The Nah’wadass Sourcebook: The Sack of the Great Library

When a sudden storm drove a group of fruit-pickers into a cave for shelter, they had no idea that they were to discover a Nah’wadass document cache from the Late Decline period. When historians then found this document in that cache, they realized that a far greater source of documents would never be found. We have since discovered additional documents regarding the destruction of the Great Library of Wedemetess. Although that city was no longer the capital of the Nah’wadass nation, we know that Wedemetess retained a symbolic importance throughout the Decline periods. The loss of the Great Library, therefore, had to be of signal importance, communicating to one and all in the Nah’wadass nation that, without question, the remnants of the nation were not going to be regenerating lost glories.

The reference to the Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse would place this document confidently around 1250 years after the earliest known Nah’Wadass writings. The author’s tone and style indicate that he was at least a Scribe-Master and possibly even a Scribe-King, quite likely in hiding, seeking shelter from the political and cultural storm that drove him to that cave.

In the third year of the Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse, a great contention arose among the people. A famine had begun and the plague from the south was in its second year. And though there was peace on our frontiers, the Kinnikanhi being sore defeated, the Shizrek being recipients of our tribute, and the Ouliloulaei nearly dead to a man from the plague they brought from the south, the people turned upon themselves to visit agony, woe, and the shedding of blood to get gain. Truly, they did murder to get gain, forming this band of bandits or that in order to gain violent rulership over their neighbors or to protect themselves from rivals.

Among these bands of bandits, there were two main parties, those that acclaimed the Merchant-King D’jamanass Rindasse, cousin of the Law-King, and those that acclaimed the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene, whose brother was the murdered Law-King who did precede the Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse. Both of the Merchant-Kings who led the parties promised great riches to their followers, should they prevail, and they did struggle one with another mightily. Those who had no stomach for murder, they did then make their slaves. And thus was the nation plunged into riot and bloodshed over riches.

For the Merchant-Kings themselves had once been as brothers, and they had unified in their use of secret murders to destroy those that opposed them in trade and commerce. But they did have the thirst of greed, and no green under the snows could satisfy them. All had to be in their grasp and they did have no hope for the future save in what they could lay their own hands upon. They could not be content to be two rivers, flowing in parallel: they demanded that they be as honored as oceans.

They and their followers held no respect for neither Masters nor Kings, save those of the Merchant order. Even the Soldier-Masters and Soldier-Kings did they disparage, for the few in number of that order that did serve to keep peace were dedicated to the service along the borders, and the ones who kept peace in the cities and in the provinces they did overwhelm with their many bands of bandits. And so peace that should have been the nation’s by right by way of battle, tribute, and plague, did depart from the land, and the lamentations of the meek and humble did pour from their hearts.

And the bands of bandits and the Merchant-Kings who did call them up into their service did proclaim that there was no god that we know and that there was no custom of old to restrain the actions of a man. Truly, they did proclaim that a man rose and fell according to his own strength and cunning and that life did begin at birth and that it did end at death. Truly, they did proclaim that a man would only judge himself according to whatever standard he did set for himself. Truly, they did proclaim that a man with great power and great wealth would know no judge other than himself, and that he would be truly free to do the deeds that pleased his desires.

And even though the people who did still remember the god that we know did not interfere with their murders and their enterprises, the Merchant-King D’jamanass Rindasse and the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene did openly punish the thoughts of those that did remember, proclaiming that they were offended by such foolish and illogical practices. And even though the people who did still respect the customs of old did not interfere with their murders and their enterprises, the Merchant-King D’jamanass Rindasse and the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene did openly punish the thoughts of those that did respect, proclaiming that they were offended by such restrictive and unenlightened practices.

And though they did murder one another openly and in the streets and in the fields, they did unite in the destruction of both rememberance and respecting. Truly, they did deny that there was green under the snows, for what was unseen to them did not exist.

(The first fragment of this document ends here. The next part was written on a different type of leather, but the hand in which it was written matches that of the first document. Historians generally agree that the two documents combine as one and that both were written by the same person, most likely at around the same time. It is possible that there was a period of time that passed between writings, but we do not know if that period was a matter of moments or of years. Nevertheless, the chronicle does seem to be continuous.)

In the days of the first growths after the thaw, the supporters of the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene did move to strike against the Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse and did openly reject his rule. This did cause great commotion amongst their enslaved supporters, who did threaten themselves to set aside their desires for peace and to themselves kill those who had become as masters over them. The Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene then did declare that he needed no man in service to him that had rebellion in his heart, and he did move to have his bands of bandits slay those that did speak openly of the need to respect the Law-King, even if he was a corrupt and filthy Law-King, for such was the fear of the nation, that the Law-Kings they knew would be in the service of Merchant-Kings, and not in the service of the nation.

Truly, the bands of bandits did murder those who did speak openly, and this did quell the spirit of rebellion amongst those who were loathe to murder to get gain. This did then embolden the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene, who did proclaim that he would make war upon the history and the traditions of the nation, and that he would send forth his men to burn the Great Library of the ancient capital, even the hill that was no more a mountain of Wedemetess. He did proclaim that his men would burn all the records that they did find that did not pertain to the order of the Merchant, for he did proclaim that there was no value in such records, other than to stir the hearts of men into disobedience to the power and wealth of those that did hold such things. Truly, one does not respect power and wealth of men when one knows of things greater than the power and wealth of men.

And as the first growths began to wither in the heat of drought, the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene did march his bands of bandits to the place of Wedemetess, to make war upon the whole of the place, and the people who did remain in the hill that was no more a mountain did flee, for they did not want their blood to water the ground that was soon to be level where once there was a hill and where once there was a mighty mountain, with green under its snows. Truly, they did not want their blood to water the ground that would be a barren waste, and the bands of bandits that did serve the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene did march forth to a place of buildings once known as Wedemetess, where not even the spirits of ancestors would seek refuge.

But then did the Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse proclaim that he needed no ancient writing to justify his power and that he would himself demand the destruction of those writings, that he would prove with his continued retention of the seat of the Law-King that all he needed to hold that power was his own strength of mind and might. And so did the bands of bandits that followed after the Merchant-King D’jamanass Rindasse make a forced march to the place of desolation once known as Wedemetess, where now not even the spirits of the ancestors of the ancestors would seek refuge.

And thus did the mobs of bandits meet in the place of sorrow once known as Wedemetess, and they did commence to make war with each other over the power to take fire, acid, and water to the records of the Great Library of Wedemetess. Truly, many of the Scribe-Masters and Scribe-Kings of the nation did take what records they could carry, and did hide them in their places of hiding, even as I have done with the records in this place. And not even a small trickle could we save of that mighty flood which did course through the halls of the Great Library.

For I myself have seen with my own eyes the mighty halls of the Great Library of Wedemetess, and I myself have seen with my own eyes the mighty words kept in the mighty halls of the Great Library of Wedemetess, and I honor those halls and those words as I keep the traditions of old with my continued writing, and I honor those halls and those words as I remember the god that we know with my continued writing.

Truly, we are now hunted men in our nation, and our families dare not claim kinship to the Scribe-Masters and the Scribe-Kings, for fear of their own lives. I will not be a murderer of my kin, so I shall not claim them. I will not be a murderer of my ancestors, so I shall not mention the other places of hiding. I know of judges other than myself, and the writings that we place in secret places and the writings that we continue to write will keep the green under the snows that will one day endure to bear fruit once again.

But, truly, the fires did burn, the acids did dissolve, and the waters did make muddy sands, and the bands of bandits murdered each other as ferociously as they did murder the past and as ferociously as they did murder our ancestors. The Merchant-Kings that made war upon the nation did offer rewards both for the slaughter of leaders as well as the destruction of records. Great was the bounty of money paid out for those who did bring forth records for to be burned in the open, with slaves forced to watch, that they might report to their fellows that this had indeed happened and that, yet, the Merchant-Kings did rule with their wealth and their power.

And the slaves did lament that the god that we know made no miracle to save the writings, as he had made miracles to save our ancestors in days long ago. But the Speakers of Wisdom among them had no words of comfort, for the nation had long ago forgotten the traditions that must be observed as a nation for the nation to be blessed with miracles as a nation, and that only a man or a family might be so blessed with miracles of preservation, and only as that man or that family did observe the traditions necessary for preservation.

And as the dusts did blow across the lands and the famine grew even more sore, the bands of bandits that did follow after the Merchant-King D’jamanass Rindasse did declare that they had destroyed the greater part of the Great Library and that they had driven back the bands of bandits that did follow after the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene, that they could destroy no more that Great Library, but that the power to be found in its destruction would be all theirs.

This did cause the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene to rage and that rage did cause him to proclaim that those who did not take up arms for to murder would no longer be slaves, but would be dead. And he did order the arming of his own slaves, and his bands of bandits did slay many who refused to take up arms, even slaying of their own number who chose to lay down their arms rather than slay those with no defense.

But, truly, the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene did increase many fold the size of his army, and he did lead them unto the city of ruin and fire, even the barren desolation of Wedemetess, and his army did encircle that of the Merchant-King D’jamanass Rindasse. The army of the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene did raise the earth around the place of desolation, and they did fortify the earth that they had raised, that they might destroy the army of the Merchant-King D’jamanass Rindasse through siege and starvation. They delighted that they would destroy the Merchant-King D’jamanass Rindasse himself in the siege, for he had come unto the place of desolation that he personally would be one who murdered the ancestors in the destruction of the Great Library.

And, truly, as there was a famine in the land and little food to be had already, the bands of bandits entrapped in the desolation did soon turn upon each other, eating the flesh of the slain in order to sate their hunger. Few were the messengers that did escape the riot of violence in the desolation, and fewer still were the messengers that brought word to the Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse.

But word did travel to the Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse, and he did call forth to the soldiers on the frontiers, from all the borders around the nation, and did raise a call to the slaves of his cousin, the Merchant-King D’jamanass Rindasse, giving them command to destroy the bands of bandits of the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene. The soldiers from the east and the soldiers from the west did heed the call of the Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse, for the eastern borders were quiet and the Shizrek from the west were sated with tribute. But the soldiers of the north did not heed the call, for the Kinnikanhi would not be defeated in the absence of strength. The Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse did call for the head of the Soldier-King of the North Gibetemes Hararegha, but no man would heed that call, and thus did the Soldier-King of the North Gibetemes Hararegha keep peace in the lands of the northern borders.

No man did respond to the call to the soldiers of the south, so great was the plague in the lands of the southern borders. Not even the messengers sent unto those lands did return, and great was the fear that they did perish in the plague.

But, truly, the Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse did bring together an army of soldiers from the east and soldiers from the west and from volunteers among the slaves of his cousin, the Merchant-King D’jamanass Rindasse, and the Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse did march at the front of the army, even though a Soldier-King he was not. He did care little for the very traditions which had made him a Law-King, choosing to rule through despotic force rather than accept the legitimacy which did flow from his predecessors unto him. Such was the woe of our nation!

When the army of the Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse appeared on the high ridge of Itememe, which oversees the whole of the land around the desolation of Wedemetess, they did raise high their standards and called aloud to their fellows still alive, who did respond with a shout of their own, though it was weak in strength and number. The bands of bandits of the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene were thrown into disarray at the sight of the army of the Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse, and they knew not whether they should maintain their siege or deploy in strength to face the bands of bandits encircled or the army on the high ridge.

The Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene then gave the order to fall upon the band of bandits in the desolation of Wedemetess, giving the call to destroy them, then to retreat in the face of the army of the Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse. Truly, his men did rush over the mounds of earth that they had raised around the desolation of Wedemetess, and they did make savage battle upon the weakened bands of bandits that followed after the Merchant-King D’jamanass Rindasse, putting them to death by the ten, and by the hundred, and by the thousand.

At the sight of this, the Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse did order his army to rush to the rescue of his cousin, the Merchant-King D’jamanass Rindasse, but truly did his army loathe the men that they were ordered to rescue. As the Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse stood, shouting at the army which he had raised, the Soldier-King of the West Agamnos Eretemoas, drew his sword and smote the leg of the Law-King Nedetar Weketem Rindasse. Truly, the men of the army cheered the smiting of the despot, and the Soldier-King of the West Agamnos Eretemoas removed the mask and the robes of the Law-King and Weketem Rindasse was a Law-King no more.

The Soldier-King of the West Agamnos Eretemoas called for any Law-Master that might be in the ranks of the volunteers, and one stepped forward. The Soldier-King of the West Agamnos Eretemoas did hand over the mask and the robes of the Law-King to the Law-Master Kepemess Harakamos and gave him a charge to rise to the stature necessary to truly honor the title of Law-King one day. But, truly, on this day, the nation had no Law-King. Only three times had this disaster befallen the nation, and this was the fourth, as the forces of the warring Merchant-Kings destroyed each other in the desolation of Wedemetess.

And so, the Soldier-King of the West Agamnos Eretemoas ordered the army to march slowly to the desolation of Wedemetess, to destroy the abominations of the Merchant-Kings.

But, in the meantime, the Merchant-King D’jamanass Rindasse had fallen to the arms of the bands of bandits that followed the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene. As the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene held high the head of the slain Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene on the tip of a spear, he pointed to the descending army, marching from the high ridge of Itememe, and called to the bands of bandits that now had no more leader, proclaiming that they would be slaughtered no more if they would go up to battle against the descending army. Truly he did proclaim that if they fought for their freedom and lived, they would be numbered among his own forces. But they were made to march at the front of the forces of the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene, which did cause them to fight with a sore desperation.

As the Soldier-King of the West Agamnos Eretemoas observed the cessation of slaughter in the desolation of Wedemetess, he did order the army to return to the crest of the ridge, as the army was small in number compared to the mobs of bands of bandits. Truly, they had hoped for the bands of bandits to destroy each other before facing them in battle, but now they faced them united in their desperation and greater numbers.

When the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene saw that the army had retreated, he ordered his bands of bandits to first complete the destruction of the Great Library, for that was the delight of his plan, to block the source of the tradition which he did revolt against.

As the bands of bandits under the rule of the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene toppled the stone and burned the wood of the Great Library of Wedemetess, they dared not move from their crest, lest the bands of bandits overtake them in their march and overwhelm them with their greater numbers.

After the destruction of the Great Library was complete and all its documents destroyed with fire and with acid and with water, the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene saw that he could not prevail against the army on the high ridge of Itememe, and that truly that army could not prevail against him in the field. He marched his men back to the capital, from where they would make slaves of those that had served under the slain Merchant-King as well as those that had served under his cousin, the Law-King that was no more.

As the Soldier-King of the West Agamnos Eretemoas saw the bands of bandits of the Merchant-King Danaweka Ketemene leave the desolation of Wedemetess, he made an offer to the volunteers that had marched with him. They could choose between returning to the eastern borders or the western borders in the escort of the soldiers returning to those regions, or they could go to the north or the south and fare as they might. None desired to return to the lands that would be under the rule of a Merchant-King who had forgotten both the god we know and the traditions that guide us.

Our nation is now divided: with the south yet lost in plague, the borders of the west, north, and east no longer respecting the center, and the center ruled by the bandits of the Merchant-King.

I was a witness to these events and I did receive reports from others who witnessed them, so I know this record is true. Truly, this is true and may my ancestors be pleased with the work I have done in their honor.

The Nah’wadass Sourcebook: A Funeral Oration for a Law-King

While all men have certain basic motivations in common, it would be highly inaccurate to ascribe all of our motivations to the Nah’wadass. Even though their language, place names, laws, and ideas have a powerful grasp upon the modern world, we do not see the world through the same eyes. The often sharp differences between the ancient Nah’wadass and our age are vividly illustrated in this funeral oration for Naman Wadetess Sefeten, one of the five Law-Kings of the Nah’wadass nation during the Early Decline period, when their capital was still the great city of Wedemetess. The oration was likely to have been written by one or more of the Scribe-Kings, and then subsequently delivered by an Actor-King, as was the Nah’wadass custom. We only have the document itself and the name of the subject to go with, and thus the persons involved in the artistic output will remain unknown to us, even though we have the names of persons who might have produced the work in the time of Naman Wadetess Sefeten.

Naman Wadetess Sefeten: a name that now lies beneath us. He becomes part of the ground we walk upon. He mingles his name with the grasses and crops. He will meet the god we know and the god we know forever remembers the names of all things. We know not the names of all our forefathers, who have lived above our day, but the god we know will list them to us in the bounties of the valleys we enjoy.

Naman Wadetess Sefeten: long did he serve as a man of laws, long did he give service to our great nation, long did he speak the words to govern the nation, long did he watch over us as the Three Mounts of It’hwazsin, green under the snows. His words filled the courts of both capital and province. His judgments became part of the great rivers of governance that sustain the growth and regeneration of our nation.

Naman Wadetess Sefeten: we who know his name, we who will not forget the name generations yet unborn will never know, we who have felt in our own hearts the bounty of his words, we who will no more hear the words of law from his lips, we now consider his life and what god he served. We will then know of his value in the days yet to come, in the lives yet to come, in the bounties yet to be harvested, in the waters yet to flow.

Naman Wadetess Sefeten: Let us now begin with the accounting of his life. Let us judge him as he judged us. Let us look upon the path he walked, to see what road it joins. Let us look down that road to see what destination it reaches.

As the days of his age became burdened with pains and sickness, he did take off the mask of a Law-King and he did take off the robes of a Law-King. But always he kept his dignity and his endurance in his last days was mighty to behold. He did taste of the mint from his garden on his last day to draw breath, and well-deserved was that final sweetness. May his nobility and greatness of spirit flow down to his children and to us as a nation.

When he wore the mask and robes of a Law-King, he spoke carefully the words of the laws that the god we know would want us to have. The god of laws smiled upon this Law-King. We all remember when the cities of Makapess and Tene did dispute over the flow of the river in their lands: it was this Law-King that brought just settlement to that case. We all remember when Ekemenos, the Carving-King, needed a block of granite to honor the mighty soldiers that defended our western shores: this Law-King lent his shoulder and back to bring the granite from the high mount to here in Wedemetess. We all remember when Vinkat Pasan of the Khotikal demanded war from his people to avenge his business losses: it was this Law-King that kept the soldiers in their homes with his wise rulings. We all remember when the floods destroyed the town of Erepe: it was this Law-King who spoke the words that gave them new lands and new lives in the cities of our nation. Let these sacred four acts speak for the legacy of this Law-King.

When did this man sin? Before he did penance. When did this man err? Before he gave apology. When did this man make a mistake? Before he made a correction. When did this man offend? Before he took back his words.

He did do his work as a man of law, as a student, as a novice, as a master, and as a king.

He honored our rituals. He observed our fasts. He let his ancestors speak through his voice. He made his way to the holy places.

The road walked by this man, therefore, is worthy of our own feet. This is a man who pleased his people as well as the god we know. We can commend him as he begins the life of an ancestor, may he speak wisdom to us as long as we have ears to hear it.

The Nah’wadass Sourcebook: A General Pleads for Reinforcements

One of the first known Nah’wadass documents is this fragment from a period in their later history, around 900-1100 years after their earliest known writings. What is known about the context is that the Nah’wadass decline was already well underway, and that their lands were under constant assault from outside invaders. This document, written on leather and found in an archive of the Nah’wadass capital of the Late Decline period, is unquestionably a plea for help from a commander far afield. We do not know the name of this general or where he served, although there are some hints that he may have been along the northern frontier in a steppe region, given the emphasis he places on horsemen in his request. We know that he did not think that his position must not have been dire enough for him to say all was lost, but then again, we do not have any record that reinforcements were sent or that he survived this encounter. Indeed, it is quite possible that he and his forces perished in battle some time after he wrote this letter, much as Nah’wadass armies were being overwhelmed in the west by the seaborne marauders that had already destroyed the Khotikal Empire.

(The top portion of this letter is missing: it begins in the middle of the general describing his strategic and tactical situation.)

… and that captain heeded not my warnings about the stratagems employed by the marauders, for all but five men under his command perished in battle, and those five are of no use to me now but to carry provisions and to work in camp, for no more will they go up against the long-haired riders, who scream with fearsome ululations as they gather for battle. Therefore, send not men from the provinces, farmers and laborers, unfit for the martial life. I have no need for men that cannot follow an order. They are better suited for the production of foods with which to feed my men and their comrades in other places, fighting other battles, for I know that we are not the only ones sorely pressed.

Most fearsome are the tortures the long-haired riders employ against our officers, even on the field of battle. When you send to me men that wear the green scarf of command, send men that wear it because of their valor and not for their grace. The captains and lieutenants who wear that honored green must be men that can fight to the death, for I do not want to have to discover them after they have been captured, for I shall to be forced to kill them, for no man among us has the means to heal or even bring peace to those that the long-haired riders have driven their stakes into. Know that those terrible riders will do the same to you, ere they reach our lands of our ancestry, and that we fight here for your survival.

Do you not care to look upon the world, untroubled and unstarved? Then send unto me a thousand mounted soldiers of the finest skill, for the battles we face are desperate and wild. Send also unto me many scouts, men of keen senses who know the ways well where we fight. Please allow them to serve in the land of their birth, even though we have long honored the traditions of our fathers to send soldiers to opposite corners of the nation. The times we struggle in are not those of our revered fathers, so let us honor their memory in not clutching their ways with dying hands. There are many miles between battles for us, and without men who know this land as their home, we are lost. With those men, glory and honor shall be our fate. Let those men flow unto us, and we shall make the valleys of war blossom.

Let those men flow unto us, and we will know that the Three Mounts of It’hwazsin are yet green under their snows. Let those men flow unto us, and we will know that the rains still fall and the sun still sends life. Let those men flow unto us, and be the sun and cloud and great mount of our salvation. For if we are fated to send what we have in abundance unto you, it is only destruction and slaughter, for the long-haired riders spare none of our people in their path. Their god is terrible and cruel and insists upon the blood of captives to sate his thirst. He is not a god of kindness and bountiful harvests, such as we know. Let the thousand riders flow unto us, lest the iron spikes of the long-haired riders be driven into

(Here is where the fragment ends. No corroborating documents have been found to date. The long-haired riders mentioned in the letter may have been the Sholekek, who we know were active in pillaging the northern reaches of the Nah’wadass nation during the time period corresponding to the period when this letter was written. The Sholekek were known for their ferocity and inhuman cruelties and presented a crisis situation for the Nah’wadass until the Sholekek themselves were driven away by the sorcerers of Himikoinkannen.)

The Big Reboot: 17

The bell to end lunch rang, right when there was about to be a big reveal in the Bollywood. Mr. Webb hit the pause button, causing all the kids watching it to go, “Awww! Just one more minute?”

“You’ll get your minute tomorrow. Time to get to class.” The film fans filed out as the AP Economics kids shuffled back in. Before Mr. Webb could get back to the tunes to shuffle into class by, one of his AP students, the very art-student-y Michele Barta, asked as she entered, “How come you’re not teaching AP Government anymore?”

It was the first day of school and all the books had been handed out… why not give her an honest answer? It would kill off the rest of the period, but what the heck, right?

“I don’t teach AP Government anymore because the material tested on has no connection to reality anymore, and there’s not enough time to cover reality in addition to teaching the stuff you have to know for the test. AP Economics is also divorced from reality, but it’s not as complete as in AP Government, and I also have enough time in AP Eco to cover what’s actually going on. Rather than choose between teaching propaganda and getting good test scores, teaching the truth and getting ripped up one side and down the other by administration for a poor passing rate, and not teaching it at all, I choose to not teach it at all.”

“What do you mean it’s not connected to reality anymore?”

“Well, Michele, it’s like this… AP Government is about how things are supposed to work, with a few considerations for some issues, for lack of a stronger word, that face the system. It’s a curriculum that, at the end of the day, holds a view that the system is functional and that our votes matter and make a difference in every election. I don’t think that’s the case anymore, and that it hasn’t been that way for over a hundred years.”

“A hundred years? What?”

Some other students had come in and were standing beside Michele, as outraged as she was. They didn’t know exactly why, but they were anticipating something huge. Mr. Webb had a reputation for being right, a reputation Mr. Webb himself promoted and reinforced with his “told you so!”-style commentaries on current events.

“Have a seat, ladies and germs, and I’ll spill the beans on the whole government caper.”

They took their seats and got ready for the big answer to Michele’s question. Pretty much everyone was back, except for Isaac Feknes, one of the guys that seemed to be without sufficient clues to make it through the year. Oh well, this stuff wasn’t on the test. He could miss it and still live to see another day.

Mr. Webb displayed a one-page document on the overhead for everyone to read, then zoomed in on the text so that everyone could really read it and not just nod their head at fuzzy-looking letters. The document read:

The Control of Political Machinery
The American government,—city, state and nation—is in almost the same position as the schools, newspapers and churches. It does not turn out tangible, economic products. It depends, for its support, upon taxes which are levied, in the first instance, upon property. Who are the owners of this property? The business interests. Who, therefore, pay the bills of the government? The business interests.
Nowhere has the issue been stated more clearly or more emphatically than by Woodrow Wilson in certain passages of his “New Freedom.” As a student of politics and government—particularly the American Government—he sees the power which those who control economic life are able to exercise over public affairs, and realizes that their influence has grown, until it overtops that of the political world so completely that the machinery of politics is under the domination of the organizers and directors of industry.
“We know,” writes Mr. Wilson in “The New Freedom,” “that something intervenes between the people of the United States and the control of their own affairs at Washington. It is not the people who have been ruling there of late” (p. 28). “The masters of the government of the United States are the combined capitalists and manufacturers of the United States…. Suppose you go to Washington and try to get at your government. You will always find that while you are politely listened to, the men really consulted are the men who have the biggest stakes—the big bankers, the big manufacturers, the big masters of commerce, the heads of railroad corporations and of steamship corporations…. Every time it has come to a critical question, these gentlemen have been yielded to and their demands have been treated as the demands that should be followed as a matter of course. The government of the United States at present is a foster-child of the special interests” (p. 57-58). “The organization of business has become more centralized, vastly more centralized, than the political organization of the country itself” (p. 187). “An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy” (p. 35). “We are all caught in a great economic system which is heartless” (p. 10).
This is the direct control exercised by the plutocracy over the machinery of government. Its indirect control is no less important, and is exercised in exactly the same way as in the case of the channels of public opinion.
Lawyers receive preferment and fees from business—there is no other large source of support for lawyers. Judges are chosen from among these same lawyers. Usually they are lawyers who have won preferment and emolument. Legislators are lawyers and business men, or the representatives of lawyers and business men. The result is as logical as it is inevitable.
The wealth owners control the machinery of government because they pay the taxes and provide the campaign funds. They control public officials because they have been, are, or hope to be, on the payrolls, or participants in the profits of industrial enterprises.

– Scott Nearing, The American Empire (1921)

This excerpt details the connection between interest groups and political influence, including the “revolving door” phenomenon described at the end. Another strong connection between interest groups and government is the “iron triangle” where interest groups, government bureaucracies, and congressional committees all work together to create legislation and regulation regimes that ultimately work to the benefit of the parties involved, even at the cost of uninvolved groups.

“The last paragraph is mine, and Wilson’s comments come from his 1912 presidential campaign. That’s where I get the 100-year figure. Stuff like this was obvious even back then, and it’s much more pervasive and powerful now. I can’t in good conscience teach that politicians vote according to the dictates of their conscience, not all the time. These guys in Congress spend well over half their time in office raising money in phone banks organized by the party and big fancy dinners.”

“Half their time?”

“At least.”

“So when do they meet in session?”

“Not often.” Mr. Webb’s assessment brought out a frown on everyone’s face but one: Jerome Hudl had fallen asleep already.

The bell rang for people tardy to the second half of 4th period after B lunch. Still no Isaac Feknes.

Matt Woyzeck raised his hand. “Do they still get paid if they don’t show up to vote or meet?”

“Yes. Their salary is something like $174K a year. Nice work, if you can get it. But they get sweeter bonuses with the information they have from being in Congress. What’s insider trading for you and me is Congressional privilege for Senators and Congressmen. They make out like bandits, literally. Only the honest Congressmen die poor. Looking at the net wealth of the average Congressman, there aren’t many honest ones in either house.”

Chas Carson chuckled from the thrones. “Hey, go big or go home. My dad’s a lobbyist, and he’s always complaining about politicians calling him up, begging him for money, promising votes on this or that if he comes across with a donation.”

“There you go.” Mr. Webb pointed at Chas. “I can’t teach a course that ignores stuff like that. Therefore, I can’t teach AP Government any more. I mean, if we have time at the end of some classes, I can show you stuff that I put together over the years, but it’s way too cynical for the test. Way way way way way too cynical.”

Stan Keller, another throne man, asked, “Like… how cynical?”

“Cynical like this.” Mr. Webb fired up another document, Notes.pdf, and the page that came up read as follows:

How a Politician Gets Elected

1. If the politician is an incumbent and didn’t make any interest groups angry while he served his term of office, he gets re-elected.
2. If the incumbent dies, makes an interest group mad at him, or gets caught in a major scandal, someone else must fill his seat. There will be a for-reals election.
3. All politicians that are neither Democrats or Republicans are free to contest the election, but they will lose. They need to have a job to fall back on after November.
4. The Democrats and Republicans will hold primaries to determine who will represent them in the November election. Whichever persons appeal most to the radical, goofball, and raving lunatic sections of each party will win the primary.
5. Once nominated, each candidate will claim that they will run a clean campaign, then they will set about mudslinging and negative campaigning. Whichever candidate runs the most negative campaign stands a good chance of winning.
6. If neither candidate runs a negative campaign, or the campaigns are equally negative, whichever candidate looks the best will have a good chance of winning. Ugly candidates can ask good-looking people to campaign for them.
7. If a candidate lost a primary election, he can run as an independent to keep the guy that beat him in the primary from winning the November election.
8. If both candidates are equally negative and equally ugly, whichever one gets mentioned the most has a good chance of winning. Getting mentioned involves spending money on advertising, so whoever can raise the most money stands a really good chance of winning the election.
9. Raising money involves going to people and interest groups and grovelling. Whoever can grovel the best will raise the most money.
10. Often, interest groups will give money to a candidate on the condition that he will prostitute his vote for them. This is known as a “reciprocally beneficial relationship.” Prostitutes prefer the latter term, as it means they won’t be compared with objectionable politicians.
11. If a candidate looks like he’ll lose the election if it is contested fairly, he can try to win it by engaging in criminal activities. Criminal activities include the following activities, but are not limited to them: bribery, acceptance of cash from illegal donors, blackmail, whisper campaigns, vote tampering, vote fraud, vote count tampering, threats of violence, assassination, burglary, vandalism, “clearing” of voter records.
12. Whoever counts the votes has ultimate say on who the winner of the election is and if the election will be fair.
13. Whoever gets the most votes, wins. This usually means the best-looking candidate with the most money raised and connections to interest groups that has a sympathetic election judge and no “independent” challenger to deal with will win. Provided he doesn’t get caught for any dirty tricks…
14. In a 2-man race, a majority of votes wins. In a 3-man (or more) race, a plurality wins.

“Daaaaaaamn, that’s cynical.” Stan let his jaw hang open after saying that.

Michele looked like she was about to cry. “I want to puke.”

Chas laughed. Mr. Webb figured that he probably knew that it was worse than what was in the notes. Optimists always know things can be worse, which is why they find it so easy to laugh.

Everyone else was in shock, except for Hudl, who slept on. Isaac Feknes walked back in.

“Where the hell have you been, Feknes?” Mr. Webb wasn’t happy with the break in the revelations, but the rest of the class was glad for the comic relief.

“I didn’t know lunch was over.”

“How long have you been a student here?”

“This is my fourth year.”

“And you didn’t know how we roll with B lunch? Are you an idiot or something?”

“No.” Isaac’s back stiffened at the insinuation that he might be an idiot.

“Then you admit you’re lying about not knowing lunch was over. What were you doing, making out with your girlfriend that has C lunch?” Mr. Webb didn’t know for sure, but it was an educated guess that was what was going on.

Isaac went from indignant to shocked.

Chas, Stan, and the third throne man, Sean Ortiz, shouted in unison, “Called it! Boom!”

Mr. Webb broke out in laughter and decided, then and there, that these three guys were going to do just fine in his class. They had the right attitude and weren’t afraid to participate. Isaac Feknes, on the other hand, seemed likeliest to join Mr. Hudl in making this time of day his little nap-time.

Mr. Webb cut his laughter off, suddenly and completely, and fixed a cold glare on Isaac. “Don’t you dare come in late to my class like that again, Mr. Feknes. Do you understand me?”

Isaac nodded, but it was the unenthusiastic nod of a person that had no intention of keeping his word.

Mr. Webb kept mental note of that reaction and pointed at a chair. “Have a seat. Try and keep up. We’re talking about the near-complete control major corporations and interest groups have on the government.”

Michele groaned and pitched forward, her face almost hitting the table.

Mr. Webb put a picture of baby otters on the overhead. Michele looked up and smiled. All the girls and most of the boys said, “Awwww!” Only sleeping Hudl and clueless Feknes had no reaction.

Mr. Webb minimized the picture so the cruel assessment of the election process was back in view. “Uhhhh…” Michele was sad again.

“I’ll have more happy pictures before we leave, OK?”

Michele perked up a little. “OK.”

Matt asked, “So, there’s nothing we can do about this?”

“Not unless you have a few million dollars, and then you become part of this with that kind of money.”

“What about a revolution?”

“Not likely. We’re much more likely to see a suspension of liberties and the imposition of an authoritarian regime that has the trappings and procedures of democracy, but actual power concentrated in the hands of a few. And liberties have been steadily eroded for quite some time, now, so what’s in the Bill of Rights is only so much window dressing, when it all comes down to it. You have the rights the government allows you to have. If the government calls you a terrorist and chucks you into a prison somewhere in Egypt or Poland, how are you going to let your lawyer know that your rights are being violated? You won’t. Heck, you don’t even have to leave the country. There are federal medical institutions where people can be involuntarily committed without access to lawyers or due process. Medical incarceration is an old KGB trick, by the way. But if you’re in one of those holes, how do you get out?”

Matt had no fire left in him for the revolution. “You don’t.”

“You don’t, that’s right, which is why I’m making a study of life under authoritarian regimes. I want to be ready for the future. It’s not all that bad, really. Some freedoms, they don’t care if you have or not.”

Feknes was already asleep. Wanda Ngo pointed at him and Hudl with a questioning look, as if to ask what to do about them.

“Let ’em sleep. Don’t do anything mean to them, but don’t wake them up. If they can’t stay awake here, they seriously need to consider dropping the course.”

Wanda looked confused. “But you can’t drop an AP course in the first six weeks.”

“You can if you’re about to fail and your parents demand that you get out of there, which is what’s going to happen to them both if the counselor won’t listen to reason.”

The bell was about to ring, so Mr. Webb put up a picture of a baby girl in a swing decorated with brightly-colored primary color beads. The baby girl was holding a sleeping kitty.

“Awwww!”

The bell rang and Feknes and Hudl woke up. Mr. Webb called them to his desk. “You guys need to drop this class and get into regular.”

Without saying a word the two almost nodded and shuffled out. Mr. Webb played Foghat’s “Slow Ride” as they exited the room.

The Big Reboot: 16

And then the bell rang to dismiss everyone for B Lunch, smack in the middle of 4th period. 28 minutes of either standing in a cafeteria line to buy something that could be wolfed down in the time remaining after purchase, or of warming up something in a microwave… and wolfing it down in the time remaining after warming up.

Mr. Webb was now to the point where he’d eat soup straight out of a can, just to save time. Travel in Russia had taught him that there were times when food was fuel, nothing more, and that it wasn’t necessary to have a culinary delight at every meal. As long as he had a spot of something sweet to chase the rough lunch, that would be all that would matter. If dessert was to be had, it wasn’t necessary to have the most flavorful or palatable lunch. Time was of the essence in the high school lunch game.

When he did microwave something, he preferred simplicity. None of this, “put a slit in the film above the pasta and cook on high for three minutes, then remove the film and cook on high for an additional minute and a half”. How about just cut the film and cook four minutes? Or better still, get something that heats up in a minute? That’s more like it. Who’s got time for putting slits in the film, anyway?

Eating in the teachers’ lounge was totally out of the question. First off, it was a three-minute walk to the lounge. That meant a trip to the lounge would leave a guy with just 22 minutes for lunch… and a line at the microwave, behind every teacher whose classroom was closer to the lounge. Minutes would burn as other teachers dutifully put slits in their films.

Worse, though, was the poison in the air. True, dealing with idiots always requires a certain amount of venting in order to cope with the ordeal. But the purpose of the venting was to ascertain in your peers a hope that not all humanity was doomed, that there was at least one other person that had decent sense and at least rudimentary problem-solving skills: in the lounge, there were those that vented because they were, at heart, complainers. They didn’t want to see things get better. They just wanted to wallow in the mire of self-pity and enjoy the sickening chemical releases in the brain that went along with such activities. They were teaching because of some deep masochistic streak in their core. They would always have something to complain about.
Being around those kinds of teachers was a vampiric experience. Lunch would be a net drain on the soul, after being in a room with those guys for 22 minutes, in addition to the grind of standing in a line just as frustrating as the one the kids had to endure.

A Lunch came early in the day, but there was always plenty to be had in A Lunch. The cafeteria lines were well-stocked and if someone had put goodies in the teachers’ lounge, there were plenty to be had. B Lunch was all right. It came at the right time of day for lunch and there were still some decent scraps to be had after the A Lunch crowd had had its fill. C Lunch was often an exercise in compromise and being philosophical. Many was the day that the pizza or burger line ran out in the cafeteria by C Lunch and no teachers’ lounge treat survived past B Lunch, not even the nasty stuff. If you wanted to eat well in C Lunch, you had to bring your own food.

Or, you could have it brought to you. Although the office had stopped accepting bags of fast food dropped off by parents in the middle of the day, kids in the know could still have a friend hold open an exit while they ran to the parking lot to get a sack of burgers or tacos from mom. There wasn’t really enough time to get out to a lunch place and get back in time, unless one had both a car and the luxury of not having a class scheduled during third period. It was most unusual to have a gap in the middle of the day, but not impossible for the seniors signed up for just the right classes.

There was also the boon of a lenient 4th period teacher. If someone mentioned a trip to the egg roll factory from Bistro V, lenience could be had for two or three egg rolls in Mr. Webb’s room. Nicky Tran knew how to bargain her way through the system last year: “The egg rolls are four for a dollar, and they’re the best in town.”

Mr. Webb had but one question: “Are they Vietnamese?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t even bother to ask if they weren’t.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Vietnamese egg rolls are the best in the world. One does not pass up on an opportunity to savour the delights. Mr. Webb let other kids chip in their dollars, and Nicky would take the hit on tax and Mr. Webb’s share. The trip would take maybe five minutes more than what everyone had allotted for lunch, so all Nicky needed was to be able to leave a little early and for someone to be ready to let her in when she showed up with the hot, steaming, delicious delights from cooks that had once known the streets of old Saigon.

Oh, it was worth it, all right. The second half of fourth period always went well when it was cushioned with an actual decent lunch that could be eaten somewhat leisurely. It was a basic human dignity denied to everyone else in the building without knowledge of or access to the amazing egg rolls of Bistro V, but Mr. Webb saw the need to carve out an exception to the rules to make way for something that was good for his students.

And though there were times when Nicky Tran abused the privilege, she was never arrogant about it. And though there were times when students got a little rebellious, they never threatened blackmail over the egg roll express. It was too important, too transcendent an institution to be petty about. It cemented the loyalty of the class, as they combined against the inhumanity of a damnable 28-minute lunch.

There was always the chance that Mr. Webb would be caught and found out in this scheme, but he had a card in his hand that he was ready to play if it led to anything more than a “don’t do that again.” State law required all teachers to have a 30-minute, duty-free lunch. Not 28 minutes. 30. As in two more than the high school allowed. One headline would follow another: “Teacher Fired in Egg Roll Incident”, then “Principal Sued Over Lack of Lunchtime”. Mr. Webb’s legal experiences in the EDCISD had taught him to never sue the district, always sue the individual. Always.

There were other campuses with smaller enrollments that had 45-minute, or even hour-long lunches. Teller was just too big and its cafeteria too small to accommodate such basic decencies. The full-size fridge and two microwaves in Mr. Webb’s room were not just for his own use: they were for everyone. Lunch demanded humanization when it was only 28 minutes long.

Which was why, as some students filed in to watch the Bollywood, Mr. Webb finished off his can of soup. More time for the kids to use the microwaves, that way, and that meant that much more kindness and mercy in their lives.

“What movie are we starting with this year?” A regular from the last two years popped her head into the room.

“Kal Ho Naa Ho.”

“Oh my gosh, I love that one!” Before you could say, “Naina kaash mein tumhe bataa sakta”, she and three friends had already moved into the front seats, ready to cry their eyes out.

Changes for the US Senate?

The short answer is, yes, in that it will be Harry Reid blocking everything with a filibuster instead of Mitch McConnell. So what if the GOP gets a majority of anything less than 60 of 100 senators? Short of that number, the opposition can block everything, which is exactly what they did while in the minority.

I’d expect that if the GOP wins in the Senate, we’d see the celebrations cut short by the rift within the Republican party between the old hands and the young bucks of the Tea Party faction. We may yet see the Democrats yield the floor to filibustering Republicans shooting down their own party’s agenda.

Sure, the President can veto bills that cross his desk – it takes just one guy to block a law – but those laws don’t even get to his desk if at least 41 guys in the Senate decide to block a law. The Democrats could barely trickle out legislation with a majority of 55 in the Senate. The GOP will be hard pressed to do better with a majority of 51.

And as for the nearly $4 billion spent on the elections this year… it’s just more evidence that the people that do get into government are strongly beholden to certain interests, at the very least. Quite a few are bought outright. This is why the richest Americans get Quantitative Easing bank account boosts and the poorest get a no-fly zone and assaulted journalists when they have unaddressed needs. We’ve got Soviet-style apparatchniks engaging in a kleptocratic, autocratic looting of the nation. This has been going on for some time. It’s just more apparent with each passing election and mania/crash economic cycle.

Putin’s Valdai Conference Speech

Go here: Club Orlov and scroll down to read the speech, then back up to read Dmitri Orlov’s analysis. This is a very important speech. It defines the threat posed by the USA to the rest of the world as clearly as Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech drew out the perils of the USSR. Russia today is not the USSR of old: and, the Cold War over, the USA’s empire building has become progressively more apparent and violent.

I do not admire Mr. Putin, but I respect what he has to say, which itself can be interpreted on many levels. He’s a hardliner, no question about it: there is not a shred of idealism in what he has to say. On the other hand, his honesty is refreshing. His strategy is such that it can play out successfully even if his opponents are aware of it.

This, then, points out the danger to the USA, particularly a danger from within. The USA is acting as if it were the sole superpower in a world that is no longer unipolar. China and Russia have no intention of running their nations to the benefit of Wall Street bankers, and they are enabling other nations to break free of entanglements with American financial and power structures. When the USA “steps on the same rake” over and over again by using extremists to topple democratically-elected governments that won’t dance to the tune playing from Washington DC, it further antagonizes the rest of the world, which is by now tired of seeing US-sponsored “freedom fighters” turn out to actually be al-Qaeda affiliates, neo-Nazis, and Islamic State soldiers. Remember all those Baathists that the USA ejected from power in Iraq in 2003? They’re turning up in IS forces.

Putin’s speech is very important, and it points to how the USA must now behave as it did in the Cold War: taking measures carefully, so as not to make mistakes that would destroy nations.

Rain

It finally arrived, and none too soon… I love fall rains and listening to sparse acoustic guqin or koto music. I like to smell the earth, as the microbes in the ground release their water-activated scents… are they giving thanks? Not in a scientific sense, no… but spiritually, the music tells me that there is a harmony involved, that in the harmony, there is a love, and where there is love, there is gratitude.

The plants, the soil, the rains, the winds, the clouds, the vines, the rocks, the insects, the worms, the mushrooms, the grasses, the birds, the squirrels, the bushes, the unity of all these things and more, such is life. Such is the stuff of life. And here, I take pleasure in the way it is all brought together in the world of the shower.

Periodically, the leaves bend to let the water fall closer to the earth. The leaves take a rest from eating sunlight to drink their fill from the water as it returns to the earth. And there is harmony, the likes of which it takes a great stillness to see.

I love the rain, because it causes me to pray without realizing it.

The Spirit of Thanksgiving

Last year, I started listening to Christmas music the day after Halloween. Truth be told, I received some rightly deserved criticism for slighting Thanksgiving in such a fashion. In my defense, there is not much music about Thanksgiving in an outright way like there is about Christmas. So, this year, I took on a challenge to find the music of Thanksgiving, and, in the process, find the Spirit of Thanksgiving, which I expected to be every bit as vital and life-affirming as the Spirit of Christmas, which I have grown to love over the years.

My journey started with Johnny Cash. He has two songs about Thanksgiving, and both brought warmth to my heart and tears to my eyes. Johnny Cash knew what it was like to be a tree shorn of its leaves, to not have much, but to be thankful for what it still had… to be thankful for intangible, spiritual things such as love and hope and peace.

There were the novelty songs about Thanksgiving, sure, just like Christmas, but not in as great a number. Thanksgiving is not a worldwide holiday. It is a holiday of the United States of America when we observe it in November. No one else is a co-celebrant with our nation on our day of Thanksgiving. It is a holiday of North America, with its climatologic particulars that bring a grey, drear weather to much of the nation for much of the month as the leaves fall to the ground after the brilliant, fiery beauty of October that is the equal of April’s grand blossoming. The harvest is in: there is no more planting or growing until springtime. Winter comes soon, and we must pass through its trials if we are to survive. The Pilgrims of old chose this time of year to offer thanks for their survival thus far and to look forward to their anticipated future in their New World, where, more than anywhere else they had been, they felt as if they were in God’s hands.

Eventually, I arrived upon this song: David Johansen singing “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4axKHtMNKw

It’s my favorite rendition of the hymn/folk tune, however you want to see it. It is what Thanksgiving means to me: the sound stripped-down like the trees, leaving one with little to cover the truth beneath. The reflection on life’s essentials goes well with the coming starkness of the season. It provides fuel for the coming winter, a reminder that the light will come again to our lives.

I’ve discovered that often, autumn songs are used to sing about loss, breakups, or other misfortunes. But they can also be about digging deep into the soul to find that inner strength to carry on, knowing that things must yet still get worse before they can get better. They can be songs about brave dignity, simple victories, and lingering hopes that will one day bear fruit.

After all, the trees lose their leaves, but they are not dead. The animals burrow in the ground to hibernate, but they are not dead. The land and air turn colder and whiter, but they are not dead. Life goes on. Life perseveres. But, in order to do so, life must shed nearly all of its summer glory and return to its fundamentals.

What are we truly thankful for at Thanksgiving? A roof above our heads. Heat in the home. Food on the table. Family gathered together. We are thankful for a catalog of the essentials. Music that is bereft of ornamentation, with an honest voice and quiet accompaniment, that to me is a pure expression of the spirit of our American Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a time to look upon our essentials and to give thanks for their presence and for our own endurance.

Even if those essentials are present in our lives in a diminished capacity, they still remain. There is a way to be thankful, even if those essentials are all but eliminated in our lives. The fact that they are not totally gone means that we are not totally gone. The fact that they are not totally gone means that, though a rough and cruel winter may lie ahead, we will survive it, even barely survive it, but we survive it to find the springtime on the other side.

And that is what I hear in this song. I hear the Spirit of Thanksgiving.

The Big Reboot: 15

Fourth period, AP Economics, the smallest of the classes. Thanks, scheduling mess-up.

Mr. Webb didn’t really blame any person – setting up a schedule for a high school as big as Teller wasn’t a job Mr. Webb was about to assume that he could do a better job of than those involved in the process. Each year had its own idiosyncracies. And, as small as 12 this semester and 9 the next seemed, it was nothing like the 5th period of 2008.

In 2008, Mr. Webb actually had an AP Economics class with only 2 students in it.

2 students, and both of them were pretty sharp, so covering the material for the day sometimes amounted to 10 minutes of discussion, 10 minutes of doing an exercise and grading it and then… 25 minutes of… huh… not anything in particular, really.

Both of those guys also left after 5th period, so the tempation for them to leave early was very strong. The temptation was even stronger once they’d both taken the AP exam in early May and had nothing to do for three weeks after that. Many was the day they asked to go see Mr. Whatshisname about a project and left after checking in. That was fine with Mr. Webb. Telling two people that were done with a class that they had to stay there just because they had to stay there was ridiculous. By rights, they should have been able to enjoy that time, and Mr. Webb was happy to have given them that gift.

And if it meant that Mr. Webb could take a nap in the middle of the day, so much the better. Naps were awesome things to have. Why was it that kindergarteners got to take naps and high school kids couldn’t? The kindergarteners didn’t want them and the high school kids did… it made no sense.

Then again, if something made sense, Mr. Webb knew it was a matter of time before someone in the state legislature or an administration somewhere would make a rule requiring that it be replaced with something that didn’t make sense. Watching the parade of nonsense was always a disenheartening experience, but if one focused more on the victims of the nonsense, one could always try and do something to keep it from ruining lives.

To a point, that is. The nonsense in ECISD in 1995 had gotten to the point where Mr. Webb couldn’t stand it anymore, what with the corruption, criminality, and general paranoia and all that. Mr. Webb did not want to go back to that again, ever. If things in Garson ISD ever got that bad, no, if they ever got close to being that bad, Mr. Webb had zero plans of sticking around to see a second time through that wringer.

But 12 kids… that wasn’t such a bad number. There were enough of them to where there could be a conversation and not just an echo chamber. That made the class fun. As long as they were all up to speed, or close to it, good class discussions made everyone’s day. And if there were kids that weren’t up to speed, discussions would reveal that lack of speed.

There were kids that liked to hang back and use other students to advance their fortunes. “Scholastic dishonesty” was the fancy, multi-syllable expression that was fashionable instead of “cheating.” Whatever it was, there were a million ways to do it, and only a few ways to expose it. Class discussion was one of those ways.

Homework could be copied – easily – so checking homework only revealed people that didn’t like doing homework, not cheaters. Tests… true, greenhorns would copy perfectly or copy weird stuff, making spelling mistakes that only people who had no clue about what was going on would make, like writing cleprcssiom instead of depression… but truly experienced test-cheaters would know enough to copy carefully, check for spelling mistakes, and then change a few answers so that their papers wouldn’t be the same as the ones they copied. Research papers were a joke: the same Internet that produced full research papers would betray them to any teacher that cared to run a Google search on sentences that simply rang far too scholastic-sounding for high school seniors. Assigning research papers would reveal cheaters, all right, but with a grade that was almost always too highly weighted to allow anyone with a zero on it to pass, and taken too late in the grading period to allow anyone with a zero on it to recover.

Class discussion, though, that was the ticket. People who knew the answers could not only give the answers, but talk about them, discuss them, ask about what they didn’t understand, the works. Those that didn’t know the answers, they’d hem, they’d haw, and they’d fall flat. The falling flat would be early enough in the game and with little enough of a penalty so that anyone who fell victim to a bad run of discussion could always recover in time to where they didn’t have such a bad run again – and to where they’d know things well enough that they wouldn’t need to cheat.

That, or they’d stay clueless enough to where they’d realize that they needed to get out of the AP class if they wanted a chance of passing the course and graduating high school on time.

Class discussion covered all kinds of things, not just correct answers. Good questions were just as good as good answers. Good attempts to answer problems were just as good as attempts that went awry. Didn’t want to talk in class? Then see Mr. Webb before or after school, or during his conference period, and he’d discuss things there. Some kids were so afraid of speaking in front of others that they would do just that… only to realize that they knew things well enough that they didn’t feel bad about speaking in front of others. If they knew that they weren’t going to sound like idiots, they had no fear about sounding like idiots. Funny how that worked out… but anyone could have 100% in class participation just for showing up sober and participating in some way.

And that participation made kids really understand the stuff. For the last four years, Mr. Webb had graded AP exams, and every year, the graders there said that getting kids to be able to discuss the material with knowledge and confidence was the way to go. They were right. The kids with the best class participation grades were the ones that came back with the best scores on the AP exam. So, Mr. Webb made class participation 50% of his grade, with 25% coming from tests and 25% from classroom quizzes.

He had the same grading system in his regular classes, but allowed for notes to cover a big chunk of class participation points. For AP, though, it was vital to stress the need for quality class participation. And so, on that first day, he’d show his AP students clips from “The Paper Chase”, scenes with John Houseman as Professor Kingsfield, grilling his students like cheese sandwiches.

“Loudly, Mr. Hart! Fill this room with your intelligence!”

Mr. Webb had those Houseman scenes memorized so well, one year he was able to reproduce them, word for word, on a student that had missed the first day. Her responses were practically identical to those of the hapless Mr. Hart, to the amazement and delight of her fellow students. They let her know that that’s what they had seen the day before, but she had lived through it.

“How long are you gentlemen planning to stay?”

“Three days.”

“THAT’s how you should study for the AP exam!” Mr. Webb basked at the dedication of the law students as they checked into a hotel, chucked out the teevee, and threatened blackmail on the manager if he threw them out in order to study for their exam. “With dedication like that, how can you fail?”

The students got the message, if such messages could reach them, and class participation went very well after seeing the clips from “The Paper Chase.” Better still, whenever Mr. Webb wanted to spur answers and give his students an adrenaline boost, all he had to do was say, “Fill the room with your intelligence!” and fill it, they would.

Nine of the twelve students in fourth period were talkative enough after the clips, but three of them just smiled like idiots. Smiling like an idiot was often a good sign that an idiot was involved in the smiling process. OK, idiot wasn’t a fair word… but smiles like that were nevertheless signs that the persons making those smiles were out of their league and that they didn’t even know that they were in over their heads.

These three even looked like that they would be at a loss in a regular class. Something about the emptiness in their expressions betrayed the blankness in their minds. They weren’t lazy, but no amount of hard work could compensate for a lack of sufficient neuronic connections necessary to put two and two together. Guys like that could make it out of high school alive, but not if the path took them through an honest class that demanded more of its participants than they were able to deliver.

Maybe Mr. Webb was wrong in his first impressions, but class discussion in the next few days would see whether or not he was right.