Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Government by Tweet

Logo by Dgultekin
A long time ago, before our present political situation was a twinkle in the space-time continuum's eye, I wrote a post about what a glorious thing it would be if the President tweeted his every thought.

Well, not just tweeted. Used every means of communicating with the public at his disposal. Here's what I said:

Frankly, I think we'd be much better off if the President carried on a perpetual, ongoing conversation with us about his job -- in TV and YouTube appearances, speeches, press conferences, emails, Twitter or Facebook messages, whatever. Err on the side of telling us everything that doesn't absolutely have to be kept secret. Tell us what your thought process is rather than presenting us with the Party Line after it's done. Definitely give us soaring rhetoric when we need to be inspired and mobilized, but much more often give us your candid thoughts. 
Of course, back then it was inconceivable that any President would ever habitually just pop off with random thoughts whatever time of the day or night they struck him (or her). It was just blue skying. So I was safe: nobody’d ever test this in real life. Right?

But nine years later here we are. My prophecy has been fulfilled! How do you like it?

In 2009 I was sort of hoping for tweets brainstorming ideas on ending world hunger or posting quotes from Aeschylus. And we unfortunately haven't seen any of something else I was hoping for:

And when you screw up, come out immediately and tell us, "I screwed up." We know you're actually human and we can handle it.
In fact, an example of that very thing by our 2009 President was what prompted my post back then.

But the current POTUS's tweeting is what it is -- the stream-of-consciousness of a particular human who happens to be the most powerful one on Earth. As it turns out that kind of messes up everything, so this probably be the last time you'll ever see this.

Enjoy (?) it while you can.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Atomic Beauty

Photo by DasWortgewand
Call me weird (go ahead; I'm used to it) but I've always been fascinated by nuclear explosions. I just love to watch old government films of atomic tests back in the 40s, 50s and 60s. To me they're beautiful and hypnotic.

Don't get me wrong though: I am very aware that nuclear bombs are terrible weapons, and what Little Boy and Fat Man -- the first two atomic bombs -- did to the people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was horrific. I grew up during the Cold War when the US and USSR had thousands of missiles tipped with H-Bombs pointed at each other. That knowledge was the background music of my childhood. It was an accepted fact of life. I won't say I walked around paranoid all the time, but I did pay attention to where the fallout shelters were.

But that's not what I'm writing about. The thing I'm fascinated by is the aesthetic quality of atom bombs. The instantaneous way a gold and white mushroom cloud appears seemingly out of no where, the shapes and textures and colors of those clouds as they rise through the air, shockwaves speeding across the desert toward the camera, the effects they have on old, decommissioned ships tethered around the fiery column or mannequins and houses stationed in the sandy plains of Nevada -- that's what mesmerizes me.

Yeah, I know. Weird. But then, they are some of the most-watched videos on YouTube. Maybe I'm just not afraid to admit my weirdness?

At any rate, physicists and film experts at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have been busily digitizing and declassifying thousands of these films, many of which the regular public has never seen. One of my favorite YouTube channels, Dark5, has set five of the most unseen to evocative music that, I think, points up the oddly compelling beauty of weapons that could destroy us all.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Farewell Johnny B. Goode

Chuck Berry
Photo in public domain
Sometimes we speak of something as "the end of an era." Really important stuff, like, you know, when Monica moved out of Rachel's apartment on Friends -- that was "the end of an era." Or when the Cubs won the series, it was "the end of an era."

But over the weekend the real end of a real era occurred because Chuck Berry, the Father of Rock 'n' Roll, passed away at the age of 90 on Saturday.

You probably have seen (or at least heard about) the old Saturday Night Live skit where a bunch of psychics predict the first communication from aliens will be in response to those gold records scientists attached to the Voyager 1 & 2 space probes, which included a recording of 'Johnny B. Goode.' (Oddly enough I couldn't find a video of that skit on YouTube, but here's a transcript).

As Cocuwa the psychic (i.e., Steve Martin)  dramatically informs us: "The four words that came to us from outer space -- the FOUR words that will appear on the cover of Time Magazine next week -- are:

'Send More Chuck Berry!'

That's how epic Chuck Berry was. We sent him into space to represent our people to alien races.

But really, Variety describes him as,

"The rock ‘n’ roll pioneer who established the form and the themes of the music with his slyly funny, rhythmically propulsive ’50s hits, such as 'Maybellene, 'Roll Over Beethoven' and 'Johnny B. Goode.' Berry hammered out the then-nascent sound’s groundwork in a series of self-penned singles... that successfully crossed over into the pop mainstream."

You like yer modern music, ya' young whippersnapper? Well here's who to thank (well, him, Elvis, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis)!

So in Mr. Berry's honor, here's that golden 'Johnny B. Goode' recording we launched into the void:

RIP Chuck Berry.

Friday, March 17, 2017

RIP Green Hornet

Since he always wore the appropriate color for St. Patrick's Day I want to belatedly note the passing of Van Williams -- the Green Hornet. He was 82 years old.

Mr. Williams actually died on November 28th of last year from kidney failure. I knew of it at the time and meant to write about him but got no farther than storing an obituary link in a draft post, meaning to come back later and flesh it out. Life was a bit hectic at the time though and I never returned to it. 

But one thing I've always hated to see is lesser known celebrities being forgotten and fading away. Well actually, anybody fading away. One of my favorite pastimes when I'm editing Wikipedia is creating biographies of old bit players from the movies, especially the ones who had a taste of fame but never really attained it. It's a little like the ancient Egyptian belief: as long as your name lives on here, you live on in the afterlife.

Van Williams was one of those hunky actors who emerged in the early 60s, like Troy Donahue and Tom Tryon. During that time he starred (with Troy Donahue!) in Surfside 6, about three super-cool Miami detectives frequently seen in swimming trunks, who solve crimes from the posh houseboat they live on. I've never seen the program but the theme song is quite memorable ("cha-cha-cha!").

After that ended in 1962 he did guest shots on TV until 1966 when he landed his signature role as The Green Hornet. This I watched every episode of. It was from the same group that produced the campy but cool Batman, and the Hornet even made his debut in a two-part Batman episode ("A Piece of the Action/Batman's Satisfaction"), but his own series was played straight and I liked it better.

Together with his trusted butler Kato (played by Bruce Lee, who went on to achieve godlike status in certain circles), the Green Hornet prowled the night in his weaponized, high tech, super-car Black Beauty searching for low life thugs and crime syndicates to be smashed. Aside from Kato's deadly kicks and chops the smashing was often done using the Green Hornet's weapon of choice: the "hornet sting," a sleek ultra-sonic gun that had the effectiveness of a laser beam.

Unfortunately, The Green Hornet lasted only one season and unfortunately has been supplanted in most people's memories by a truly odious movie of the same name.

But I'll always remember.

RIP Van Williams.

St. Paddy's Day

(Being a true son of the emerald isle -- well, mostly -- I repost this every St. Patrick's Day with some new things added each time to freshen it up.)

St. Patrick asks some excitable revelers whether they really
need quite that much green beer
St. Patrick was a real, historical person, though not all the stories we associate with him are necessarily true. He had quite an adventurous life, being enslaved as a lad by Irish raiders, then escaping years later and making his way back to his home in England.  But despite that experience he returned to the land where he'd been held captive to boldly and almost single-handedly persuade the Irish that the God of the christians was kinder than the bloodthirsty spirits they were worshipping -- kind enough to die for them, rather than insisting they die for him.

That idea really clicked with the Irish and they became christian in droves, no fighting or bloodshed needed. In the process, sort of as a by product, the scholarly monks of Ireland ended up rescuing most of the learning and literature amassed by Greece and Rome. Ever read Plato or Plutarch or studied Eucilid's geometry? Thank (to a great extent) the Irish monks.

For more information on that exploit of Patrick's and other reasons we Irish are are so great, I heartily recommend Thomas Cahill's How The Irish Saved Civilization. If you can locate one, get the audiobook version by that well-known irishman, Liam Neeson , who truly reads it with feeling. Or, while swilling down mugs of green beer, take a listen to this reading of Patrick's autobiography.

In the meantime, I present you with this ancient and powerful celtic-christian prayer known as The Breastplate, possibly composed by Patrick himself.

The Breastplate of St. Patrick

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever,
By power of faith, Christ's Incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan River;
His death on the cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spic├Ęd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the Cherubim;
The sweet 'Well done' in judgment hour;
The service of the Seraphim,
Confessors' faith, Apostles' word,
The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death-wound and the burning
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


Hard working drivel producer
Photo: Onomatomedia

So, one piece of advice famous writers often give to us non-famous writers (I'm a full-time writer/researcher now by the way, no longer a database developer) is to write something every day. This is seen as a discipline of sorts to keep your writing muscles in top condition.

Since I am by nature one of the most undisciplined individuals of modern times I've adopted a few austerities to keep from being a complete wastrel. Like bathing, and getting up in the morning. And along that line I'm adopting the discipline of writing every day right here on this blog.

All I'll promise is that I will write a minimum of three paragraphs a day (except for Saturdays and Sundays) in line with my blog's name.

This most probably means that the majority of the posts will feature plenty of mindless gibbering. So to warn everybody off and practice truth in advertising I've changed the blog description from, "Just an observer here. Carry on." to "Fresh drivel daily!"

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Birth Pangs

Photo by Jskvbinmv, Public domain 
I think I know how philosophy started.

People go through their lives and they accomplish things, they learn things, they enjoy things, they love other people. Perhaps they get married, have kids, make deep friendships, and all of them help each other fight through the hard things of life.

As they move through the years, even as their bodies wear slowly away they are still an amalgam of all those loves and enjoyments and accomplishments. The knowledge, wisdom, skill they absorbed rides around inside them. All this whole experience is them.

And then it's all gone.

All you are left with is an embalmed husk or ashes you can sift through your fingers. And you look at the place where they were, where you saw them day in, day out, and you ask yourself, "How can he not be there? How can all of that be lost in an instant?"

My dad has not been there for a seven months now. As I clean out his house, the old golf magazines he never threw out, the documents left from his work as head of labor relations for a chemical company conjure up unbidden these questions in my mind.

The pangs of death birthed philosophy, I think. One can't help but ask the big, metaphysical questions in the face of mortality.