01 July 2005


Sam Hall was not a great man in the opinions of very many people. He was only one person though, and regarded himself very highly. Hall thought as little of others as they thought of him. He was illiterate, dishonest, and for the greater part of his life, not noteworthy beyond the circle of drunks and cardsharks who knew him well enough to not trust him.
Hall was handsome. He was also tall, and spoke of things with great confidence. He didn't know very many things, and rarely spoke of them. Most of his speaking was business related, his business being talking other people into giving him their money. He was a swindler by trade and training, and even his great ignorance about the world did not keep him from prospering.
Once he happened upon a group of geologists. They had purchased an old mine in the mountains, and were going to study the rocks therein. Hall encouraged them to have a few drinks and play a few games of cards. Cheating as usual, he won away their mine, and the lands that came with it.
He didn't think the mine was real, believing that they had been swindled into buying it by someone else in his line of work. It was someplace he didn't yet have a reputation, so he packed up his few belonging, as well as some other people's belongings, and set off. The mine turned out to be real, and Hall was soon a moderately wealthy man.
He thought often of those geologists, fooled by a simple card trick. Years of education had not taught them things he'd learned at a young age. Most of the people he had swindled were rich, and most of them were also well educated. It didn't take much alcohol for him to realize that if wealthy people were educated, there was money in education.
Sumphall University got it's name because Hall was quite drunk when he dictated the instructions to his secretary. Not being literate, he himself never knew of the mistake. The university kept going, providing third-rate educations for first-rate prices. Most of the graduates went on to careers as insurance salesmen or realtors, with enough bad doctors and cheap lawyers to keep it from being a trade school.
Neither the university nor it's students excelled at anything. The athletic programs were so dismal that no sport managed to sustain a team for more than a few years in a row. Literature classes were taught to consider anything post-Chaucer as meaningless pop culture. Medical students are still required to learn phrenology, and students in many subjects were getting even poorer educations. Sumphall was a bastion of superstition and ignorance, surrounded by a forest, and on top of a gold mine.
Stanley was a professor at Sumphall, teaching physics from photocopied Seventeenth Century texts and the writings of Plato. He was a short man, with very hairy hands and a bald head. He believed quite sincerely that science was based on reason, not facts, and the administrators were quite pleased to have him on their staff.
One fall, he had an early morning class of Introduction to Science and Reason. His students were all sitting quietly in their seats, not having any idea what to expect from him or the school. He looked around the room, squinting at each student in turn, until he had turned full circle and was facing the chalkboard. He grabbed a piece of chalk and with a few quick motions made some lines and curves on the board. He then turned back around to face the class and spoke.
"Any questions?"
A hand rose timidly in the back. Stanley waved the chalk towards it. "Yes, what is your question then?"
"Is this Introduction to Science and Reason with Stanley?" asked the girl, slouching in her seat.
Stanley turned around to face the chalkboard again, paused, and then swiveled back. "Yes, I've written it on the board. If you have a problem reading the board, perhaps you should sit closer to the front of the class. I'm sure one of these fine gentlemen would make room for you," he said, waving the chalk in a sweeping motion past the first row of desks, all empty.
"Is that some sort of code?" asked the girl.
"It is shorthand, and if you can't read that, how did you ever get this far in your education? How are you possibly going to pass if you're illiterate?"
"Nobody uses shorthand anymore," voiced another student, staring out a window.
"Nonsense!" said Stanley, with some irritation in his voice, "people will be using shorthand long after we're dead. Next you'll be saying Jupiter has rings, trees can move of their own volition, or rain falls up."
"I don't know about Jupiter or rain, sir, but there's a tree walking across the football field," said the student, still staring out the window.
The other students near the windows turned to look outside as Stanley stomped across the floor towards them. He looked out to see a large tree moving around the unused but well maintained football field flailing branches at the groundskeepers. Armed with shovels and rakes, the groundskeepers appeared to be losing the fight. Each time one got close, the tree sent him flying through the air, leaving the tools of their trade littering the field.
"Oh dear," muttered Stanley.

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