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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tuesday Afternoon Cat Blogging: My Kind

When I got home from the doctor's office a few minutes ago (regular checkup, nothing seriousy amiss as far as I know, right now). a dog out of sight but close by, across the creek, was screaming and yelling, while an accomplice of his farther up the hill kept barking and wolfing in return, thereby seriously disturbing the usually well-kept peace.

I picked up our 20-year-old surviving black tabby, looked him in the eye, and asked -- since he strongly resembles a miniature one -- why couldn't he shape-shift into a full-sized panther, if only temporarily, and go up there and tell those two curs to take it somewhere else, quick.

But as so often, Beauty just looked at me.

Cats are past masters, aren't they, at pretending not to understand plain English and so managing to avoid hewing to all good advice.

As lovable as they are, this made me wonder for the umpteenth time what good cats really are, if you can never get them to do even the simplest thing.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stage Crucifixions

In his novella called "The Darfsteller," by Walter M. Miller, Jr., the justly celebrated author of the classic "A Canticle for Leibowitz" has a character saying that wherever a scene in one of their dramas called for a crucifixion, instead of staging it in some way that no one was harmed, the Ancient Romans would stage a real nailing to a cross or a T, using a highly unfortunate slave in the role of the victim.

If true, it's good that the Romans could not have put on very many plays portraying the last hours of Christ.
I minored in classics in college, which meant that I studied Roman drama, not much but some, because the emphasis was always much more on Greek drama, and with every good reason.   And ever since I've paid a lot of attention to everything that the Romans did that has ever presented itself.  Yet I don't recall ever hearing or reading of that particular barbarity being done, in Roman or Greek theater.

I wonder if this is some kind of slander being slapped on the Romans, even if it is completely believable.   After all, in their other entertainments they were into every kind of mayhem perpetuated against their fellow humans that their sick minds could conceive of, probably caused by drinking water carried in by lead pipes and served in lead cups.   Still, it is astonishing that the Romans kept holding those gory games involving gladiators killing each other and wild animals being slaughtered by the boatloads for 800 years or more.   Eight long centuries of seldom interrupted and loudly applauded cruelty!

   --To which today's reality TV shows fondly look back.

   At least, that's the way they seem to be spoken of.   I wouldn't know for sure, because good grace has arranged things so that I have never seen one -- maybe because of having minored in the classics.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Community Garden

Gardening is and always has been such a big part of my activities that I could easily devote a whole weblog just to it, and maybe I should, after what is happening this year.

 I am thinking of doing just that, though not by creating a new weblog.   All this while I have had  two other weblogs, that I created at the same time that I started this one, six years ago.   But I've kept the other two essentially private, while putting very little into either one, compared to this one, Unpopular Ideas.  I use one for the occasional stabs that I make into writing my fiction online these days, and the other is for jotting down odds and ends and this and that.   And now I'm thinking that I could put all the gardening stuff in the latter site.  

This thinking has started because this year I joined a small community garden.   It's small in the sense that so far only two other neighboring families are part of it, but not so small in terms of size, especially because my joining in has, because of the stuff I want to plant, resu;ted in the area increasing to four times the size that it was last year, when it was founded and when I was not a member.

This garden is located in a field on the property of G. and C., less than a quarter-mile up the road and just off their driveway.   It is a great spot for a garden, level, with good soil, plenty of sun, and the surrounding trees a good distance off.

It came about after G. and K. had spent several years discussing the idea of pooling their gardening efforts, but nothing had come of it, mainly because K. is so engrossed in his very successful pottery making and marketing.  But finally K., with the encouragement of his wife, L., saw his way clear to taking the plunge, and the three of them went to it, though without the contributions also of G.s wife, C., an inestimable woman  who, however, according to G., doesn't like to spend any of her valuable time outside the house, except taking walks.

Everybody in the neighborhood knew that I had always had a big garden, with various main themes, but this group of our close friends on the road didn't directly ask me to join in, nor did I ask, though they kept me well informed on how their garden was going.   One reason that they didn't ask me was because they probably thought that my head was elsewhere at the time, like on my stained glass, and it was..

But also I couldn't see how their scheme could possibly pan out.   Over many years I hadn't known any of them to do any serious gardening, and after all, what's the point of doing anything, especially maintaining a garden and if you have plenty of space and other favorable conditions for one, if you're not going to be serious about it?    K, and L, usually had a few flowers -- limited by K.'s strong aversion to cutting down any of his living trees, while  G. had sometimes raised a few vegetables, and he also has a small orchard, but all three are working full time, and between that and their extensive calendar of other activities, I didn't think they would be able to take the time out for having a garden, a serious one, which pretty much demands full time attention at certain key times of the year, such as when one is taking vacations..

But to my surprise, after G. s efforts at plowing, disking, tilling, fencing, and otherwise preparing the site,  K. and L. were unexpectedly conscientious about trekking up the road and tending to the garden throughout the summer, and the weather was on their side, and  they had what G. has told me five or six times was a superb garden -- or at least it was to their way of thinking.   I  checked it out once or twice, and their garden looked good though not at all on the ambitious side.   But what should anyone say?

So finally this year visions of growing a respectable number of the really important crops -- cantaloupes and watermelons, with a side plot of supersweet corn -- got the best of me, and  I got around to asking whether I could join, and they all gladly agreed to allow me, and that's been the start and the only phase so far, of this shot I'm taking at community gardening, as opposed to my natural bent of doing everything alone and in the utter privacy of my own property.

At this still early point in my participation, I've already had, to go along with my high hopes, a number of high anxieties, including some that I've never had to entertain before, and I still don't know whether my decision was good, bad, or no big deal.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Higher State of Grace -- Mt. Everest

I guess you have to make things with stained glass to notice, as I do, that moviemakers love to choose locations that have stained glass in the windows and doors, yet they will never ever let their film characters make any mention of those wonders of light and color.

Similarly, on our TV and monitor screens we frequently see images of people living in places that have highly noticeable mountain ranges for backdrops, yet the people who live and work all their lives in those favored places seem to act as if those towering, vivid backgrounds aren't even there.

Though having never had the itch to mountain=climb -- height bothers me, as does the idea of falling and breaking bones, and the mystique of climbing mountains just "because they're there" isn't enough -- I wonder how at least a few of those people living in such places could have resisted scaling those walls and peaks just once. and it is almost certain that actually not one of those heights that are in such clear view have gone unvisited at some time by the two-legged beings.

Whether it's a mountaintop, an Egyptian pyramid, a Ugandan jungle, or even just an ordinary road in a foreign country, people have a hard time resisting the temptation to leave a memento of their visit for others to see. When I was young, during the Second World War, it was extremely popular for American soldiers to leave the inscription "Kilroy was here" scrawled wherever they went, while later on, on the drives we made all over Canada, we often saw, usually inscribed on various rural surfaces with bright red paint a strange fox-like image. And then other mementos commonly left behind on excursions far from home -- as well as close by -- are what the British call "rubbish" but which we call "litter."

The highest mountain in the world has not been free from this, but because of the climactic conditions and because the Mt. Everest summit is a no-go zone even for vultures, those mementos also include a number of unburied bodies of climbers who didn't make it back, sometimes from many years ago. And also there is a very large amount of goodies like ropes, oxygen bottles, camp stoves, food wrappers, and the like. But obviously, since getting off that extreme mountaintop is a matter of barely staying ahead of the outstretched tentacles of death, much more traumatic than is the effort of getting up there, policing the area, as cleaning up the litter is called in the military, is the last thought on the average climber's mind, and that includes removing the remains of those victims of the mountain's so-called "Dead Zone."

That is just fine for the families of some of those who stayed behind on Everest. They say that their loved ones would have wanted it that way. But some of those bodies are close to the trail where they can be easily seen, and then there are all those other items, and finally the Nepalese have had enough of it. Whatever it might mean to people from other, wealthier countries, Everest is a sacred mountain to them, and they don't think it should be a graveyard or, even worse, a junkyard, and as T. Roosevelt liked to say, bully for them.

Therefore, if you click here, you will find a lot of interesting information on how pretty soon a team of 20 sherpas will climb to the summit, led by a guy who has already made that little trek seven times, and on their way back down they will pick up as much of what's been left behind as they can manage, including at least two of the bodies.

Quite noticeably, no foreigners who otherwise pay thousands of dollars apiece for the privilege of trying to make that climb have been included on the team, and that's fine because they would just get in the way.

More mountains that just Everest ought to be considered sacred enough that they don't really need to feel human footsteps. And it's a good thing that they're partly protected by the fact that mountain-climbing is largely confined to the more reckless and unthinking young. It helps the grand scheme of things considerably that the high mountains are safe from the elderly, because they, like those summits, presumably exist in a higher state of grace.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The World Without Planes

...Without high-flying jet planes, that is.

A few years ago the Discovery Channel broadcast a couple of programs speculating on what things would be like if all humans were somehow to disappear entirely from the planet, right now! The conclusion was that it wouldn't be all bad. In fact, without human suffering to take into account, it would be all to the good, since in the not very long run everything that humans do is beneficial only to themselves and not in even one respect to all the other flora and fauna on the planet, outside of certain kinds of bacteria, rats, and various breeds of dogs.

I just loved those programs, and I look at them again quite often.

Now, with the Eyejoe volcano still breaking wind and spreading a big ash cloud from Iceland -- never a very salutary place anyway; when I was in the military I was told that Iceland absolutely forbade the U.S. from stationing any of its servicemen of my kind of ancestry there -- BBC News has an article speculating on the idea of a world without all the big jet planes that still, about a week after the Eyejoe first exploded, have been forced to stay on the ground. And the conclusion there is that, aside from all the jobs that would be lost in Kenya, which airfreights various kinds of perrishable food to the U.K. every day, most of it on the luxury side, things there would not be all bad either, and in fact the absence of planes would be more to the good than to the bad, all things considered, or at at least from my admittedly jaundiced point of view.

I know I shouldn't be indulging in such infamy, especially because I am an Air Force veteran. But even while I was there, all the planes I worked on were at the time always sitting on the ground, which I thought was by far the best place for them to be. And today the quality of life here would be noticeably improved if the Navy could be prevented from letting its fighter pilots take numerous, low altitude and high decibel, gas-wasting joyrides over what it clearly but mistakenly regards as an completely uninhabited part of Virginia.

Another very interesting article has the president of Iceland informing us that actually Eyejoe is just a small rehearsal for a much larger eruption that has a strong chance of happening soon enough. Mr. Grimeson points out to us that right next to Eyejoe is a second and much larger volcano -- Iceland has 18 of these things (I told you it wasn't a very salutary place) -- called Katla, and every since the Vikings unaccountably started hanging out in those parts, about 1,200 years ago, Katla has erupted pretty regularly every century or so. The last time it did so was in 1918, when, if you can remember, the only airplanes to speak of were the little stick and paper land skimmers that were used mostly in the First World War to do some recon work, drop little bombs on various places, and otherwise allow the pilots to rack up huge and unlikely scores, shooting down each other. There were no big planes of the kind that were used to bring down the World Trade Center towers and that otherwise have to avoid ash clouds like the plague because the ash consists of tiny shards of glass that accumulate and eventually shut down jet engines -- up in the air!

And 1918 is too close to already being a hundred years ago.

Monday, April 19, 2010

If Not for the Wind Direction

While deeply sympathetic with the airlines bleeding profuse amounts of much-needed money and with the legions who have been stranded in foreign countries or are otherwise badly affected by the ash cloud from the Iceland volcano that has crippled air travel over Europe, we in the U.S. are blessed in one respect at least, by the way that the cloud has mostly drifted eastward instead of west and south straight in this direction. If not for that, those on the nether, rightwing end of the political spectrum in the U.S., who continue to work themselves up into more and more of a lather over the presence of a President with recent roots in Africa, would be laying the blame for the eruption squarely at the feet of B. Obama.

As the Righties, Partiers, Foxheads, et. al. give all signs of being generally illiterate anyway, they may not yet have heard of the eruption. Or they can't count on those whose minds they keep trying to subvert having heard of it. But we can be sure that those who are aware of the event, and who have likewise shoved all rationality aside long ago, are feverishly looking for ways to make hurlable mud out of what is still being ejected out of the bowels of the earth at a place called Mt. Eyjafjallajoekull, instead of at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W., in D.C.

Maybe the cloud will circle the globe and get here anyway. Even if we get just the tiniest whispers of the ash, we can be sure that that will send these gargoyles screaming up from their perches in utter fury regardless. Every else does.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Greetings to My Blood Kin

Hi to all the members of the tiny number of my surviving blood kin who talked to me by phone yesterday from Florida, and got the address of this weblog, and may or may not read it in the future. It was great!

Sometimes I almost forget that I have relatives of my own, intimately connected to me by blood, as distinguished from the much more numerous ones of my wife, who are heard from and about and encountered much more often. But the several members of my real family all live far away, on the other side of D.C. and in Florida, a situation intensified by my severe case of travel phobia, and so years of silence between us slip by almost unnoticed.

But also there is the circumstance that so many of the other members of my family, while still very much alive and active in my mind, are conducting all their activities entirely in the distant past, because they now reside really, really far away, like up in Heaven or wherever, off this planet anyway.

It is especially disheartening to be thus reminded of four of those relatives in whose presence I never existed, because they all left this life long before I was born.

Not many people -- in this country at least -- are thus fated never to see even one grandparent, mostly because of various late arrivals in this life, including my own.

Oh, well.....

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


It's amazing how five and even fifteen or fifty crows, all cawing and jabbering at each other for all they're worth, will always sound much more melodious nevertheless than just two dogs barking.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The SRLC -- Stealing from "Slick"

Rainbows have long claimed, and with good reason, that so-called "white folks" steal all the good stuff from them, whether it be in music, dance, dress, or in many other modes of behavior.

Recently a large group of Republican mouths calling themselves the Southern Republican Leadership Conference -- the SRLC -- met in New Orleans and nattered to each other for several days. It's pointless to repeat anything that they said, because it was of less consequence than the opinions that would be delivered at a convocation of baboons meeting by the side of the Congo River, and, despite all the media coverage that they received, the only thing worth noting about this event was the name of the group. As others have already pointed out, it is entirely too close to the name of the strongest and most effective Civil Rights group of the great age of the 1960's -- the SCLC, also affectionately known as "Slick," the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which was founded in Alabama way back in 1957, by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his constant sidekick, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy.

It's strange and also highly suspicious and even a little sad that the Republicans would be shameless enough to copycat the name of King's and Abernathy's group. But the Big Secret is that even more than in the matter of taxes, the Repubs owe most of their success to the carefully unspoken but still widely understood perception that they would forever and by any means possible stand in the way of the aspirations of Rainbows (more commonly called -- and I do mean "commonly," "blacks.").

If that were not so and if they were really into decency, then the Repubs would not parody the name of the group that, along with the NAACP, SNCC, CORE, and other organizations and people, including a sizable number of Jewish people, who, during the Civil Rights drive of the 1950's and 60's, combined to accomplish that rare feat of pushing the lumpy center of the U.S. populace into actually following this country's high ideals, as expressed in various documents but, like the advice of one Jesus Christ, rarely followed in actual practice. In recognition of this great achievement, the name of King's group, the SCLC, especially should have been retired from all future use, like the number or the jersey of an especially accomplished baseball player. But the Repubs are far too committed to keeping a large and ancient segment of the U.S. populace in a crippled state for that.

The suspicion that the SR Leadership Conference deserves is especially heightened when you try to find out about its origins. It looks to me as if they condensed out of nowhere just this year, from the vapors of thuggish tea parties and the rest. The author of an Alternet article claims that the SRLC was founded as long ago as 1969, but I wonder where he got that information. I did the ever-trusty Google search and could not find that or any other information on exactly when that group was founded or by whom, and through all that time I had never heard of them. . If the SRLC was steeped in glorious Republican history, maybe going back to Eisenhower or before, you can bet that Google would be badly larded over with mentions of its venerability and its deeds. But the great majority of the entries were all in this year, 2010, one of the Obama years when seemingly without undue effort and with real style he continues to make the Repubs look bad, beyond their own numerous contributions to that end.

Someone billed this meeting of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference as the most important political event that would take place until the elections two years from now. But instead it has all the earmarks of being just another of the con games perpetrated so far by those people, as shown most vividly by the open insanity with which fang and nail they opposed the health care reform bill and its recent passage.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Better Way to Put Things

With reference to my last post a few days ago, in the pneumatic isolation of the Vatican, the Pope's Preacher might very well not have been aware that in all the fervor and mess surrounding the creation and the maintenance of the state of Israel, things have gotten to the point where the terms "antisemitism" and even of "Jew" for that matter have become so sensitized that using them has been put largely offlimits to all except those to whom those words refer. Otherwise that very high and favored Vatican official would have known that he would immediately get in trouble for any allusion to antisemitism, regardless of the point he was trying to make.

Rainbows (i.e. "black" Americans) would very much like to have the charge of "racism" to be an automatic weapon similarly reserved for their use only, with the needed special force, but that effort hasn't been nearly as successful, and ironically, one of the main eroders of the meaning of "racism" has been a group that if anything, should be much in sympathy with the concerns of Rainbows. Yet the likewise much stepped-upon Palestinians, along with other Arabs, habitually refer to the many offenses committed against them by Israelis as "racism."

That makes no sense, because so far the Israelis or even Jews for that matter have, to my knowledge, not yet been included in a so-called "racial group" that is separate from the one in which the Palestinians are also put, namely one that for some reason is named after a snow-peaked range of mountains that can be found in the southeast of Russia and beyond.. . In addition, the more immediate ancestors of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, harking back to the days a couple of thousand years ago on which the Israelis base their claim to be in what, till 1948, was usually called "Palestine," were called "Semites," which means that, all things considered, being a victim of antisemitism can't possibly be seen as being reserved only for people of the Jewish persuasion.

As in so many cases of misunderstandings, up to and including ghetto walls and armed conflict, a lot of the trouble is the traditional laziness and confusion in the use of language.

I have no immediate suggestion to make that would be more precise than the term "antisemitism," mainly because that subject is too explosive to think about. But, because it is so much closer to me personally, I think I have come up with a perfect replacement for the word and the concept of "racism," and that is "groupism."

Ever since I can remember, there has been some trouble with the whole concept of "race," anyway, I guess because of the absolute ease with which the various races can interbreed, and more recently the discoveries in the identical lineups of genes, chromosomes, DNA, and all the rest of that kind of stuff, as seen through strong microscopes. So, for instance, it used to be commonly thought that there were four main races and they were easily distinguished by color: black, white, red, and yellow. But now the Indians of the Americas, or "Native Americans" as they are also somewhat clumsily called -- who after all has even heard of Amerigo Vespucci? -- Crazy Horse and Geronimo almost certainly never did) may be surprised to learn that in the eyes of some rightwingers they no longer are a whole race in themselves, and instead they are lumped in with the Mongolian groups, which leaves only three races.

Getting back to my main point, when one is being racist, he should really be accused of being "groupist" instead, for it is between groups that have different ideas about the way they think things should be, not "races" based on certain physical differences, that the present-day vicious social struggles are being waged. Otherwise people are generally one.

Even casual glances at school assemblies in my bygone days, or from just looking around at my own family, and also from seeing how people acted in the military integration that had just started when I enlisted just over 60 years ago, it was always clear that the differences between so-called "white" people and s0-called "black" people and also within both those groups were and still are minor at most. In the military the slob quotients were especially identical, indicating that certain shortcomings in the most basic "home "training" are largely universal in the U.S., regardless of the financial and social status of one's family.

So the Palestinians and the Israelis would be angered but I suspect not particularly surprised to be told that from the creation standpoint actually they are one, and the real trouble they have is in the home training they received after birth, and between the groups in which they have consequently and subsequently been split -- the progressive versus the regressive groups among the Israelis, and between Fatah and Hamas among the Palestinians..

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Pope's Preacher and Clarence Thomas

In the expressions of outrage over some Catholic priests having sexually abused boys of their faith in their parishes and churches, an uproar that has been going on for years now and is escalating, the Vatican official who has the position of being the only man who can preach to the Pope -- which I guess mainly means taking the Pontiff's confessions, whatever those might be -- added fuel to the fire a few days ago. This popely assistant likened all the fury being vented against the Catholics because of those criminal priests to the acts of anti-semitism to which the Jews have been subjected so widely and for so many centuries and even millenniums.

In response this man was assaulted verbally from many quarters, though especially by victims of that abuse and their supporters and also by Jewish groups. Demands for his apology and worse were instantly made, and within a day or two he said he was sorry. But the vestiges of his statement will undoubtedly remain trailing behind the issue for a long time to come, because it pulled in other issues that have the same quality of embers that keep on glowing red hot, until somehow traditions are finally snuffed out.

This seems to have been a case of a Church high official, alarmed at the torrent of attacks being leveled at the Church, casually pulling out of his mental grabbag an analogy that he thought was fully apt for the situation, before giving much consideration to any consequences.

I know a lady around here who one day a couple of decades ago similarly reached into a feedsack without looking in first. But a copperhead snake had crept in there ahead of her hand, and it quickly injected that hand with two fangs of poison, and she had to be rushed to the hospital first thing, to save her life, and today she is still alive and well and vigorously baking cookies and other good pastries..

But the preacher's remark also reminded me even more strongly of another incident that happened in the U.S.. Capitol at around the same time, that however didn't gain a fraction of the outrage stirred up by that antisemitism remark, though it certainly did with me.

The U.S. Senate was looking into replacing the distinguished but recently deceased Thurgood Marshall with another Rainbow to serve on the country's highest court, one Clarence Thomas, a towering embarrassment of a man put forth by what else than a Republican Senator. These hearings were marked by the intense heat that was put on the hapless candidate by one of his former coworkers, a young woman named Anita Hill. A legal person herself, she put forth a convincing charge against Thomas of having subjected her to his sexual harrassment.

The high point of the proceedings came when Anita Hill lined up before the Senators her entire immedate family, which consisted of her then very aged parents and her many siblings, of who she was the baby sister. It was a family marked by many achievements and a huge amount of pride.

I know about such large rainbow families. My wife's father was a member of one. So are you going to tell me that Ms Hill was going to parade before the Senate, the TV cameras, and therefore the entire country, including those parents tottering on the very edge of death, and she, the achieving and loving baby sister and the pride of her family, was nevertheless going to lie to one and all?


In his defence, Thomas, with all the bitterness at his command, compared himself to being a lynch victim.

I, for one, was highly offended. Thomas, though obviously physically a Rainbow and with even more of the Nigerian or whatever in him than I have, had also obviously never given a moment's thought to the horror of being hunted down, cursed, spat upon, stabbed, beaten, and probably burned at his feet, before being strung up in a tree and strangled to death in a noose, all to the cheers of a screaming, drunken mob in the fire and fury of a hot summer's night. No, he hadn't, sitting there in a business suit and obviously affluent, with his somewhat comely Euro wife sitting at his side in furious support for him (nowadays she has become a big Tea Partier), and being considered for one of the most prestigious and powerful posts in the land, and he was a lynch victim?

Nevertheless the Republican Senators, eager to humiliate all Rainbows for decades to come, and Democratic Senators who in their stunted understanding of things didn't want to be seen as being racist, nevetheless foisted upon us this man who was unqualified in all ways and has demonstrated that many times since, by having absolutely nothing of value ever to say and predictably always and automatically voting on the regressive side of issues while serving as the Charley McCarthy puppet to another judicial scoundrel named Scalia..


Sunday, April 04, 2010

Crimes Punishing No Crime, Again

Yesterday a 12-year old girl was forcibly removed from her Spanish class in a New York City high school and taken to the principal's office, for the apparently horrendous crime of writing a love note on her desk with green, erasable ink. There, it's easy to read between the lines of the news story to sense that she continued to be less than contrite to the magnitude of her sin, upon which the school authorities committed the real and highly serious crime of calling in the police, thereby making it inevitable that this incident would have a very bad end that otherwise should not have happened. And so it happened. The cops arrested the girl and took her in for the normal disagreeable hours of stewing at a precinct station, before the police could finally bring themselves to admit that they had made a big mistake in arresting, or in more accurate language, abducting her, which any sort of police arrest actually is, if you're able to bring yourself to think about it.

This child was lucky, however, that the police didn't also try to kill her with the 50,000 volts of a taser gun, which cruel, unthinking judges have been allowing them to do with gay abandon all over the country, whether or not it's to the young, the elderly, and the pregnant..

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Geography Lesson

...And while we're at it with the sat navs....

The driver of a big truck in a distant corner of Turkey had something or another to deliver to a place called Gibraltar, but partway across Europe something went badly askew in his consultations with his GPS and with his own common sense, and he kept steering northwest till he crossed the English Channel and ended up almost wedged in a country road at a place called Gibraltar Point, in England. He did this instead of heading southwest to the much more renowned big rock just south of Spain, famed for its colony of apes and also for marking the point where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet and in Aristotle's time called the Pillars of Hercules.

This shows that it's always important to know exactly where we stand in the world, hardly at all in the social understanding of that expression and instead in the sense of geography, because society is far from being everything, while the planet certainly is all that we have.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Getting Around in Today's World

An article in the BBC News tells of a satellite navigation navigation system called Glonass, that the Russians have had under development since before the Soviet Union dissolved but that they haven't managed to bring to a fully commercial state because of economic troubles in the meantime. Now they feel that it's only a matter of a short time before Glonass will be fully operational, fully compatible with GPS, and with one or two small advantages over GPS, mainly working better in the northern latitudes.

The GPS sounds like something I would definitely have, if I hadn't gotten settled in so thoroughly at home, but now I am more interested in what another article in BBC News had to say just yesterday, about finding one's way without the aid of any tech devices at all.

I have gotten adept at "shooting the sun," just by looking in its general direction and noting its height above the horizon and its intensity. But I use this skill not for navigation but for telling the time of day, and in that I am usually accurate to within 15 minutes -- good enough. And when I was moving around a lot in the greater world I always had a good sense of direction anyway, and I can't remember ever having been truly lost, whether while driving or on foot.

But if something were to throw me out willy-nilly on the highways and byways for a long distance, I would get a GPS device, just to be doing it, though I would still rely much more on maps.

I love maps and using them, and at one time I had fond dreams of being a cartographer. I wonder if maps are still being made and much in use. I wouldn't be surprised if they're not, though I know that in today's world, to make such assumptions is chancy.

The Glonass article speaks of how, during the Cold War, the Soviets deliberately made maps with big inaccuracies, out of fears of invasion. That's not only utterly crazy, but it's also unbelievably obscene. No wonder the U.S.S.R. was dissolved and, among a myriad of other things, thereby allowed GPS to get there well ahead of Glonass.

Who in their right minds would want to invade Russia anyway? During World War 2, the Germans proved the total folly of that for all time to come. And what would you end up with, in the very unlikely event that you succeeded? But I guess gross stupidity is one of the enduring legacies of human leadership. The Axis of 1941 thought they could improve on the French of 1812, and right now we can see the same sort of thing happening in Afghanistan, a dark spot in the geography where seemingly nothing is ever learned.

I wish the Russians well, though is it too obvious to say that, for commercial success, they badly need to change the name of their product? In the English-speaking world, the title "Glonass" would be much too prone to draw unseemly remarks. That's why, in the Babel of today's world, companies usually try to hire good translators before they even think of putting something on the global market. Or at least you would think that they would.