Archive for the 'Literature' Category

Stay Hungry, Don’t Worry, Go Placidly, and Always Wear Sunscreen

The death of Steve Jobs yesterday was a chance for many to reflect on how the tech titan had directly impacted their everyday lives. Though I had not used an Apple product since my parents traded in our TI-99/4A for an Apple IIc in the mid-1980s, even an i-curmudgeon like myself felt a sense of loss.  For me the impact was from his famous inspirational speech to Stanford Graduates in 2005.

If you have not read it in its entirety, I highly recommend – read it here -. For me, among this particular category of inspiring, insightful, and downright useful advice, it is one of the best.

Certainly it fits in well with other inspiring messages including Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (“Do not worry”), Desiderata by MaxEhrmann (“Go Placidly among the noise and haste”), and the much more lighthearted, but no less useful, Wear Sunscreen by Mary Schmich.

Steve’s summation of his message to graduates? He admits in borrowing it from the Whole Earth Catalog: “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” but the speech is sprinkled with beauty and insightful nuggets throughout including one of my favorites:

Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.*

Which to me sounded similar to the last page of Shel Silverstein’s posthumous, recently-released poems in Everything On It:

When I am gone what will you do? / Who will write and who will draw for you? / Someone smarter, someone new, someone better? / Maybe you?

I do hope the world produces more Steve Jobs and Shel Silversteins, I miss them both.

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* A great Steve Jobs quote that demonstrates this viewpoint is “When Apple first started out, people couldn’t type. We realized: Death would eventually take care of this.” (Walt Mossberg, All Things Digital, May 28, 2003)

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Fahrenheit (Encryption Key) 451

Now Available as "Kindle"-ing

Now Available as “Kindle”-ing

A really perceptive article in today’s CS Monitor: Kindle e-reader: A Trojan horse for free thought.

Until reading, I had not seen the great irony in the unfortunate naming of Amazon’s “Kindle” device and the title and subject matter of Ray Bradbury’s famous book.

Some really thought provoking and sensible arguments in the article include:

That we are trading ownership for access – access that requires the pre-authorization of a corporation and “thingamajig.”

Well-established principles of Fair Use and First Sale are being marginalized and sweep away.

“…What the Kindle should be igniting is serious debate on the fundamental, inalienable right to property in a digital age – and clarifying what’s yours, mine, and ours.”

The article’s author (also a librarian) also includes a great Ray Bradbury quote on how “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture, just get people to stop reading them.”  (or he might have added- just convince them to stop thinking they own them).

The Whatifs and Other Monsters Under the Bed

The other night while I was lying awake worrying about something that I can no longer even remember, I came to notice my daughter lying on the floor beside the bed (a frightening shadowy apparition in itself until you learn to expect such behavior).  Eventually she presumably found the uncarpeted floor less hospitable than her own bed and returned there.

The next day I asked her why she was there and I got the standard kid answer for such nighttime behaviors: because of “Monsters under the Bed.”

I then wondered what I in the heck I was doing up at that time myself and realized it was pretty much the same thing: going to some cold, hard, dark place and worrying about my own “Monsters under the Bed.”  Those both irrational and rational fears we have when the din of the outside world quiets and we are left alone with our own unique thoughts and concerns.

This is a time and mood captured perfectly by the Shel Silverstein poem Whatif:

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song…

…Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!

Shel and I just need to keep telling ourselves: those nighttime Whatifs and Monsters under the Bed aren’t real, they’re just illusions of our overactive imaginations and worst fears.  Even our most rational fears only very seldom come to pass and as wittily told in Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen):

The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday

So go back to your own bed.  Turn on a flashlight or shine some hope and optimism into your worried mind and let those Whatifs and Monsters under the Bed fade away and melt back into the shadows.  4PM on some idle Tuesday will no doubt come soon enough, so for now appreciate and be grateful for the day you just had and look forward to and be hopeful for those yet to come.

Current Generation HK’s on Display at the Air & Space Museum

Hunter-Killer(HK) UAV Aircraft

Hunter-Killer(HK) UAV Aircraft

Looking up from the ground floor of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, it is a bit creepy to see the southwest wing’s display of mostly armed UAV Aircraft (UAV = Unmanned Aerial Vehicle).  One cannot help but feel like he or she is suddenly transported to the year 2029 and is accompanying Reese from the movie The Terminator as he tries to evade the autonomous Hunter-Killers (HKs). 

It is interesting that in 1949 George Orwell envisioned a future 35 years in the future (1984) where world-wide totalitarian regimes enslaved their people (using mostly intimidation and propaganda).  Yet, when the year 1984 eventually rolled around, the movie The Terminator envisioned an even grimmer future (this time 45 years in the future) where machines enslave and try to annihilate the entire human race. 

If Darwinism is indeed correct, that may yet come to pass.  But nifty machines like these first crude UAVs may serve an intermediate step and bridge the gap between both of these dystopic visions.  A future in which totalitarian regimes can manufacture an entire robot army to subjugate humans at will (propaganda no longer required). 

Today’s generation still sees these machines as mostly non-threatening and neat.  But who knows? HKs may soon be coming to a neighborhood near you – and this time they may be a little more threatening than a Roomba?

HK Tank

Cindy Sheehan is Lydia Puckett

Pro Patria Mori

Pro Patria Mori

Cindy Sheehan is one of those controversial, polarizing, and annoying public figures that you are either “for ’em or again’ ’em.” 

I certainly fall into the latter category.  I could forgive her many wacky misstatements, using her son’s death in order to become a media darling, and her false claims to retire from public life and then running for congress after just 1 month of missing the media spotlight. 

But the one act I consider unforgivable is the act of claiming to speak for the dead, war dead in particular.  I just think these dead have already paid the ultimate sacrifice and deserve to be left in peace and no longer used as pawns in someone else’s ideological battles.   

In Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, Lydia Puckett does this for Knowlt Hoheimer.  She falsely claims a spot for herself, no matter how far removed, in history.  When in fact she is nothing, she made no sacrifice, and certainly has absolutely no right to speak for the war dead:

Lydia Puckett

KNOWLT HOHEIMER ran away to the war
The day before Curl Trenary
Swore out a warrant through Justice Arnett
For stealing hogs.
But that’s not the reason he turned a soldier.
He caught me running with Lucius Atherton.
We quarreled and I told him never again
To cross my path.
Then he stole the hogs and went to the war-
Back of every soldier is a woman.

Given the chance to speak for himself, Knowlt Hoheimer makes one of the most powerful statements in all of literature about war:

Knowlt Hoheimer

I WAS the first fruits of the battle of Missionary Ridge.
When I felt the bullet enter my heart
I wished I had staid at home and gone to jail
For stealing the hogs of Curl Trenary,
Instead of running away and joining the army.
Rather a thousand times the country jail
Than to lie under this marble figure with wings,
And this granite pedestal
Bearing the words, “Pro Patria.”
What do they mean, anyway?

So leave Knowlt Hoheimer and Casey Sheehan alone.  Let their courageous acts and supreme sacrifices speak for themselves – and for goodness sakes, Lydia Puckett and Cindy Sheehan, please shut up!

Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2008

William Burroughs Heart

In Honor of William S. Burroughs

For Al Bundy
In hopes he is still on the couch

Thanks for the candy hearts and Hallmark cards, destined to be perfunctorily purchased –

thanks for an Expression to despoil and poison –

thanks for FTD florists to provide an escape from neglectful guilt –

thanks for St. Valentine and the Martyrs, to forget their lives and meaning –

thanks for a mandatory dinner at Applebee’s or Red Lobster –

thanks for the idea of TRUE LOVE to commoditize and sell until it stimulates the economy –

thanks for the MPAA, for judges who forget the First Amendment, for prudish soccer moms incensed about Janet Jackson’s breast –

thanks for “I (Heart) My Dog” bumper stickers –

thanks for dove-patterned bulk tableware –

thanks for “two months salary” and Diamond Eternity Rings –

thanks for a country where nobody is allowed to think on their own –

thanks for a nation of consumers – yes,

thanks for all the memories… all right, let’s see your credit cards… you always were a simple tender heart –

thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human emotions.
 

The First Anti-Smoking Nazis – Literally

Because Hitler and the Nazis make such great archetypal villains, something like a freaky Bat Man nemesis like the Joker or the Penguin, dropping a “you’re a Nazi” bomb in an argument is now fairly standard practice.  This seems to mainly be a shortcut for the mentally lazy.  And sometimes beyond laziness, it is often a sign of all-out mental confusion – as when someone who actually opposes things like Racial Preferences is called a “Nazi” – when I think the Nazis were actually pretty big into the whole racial preference thing.

The problem with making the Nazis these cartoon characters to be pulled out in failing arguments is that people too easily forget the small incremental steps that actually led a nation to do some pretty horrendous things.  One major contributing factor to the viciousness of the Nazi Regime was the way in which the unopposed government grew to control nearly every aspect of its citizens lives.

I’m thinking about the Nazis this week because on February 1, 2008, my home state of Maryland will impose an all-out indoor smoking ban, including bars and restaurants.  Now, probably like most people, I am personally happy about the ban.  It is going to be great to take my kids out to dinner at bars/restaurants and not have to worry about smoke.  It is also going to be great to leave a bar without having to immediately put my smoke laden clothes in the laundry.  Not to mention that it is just going to be great just to be able to breath in a bar (especially without worrying about obnoxious cigar smokers).

Anti Smoking NazisBut at the same time, I fear that this is just the sort of incremental government intrusion into personal liberties that can lead to far worse policies.  Once a government can dictate what is healthy for you, they pretty much have free reign to stomp out anything they don’t like.  It seems to be the same concept as censorship but working on the other 3 senses – instead of censoring what you see and hear, it is what you taste, smell, and feel.  Is there any aspect of a person’s life that can not be linked back to some public health aspect?  And how long before we have a regiment of “Physical Jerks” as mandated by the government in 1984.

Oh and another thing, “you’re a Nazi” if you support smoking bans.  You see the Nazis were one of the first governments to attempt to ban smoking – read all about it here.  Call me lazy, but its true.