Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Thrill of the Hunt

"What are you doing?!" my 5th grade teacher, wide-eyed, startled me as she asked the question.

"I am reading," I answered, a little perplexed. I expected outbursts like that for throwing things in class, stealing something from someone's desk, walking around when we were supposed to be seated -- that kind of thing.

"That is an encyclopedia!" she shouted at me. "Nobody reads encyclopedias. They are for research only!"

"But I finished my research," I said slowly. "I'm just reading until we are all through."

She took the encyclopedia, World Book volume "M," and returned it to the shelf, shaking her head at me.  It was a dilemma I had felt many times. I would be looking up, say, "Llamas" for a report in class, but I would slow down as I passed things like "Lincoln," including the town in Nebraska, or "Limburger cheese," and I would wonder why people ate it if it smelled as bad as the cartoons made it appear to smell. We never had time for all that added knowledge, but sometimes I would detour from a search for class just to satisfy an inquisitive mind.  Did you know that, if all the blood vessels in one human body could be stretched into one continuous blood vessel, it would reach from New York to Sydney, Australia, and back five times? I learned that while I was looking for something else. 

Those World Books were treasuries of information to me, even though they were generic blue, worn at the edges, and some of them still said Truman was president. But that old information was still good, because human bodies don't change that much, including how long the circulatory system is. I never understood why they were "forbidden fruit" to my 5th grade teacher.

Years later, I would  be living on the coast of South America with my wife and three home-schooled sons, and acquire some generic red World Books from the Carter administration. I set them out in the open where my sons could soak up the information in them. In the years we served in Ecuador, most of which did not include even dial-up internet, my sons and I probably each read through the entire set. I learned early that, if you teach a child to read, most of the rest of the education is automatic, and nothing gave me the satisfaction of seeing my 9-year-old son, curled up with a volume of World Book, absorbing the pages of info, and then, later telling me about it. My daughter, as she learned to read, also began that great search.

On one furlough in the States, I was overjoyed to find an entire unabridged encyclopedia on CD, and imagined how great that would be. I was disappointed to find, after installing it, that it merely complies with the questions you ask, that it narrows your search to that item, and that "browsing" is not a function of an electronic encyclopedia. When they went online, I found that they were even worse. I grieved when the printed version of Encyclopaedia Britannica went out of print, because, as a teacher, I have used the online edition, and sent my students to it. It has more information than the print version ever did, but it is a caged animal, and lacks the luster and wild spirit that the printed version had.

It is a basic truth of human experience: Some of our greatest discoveries occur while we are looking for something else. Some of the greatest inventions and scientific discoveries emerged totally by accident.

I am guilty: I use Google, Wikipedia, and other search engines to find info, attribute quotes, and spike rumors. But having said that, I miss the days when I had to work to get the info. The joy of research was in the hunt. Today's information gathering is like shooting fish in a barrel, or hunting game that is in a cage. There is no thrill to it. I can find important information in just a few seconds, and there is nothing else nearby to distract me. Some hunters say they like to hunt because they don't like the "taste of captivity" in store-bought meat. As I think about it, I realize that there was always a "wild" taste to the info that I had to pursue through a forest of information.

Doing a research paper, when I was in high school, involved, among other things, using a multi-volume Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature, usually found in the local and the school library, that could direct you to published magazine and journal articles that featured your subject. You found your item, and then prayed that the librarian had that specific magazine, volume number, and current issue. Then, you carefully copied that precious info onto a note card, a gem of information that you would footnote later.

If someone had told me, when I was sixteen years old, researching the history and function of the Electoral College, and trying to determine if it was beneficial or not, that some day, I would be able to do all of this from a "smart phone" in my pants pocket, I would have longed for such a miracle. But looking back, I wish that young people today could know the thrill of finding information after a strong, stimulating hunt.

Card catalogues in libraries, reference resources on those shelves of books that you could not take home, atlases, city directories, dictionaries, encyclopedias -- they all worked together for me, and the result was something of great value, not only because of the content, but because of the investment that I had made in it.

And that's the problem today. Research is cheap. As a high school teacher for ten years, I would have students ask me questions, and, teacher that I was, I would not just give a straight answer. I wanted them to know why the answer was what it was, to make them arrive at it, so the next time they had a similar question and there was no teacher there to give it, or they were in the middle of a standardized state test, they could figure it out for themselves. Most of the time, the students would turn away, say "forget it," or start a conversation with some other student as soon as they heard the words from me that they wanted.

I had to learn that the students were not being rude. They are members of the "smart phone" culture, and are conditioned to that form of information gathering. That phone is a little educated slave that stays in our pockets until we need it. When we want to know something, from "Where is the nearest Starbuck's?" to "Which president served two separate terms?" we just have to fetch it out of its little prison, ask the question, get an immediate answer, and then throw it back in its own dungeon.

No joy of research. No enticements to branch out to related knowledge, or even learning something on the way simply because another idea happened to start with the same few letters. We learn only what we want, when we want, with a minimum of distraction. And we only get facts, without enough substance to weave them into something that enhances our lives.

I would love to start a school where students had to attend for at least a semester. There would be no computers, but every classroom would have a set of World Books, some dictionaries and thesauruses and atlases, and the library would have only a card catalogue.

In an era of information convenience, we are starving ourselves, and depriving our kids of the "Thrill of the Hunt."

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sick of Politics; Something More Fun!

It has been interesting to find that there will still be "Top Ten" lists in the 23rd and 24th century.  After months of tedious, back-breaking research, I actually found these in some personal logs.  Most of the entries were made by ensigns, and it shines a special light on what went on behind the cameras and below decks, that never made the show.  Enjoy.

Top Ten Reasons I Like Serving on the Enterprise 1701

  1. I get free uniforms, I don't have to wash them, and the shirts I have are not red.
  2. The phasers make a cool sound, and they have this hilarious "stun" setting.
  3. Lots of break time unless you're in engineering.
  4. The food is all replicated -- no bones, gristle, or seeds.
  5. The communicators have 100 terabyte MP3 players in them.
  6. The clueless captain has no idea what 400 of us are doing.
  7. Year round perfect temperatures and a rec room on every deck.
  8. Two words:  sonic showers.
  9. Titanium hull plating, multiphasic shields, warp 15, and photon torpedoes -- this is the safest place in the universe.
  10. Free health care.

Top Ten Reasons I Like Serving on the Enterprise 1701-D

  1. Red uniforms are not an automatic death sentence.
  2. Captain is French.  We don't have to fight much.
  3. Ten-forward -- lots of free drinks and the 500-year-old lady will give you the real thing when Baldy's not around.
  4. The food replicators have an unlimited supply of tasty, non-fattening food from 1,000 planets -- and you have one in your room.
  5. Two words:  holodeck privileges
  6. The captain who has no idea what 1200 of us are doing.
  7. Command crew that plays poker every night and has no idea what we are doing.
  8. Android does most of the hard work, leaving us lots of holodeck time; generally clueless.
  9. Children, families, parks, rec areas -- surrounded by deflector shields, and a warp bubble, with photon torpedoes, meta-phasic shielding, and phasers.  This is the safest place in the universe -- unless the Android goes nuts.
  10. Free health care.

Top Ten Reasons I Like Serving on Voyager

  1. We are in the Delta Quadrant.  Not even the IRS can find us here, though the AARP did get a message to Tuvok when he turned 150.
  2. The little lizard guy makes a great omelet, but I try not to think about where he got the eggs.
  3. I like imagining what Species 8472 could do to Cardassians.
  4. We actually get to build our own cool new ships, and race them against aliens.
  5. If I am killed, it will probably be reversed before the end of the program by traveling back in time or something.
  6. Forget Kirk and Picard.  Our captain tamed a Borg.
  7. Our second in command is a real live Indian with a cool tattoo.
  8. We will get seventy years' hazard pay when we finally make it back.
  9. Not one Cardassian or any of those idiotic shape-shifters within a thousand light years of us.
  10. Free health care and a Doctor who is available 24/7.

Nine Things I Hate and One Thing I Like about 
Living on Deep Space 9

  1. Ferengi everywhere.
  2. It takes several years for the Cardassian smell to go away, and they keep coming back,
  3. Bajorans are a combination of the worst possible traits of Catholics and Jews, with none of the best qualities of either, and a little bit of Baptist arrogance thrown in to boot.
  4. Klingons everywhere.  Blood wine taste lingers in a synthesizer.  Ruins the taste of Dr. Pepper.
  5. That pesky wormhole that any scum can get through and "bam" we're the first thing they see.
  6. The "prophets."  A bunch of stuck-up aliens with technology that have fouled up everything in two quadrants for millennia.
  7. The founders.  Yeah, right.  Think of Gumby and multiply it by one billion, then simmer on low heat.
  8. The woman with the yam in her belly. Condescending, thinks she knows everything.  Captain calls her "Old Man."  Much nicer than what everyone else calls her.
  9. Captain not clueless.  He knows what everybody is doing.

And the one thing I like

  1. Free health care.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

What If..?

I am posting this blog on my nearly lifeless site mainly for a special friend who continues to be one of the best thinkers I know.  I am a reader and writer of alternative science fiction -- the kind that imagine current events if something changed, like, say Lincoln surviving an assassination attempt, or the Moors not being driven out of Spain.

But this alternative fiction is one that I wish had happened.  I think the world would be a better place if the US had joined the Central Powers -- or even threatened to -- in WWI.  That war actually never ended, and has continued to drone on as the embers flared up to be WWII, then developed into the Cold War that included Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba, and now is in the Middle East.

The ones who actually wanted to fight for England and France lived mainly in what we call "New England."  The Celtic people of the South felt more sympathy for the Germans.  Our excuse for entering the war was German U-boat "aggression," but although we were not involved in the war at the time, we were busy carrying war materiel and support to Great Britain.  The Germans did what anyone would do to a neutral power:  stopped boats and seized armaments and military support, and when that was not enough, decided to make the North Atlantic unsafe for American intervention.  Had we honestly entered the war and fought it in the open, these things would not have happened.  Using cruise ships to arm England and France was a bad idea.

Let's talk about those two "allies."  First, there's England, who had fought three wars with us in the last century and a half.  Then, there was France, who no longer knew how to engage in warfare.  We had no real reason to side with them, and they represented no interests of ours.  By identifying with them, the whole world learned what type of nation we now wanted to be.  England, especially was hated for their vicious colonialism that could claim huge profits in occupied lands that, today, are profitless, such as current day Pakistan and Bangladesh.  They ruled a huge portion of the earth, and maintained it with a rod of iron.  France was doing the same in West Africa and Southeast Asia.  The people that hated them now hated us.

Germany had a good relationship with the Middle East; Britain (read British Petroleum) did not.  In the 20th century the US would help Britain topple the elected ruler of Persia, and install the Pahlavi family to power, whose last ruler was the infamous Shah.  The Shah's people were much more friendly to British Petroleum.  I have to ask myself, If we had been with the Germans, would we have the strife in the Middle East?  Sure, they point at our support of Israel as their point of hatred, but before the initiation of that state, they already hated us because we were Great Britain's right hand.  What would the Middle East look like today if the Central Powers had won?

When the US entered the war, we tipped the balance of power, and England and France, tired of Germany, not only demanded their surrender -- they demanded their humiliation.  The "armistice" that was signed was nothing like the gentlemen's agreement of Appomattox Court House a half century earlier.  It made Reconstruction look like a Sunday school picnic.  England and France -- and New England -- wanted Germany's back broken.  As a result, the nation was instantly forced into poverty.  We all know what happened to the German mark -- a move that gave great profit to a group of American and European bankers who had colluded to organize a banking cartel that included the US Federal Reserve, only a few years earlier.

Humiliated and smoldering, the Germans sought to restore their former glory.  This need for restoration, for a return to hope, for anyone who could get them back to where they belonged, made them ripe to receive an eloquent young speaker named Adolf Hitler, in spite of their misgivings about his character.

My contention is, if we had joined the Central Powers, there never would have been a Fuehrer, an attempt at a third Reich, or concentration camps.  If we had joined the Central Powers, there never would have been the tension in the Middle East, mainly for two reasons.  First, the Jews would not have had to leave Germany, and secondly, Great Britain would not have forced the formation of Israel.  There were many ways to restore the ancient nation; Great Britain and the United Nations chose, possibly, the worst way of all.  Imagine a world without Middle East extremism, without September 11.  If we had joined the Central Powers, Germany would not have slipped an exiled Lenin back into Russia to ease their pressure on the eastern front.  Russia was ripe for revolution against an evil royalty, but Lenin would not have been the one to topple them.  And Stalin would not have been there to take his place, and since, in my scenario, WWII never happens, there would have been no divisions of Eastern Europe, no East and West Germany, no division of Berlin, no domination of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, Bulgaria, Rumania, et. al.   No Cold War.  No Red threat. No McCarthy trials.  No Korean War.  No Vietnamese War.  And no Gulf War.

Oh, sure, I believe mankind has evil at his roots, especially when it comes to politics, and something wicked would have arisen to fill the vacuum, but something in me says it would not have been as bad.

So why did we leave our neutrality and jump into a World War?  As I said before, part of it was the sympathy of the New England region of the US.  I'm sure Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Texas, and other states with their rich German heritage would not have insisted on the war.  But the biggest part would have to be the strings that were being controlled by the banking cartels who controlled Western Europe and the United States.  In 1913, everything had changed:  the Federal Reserve took over our treasury, the Senate was selected by popular vote instead of state legislatures, and somehow, Americans "voted" for an amendment to allow the income tax.  WWI was a huge boon for banking, oil, and those controlling it.  Millions were to be made, and the debts after the war enriched bankers even more.

What a different world it would be today if the US had sided with the Central Powers.  I don't think we would have had to fire a shot.  Britain and France, seeing their great potential Sugar Daddy join the other side, would have laid down arms and negotiated a peaceful settlement.

And Adolph Hitler would have died in obscurity in Germany, a non-person.  That would have been worth it, right there.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Booby Traps

I've just finished another day of teaching. There is a culture war going on in my high school, and in most high schools. It's about the bracelets, the t-shirts, the belts, the book covers, and whatever else that say "I love boobies." As I type this I realize that I've never typed the word before unless I was referring to a South American bird common to the Galapagos Islands. But the word is everywhere.

It's not permitted, of course, but that's just an encouragement to the kids here. Allegedly, these bracelets are heightening breast cancer awareness. In my school, at least, all they are heightening is "breast awareness." Boys who have never contributed a dime to a worthy cause are wearing one, two, or three of the bracelets, hiding them from principals and teachers.

When someone gets caught and the bracelet is taken, the teacher or administrator, of course, is the villain, for not supporting "cancer awareness." I want to make a simple statement: those bracelets have done absolutely nothing to heighten any awareness of any type of cancer.

I have been highly disillusioned about the whole cancer awareness thing. The Komen foundation has lost its significance. I feel I have a right to say this, being a cancer fighter myself. The cancer I am fighting -- leukemia -- is signified by a green ribbon. I'll bet you didn't even know there were any ribbons but the pink ones.

Every year, we are told to "pink out" the school on a certain day, to wear pink instead of our school colors, and to buy pink ribbons. Komen has even made breast cancer a "feminine" issue, despite the fact that men die of the disease as well.

Then there are those occasional "cutesie" statements you see on Facebook or hear in conversation: "I like mine on the car seat." "I like mine on the kitchen cabinet," etc. Or "seven inches," etc. Of course, all those suggestive little phrases are the "secret"things that only the girls know. Of course, the first one was, "Where do you keep your purse?" The second one was her shoe size, with the word "inches" added. These, of course, were designed to "heighten cancer awareness." Did they do that? Seriously? A few guys figured out the answers, and girls got mad and chewed them out; after all, this was just a "secret" among the girls.

I'm still trying to figure out how these phrases heightened cancer awareness, since half the population was to mind its own business. How do sexually suggestive inside jokes heighten awareness?

One beloved aunt of mine died of ovarian cancer; another of colon cancer. What the Komen Foundation has done is cheapen the fight against cancer; first, by making it a one-cancer issue, and second, by making it some type of feminist issue.

As a male who wears a green ribbon, I don't like being left out. And I don't like the misappropriation of funds. Let family planning clinics do their own screenings, and I am all for it. The "Fight for the Cure," however, suggests research, resources, and a unified front to beat this awful monster that has invaded lives and families, rich and poor, black and white, young and old, liberal and conservative.

Why are they wasting time with controversial bracelets that take our eyes off the fight? I would like to see an organization that really wants to "work itself out of a job," a group that wants to eradicate cancer the way Rotary International has worked in the last decade to eradicate the last vestiges of polio.

And it's not going to be done with a "boobies" bracelet.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Anonymous Cowards

It seems like it happens every day, and it happens everywhere: in the world of sports, of business, of politics, of justice. I hear the same words, that someone, "speaking on the condition of anonymity, said..." The concept of anonymity is a powerful protection in our culture. We have the secret ballot which encourages voting freedom. We have anonymous tips which lead to the apprehension of criminals.

But the explanations given for a "condition of anonymity" speak volumes about the sad state of our current culture. Maybe it's a staffer for a political leader who doesn't want to lose his job; maybe it's a legal adviser for some company and the case is currently in litigation; maybe it's a member of a sports organization, and the leaders have not yet made the announcement official. In all these cases, I'm troubled by the implications. It says, "It's wrong to say this, but if I can hide behind something and be anonymous, I will tell you all about it."

The preponderance of disloyalty astounds me -- that so many people who are working for someone, helping an organization, or participating in some movement will so easily "sell out" as long as their name is not on it.

Our nation seems to be filled with people who have no morals as long as they will get no blame. Is the only think that is keeping some people honest the fact that we know who they are? Of course, it is getting harder and harder to be anonymous in our society. Your phone has a caller ID; your computer has an IP address, and there is a good chance you were photographed several dozen times today as you walked about, minding your own business.

Maybe there is some kind of "payback" involved in getting to say something anonymous. I have been a participant in a social network for several years. I won't say its name, but it starts with "F" and ends with "book," and of course, I realized that I would not be anonymous there; after all, who wants to be anonymous on a social network?

But now, I am alarmed when I go to a news site such as CNN or USA Today, and find my status picture there, and a question: do I want to share this story on the social network? How did they know I was the same person? I used to have the same problem with Pandora until I re-set my privacy options there. I'm not ashamed of the music I listen to, but I am not vain enough to think that everyone wants to know what I'm listening to.

The bottom line is, "We don't trust each other. At all." And when I am tempted to trust someone, I hear about some other source that has spoken under conditions of anonymity, and spilled the beans.

What cowardice. If you can't say it in the light, why can you shout it in the dark? It's seen another way in the comment sections of forums and other sites. People say horrible, insulting things that I doubt they would say if they had to look anyone in the face. In an ever-growing i-culture, it's only going to get worse, as we interact in every way, buying and selling, voting and recommending, applying for jobs and learning in college courses. The applied anonymity of the internet allows us to be the kind of jerks that were tarred and feathered in the last century.

No one talked to a neighbor like people talk to each other through an electronic mask. Anonymity is destroying what little decency we have left. I have realized the importance of never speaking unless everyone knows who I am and what I look like, and never speaking on a condition of anonymity. Why? Because I don't like those kind of people, and don't want to be under the same roof with one -- even if it's me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ok, It's Been a While...

I could write a book on all the changes between my last post and this one, but suffice to say, things that were once of high importance to me no longer are quite that important, and things that I once took for granted are now highly important and essential to me.

We don't begin to value life until we realize that it doesn't last forever; all human beings, with the possible exception of those who die quickly and unexpectedly in their youth, come to the point some day where, for the first time, they realize that they are finite, something they always knew in their heads, but never actually believed.

I still have my opinions, politically, and I know who I really want to see in the White House in January of 2013, but frankly, even if I get my wish, it won't even make the top ten list of the most important things that are happening.

So, I will be revving this blog back up.  I am also going to delete some of the blogs that I have written that I don't think reflect my own opinion any more.  If I can find a way to move some to a historical blog, I will move them there, because I love history and have more things to say.

For those of you who followed this blog and gave up on me, I hope you will see this and come back. I have some more things to say, and I hope to get to do it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

I'm Invisible!

I don't count. I know it now. When the new census figures come out, I will have nothing to do with congressional representation or even any of the ugly new innovations like federal funding and pork projects. All because I don't count.

The census doesn't want me, apparently. It all started with the Super Bowl, where, if you are an American citizen, you watched with me as "we" paid a million bucks or so to present a largely boring, uninformative "commercial" about our responsibility to answer our census questions. They said the packet was coming.

I waited for that packet. It never came. I saw all the guilt trips they paid for to shame us into sending a packet, and I faithfully watched my mailbox. It never came. I would have filled out the short questionnaire, but I never got one. Then I heard the threat: that if we didn't fill out the package, federal employees would come by and ask us the questions in person. Now, as we near the halfway point of this constitutionally-mandated census year, those people still haven't come by. Because to Washington, I obviously don't exist.

I tried getting them to send me a packet or to come by. I went online and looked at the FAQ for the census, but evidently my question is not "frequently" asked: "What do I do if no one knows I'm here?" The site was replete with information about how to get jobs with the census and what was going to be done with the info, and how to recognize a valid census worker if one came by. But there was no information on how to get myself counted and on the census rolls.

I don't exist. This isn't the first time I've found that out. When the entire US TV industry went digital, I found out I didn't qualify for one of those government-funded digital converters because I don't live in this house and I don't exist. But enough of that. If you want that story, you can read my other post on that here. But I realize now that in Washington I don't exist.

I keep hearing the boasting about what the census will do, but I seriously question the results we are going to receive. Every day I'm hearing about fraud, about fabricated figures and forged forms, and we all know about the partisan arguments that are coming when we finally get ready to crunch numbers. We have learned that in the double-speak of American partisan politics, numbers really don't mean anything until someone has "processed" them for us, made them palatable to the unwashed masses (read "anyone outside the Beltway").

So do me a favor. When they give you the final numbers for the US population, add four to the total. That's how many people have not yet been reported here. This megabillion dollar debacle is not getting an accurate count at all. No one has even bothered to look for the people where I live. And they have not given us a way to get in touch with the rest of the world, even in cyberspace.

Will I actually be represented in Congress for the next ten years? Why would that happen? It hasn't happened for a long time anyway. It's a strange feeling, being invisible and all, but I somehow think I'm not alone. How many millions of other people never got a form in the mail, were never visited by anyone? I know my name is on the roll somewhere. Publisher's Clearing House found me out here, even though I've never played their game. And DirecTV and Verizon Wireless and anyone else that can find profit out here. But let's face it: I'm not profit. I'm not a minority, nor do I represent any special interest group. I'm just me, and my wife and two kids currently living at home are just -- well, "they."

Oh, I need to mention one more thing. I went by the local HQ of the census office that I found nearest my address. It looked like an old office, temporarily rented for the year. I went by making sure it was not a holiday or lunch hour. I thought I could just pick up a form there. I'll never know, however, if I could have gotten one.

They were closed.