Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Drones' Club

Mack Hall, HSG

The Drones' Club

The FAA is expected to grant permission for public and private entities to fling into the spacious if somewhat crowded skies above the fruited plains of freedom some 30,000 pilotless aircraft to spy on Americans ( in addition to the hundreds flyin’ ‘n’ spyin’ domestically now.  Further, no privacy rights in public or in private are recognized; the Fourth Amendment has, oh, evolved.  And, hey, is that an electronic eye peeking through your bedroom window?

There is some babble about how useful these 30,000 projected drones will be in finding lost hikers, and, sure, if there’s anything the Founding Fathers focused on, it was finding lost hikers.

Indeed, the repeated drone telephone calls that interrupt our days and evenings have repeatedly stressed how important this election is for lost hikers.

The Daily Mail recently published maps of drone-launching sites in use now – there’s one near you: 

The drone looking at you can be as big as a fighter aircraft or as small as a toy rubber-band airplane.  Not only are these almost silent flying Orwellian telescreens capable of face-recognition and wifi intercepts, they can be armed with a catalogue of missiles, machine guns, and death rays.

Thus, when you step outside your door tomorrow morning you can be monitored by a pimply oaf whose online name is Dork Lord of the Thunder-Sith and who perhaps has access to a little red button connected to Newarkfire missiles aboard his remote-control hunter-killer, the USS Steve Jobs.  May it please God he isn’t still traumatized by that late-night hissy-fit-flap in Starbuck’s over Star Trek versus Star Wars.

Once upon a time the skies over America were guarded by brave military airmen who had taken the military oath and who were the products of a culture of honor and integrity.  They protected us by watching for Soviet missiles flying in over the Arctic Circle or from Stooge Castro’s occupied Cuba.

Now we are snooped on by peeping-tom nerds in Pink Floyd tee-shirts.

The greatest risk to a not-a-pilot in some bunker is tennis-finger from playing with his joy-stick (Resist the obvious joke.  Resist it.).

A young man or woman who successfully completes flight training is honored to have a loved one pin his pilot’s wings to his uniform.  A drone-hero asks a guy in an R2D2 costume pin a plastic thumby-toggle-thingie to his knee-pants.

A real pilot returning from a successful mission does a victory roll; a drone-pilot high-fives his Bill Gates poster.

The dialogue in new war movies will certainly be different: “You’ve got an enemy fighter on your tush!” and “We have a decaf triple latte at twelve o’clock high.”

But, seriously, one is sure we need those drones.  After all, private enterprise clearly reads our emails and site accessions now, and governments at all levels can do so if they wish.  If we travel, we are subject to identification checks, strip-searches, and touchy-feely-we’re-not-even-married searches by capos.  All that is left to make control complete is visual spying.  What are you growing in your garden?  Now move your thumb so the Eye can read the complete serial number on your grandpa’s 1955 J. C. Higgins .22.  Where are you going?  Is that a low-flush toilet, comrade?  Let’s check to see if you possess illegal light bulbs.

There is an old hymn about how you’ll never walk alone.  And it is truer than ever.


No Political Signs on Church Property

Old Ford Truck, Zavalla, Texas

About That Bill Gates Forward...

Mack Hall, HSG

It’s on the ‘Net; It Must be True

Alexander Graham Bell, a Canadian who was born in Scotland, invented the telephone so that young Americans could use the thing to talk, text, tweet, and twit to each other during high school graduation and thus ignore high school graduation.  Since Mr. Bell never finished school, we may appreciate the layers of irony.

In May of every year, like buzzards returning to wherever it is buzzards return to, tiresome screeds about the ignorance of graduates arrive to roost in one’s in-box. 

One of the most popular is wrongly attributed to Bill Gates, another successful fellow who did not finish school and who does not write silly stuff, and is usually titled “Rules They Didn’t Teach You in School” or some such, and is forwarded by the sort of people who never vote in their local school board elections because they’re too busy complaining.

The idea of hopeless naivete is not true of most high school students, and it’s certainly not true of college students.  Very few graduates ever finish a degree on the mummy-and-daddy nickel, and for those who do, well, good for their mums and dads.

The reality is that most college students work their way through school, usually in minimum-wage jobs and at odd hours.  A student who works the night shift flipping burgers can only wonder about why he is falsely stereotyped as someone who thinks he’s too good to flip burgers.

My daughter spent some college time shoveling (Newark, New Jersey) in a stable.  Hamburgers would have been better.

Any college classroom will feature, yes, a few princesses of both sexes, but they are far outnumbered by folks who know their way around the loading dock, Afghanistan, and hospital wards at 0-Dark-Thirty, and who can wield with great skill an M4, a broom, and a bedpan.

One of my fish English students was a former sergeant who left the Army after sixteen years.  When I asked him why he didn’t finish his twenty he said that after three combat tours in the desert he figured he had pushed his luck enough.

He and his mates studied English literature in a college hydraulics lab because of a shortage of classroom space.  No ivy grew on the equipment.

Two of my students were in their mid-thirties, had been pals from childhood, owned a roofing company, and were nursing students.  In their late thirties, they said they were getting a little old for climbing up on roofs all the year ‘round and were going to sell the company and work in the shade for a while.  I asked them why they didn’t keep the company and spend well-earned time out of the sun by delegating more authority to their employees.  They said that their names were on each roof (metaphorically), and that they would never sign off on a job if they didn’t have first-hand knowledge of each square inch of that roof.

Oh, yeah, some dumb college kids, huh?

Age and experience are good, but they are only predictors: there are adult students who become angry when they are required to show up on time (which, presumably, was required of them on the job) and actually do some work (ditto).  In the same class there can be 18-year-olds demonstrating a far better work ethic (not the one texting behind her Volkswagen-size purse, second seat, second table on the right) than their elders.

In the end, success is almost always the result of an individual’s choice to show up for work, whether on the factory floor or in the classroom, and hit a lick at it.

That is, after the individual takes the tin cricket out of his ear.  In school we were taught that in ye olden days of yore crazy people who stumbled around talking to themselves were kept safely away from others by being chained to a wall somewhere.  We thought that was a bad punishment.  Silly us.

One of life’s lessons – it needn’t come from the classroom – is that stereotyping is wrong.  Just because something’s on the ‘net doesn’t mean it’s true.  Those giddy folks waving their diplomae (“diplomae,” he wrote, for he had been to night school) around and yelling almost surely worked very hard for the moment, both in and out of the classrooms and laboratories.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Flip This Dancing Storage Unit off Bridezilla Island

Mack Hall, HSG

Flip This Dancing Storage Unit off Bridezilla Island

Viewing reality television is rather like watching Republicans trying to dance to rock music, repulsive and yet somehow fascinating.

A current entertainment is the flatscreening of shaky images of people arguing with each other about other folks’ junk. 

Back in ye olden times television filmmakers hired writers who then generated scripts featuring plot, character, and setting.  Producers then hired actors, cameramen, set designers, electricians, carpenters, and other professionals to put together often-beautiful works of art.

Perhaps the ultimate Hegelian dialectic of television art now would be James Arness, Loretta Young, and Patrick McGoohan shrieking at each other while bidding on a cowboy boot that was once seen in Gilley’s Place, like babushkas squabbling over the last bowl of lentil soup in Petrograd in the winter of 1917.

What might the obsession with abandoned storage units symbolize?

“Look at this, dude – rare monaural recordings of Duke Ellington’s early work!”

“Who’s Duke Ellington?”

“I dunno; I guess we could get something for these old records from the recyclers.  But, hey, look at this old book. Nice leather.  Must be worth something.”

“That’s a Bible; someone will want that for a dashboard decoration, you know, along with fuzzy dice.”

“Okay, we’ll keep that.  Oh, hey, look at all this metal junk.”

“Oh, I know what those are – that’s a hammer, that’s a saw, that’s a folding carpenter’s rule, and those pointy things in that bucket are nails.  I’ve seen pictures of such things on my laptop.”

“But what are they for?”

“Oh, back in the Dark Ages, y’know, in the 1980s, people used them to, like, cut wood, and, like, build and repair their own stuff.”

“Freakin’ primitive, dude!  But how do you plug them in?  Or do they have batteries?”

“No, the cavemen used these things by hand.”

“So did they get to sue someone for that?”

“No, I think I remember being told that they felt fulfilled or something by work and sweat and creativity – totally old school.”

“Wow, that’s like, you know, existential and stuff.  People were, like, so spiritual back in the day when they did stuff with hammers and read books and stuff.”

“What does ‘Made in USA’ mean?”

“Back during the Civil War in the 1930s people used to make their own stuff in this country, polluting the rivers and killing the striped owls or something.”

“That was dumb.  Stuff comes from the mall, and doesn’t pollute.”

“Hey, what’s that covered by dust?”

“This?  Oh, it’s the soul of a civilization.”

“What’s civilization?”

“Oh, art, music, literature, faith – you could look ‘em up on Wonkiepedia.”

“Can we get any money out of it?”

“No.  Old stuff.  Forget it.”

“So the meaning of life is outbidding other people for old golf clubs and record players in an abandoned storage shed?”

“Gosh, dude, you make it sound so inadequate.”