Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Guess Throwing Erasers Is Out of the Question

From the YGTBKM file, this was in today's Post and Courier: "Battery Creek teacher suspended for shooting foam dart."

Associated Press
Thursday, February 26, 2009

BEAUFORT — A science teacher at a South Carolina high school has been suspended after he shot a foam dart at a 14-year-old student.

The Beaufort Gazette reported that 29-year-old Jeffrey Baker is on paid administrative leave from Battery Creek High School for Monday's incident.

A Beaufort County Sheriff's Department report said Baker fired a foam dart from a toy gun toward a group of students who were talking and laughing in his class. The report said after most students quieted down, one girl continued to talk, and Baker fired a dart at her in a "joking manner," hitting her left shoulder.

The report says the girl slapped Baker with the back of her hand. School district officials would not say if she was or will be disciplined.

The report says the girl's mother wants to pursue an assault charge against Baker.

I remember when teachers threw erasers with impunity. At my "college," an instructor once launched one at a sleeping kid beside me but hit me instead, leaving a huge chalk-dust blot on my dark blue uniform jacket. Apology? Law suit? Assault charges? Right. He pointed at me and said, "Wake that guy up!" Those were the days.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hopping Around

Blogging will be light for a few days. I'm on the road. In Colorado to hear my daughter sing tonight with her high school's jazz band. Should be fun.

I'll be busy for at least 24 hours trying to keep my foot out of my mouth, or get it back out. So it goes.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

History Repeating Itself

And in an echo of the Great Depression, businesses in some Piedmont counties are even resurrecting a local paper currency. Pegged to the dollar, it's designed to keep money in the community.
Because I'm in the middle of The Forgotten Man, recommended to me by Barry as an outstanding read on the Great Depression (and living up to the recommendation), this story on brokered bartering caught my eye in today's Charlotte Observer. But we're not in a depression, they keep telling us. No. Not yet.

As for the bartering:

Organizers say new sign-ups have tripled in recent months.

“When we first started out we had to explain that it can be a lifeboat in times of economic uncertainty or instability,” Donovan says. “But we don't have to explain that anymore.”

Friday, February 20, 2009

25 Random Things

I was tagged for this exercise by Barry and by Becky, and blog-bud Buck's are up as well. So here goes. Here are the instructions (this will have a life both on the blog and on FaceBook, where both tags and the exercise originated):

Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it's because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to “NOTES” under tabs on your "PROFILE" page (you may have to add the tab by clicking on the + sign), click on "Compose New Message" and paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)
25 Random Things About Me. Here goes:
  1. Like most military aviators, I have a call sign. It's "Doc." Most of my skydiving friends don't even know my first name. Most of my non-skydiving friends have never heard of Doc. It's still funny to me to watch either group say, "Who?" when someone refers to me by the name they're unfamiliar with.
  2. When I sneeze, I'm pretty sure the neighbors' (upstairs and through the side wall) china rattles. I know that you can hear me from at least one car back--my family makes a point of reminding me.
  3. I shave with a mug and a brush. Back in the late 70's, hot lather dispensers were the newest gadgets. I've had hot lather virtually every shave since the first time I ever pretended with a plastic razor and Dad handed me down his brush. Some things technology can't improve.
  4. But whipped cream out of a can is just fine. That I've been known to mainline.
  5. The last time I wore my uniform was the day I gave my last final, last semester at the Citadel. If it stays the last time except for some future official ceremony, I will not be sorry. Thirty-one years is long enough.
  6. I make kick-a** guacamole. It's the one real debt I owe my former mother-in-law. "People mess it up by complicating it." I complicated it tonight with cilantro, jalapeno, and powdered red savina peppers--but those are merely tonight's enhancements to the basic recipe Peggy taught me and that I've treasured for 25 years.
  7. I haven't read anyone else's 25 things because I wanted mine to be pure. I'm looking forward to that later tonight.
  8. I've performed onstage as "Curly" for two production runs of Oklahoma: Goldsboro, NC, in 1985, and Merced, CA, in 1987.
  9. The funniest opening to an essay I think I've ever read was, "The subject of my S. A. is . . ." I don't remember anything from it after that. I was sitting in the auditorium watching others audition for Oklahoma when I graded it, and watching my future wife lose her role as Laurie by merely reading Ado Annie's part. She was freakin' awesome. The producer looked back at me from one row ahead, and I just said, "I know, I know. Now I'll have to kiss some other girl onstage." :-D
  10. And in 1985, after moving to Merced and taking a role as a member of the chorus in a three-weekend run of Camelot (because I'd had the musical memorized since age seven and by the time I arrived in town, auditions were over and the principal roles filled), I filled in the second weekend as Lancelot because the principal had laryngitis. I had six hours to rehearse. I never missed a line.
  11. I am not gay. Mom liked musicals.
  12. I serenaded Tammy Bost with "If Ever I Would Leave You" at the ripe old age of seven, while her older brother and sister held her captive. I was a sucker for a pretty face from a very young age. Someone should have warned me.
  13. I was 27 years old before I learned that my grandmother took her own life and older still before I really understood why Mom liked Camelot in particular.
  14. My father is the closest thing to King Arthur I will ever know, and a better man than I expect to ever be.
  15. The best grade I ever earned on an academic assignment was for my final paper in a technical writing class at the Academy. It was on hunting with a bird dog. The instructor put an A in the middle of the last page and plusses out to the margin. I think he liked it.
  16. I believe in destiny,
  17. because I've rolled a Spitfire with the top down,
  18. thirteen days after cartwheeling an aircraft through the treetops.
  19. And I've been struck by a water mocassin (leaving only two perfect holes, a slight scar and bragging rights, but no venom),
  20. while I was trudging through a swamp to find the main canopy I'd cut away below a thousand feet less than an hour earlier. But I'm still here.
  21. I had the highest IQ among those tested in my high school class. I was tested for admission to the Cullowhee Experience in 1974 because Ms. Strawser said, "I knew you had to be a genius because you have no common sense at all." At the time, that was accurate.
  22. I met most of my best male friends in high school because we were pursuing the same girls.
  23. I'm afraid of heights. But only when I'm below about 500 feet and not wearing a parachute.
  24. I don't often drink alone, but tonight, I had a Vesper and a bowl of guac and chips to keep me company during this post. A textbook Vesper, right down to the champagne goblet. Vesper and guac alike are gone, and I'm done, save one final not-so-random thing:
  25. I've felt like just about the luckiest guy in the world for almost a year now. She knows why I think that. I wish the same for all my friends.
And I'm not tagging anyone with this. My inbox is the equivalent of the dead letter office for chain mails and memes, but if you feel like sharing, you know I'd love to hear it.

Peace y'all.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Best Job in the World

If you don't know about this contest, you can learn about it here.

I'm not applying for the job. But I have at least one friend who has. The video below is from the wife of a skydiving bud. I shouldn't be surprised. Boo and Renee host a pig roast every year that as many of us as can make it jump into. They've also mastered the art of getting their Christmas tree decorated without the hassle of doing it themselves: they put up the tree, put out the decorations, and then host a party. You're simply obligated to hang at least one ornament when you arrive.

I'm not surprised by the video job app below; it's really just one more line on a resume filled with class acts. You can view it through the YouTube link below, or you can see it at the job site and give it a rating. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Father-Daughter Night: Hooters, Taken, and Flat Aidan


One of the advantages of living in Charleston is being able to meet my oldest daughter, a student at UNC-Wilmington, for dinner every few weeks. Last night we met up in Myrtle Beach at the Hooters that hooked the rest of my family on Hooters's wings. (I can almost hear the audible gasps: "You take your daughters to Hooters!?" Take them? We've had birthday parties there, graduation parties, informal gatherings. After the first time they tried the wings there, during a visit following a day of outlet shopping at the beach, a visit to the very place we ate last night, I had to be sure we got there in time for the afternoon specials to avoid breaking the bank. Trust me. No other wings like them.)


Following dinner, we headed to the mall next door to see Taken. If you need a Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, lone wolf sort of action thriller, this will fill the bill. Just be sure to pull the circuit breaker on your reality filter. It's not that any of the action sequences are over the top. No, they're well enough done. It's not that the whole kidnapping for sex slavery thing is overdone. No, that happens often enough to require an annual briefing on it to everyone in the Air Force. It's the other things that films like this consider unimportant that make such films utterly forgettable.

It opens with the obligatory "let's show who he is" scenes. He's a guy with close friends from his past life as a "preventer." These are guys who visit for a cookout and invite him along on a contract job, to remind them and us he "still has the edge." These are the guys he can call on to analyze the tapes once his daughter has been taken. The guys that will tell him he only has 96 hours to find his daughter and then wish him luck doing it all on his own. What?! Speaking purely figuratively, I have gay friends with bigger balls. In fact, my female friends have bigger balls. If anyone in that line of work called a "friend" and said, "They've taken my daughter. I'm going to get her back," the reaction from the other end would be, "Party! Rock and roll baby! Where should we meet you?" Not this movie. So long as that fairly significant break from reality doesn't bother you, you'll be fine.

And if that one gets by without causing any problems, you should be fine when he gets his daughter home. That would be the seventeen-year-old who's been kidnapped, drugged up, tramped out for auction, kept as a virgin for a particular type of clientele, but no doubt "schooled" in a few things, and then (spoiler alert) rescued at the last second by daddy, unlike the now dead girlfriend she went to Paris with. If you're okay with him having to run the whole op on his own, then you'll be fine with her arriving back in the states after her less-than-96-hour adventure all cheerful and bubbly like she's been away at cheerleading camp. I'm sure that won't bother you anymore than it did me. Even the man who gave us Rob Roy has to eat, and all that well-choreographed stuff in the middle that stretches incredulity so much less does somewhat satisfy every father of daughters' secret longing to run rampant through the entire high school or college male population of would be defilers of his princesses. Catharsis. Get some.

Flat Aidan

Lastly, remember Flat Jackson? Well, now it's time for Flat Aidan. I pulled him from yesterday's mail just in time to make the trip to Myrtle to see his cousin and get a money shot with the Hooters Girls. :-D

And my sister, Aidan's mother, thinks I mind this why? Looking back, I see a trend. I have a Chief Female Associate (CFA) beyond compare, so this new awareness does me no good whatsoever, but listen up guys: If you can't borrow a baby or a puppy from your friends who have one, get out the black construction paper and the white marker, and work on your back story. Trust me on this. And ladies, don't even think about giving me a hard time. We have to work with what God gave us. All you have to do is toss your hair.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You

It's Valentine's Day. My Valentine and I celebrated by picking up burgers and fries at Five Guys in Cumming, Georgia, (I swear--it's the name of the town--I'm not making it up) and driving out to the base of Buford Dam to eat them sitting on the tailgate of the Jeep, watching the ducks bobbing for lunch, and the fly fishermen killing time while Etta James crooned from the stereo.

But this post is really about what came next. By now, those of you who are regular reviewers here should know enough to know whether or not to trust my taste in movies. Mostly, I'll just comment on whether a movie is worth your ten bucks and two hours or not. But occasionally, I'll feel strongly enough about one to actually say that you shouldn't miss it. Reign Over Me was like that. So was Once. At the other end of the spectrum was Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, which is the only movie I can remember seeing in the last decade that made me seriously want to kill myself.

Today's topic is in the first category, the do not miss this category. After a pseudo-picnic--the best we could do for a cloudy February day in North Georgia--we went to a movie.

Don Anderson likes to say that the measure of good writing is when you say, "I wish I'd written that." Well, this movie passes that test with flying colors. Great acting, great casting, and possibly the best script of its sort that I've ever seen. They so nailed it. All of it. Any book or film would be doing well to tackle the dynamics of any of the relationships in this movie and do it with fidelity to life. To tackle them all--the singles that don't want to be, the players, the committed unmarried, the faithful married and the cheating spouse, the mistress, the uninterested, the interested only for sex, the used and cast off, the list goes on. It would be an ambitious project just to sit around one night with friends and try to list all the various roles one might encounter in the world of relationships one decade into the 21st century. Listing them would be ambitious enough. To work them all into a single movie would seem over-ambitious. To work them all into a single movie with the honesty and fidelity which this movie does is, from my point of view, the work of gods and goddesses. It's based on the book by the same title

It is like Shakespeare's As You Like It, in that the right couples end up together in the end, and the right people end up . . . alone. It is better than entertaining. It's real. It's true. It's cathartic. It's the movie I'm most likely to remember from this year. It's the one, like Once and Reign Over Me, that I'd be willing to offer a money-back guarantee on. See it with someone you love or someone you want to love. See it with your best friend. Whoever you are, you will see people in it that you recognize, and you will be amazed at how well they capture them, their motivations, their emotions, their souls.

Grade: A+

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rush Fan?

Not so long ago, I mentioned that my canine companion was depressed. The changes in her behavior had come about gradually, but they had finally reached the point where they demanded notice. Despite being fed less than every guide said a dog her size should eat, she was still gaining weight. She was sad. She needed help to crawl up into the floorboard of the Jeep. She had no real interest in walks. A run was out of the question--she couldn't keep up for a hundred yards; whereas, she once drug me along for a mile or two. We'd had her on thyroid medication for a very short while a few years back, but my not-canine companion's verdict was that it made her crazy (the dog, mostly), so we stopped administering it. It was now clear though, that something had to be done.

So, last week I took her (the dog) back to the vet, confirmed that she did have a low thyroid condition, and decided to try again with the medication, but at half the dose of last time.

Wow. She's been on the meds for a week. Already she has more energy and less mass and seems to be converting one to the other at about the rate of a controlled nuclear reaction. She is still big for her breed, but every day she looks a little more like Dwayne Johnson and less like Chris Farley. You could have knocked me over with a feather the other day when I opened the door to the Jeep and instead of needing to help her in, she leapt from the ground to the seat. And on walks now, she's back to leading the way.

She's a little more hungry though. She's begun to show an interest in every Chihuahua and squirrel that she sees, but I realized this morning there could be another explanation for that. When I leave for work each day, I turn on the radio to give her the sound of human voices during the day. For a while it was NPR, then classic rock, then country. But a few weeks ago, I changed her daily radio diet to an FM talk station here in town. Now she gets a steady flow of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, some guy named Schnitt, etc.

This morning it hit me. She may not see those small animals as food after all--maybe she just thinks they're all illegals and tree huggers.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


We all have our pet peeves. One of mine is people tossing their cigarette butts, usually still burning, out the window of their cars. Well now, according to this article from the Wilmington Star News, you can do something about that, at least in North Carolina:

Some motorists and car passengers in our area might benefit from a letter from the colonel of the N.C. State Highway Patrol.

That’s what happens when alert witnesses report litterbugs to the state through its Swat-A-Litterbug program. The offenders get a letter, informing them that someone spotted them littering, what they did was illegal and that fines range from $250 to $2,000 and can double on subsequent convictions. It’s signed by the colonel.

And according to the N.C. Department of Transportation, more people are tattling. More than 9,600 littering reports were made to the Swat-A-Litterbug program in 2008, up 23 percent from 7,800 in 2007.

Now I'm not sure how many people this will actually deter from littering, but I know it'll make me feel better if I can arrange that sort of correspondence for them. It'll be the next best thing to one of the best ideas George Carlin ever had for handling bad drivers. (And if anyone can find a video or audio of the a--hole flags routine, I'll be happy to post a link. Some of you know what I'm talking about.)

Just in case you feel your inner police informant vibrating in harmony, here's the rest that you need to know:
The Swat-A-Litterbug program is administered by DOT’s Office of Beautification Programs and the Highway Patrol. If you [spot] someone littering from a vehicle, you can make a report through the mail, over the phone at 1-877-DOT-4YOU or online (the preferred method) at Mail-in cards can be obtained by calling 1-800-331-5864. To make a report, you need the vehicle’s license plate number, date and time of the incident, street name, city, county and a description of the offense.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Skydive Carolina

[I publish this with a disclaimer of sorts. I wrote it early this morning, first thing after my perusal of the eight front pages I scan on a daily basis. But rather than publish it immediately, I sent it to the DZ manager of Skydive Carolina to fact check. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure he's gone to the Parachute Industry Association Symposium, so I may not hear from him for a while. If I've gotten any details wrong, I'll publish corrections. Meanwhile, I'm confident enough about the principles involved to go with what I've written.]

Some things are newsworthy only by proxy. If a man has a heart attack on the neighborhood basketball court and dies doing what he loved and among friends, it'll make the news. But if a man simply gets a bloody nose charging the lane during a game, it's hardly newsworthy, unless it happens on the same court the very next weekend.

This article from the Charlotte Observer this morning is like that, only worse--its sloppy use of language does the finest drop zone (DZ) in the Carolinas, and all the Observer's readers a disservice:

For the second time in slightly more than a week, a skydiver suffered a mishap while landing at the Chester County Airport. This time, the jump ended without tragedy. A skydiver suffered minor injuries Sunday afternoon after a hard landing at the end of a solo jump, said James LaBarrie, general manager of Skydive Carolina. The man might have suffered a sprained ankle, LaBarrie said.

Eight days ago, a first-time skydiver steered safely to the ground after his instructor suffered an apparent midair fatal heart attack. Both incidents involved Skydive Carolina, a skydiving company that operates out of the Chester County Airport.

First, the incident itself is analogous to that basketball game in that a new solo skydiver landing hard and spraining an ankle isn't something that happens every day, but when it does, it's hardly more newsworthy than a bloody nose or a twisted ankle on the neighborhood basketball court. It made the news today only because of the prior weekend's much more newsworthy event. Unfortunately, even that event is misrepresented here.

In addition to being a skydiving instructor with years of experience, I'm also an English professor. While skydiving is my love, teaching literature and writing pays the bills. I stress to my students, on a daily basis, that above all, they should be careful that the things they write are true. To say, "For the second time in slightly more than a week, a skydiver suffered a mishap while landing," is wrong, untrue, misrepresentative, and downright lazy. In the incident the previous weekend, the tandem instructor, after safely deploying the main canopy and even exchanging a few words with his student, suffered a heart attack before reaching the ground. The student, a young soldier with the kind of situational awareness and initiative that makes our armed forces the finest in the world, then steered the canopy to a safe landing and even attempted CPR on the instructor. That's not a "mishap while landing." That's not even really a skydiving mishap. It may be arguable that it's even a "mishap." Everyone is saddened by the loss of a good man and fine instructor, and yet most of us, at least most people I know, harbor a very real hope that when our time comes, we'll have the good fortune to go so peacefully in the middle of doing something we love, rather than wasting away in a hospital bed with some form of cancer or living long enough for dementia to set in and no longer being able to find our way to the DZ. Thus, even the word "tragedy" may be a misnomer. That same heart attack suffered on the road on the way home could have been a far worse tragedy. (And for those wondering, had it come earlier, before deployment of the canopy, yes, there is a backup system that would have deployed the main canopy at a set emergency altitude.)

But I'm allowing myself to become distracted. My point is this. A sprained ankle at a DZ is not news. Barring the previous weekend's events, it would never have reached the threshold of public awareness, and to report it as if it were a part of some ominous trend is sensationalism at its worst. I can only guess it was a slow news day in that corner of the Carolinas.

For what it's worth, I've skydived over much of this country, from Maryland to California and from Florida to Washington, either for pleasure, or in demonstrations with one military team or another. Every DZ has a certain character, an ambiance, and a reputation within the skydiving community. I made my first jump at Skydive Carolina back in 2003, and I made my last attempt to jump there this past Saturday. It was an attempt because the winds were a little high. Not so high that many of the places I've jumped wouldn't have pressed right on. (The United States Parachute Association's (USPA's) Basic Safety Requirements (BSRs) are really more "recommendations" than "requirements." The Skydiver's Information Manual refers to them as "risk-reduction procedures," an unblushing acknowledgment that ours is a sport in which risk is only reducable, never capable of full elimination.) At other DZs I've patronized, those winds, sporty without doubt, might easily have lost out to the interplay of testosterone, adrenaline, and the fact that an aircraft on the ground earns no lift fees. Not at Chester. Skydive Carolina, after waiting the winds out for a while on the ground, called it a day rather than risk an off-DZ landing or injury should enthusiasm get the upper hand of good sense. I cannot stress enough the difficulty and cost of borderline calls like that and just how much they say about the character of a DZ's owners and manager.

And that is what this post is really about. The contrast between a good DZ and poor news reporting. With great power comes great responsibility. Our media these days are heady with power, and more than a little short on responsibility. By saying anything at all about a non-event and by saying it in language that can be described most charitably as "inprecise," the Observer does all of us, jumpers and readers alike, a disservice. Either more was needed to put the report in proper perspective, or nothing at all should have been said. All that is unspoken has the effect of suggesting too much that is untrue.

I've recently moved back home to the South after 31 years wearing Air Force blue. I expect to spend a lot of time at Chester. It's friendly, it's clean, it has amenities other DZ's only dream of, and above all, it's safe. When she's of age, Skydive Carolina will likely be the DZ where my youngest daughter makes her first jump, and perhaps, if we can get off the golf course long enough, even my dad.

And that, for what it's worth, is my two cents on today's skydiving "news."

Australia's Brushfires

A few weeks ago, I posted a link to photos of London at night, hosted on Boston's The Big Picture. These photos of the brush fires in Australia are just as striking. To get an idea of the temperatures involved when the fire sweeps by, just look at the streams of molten metal that run away from what were once the alloy wheels of the cars caught in the firestorms.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Quote for the Day: Wiedemann

I can't find a definitive, reliable source for this (which is to say the good Lt Col may or may not exist, and may or may not ever have said such a thing), which I received by e-mail, so I'll plead the answer any good novelist will use when asked if something in a novel is true: If it isn't, it should be.

"Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd by the clean end." --R. J. Wiedemann LtCol. USMC Ret.
Hat tip: Con

Update: The following were posted as comments, but belong in the body of this post as an integral part of the experience:

R.J.Wiedemann | 08.28.09 - 6:27 pm:
This Quote is not original with me. It was the winner in an annual contest at Texas A&M University

Doc | 08.29.09 - 5:28 am:
Which places the author of this blog in something of a quandary. There are two ways of viewing the post as it now stands. The first view might be that the post is obviously inaccurate and should be corrected. The second view is that, taken with the comment, the post itself, including the caveat that it does, is now not only more accurate than before, but also stands as a testimony to the integrity of the USMC.

The author, having spent two years as the only USAF officer of any rank stationed on Camp Pendleton, CA, during General Zinni's tenure, chooses to go with the latter view.

Thanks for the correction, devil dog. Semper Fi!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Craigslist ESL

From November, when I was shopping for a car for my daughter--do these people not have friends who can proofread their Craigslist ad?

  • 1995 jeep cherokee 4x4 good contischen 160000 miles green in colar need mini van for my famely so i need to sell this one if interesstet call [removed] thank you

Friday, February 6, 2009

"Why, Oh Why Didn't I Take the Blue Pill"

You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed, and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you just how deep the rabbit hole goes. --Morpheus
It's bad form for a blogger to beat up on his commenters. They really are his friends, for the most part, even the one's he's never actually met. They keep him intellectually honest, or at least they try. On the other hand, male "conversation" can take an awful lot more in-your-face disagreement than most women think and suffer no ill effects to the friendship. It's an undeniable gender difference that was repeatedly driven home to me every time my ex asked, "So, are you and (fill in the blank with opponent from spirited "conversation" at that night's gathering) still friends?" For the longest time, I didn't understand the question. Finally I recognized that the male openness with disagreement--a mode of interaction actually founded on mutual respect--is vastly different from the pretended concurrence that marks many estrogen-driven interactions. The men would get it all out, have the next best thing to a fist fight (enjoying ourselves immensely all the while) and part the best of friends and looking forward to the next round. Meanwhile, the women would conceal and contain their true opinions, part with kisses and hugs, only to say as soon as the car door closed, "I don't care if I never see that b-tch again! Do you know what she said?" The man who dares suggest that his partner should have said something to the offending party at the time will learn rather quickly that he'll fare better if it tries to stop a train in the mode of Hancock.

But, I digress. Both the dumbing down of America and the warming up of the world seem to have seeded conversations on this blog in interesting ways. And though I might have answered in the comment thread that spawned the thoughts which follow, they seem to have general enough applicability to merit their own post. Brace yourself. I'm going to take a stand. You may not like it. (Of course, I look at the paragraph above and think, "I've probably already crossed that line.") Feel free to say so.

In my opinion, arguing that anthropomorphic climate change is "controversial" or "theoretic" is like taking the same stance on evolution by natural selection. If you're comfortable with it, fine. You're in the right country for that. Outnumbered in the developed world in that stance, but hardly lonely in America, where nine of ten adults can't explain what radiation is and how it affects the human body, and where, staggeringly, one in five adults believes the sun revolves around the earth.

If you find comfort in the increasingly minority opinion that our continued pumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere can possibly be without consequence, then lucky you. To borrow a phrase from my college physics text, some things should be "intuitively obvious to even the casual observer." I think perhaps the best thing about Gore's movie may have been its title. When even the truth that we can intuit is "inconvenient," we develop an interest in grasping at straws. I should remember how to do that. Many was the time in my undergraduate days when Air Force was down by over three touchdowns with less than two minutes to play and our cheerleaders were frantically trying to convince us all, "We can still win!" Right.

Who needs forests or clean energy or a balanced budget? I think for many the most important question seems to be, "Will the bill come due in my lifetime? Will I see the consequences?" When the answer is "No," it becomes easier still to believe the convenient construction of things, to swallow as it were, the blue pill. For some, it's not even a choice, but a necessity.
We never free a mind once it's reached a certain age. It's dangerous. The mind has trouble letting go. --Morpheus
Related Links
Now where else can you find those two links together? :-) Deconstruct that one, Buck. ;-)

On Climatological and Intellectual Tipping Points

The genesis of this post was a conversation taking place in the comments thread of Tuesday's post that tied together a Hulu Super Bowl commercial and Susan Jacoby's, The Age of American Unreason. I realized, as the conversation progressed, that I may have given the wrong impression of my overall view of Jacoby's thesis. And so, I said this:

I need to be fair here. Though I'm eventually going to take Jacoby to task for a couple of things where she misses the mark in a bad way--namely, e-mail and blogs--I think she's dead on in her indictment of the dumbing down of America and the role of TV, video games, and to a lesser extent, the internet, in that dumbing down. That commercial only appears to be tongue-in-cheek. In reality, it's pretty dead on. Making hyperbolic fun of something that's actually happening as if it's no big deal is a tried and true distraction technique. It doesn't change the fact that it's happening. What it does is try to make you feel silly for worrying about it.
Jacoby's book, flaws on those two counts above aside, is frightening, and, I'm afraid, largely accurate.

Overall, I think Jacoby is mostly right in both her analysis of our current intellectual climate and direction as a nation (although, along with every other weight unfairly hoisted onto the shoulders of our nation's new president, I think many are hoping his election indicates a potential shift in this arena as well) and the route by which we arrived in this pickle. Of course, it's no secret to most who read this blog that I'm also a firm believer that the earth is currently warming, that it is doing so because of human activity, and that if we don't alter course soon, it may be too late.

That said, I was struck by a parallel between these two topics: the concept of the tipping point. (For a good discussion of the concept in a climatological sense, you'll find the Wikipedia entry at the preceding link helpful.) Recent news reports on a just out NOAA study suggest that we may be closer to a climatological tipping point that previously believed, or perhaps, even beyond it. A pdf of the entire NOAA report can be had here, but for now, here is the abstract:
The severity of damaging human-induced climate change depends not only on the magnitude of the change but also on the potential for irreversibility. This paper shows that the climate change that takes place due to increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop. Following cessation of emissions, removal of atmospheric carbon dioxide decreases radiative forcing, but is largely compensated by slower loss of heat to the ocean, so that atmospheric temperatures do not drop significantly for at least 1,000 years. Among illustrative irreversible impacts that should be expected if atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations increase from current levels near 385 parts per million by volume (ppmv) to a peak of 450–600 ppmv over the coming century are irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions comparable to those of the “dust bowl” era and inexorable sea level rise. Thermal expansion of the warming ocean provides a conservative lower limit to irreversible global average sea level rise of at least 0.4–1.0 m if 21st century CO2 concentrations exceed 600 ppmv and 0.6–1.9 m for peak CO2 concentrations exceeding ≈1,000 ppmv. Additional contributions from glaciers and ice sheet contributions to future sea level rise are uncertain but may equal or exceed several meters over the next millennium or longer.
Of course, last I'd heard, Rush was busy assuring us all that none of this was our fault and all of it beyond our control. Right. I used to enjoy him before the Oxycontin destroyed the half of his brain that wasn't tied behind his back.

But the phrase has sociological denotations as well, and it's that meaning that I think Jacoby has in mind when she says in her conclusion:
It is possible that nothing will help. The nation's memory and attention span may already have sustained so much damage that they cannot be revived by the best efforts of America's best minds. I too am nibbling at the edges by talking about the need for political leaders who address Americans as thinking adults; for intellectuals willing to step up and bring their knowledge, instead of a lust for power, to the public square; for educators devoted to teaching and learning rather than to the latest fads in pop psychology. None of these suggestions addresses the core problem created by the media--the pacifiers of the mind that permeate our homes, schools, and politics. There is little evidence to indicate that Americans have either the desire or the will to lessen their dependency on the easy satisfactions held out by the video and digital world . . . . (315)
I doubt, though, that it will ever be entirely too late. There will always be intelligent and deeply thoughtful people out there, the question will be how they are valued by society at large. In the time of Thomas Jefferson, we revered them. But in the time of Galileo, we placed them under house arrest. Perhaps this, like all things, is cyclical. Let us hope so. Idiocracy wasn't a movie I enjoyed.

All of the above I wrote more than two days ago now. How apropos then, that in a segment on The Daily Show last night, Lewis Black took some members of Congress to task for their efforts to avail themselves of a not-so-new-any-more medium in the form of YouTube. Idiocracy may be closer than we think.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Snapshot: Home

Two people sit in a room that could not possibly be more warmly lit. The walls are a deep red tending toward iron oxide in the light of lamps on the mantle, on the black, baby grand Steinway, and on the marble-topped end table. Plentiful windows trimmed in glossy white enamel let in the subdued light of a gray day. Rain washes the world outside and taps a syncopated rhythm in the downspout on the near corner of the two-story house. Through the paned glass rear door, deck boards glisten and reflect the gray sky broken by the branches of a winter forest. Below the deck and across a back yard of mostly moss and through the bare winter trunks beyond, the creek isn't so much angry with the surplus it hurries along as merely enthusiastic, energetic, awake and purposeful now, unlike its usual sleepy self.

Inside again, a wood fire crackles warmly in a stone fireplace and the man looks up from the corner of the couch where he's grading student essays on a notebook computer the desktop of which shows two rocking chairs and hanging baskets on the front porch of this house and the background color of which matches the walls so that when he leaves he takes this place with him (but never so much as of himself he leaves behind). He looks up at the fire, across the gray-white-and-black Husky sleeping contentedly in the middle of the thick carpet, almost but not quite snoring, centered on the fireplace and positioned halfway between the man and woman. The woman sits nearer the fire, sideways to it in a rocking chair she refinished years ago and in which she has cradled to sleep countless times her young daughter and younger son. And for all that the idea of a rocking chair calls forth visions of age, this is a young and beautiful mother whose oldest child came into this world years after the dog stretched lazily at her feet. Yet in her rocking image, as she sits editing a book on yet another notebook computer perched on the fuzzy soft blanket that warms her knees, the man sees in her the mother she is, the mother who gave her life, the grandmothers he never knew, and years hence, the grandmother she will become. And in that vision is the wellspring of the contentment we only think comes from the smell of chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven or the dulcet tones of a lullaby trickling down the stairs from the nursery like the gentle fall of water over the stones of a brook. Feeling his gaze, she looks up at him, tilts her head and smiles.

Nothing is spoken. Two separate lifetimes lead to this moment, and for now, this is but a passing like two participants at a Maypole who meet one another twice in each full round of the pole. For now, the dance is necessary. Patient they are. Because of all they've seen and what they know, they content themselves with those passing smiles. What they've each seen is what enables them to understand one another as no one else could. What they know is that the nature of the Maypole is such that each passing, each circuit of the pole, each cycle of reunion and separation brings them closer to the base, closer to a union from which parting will no longer be necessary.

For now, the rain keeps a broken rhythm, the fire crackles in counterpoint, the Husky chases Arctic hares that lope misplaced through the powdery new snow of Siberian dreams, and the man and the woman know what they know.

For now, that's enough.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What Frightens Me: The Case of Todd Newmiller

Below is a video you may not have time to watch. It's long. It is likely to amaze you. It may make you angry. Me, it frightens. Again.

I was at the appeal hearing, a part of which is presented in the video below. I was there because Todd Newmiller's parents are my friends. I've known them since 1991. Todd's father was one of my mentors when I first began teaching. I was also at, at least part of the original trial in Colorado Springs. I lived in Colorado Springs when the unfortunate death for which Todd was convicted took place. I noted the event in the morning paper. As the Deputy Head of our department, I learned of my friend's son's intimate connection with it very shortly thereafter.

In the beginning, no one doubted that Todd would be cleared of the crime. Knowing the facts of the case and watching the trial unfold and then watching the appeal left me saying, earnestly, that if I were ever wrongfully accused of a serious crime, the day I were released on bail would be my last in the United States. A lot of us said that.

This is, far and away, the worst miscarriage of justice with which I have any personal familiarity. And I do not exaggerate when I say it frightens me. I've reached that age where I have, as a rule, little faith in institutions in general. But one can get by on very little faith, so long as one is not reminded of why such faith is generally misplaced. Todd's case is one of those reminders from which it is difficult to return to complacency of any sort.

So, you've been warned. I doubt simply watching the video, if one is unfamiliar with just how egregious the railroading was, will be as profoundly erosive of one's peace of mind as experiencing the trials in person could be. Nonetheless, I'm compelled to say, view at your own risk.

Video originally posted at: Bearing False Witness, a site maintained by Todd's family and dedicated to publicizing his cause and the larger cause of all those wrongfully convicted.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Quote for the Day: Gibran

From The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
I miss my daughters. --Doc

Super Bowl Ads

Okay, two things at once here.

First, for years, the Super Bowl has been the one television event I know of for which I didn't mute the commercials. Rather, during the Super Bowl, many of us tend to go for snacks during the game, but sit riveted during the commercials. There are no instant replays on the commercials, but anything worth seeing in the game will be the topic of endless highlight reels.

Well these days, I have no TV. Well, I have a TV, it's just not connected to a signal source other than my DVD player. But, have no fear, at this site, you'll find, collected in a single place for your alphabetical viewing pleasure, the entire collection of commercial spots from this past weekend's Super Bowl. I've no idea how long it will remain up and running--perhaps forever, perhaps only for days--but for now, you'll need a chunk of time if you want to watch them all. Or, if you had a favorite that you need to show someone, look no further.

Second, I've been meaning for some time to post comments about a book I read over the Christmas break: Susan Jacoby's, The Age of American Unreason. I've lots more to say about this book, but for now, I'll simply assert that if Jacoby--for whom I think it's fair to say, video, in all its incarnations, amounts to the technological Anti-Christ heralding intellectual Armageddon--were watching when the commercial below came on, I would have loved to have been there to watch her. "That's it!" I imagine her saying excitedly, "That's exactly what it does! Exactly! You think he's kidding, making fun of my views as extreme and ridiculous, but really, that's what videotainment does to your brain!" More on Jacoby's heavy-handed indictment of technology later, but for now, enjoy:

Monday, February 2, 2009

Nodding Off

When I'm up this late writing a lit test for the morrow, I am easily entertained. Enjoy.