Sunday, October 28, 2007

News From the Real World

Researchers from a Welsh university have discovered a 400-year-old clam off Iceland. When the clam was transported to Wales it immediately demanded refugee status, a government apartment, social services in its own language, and a weekly check, and declared a bitter hatred of all things Welsh.

California prisoners are helping fight wildfires at one dollar an hour, while FEMA employees have held a completely fake press conference in order to deceive the American people. Given their record, perhaps FEMA staffers should be the ones dressed in orange jump suits and working for a dollar an hour.

According to the BBC, many Bolivians consider a llama fetus to be sacred. Perhaps the typical resident of La Paz drives around with a llama fetus on his dashboard, or carries one in a knitted cover. Maybe Bolivians have silly religious arguments that are prefaced with “Well, my llama fetus says….”

Do Bolivian schools feature a Meet Me at the Pole With Your Llama Fetus day?

A theorist (whatever that is) from the London School of Economics predicts that the human race will split into two different species. This is old news, as there are already two kinds of human beings, those who believe there are two kinds of human beings and those who do not.

Who does a grief counselor visit when he has a grief?

According to The New York Times, Democrats in Congress are planning a shorter work-week. And some people say there is no God.

California’s state environmentalist pests are distressed about the air pollution from the fires. Smoke. It’s called smoke.

Homeland Security has pressured New York to grant driving licenses to illegal aliens. So what will New York do if illegal aliens drive without licenses? Arrest them for violating the law?

The Italian government has determined that a series of unexplained house fires is due to space aliens. Maybe the space aliens are angry about not being issued driving licenses.

A police ball in Philadelphia when a police officer and his ex-girlfriend, a former police officer retired on disability, traded punches. The news article does not mention who answered the 911 call.

The CEO of the premiere American manufacturer of body armor has been arrested for spending some ten million (yep, that’s seven zeroes in all) of his company’s dollars on a party for his daughter. Other young people, posted to Iraq, will be glad to hear that.

Ten million dollars of other people’s money for his own bloated ego -- who does this guy think he is, the Archbishop of Los Angeles?

G. I. Joe is going Belgian. He will now be part of an international based in Brussels, the imperial capital of Europe, and will be fighting a Scotch arms dealer. And one can understand; every man or woman in Europe sleeps fitfully because of the ongoing fear of being attacked by Angus and his Flaming Haggis of Death.

A Japanese-owned English-language school system in Japan has collapsed, leaving hundreds of English teachers, all British subjects, stranded and moneyless. One would think that even an English teacher would have enough sense to keep a return ticket and some backup funds.

CBS reports that French Prez Sarkozy walked out of a 60 Minutes interview. The question is why he ever agreed to visit that last barricade of Roosevelt’s New Deal and risk being gummed to death by cranky old men who haven’t enjoyed a fresh idea since 1956.

And now you may fold this excellent newspaper, sit peacefully on your porch with a cup of coffee, and take comfort from the fact that competent men and women, most of them freely elected, are running the world.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

"It looked like a war zone."

No, it didn't.

First of all, there is no such thing as a war zone. There is war, of course, and it is nasty, ugly, violent, foul, and loud.

The only thing that looks like war is war.

And there is no such thing as a war zone, as if some committee were putting up signs restricting the colors of tanks or guns or something.

To compare a burning building or a car wreck, no matter how bad these things are, with war is the worst sort of hyperbole.

Chaucer and the Laboratory Tales

I call therefore a complete and generous education that which fits a man to perform justly, skilfully, and magnanimously all the offices, both public and private, of peace and war.

- John Milton

On Wednesday nights an English literature course, taught by a wise and learned man, meets in the hydraulics lab at Angelina College’s Jasper campus. This placement is not an accident; this is because all the other rooms were already booked for classes in nursing, criminal justice, mathematics (shudder!), art, music, engineering, physics, chemistry, and other intellectual disciplines. Angelina College may never be another Oxford University (which, given the decaying intellectual climate of modern England, is probably just as well), but her graduates are grounded in both conceptual thinking and pragmatic applications of thought.

No, it’s not all Benthamitism and Utilitarianism at Angelina; a human being, before all, is far more than an economic unit. A whiff of hydraulic fluid quite enhances the study of literature, though, and literature is a reflection on and a celebration of life. The 6th century Rule of Saint Benedict requires that a monastic’s life be one of study, physical labor, and prayer, and this is a good model for anyone who wants a life beyond the dreariness of a no-hope-of-promotion job and the even drearier vapidity of passive entertainment as programmed by our would-be masters along the New York – Los Angeles axis.

Because in a small school the hard sciences and the fuzzy studies share the space, the learned English instructor must scribble on the board his by-night brilliant notes on Chaucer among the by-day trails of scientific formulae headed by the stern injunction “DO NOT ERASE.” The result is somehow quite pleasing aesthetically. As an English major might say, “Look at all the pretty number-squiggly-thingies!”

But now consider the following, part of an assignment in trouble-shooting some sort of control device for some sort of hydraulics device found in the classroom among the wires and switches and computers and machinery: “This assignment is intended to refresh your ability to program the PLC and make external connections. Remember that the 24Vdc used for the PLC inputs will not be used to power the outputs or any of the output devices.”

Oh, yeah, and some people say that iambic pentameter is hard.

Another part of the assignment reads: “If the red lamps are selected, the two lamps will alternate, one on while the other is off at the selected flash rate. The same is true of the other colors: yellow, green, and blue.”

And the art major says “Oooooh! Look at the pretty lights!”

Further: “Use your voltmeter and continuity meter to find the error. Avoid trying to locate the problem by touching the wires or by trial and error. At this point you should know what voltages to expect at various points in the circuit.”

You know, even a wheezy old English teacher can figure out that a fellow who has to be reminded not to try to identify a problem by touching live electrical wires probably belongs in the Senate and should kept away from sharp objects.

When you walk down the hallways of Angelina you will pass by the dangling skeleton in a nursing lab, math formulae in the next room, and of course the gadgetry in the dear old hydraulics lab (kinda makes you want to sing “Gaudeamus Igitur,” huh?). The eager and focused students, most of them not young at all, who are going to help make our county prosper enjoy the opportunity to observe, and thus honor, the disciplines of others, and when they someday run their own businesses or work their ways up in the large companies and in county government, their mutual respect and work ethic are going to make life better for us all.

Learning is good.

And the flashing red, green, and yellow lights sure are pretty.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Another Doping Scandal

Mack Hall

"Hello. Sniff. Boohoo. I know that my name, Winthrop Postlewaithe, is on everyone’s lips, and that millions of little boys and girls look up to me as the World Champion Turbo-Four-Way-Chess Champion and want to follow in my footsteps – Queen’s Blasto-Rook to Knight’s Nuclear-Drive-Pawn 32 ½ -- and be just like me, me, me. Sniff. Boohoo. But I stand here before you today a disgraced person. Sniff. Boohoo. I want to apologize to my kazillions of fans, to my mom and dad who raised me to be strong and unafraid in a universe not always kind to a little boy whose dreams of piloting the Starship Enemaprize to nebulae really, really, really, really, really far away and defeating asteroido-serpents with his made-in-China-and-covered-with-lead-paint GollyGeeWhizSabre (four 3A batteries sold separately) were cruelly trashed by neighborhood meanies (I’ll get you for pantsing me in my Captain Quiche space suit, Ficus Norstenwhortle; you see if I don’t!).

"Sniff. I want to apologize to the whole world, because I know everyone on the planet has been following my, my, my career (and to Kim Il Jong in North Korea, which must be a really rockin’ place, thanks for all your emails of support, dude. You rock!). I, I, I know the whole world revolves around me, me, me and my, my, my Turbo-Four-Way-Chess career, especially when I, I, I won three Sorta-Gold-Like medals and two Sorta-Silver-Like medals in the 2004 Delphic Games in Threefrogs, Louisiana, I passed every doping test there was, and I swore to the people of the world that I had never and would never take unfair advantage of my, my, my special gifts by the Vague, Nebulous, Fuzzy Something-or-Other Being-ness Thing or Whatever Mr. Glock has to go away and meditate to in some episodes of Space-Rangers-in-Tight-Bodysuits by taking unauthorized dark chocolate with more than 60% hamster-sweat.

"Sniff. Boohoo. I, I, I must tell you all how I have let you down, because of course you spend all your pathetic little lives thinking about me, me, me and being so sorry that you could not be me, me, me. I mean, like, you know, who wouldn’t want to spend every waking hour sweating and agonizing over every moved in Turbo-Four-Way-Chess (not like those loser nerds who play Three-Way-Chess) just like I, I, I do, and wanting to be the gosh-darnest-bestest player in the whole wide universe. Sniff. Boohoo. I mean, like, who wants to be a mere entrepreneur or skilled craftsman or shop owner or doctor or truck driver or any of that bourgeois stuff when you could be the galactic expression of a superior mind drooling over a four-way-turbo chessboard? I mean, like, that’s even better than running foot-races.

" I, I, I also want to apologize to the Intergalactic Truth Investigative Vapor Team, who knew that probing deep into my, my, my really deep soul to find the poison planted there by evil doping coaches (I, I, I, of course, did not know that the Gypsum Mind-Melt was being practiced on me, me, me by an operative of the Dork Side of the Farce) was much more important than searching out Klink-the-Kans who want to blow up Planet Earth.

"I, I, I want to thank my soul-shadow, Hether-Mystyeyey-Shannin-Cheyyenne-Dauwn-La’To’tisha, and all you little people out there for standing by me, me, me in my, my, my dark mid-day of my, my, my existential soul, and, like, y’know, stuff. Way to go, H-M-S-C-D-L. And now I’ll take a few questions from the media before the ITIVT take me away to a penal colony. Yes…?"

First (and only) reporter: "Who did you say you were?"