welcome, turn. A few months ago, we found out about the Gary K. Herberger Young Scholars Academy, a private middle and high school associated with Arizona State University. Herberger uses the Cambridge curriculum, and offers a challenging deep-dive into sciences and humanities alike. We liked what we discovered, and felt a little daunted by the prospect of keeping him engaged through high school. So we applied for the 2019/20 school year–an interesting process when your son’s application is heavy on homeschooling samples and light on traditional transcripts.
But that makes him the sort of kid who goes to Herberger. Some of the teachers homeschool their own kids. They must have liked what they saw, since they offered him a spot in the 9th grade–right now.
Herberger is 100 miles away, and Anthony turns 13 on Friday; we need a little more time. Fortunately, they had no issues with that, and shifted his acceptance to the 2019/20 school year that we’d originally envisioned. That gives Anthony time to finish up some already-in-progress classes, go through black-belt training, prepare for high school, and, oh yeah, for us to find a place to rent down in the valley. Anthony and I will stay there during the week while he attends class, and come back to Cottonwood on weekends.
The adventure continues.

Homeschooling Resources That You Can Use!

Photo by Abhi Sharma

Over the years, I’ve been asked a few times about our homeschooling experiences, and about resources we’ve come across. Originally for my own purposes, but later to share, I compiled what we’ve found into a handout, which I continually update. I’ve put that handout on Dropbox to share, and here it is. I hope somebody finds it useful.

Homeschooling Resources

By the way, our education adventure looks set to take yet another new and very interesting turn as we approach Anthony’s high school years (I can’t believe he’ll be a teenager next week). I’ll share some information here as soon as we have it nailed down.

Wandering History Lessons

How does a homeschooling lesson go? If done right, it sometimes wanders in unexpected directions.

We’re currently studying the early women’s rights movement, including the early suffragists, the 19th Amendment, and the fight for equality before the law. We started with good, rather conventional material from the National Endowment for the Humanities Edsitement site,, and PBS. I then assigned him a reading from Thaddeus Russell’s excellent A Renegade History of the United States. Russell argues, convincingly, I think, that prostitutes played at least as great a role as the much-discussed prominent activists in pushing the boundaries of what women could do by ignoring rules of propriety, acquiring wealth and investing in businesses, and breaking down legal hurdles.

Good stuff.

While reading Russell’s chapter, Anthony came across references to relative incomes in the early 20th century (men earned on average about $20 per week, while prostitutes could pull in $30-$50 per week). He connected this with a movie we recently saw–Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last, released in 1923, in which the character played by the comedian earned $15 per week and risked his life climbing a building to win a $1,000 prize.

Great movie, by the way.

Anthony has a grasp on the concept of inflation, so he asked me what these dollar amounts meant in modern terms.

So, off we went to the Cost of Living Calculator at the American Institute for Economic Research. Lloyd’s $1,000 prize, it turns out, is worth $14,294.12 in 2017 money. Fifteen minutes or so of fiddling with the calculator gave the kid a good idea of the declining value of the dollar over the last century.

This led us to discuss wealth, purchasing power, and changing livings standards over those intervening years. What your money could buy you–and what could it not buy–then vs. now.

So he read “You Are Richer Than John D. Rockefeller,” a fascinating article pointing out that the famously wealthy industrialist in 1910 couldn’t purchase antibiotics at any price, and lived uncomfortably by the standards of modern Americans of modest means.

Then back we went to reading about the fight for equal rights. His history journal entry for today should be interesting.

We Miss You, Max

I miss my dog.  He died almost a month ago, on Monday, September 26, 2016.

Wendy found Max wandering in the desert by the side of Beaverhead Flat Road–a road perhaps even less traveled in 2002 than it is now. He came trotting up to her car when she pulled over for a look at this scrawny, parched-looking dog in the middle of nowhere. She took him to the shelter, but they made it clear that they had limited resources.

“If nobody comes for him, will you take him?” they asked.

And we did. It was one of the better decisions we made.

Max made it clear that he liked people, and that he especially liked people who paid attention to him. When my father came to visit and sat on the sofa, our new dog jumped up next to him. Max flopped across his lap, lifted his leg, and issued a commanding groan.

“What does he want,” my father asked.maxandsadiesprawled

“A belly rub,” I answered. “So long as you’re going to sit there, he figures you might as well do something constructive.”

“Just so long as he doesn’t want a hand job,” my father answered, before obliging on the belly rub.

After a year or so, we decided that Max need some company. We adopted Sadie to be his playmate and in the hope that he might spend some time with her and a bit less time underfoot. Instead, affection became something of a competitive game; if I was petting one dog to my right, the other dog had to get equal treatment on my left. With the third hand, or something, I might actually turn the pages of a book.

Sadie never did quitimg_0488e fit in as well as Max. She spent a decade tormenting him (a true marriage, you might say)–and it took years before she seemed to decide that I just might be trustworthy. After she snapped at him, Max would often turn to me and seem to sigh. But they did disappear together for hours at a time to explore the neighborhood.

And Sadie did love Anthony–although she developed something of a sibling rivalry with him. She met him at the door everyday when he came back home from daycare. Showering him with Sadie kisses became a tradition.

maxbabyBut when Anthony came along, it was Max who immediately became his protector. For every feeding, Max would drag himself across the house, accompanying whichever human adult was doing the honors at the moment. He kept strict watch for coyotes at all times–creatures for whom he had a life-time aversion, probably gained during his tenure on his own in the desert.

I distinctly remember one night when an already exhausted Max padded after my equally tuckered self across the dark house as I went to give the baby his bottle. Max flopped on the floor of Anthony’s room just as coyotes began howling in the distance. He began a low growl, which then tapered into a snore as he surrendered to the need to sleep.

img_0565Early on, Max gained permission to sleep on the bed through the clever tactic of waking me every time he had a bad dream about coyotes, or heard thunder, or just felt lonely. He would stick his nose in my ear and whine until I calmed him–or, eventually, patted the bed to invite him up. This quickly became a permanent pass.

Once on the bed, he would slump on top of me, using me–as Snoopy did his dog house–like a bed. His head would go under my chin, and he’d promptly start snoring.

Yeah, I’m a sucker.

maxbackpackMax loved the outdoors and even had his own backpack for carrying snacks and his water bowl. It would go flapping in the air has he dove through the underbrush chasing rabbits or leaped from rock to rock in an arroyo. It was that enthusiasm that he felt and the joy that he so obviously wanted to share with us that I tried to infuse into “Champ,” his fictionalized self in the novel High Desert Barbecue.

He and I went on our last backpacking trip together in 2011, while I was checking the accuracy of some of the descriptions I’d put into the book. He was beginning to get just a bit creaky for extended trips into the wilderness. We could’ve probably done one or two more, but I never did get them planned, and then it was too late.

2015-08-01-20-20-09Max and I still went trail-running together, even after he survived a near-lethal encounter with a rattlesnake. He was tagged right between the eyes and I spent a week shuttling him to the vet, and then to an animal hospital, even as I was launching a new project for work.

And then, a year after his rattlesnake encounter, he had his first bout with thyroid cancer. He recovered, but the cancer and the surgery knocked the stuffing out of him energy-wise. His body couldn’t quite live up to his intentions after that point.

We finally stopped running together because his knees were going. Not that he wasn’t the same Max. He still engaged rabbits in low-speed chases. And he still slept on the bed, though now he needed steps to make the climb. Maybe I wasn’t so comfortable anymore, since he started stretching out next to me instead of on top.

Sadie passed away last year, of an untreatable (except by radical surgery) sarcoma. While all of the human members of the household mourned, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Max was almost indecently happy to have the place to himself, and to no longer have to worry about ambushes lurking around corners.

anthonymaxendWe were all with Max at the end, after the cancer returned. I spent two nights sleeping next to him on the floor while he refused food and most water. And then, on the last day, he somehow dragged himself to his feet. He made his way to the water bowl. He went outside to piss where he always did, on the small patch of grass in the back. He flopped for a while in his favorite resting spot under the dining room table. Then off to the front courtyard to watch the street through the gate. He even took a tiny nibble from my hand. I briefly allowed myself to hope that he was somehow getting better, but he staggered as he walked, and dragged his paws. You could see the stupendous physical effort he was expending to make what looked to me like a final grand tour of the things he loved to do. The cancer was still there, but so was his will and spirit, to the last.

It was time for that final trip to the vet.


The Power of the Dog

by Rudyard Kipling

THERE is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find – it’s your own affair, –
But … you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!),
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone – wherever it goes – for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear!

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent,
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve;
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long –
So why in – Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?










These Boots Are Made for— Oh, Shit.

bootssmallThis, in the photo to the right, is what I call a catastrophic equipment failure. And I should have known better.

I like to go for a “walk” on Sunday afternoons. This usually involves me heading off to the Forest Service land within walking distance of our house. I head down a trail, or a jeep road, or a drainage, and see where it takes me.

Today, I added some serious bushwhacking to the itinerary. I headed across country off-trail and climbed a hill to see what was there.

At the crest, I looked down to see what was dragging from my boot. It was the sole, as it turned out. It was completely separated, except for the toe cap.

“Uh, oh.”

So I started climbing back down. Then the other sole gave way. Both were now flapping off my boots, off-trail, in the middle of the desert.

These were my good boots–Asolos that have taken me from Alaska’s Kesugi Ridge Trail to Escalante. But they’re old. And they have cemented soles. And the thing about cemented soles is that they work great right up until they don’t. And then they fail, off-trail, in the middle of the desert.

I’ve stopped buying cemented soles for this reason. But these were my bulletproof Asolos that could take anything. Until today.

I was in no danger–I had water, food, a gun, means of making fire, a knife, means of signaling… And all I needed was the knife, which I used to cut off the flapping outsoles once I got back to the road.

But next time, I’m buying welted soles. You can see when they’re failing, and you can fix them. Oh, and I’m bringing duct tape. That would have helped.

From the Horse’s Mouth (and That of His Rider)

John G. Bourke and his truly heroic mustache.

John G. Bourke and his truly heroic mustache.

This year we’ve switched from having Anthony enrolled in an online private school to homeschooling him in a more do-it-yourself manner. We’re still using K12’s Grammar and Vocabulary lessons (I bought the full Language Skills package, but I’m ignoring their take on Literature and Composition). That let’s us address some of the kid’s complaints about last year’s packaged education. In particular, he was frustrated by the drive-by approach of many of his subjects–such as Literature dealing with excerpts from brooks rather than whole works, or History lessons that glancingly mentioned interesting topics before passing on to something else.

So this year we’re digging deeper. For History, Anthony is reading On the Border With Crook, Capt. John G. Bourke’s memoirs of life in the West, including service in the Indian wars, the hideous treatment of many of the defeated natives, and the cultures and people of the Southwest. Of particular interest, he was stationed for a while just down the road from us, at Camp Verde. Here’s Bourke’s take on how the disgusting condition of Tucson, including dead animals in the road, was incorporated into local direction-giving:

“You want to find the Governor’s ? Wa’al, podner, jest keep right down this yere street past the Palace sloon, till yer gets ter the second manure-pile on yer right ; then keep to yer left past the post-office, ‘n’ yer’ll see a dead burro in th’ middle of th’ road, ‘n’ a mesquite tree ‘n yer lef , near a Mexican ‘ tendajon ‘ (small store), ‘n’ jes’ beyond that’s the Gov.’s outfit. Can’t miss it. Look out fur th’ dawg down ter Mufioz’s corral; he’s a salviated son ov a gun.”

To quote Blazing Saddles‘ Olsen Johnson on Gabby Johnson, that’s some “authentic frontier gibberish.”

Actually, as much as that sounds like a bad Hollywood script, it is authentic. Bourke wrote in 1892, drawing on his own experience. It turns out that those script-writers weren’t being campy–they were drawing on history (not a shock when you realize that Wyatt Earp, in his later years, was a consultant to the early film industry).

Anyway, Bourke was a true scholar (on the board of the Anthropological Society) as well as a participant in the life of the West, and an engaging writer. I strongly recommend his work as an alternative to lifeless modern textbooks.

And, while we’re learning about the West, why not listen to it, too? While Anthony wrote in his History journal today, I put on Dave Alvin’s Public Domain, which draws on songs from the era. Let me leave you with “Texas Rangers.”

Shooting Lessons

Not every class with mom and dad involves diagramming sentences, the history of North American settlement, or (deep breaths, de-e-e-e-p breaths) long division. Sometimes the focus of the day can be the care and feeding of the boomstick. You may know this better as gun safety and good, old-fashioned shooting.

Much fun was had by all. The main attraction was a Ruger 10-22, which is a nice platform for teaching the basics. It’s easy to use (though something like a single-shot bolt-action like a Cricket would be even easier), accurate enough to avoid frustration, and offers no recoil to speak of.

The kid discovers a new favorite pastime

The kid discovers a new favorite pastime

Now that I’ve touted the charms of the Ruger 10-22 as a first boomstick, I’ll mention that he also did well with my wife’s Smith & Wesson .38 Special. Somehow, I didn’t get any pictures of him shooting the revolver, but he had no complaints about the recoil and took to it well, though he prefers the rifle.

How Not to Balance Homeschooling and a Full-Time Job

It’s been six weeks since I woke up with a crushing headache and essentially blind in one eye. I thought it was a visual migraine, of which I’ve had a few over the years. The weird geometric shapes obstructing the vision in my left eye, pain, and exhaustion all suggested that I was starting my last week of full-time work at Reason off with a whimper rather than a bang. I’d have to limp along through the day and make myself finish up the work I needed to get done to hand off my responsibilities.

But I didn’t feel much better the next day. Or the next. As my optometrist told me, before hustling me off to my primary care doc for a battery of tests that aren’t quite done yet, it wasn’t a migraine; it was a Central Retinal Vein Occlusion (CRVO). I’d thrown a blood clot and, instead of taking a left turn and handing me a stroke, it veered right, jammed itself into the back of my eye, and fucked up my eyesight (along with other interesting complications.

After enough blood draws to gag Count Dracula, monitoring of my blood-oxygen level while I sleep, extended recording of my blood pressure and resting heart rate, and a cardiac stress test, I now know that I’m in awesome shape (I was running at five miles an hour up an 18 percent incline to hit my target heart rate). Well, awesome except for that little blood clot to the eye thing.

The problem seems to be that I have a genetic predisposition for blood clots–my homocysteine level is almost double what it should be despite a healthy lifestyle. Nobody really knows whether the homocysteine level is a cause of trouble or just an indicator of it, but it correlates with heart disease and blood clots. And the risks associated with an elevated homocysteine level can apparently be exacerbated by stress.

I was under a lot of stress. I assumed that stress was the trigger for the migraine that I didn’t actually have; instead, the doctors say that it was probably the trigger for the CRVO that I did have.

Yes, there's a kid in there.

Yes, there’s a kid in there.

For the past year, I’d been juggling not just the demands of managing staff, scheduling stories, hiring contributors, etc., of my job, I’d also been homeschooling my son. My wife handled math in the morning, but I fielded most of the rest. The transition from a charter school to homeschooling wasn’t especially well-planned, though it was necessary (I’ll get into why in another post). But since we didn’t have time to shuffle things around, we just jammed it all into the existing schedule. That meant I didn’t really sit down all day, or focus on anything for more than 20 minutes at a time. By mid-spring, I knew this wasn’t sustainable. My wife was warning me that I was going to have a heart attack. So I gave two months notice, because my son is more important than the job, and he’s been thriving while learning at home. He’s where my emphasis has to be.

Maybe that was a week too much notice, in retrospect. But at least I didn’t have the heart attack.

The stress level is much lower now. I still write, but only a column a week. And the only management I have to do involves teaching plans, dogs, and meals. My son and I have time to really focus on lessons–and to build on them when they catch his interest. And now we can even get out of the house to field trips and spend time with other home-schooled kids (we’ve always had a lot around here, and the Sedona-Oak Creek School District’s ongoing disintegration is swelling the ranks).

And I’m learning some lessons too, about my mortality (who knew?) and that there are limits to what I can do. Maybe the kid will learn from me and not make the same mistake.

Oh, and I’ve regained most of my vision and my strength is coming back. Which is a good thing.

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