Friday, 30 January 2015

The Science That Probably Will Never Occur

There's a curious science article over at Yahoo.....regarding physicists who've built a time-travel simulator.  Nothing to get really hot and excited over.....just that the science guys have taken another step toward this one concept of time-travel.

This group has advanced the idea of the younger "you" could meet up with the older "you" and the fabrics of the universe would not necessarily fall apart.  At least in theory, they think this now.

I've been one of those people who got locked into this whole concept with the old TV series from the 1960s.....The Time Tunnel.  To be honest, it was pretty lame for most of the thirty episodes but when it came to science fiction....it was a four-star series.

The whole jest to the concept of time-travel is that you probably only get one shot at going back, and changing something.....because it'll all shift around and alter the future, which likely changes the creation of your time device, the technology used, and the results around your one mission.  In effect....noting I'm not a scientist but simply a free-thinker....you are on a one-way mission with no hope of a return.

This state of pondering leaves you with only one state of mind.....what one event will you change or solve?

JFK's murder?  Save Martin Luther King?  Shorten the Civil War?  Save Lincoln?  Save Christ?  Stop Napoleon from ever taking charge of France?  Prevent the Norman invasion of England?  Talk Kaiser Wilhelm II out of World War I?  Kill Hitler after he leaves the Munich jail?  Stall the Roman Empire from dissolving?  Stop the bombing of Pearl Harbor?  Help kill Hitler in 1942?  Prevent the sale of the Louisiana Purchase from happening?

One shot at doing something, with zero chance of a return?  That means you have to stay and live with the consequences of what you undid.  So, if you save Lincoln....does his reputation continue to rise as he finishes out eight full years as President.....or does the problems of the handling of the southern states unravel his whole history?

If you talk the Kaiser out of WW I.....does it just stall things for a major war in the 1930s and massive use of chemicals and possibly a nuke weapon being used in Europe?

If you kill Hitler at the beginning of the 1920s.....does it really stop the Nazi rise to power, or does someone else take his place?

If you save JFK, what impact does it have for the remaining five years of his likely presidency?  Positive or negative?

If you did the Roman Empire from dissolving....do they eventually tangle with the Islamic expansion in the Middle East and create a massive war of huge proportions?

If you prevent the Louisiana Purchase....does the US end up as a small empire from the Mississippi River eastward and a French state from the Mississippi River westward?

Fixing something doesn't really mean you actually fixed it....but simply created an alternate outcome, with unknown consequences.

It's like saying Muhammad's killing of two-hundred-fifty-million humans over the past 1,400 years needs to be fixed.....but perhaps someone else comes to replace Muhammad who doubles the results of death.

At some one point, I envision some scientist group coming to this rare moment where they know they can perform this one and only one time-travel event.  The minute that this gets into public knowledge.....thousands of political players will want to control this and ensure nothing happens.  You'd have to kill off the technology and the men who invented it.....all to stop a change in history which worries people.

It's the science that would be terminated because of the impact of one simple act.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

It Could Get Worse in Bama

I noticed in yesterday's news from Bama.....some Democratic representative (state-level) from Montgomery had decided to make an open threat against various Republican legislature guys......talking up the idea of exposing their extramarital affairs....IF they don't stop criticizing gay marriage.

Patricia Todd, a representative from Birmingham and Democrat....talked up the suggestion.  She's openly gay (the only one in Bama's political scene doing so).

The whole thing goes to hypocrisy, and she figures the threat will wake folks up.

The problem I see with this type threat is that once you suggest these three guys (or six, or ten) who are having extramarital affairs....may  or may not be having such affairs and it ends up as slander.  This means they hire Bama lawyers, take you into court, and unless you have some evidence (real evidence)....it's not going anywhere and you end up paying damages.

Bama political figures are smart when they finally get into a divorce situation....they make it tough for the wife trying to divorce them to settle up unless there's a form signed that they will never disclose the whole episode.  If they fail on this....the husband brings the form back into court and the wife could lose what she won.  So, I'd question that Representative Todd has real proof....just gossip.  And gossip invites slander episodes, unless you get to absolute facts.

What happens in Bama once you start slanging gossip, slander and political fits?  It just gets the state political mess deeper into mud than when you started.  We barely have six guys in the whole state who could pass a morals test and complete audit of their character and economic situation.  No one wants to be a city mayor, county commission guy, governor, or state representative because they'd get all upset if you found out they were con-artists, three-times married, bankrupt once or twice, into bondage, a swinger, current KKK-member, a Catholic, border-line psycho, a graduate of Auburn, or got arrested in Chattanooga for being drunk and disorderly last year.

Folks in Bama want purity.  You can't drink, swear, or be divorced.....if you intend to run for office.  You need to swear on a dozen Bibles about your character.  Every campaign picture needs to feature your wife, three kids, and dog.  You drive only GM, Ford or Chevy vehicles.  Your front yard condition is in the top ten priorities of appearance.  You must never have tried marijuana, or wasted any time learning a foreign language.  We tend to expect our political folks to stout or a bit heavy....always with a fake smile....and be on a first-name basis with the local minister.

This talk of extramarital affairs?  Maybe Representative Todd thinks you can cure all ills with this type of talk.  But folks get peeved, and basically fire that guy....to bring in the ultra (even more conservative character) candidate to replace the loser who couldn't keep his pants on.   On top of that....these pretender conservatives start to look around and think....well....let's ID all the gay or bondage characters in the Bama statehouse.   A Democrat or two that was thinking they were all safe....then wakes up and realizes that the whole story is out.

So, I'm not really thinking this suggestion by Representative Todd helps matters.  We will simply go to a deeper pit of political turmoil, if you ask me.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Effects of a Blizzard

When you say the term "blizzard"....folks react.  Some react a bit differently than you'd expect.  Some might ask if this is a "real blizzard" or just a "mini blizzard"?  Some folks immediately have a thought in their heads....do they have enough bread and milk....while some guys think about the garage refrigerator and there are only two cases of beer in it.

In the years I lived in Bama....there just wasn't any blizzards.  We might have had an inch of snow one year, and there might have been a three-star ice-storm another year.  When I arrived in Virginia in 2010....within two weeks....we had a two-foot episode with snowfall.  Oddly, I began to realize that food did matter and by the third day....I was down to just some cans of Campbell's soup and peanut butter.

This week, folks got all hyped up on the blizzard talk and bought as much as they could load into the car.  I'm not saying they were crazy or wrong, but they might have bought dozens of items that they won't eat, and it'll spoil by the time that the blizzard enters the fourth day.

If you go back a hundred years....blizzards were interesting periods that you mostly sat around, drank coffee, and went crazy with 'cabin-fever'.  Farmers would stand in their barn....trying to find odd ways to be productive....while women washed clothing and tried to occupy themselves while waiting for the storm to end.  To be kinda honest.....ninety-nine percent of blizzards last for about twelve to eighteen hours....dumping a fair amount of snow.  The episodes where it last for thirty-six hours and dumps three feet of snow?  It's rare.....awful rare.

What I usually worry about isn't really the blizzard. It's the cold front that comes up from behind it and settles in for a week or two weeks.  The snow never melts.  You wait and wait....trying to get to work when the road is barely clear and totally snowed up....frozen for the most part.  Around 2004, we had this snowstorm around Xmas....which had a five-week period arrive where the temperature stayed at freezing or below for the whole five weeks.  Nothing melted.  It took almost an entire week when the temperature did rise above 32-degrees....for things to melt.

Across the northeast....guys are now into blizzard mode and will talk about this for years....what they did or didn't do....what they ate.....and how the six cases of beer simply weren't enough.  Epic times.....will be the memory event here.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

This Planet Talk

Over the past week or two, there's been talk by the science guys of two additional planets out there in our solar system.  I should note....there's only talk, no pictures and absolute evidence.  You see, there are some 'bounces' and disturbances a bit beyond Pluto....which leads the science guys to suggest that two planets must exist beyond it and within a reasonable distance.  Size isn't a given, and it's just talk at this moment.

This brings up this topic which will be hotly debated at some point....what do you name the two new planets.

Greek names?  Roman names?  Could we finally name a planet after Socrates?  Might one of the two planets be named just plain "Planet X"?

All of this will transpire into parties and dinners around the astronomy guys....who sit and sip chilled Budweiser and eat peanut butter sandwich while they sip.  In the background, music will be played....Memphis blues, Italian opera, and Johnny Cash epics.  Guys will talk about their failing car transmission one moment, and define comet name listings the next.

Some folks will eventually come to find the two planets....noting that they aren't that big.  Naturally, the number one plan then?  You gotta send a probe out there, and it means a $500 million program, more revenue for the space crowd, and designed to answer the question....what's on this planet?

How long might it take to prove this?  It might take five years for someone to finally solve this.  Maybe it's unsolvable unless we send the probe to prove this.  And we might just discover that it's all bogus and dreamed up by one guy with an agenda to simply get more probe money.  So, you just don't know.

The Park Game Being Played Out

For about a hundred years, there's been this law....the Antiquities Act....which basically said that the Executive Branch (the President and Company) would manage and create national treasures (like the Smokies or Rocky Mountain National Park).   It was a simple act, and folks were enthusiastic back in 1906 that it was the right thing to do.

Now, if you'd asked folks in 1906...just how far this would go....no one would have really been sure about this.  Some would have guessed thirty national parks/monuments.  Some might have figured sixty. Today, we have 184 national parks/monuments.  If you go out to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina....there's a fifty-odd acre park there, just a thousand feet from the beach.  If you go to Russell Cave in Bama....it's a national monument.

What's come up over the last decade or two....folks asking where exactly it stops.

This week, the Republicans in the Senate saw a bill entered....which would require the Executive Branch to consult and have agreement with the House and Senate before declaring a national park or monument.  Folks tend to think....it'll pass easily in the House, and probably pass the Senate with fifty-plus votes.  The President?  No statement yet, but I'd take a guess he'll veto it.  Will the House and Senate have enough votes to over-ride it?  No idea.

At the current pace of things....if nothing hinders expansion....then I'd take a guess by 2100 (85 years away)....we will have three-hundred parks and monuments.  At some point, I'd suspect that the entire coastline of Oregon will be created into five or six national parks.  Central Park of New York City might eventually become a national park.  And it's possible that vast stretch of the Tennessee River might be one day declared a national park by itself.

Each time you add to the inventory....there's more staff hired up....more support required....and more cash involved.  All of this leads to cost.  These days....just an entry fee for one car is $25 for some of the national parks.  

So, as the weeks go by here in the spring and you hear about this effort to pass the bill....you might want to think about the way it was in 1906, and what people were envisioning then.  We are way past that point now.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Mayor of Paris Episode

Over the last couple of days, the mayor of Paris has gotten awful peeved and now says they will seek to sue Fox News in court, because during the recent shooting episode....Fox News said Paris has "No-go" zones (meaning areas of the city that folks don't wander into because it's Muslim-controlled.  She says....there are no such zones.

This might actually go into some court.....likely New York City, and turn into a fairly interesting episode.

So, at some point.....Fox News will hire a French lawyer (my humble guess) and he's going to walk around Paris and talk to current cops and retired cops.  These French cops are going to tell the story of how they don't go to certain areas of the city when called....unless in force (more than two cops), and they really don't want to go after dark unless it's a fair number of cops.

The case will develop, enter into the court phase, and some retired cops will likely appear to state what they know is obvious.  The judge will be listening and then start to look at the Paris mayor's lawyer and just wink.  It's a lost case at that point.  Maybe it's not a No-go area....but it's only one step away and it'll be hard to press forward.

Most cities in Europe have a drug quarter....Berlin has one....Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Rome, etc.  Cops will tell you it's best to walk quickly through in the daytime, and avoid at night.  Frankfurt's avoidance zone for drugs is the block or two around the train-station.  A number of cities have ghetto areas that became problem areas that are unsolvable.  You can't do anything but watch from a distance, and avoid.

Maybe the Paris mayor will wise up and just let this simmer for six months before going away.  Maybe some lawyers will alert her that it just isn't winnable.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

A Critical Thinking Discussion

Sometime around 1150....in Paris....the first college or university opened up.  It was founded by the Catholic Church.  You can browse through a thousand documents and reports....most center the original concept around a small group who intended to bring higher learning to a privileged few.  It worked in the same fashion as the guild-concept that was developed and part of the handicraft or craftsman world.

If you were a young man and wanted a skill for some foundation or economic purpose....they joined up with a craftsman and learned the skill.  You might spend several years and learn the art of being a carpenter, baker, or butcher.

The original university system was developed in the same fashion.....some smart guy leading a discussion group and introducing to something called 'critical thinking'.  You had to be able to reason, draw conclusions, think, and conceive ways of using collected information to form a solution.  It was......that simple.

The first such university (at least generally recognized) was the University of Paris.  Around forty years later, the King of England (Henry II) determined that these young British gentlemen going off to France....were coming back and asking questions.  They'd become free-thinkers.  Henry II determined that it was best if England had it's own university, and backed a Catholic Church effort to build Oxford University.

To be truthful....Oxford had only a building or two in the original design, and for some odd reason....ran into trouble ten years after it's start-up.  Some local guy owned a house that he rented rooms out to students (same practice we have today).  The house owner....either by the use of alcohol or just madness....murdered some local gal.  The name of the gal for history sake is unknown.....but what we do know is that locals got upset, ran off to the house, and could not find the owner.  They grabbed the three students of the house (the boarders)....held them for a couple of days, and the King (Henry II) made the decision to hang the three to appease the locals.  After the hanging....just about every student packed up and left the area....leaving Oxford without students or instructors for several years.

For the past thousand years, the draw of a university degree usually meant that you were able to think and draw conclusions.....critical thought processes which the typical normal non-university guy could not accomplish.

This week, the Wall Street Journal did a fine article on this statistic that was discovered.  The smart guys went to 169 colleges and tested around 32,000 college kids.  What they came to find is that forty-percent roughly....CAN'T analyze or conduct critical analysis.  Yeah, no critical thinking skills.

They measured up freshmen versus seniors.  This is the odd part of the story.  When you look at freshmen.....around thirty-seven percent had critical thinking skills as they entered college....to a very proficient level.  That was a bit of a shocker in terms of noting abilities. Four years later....the highly proficient thinker had moved to sixty-percent of the crowd. Almost doubling in scores.

From the senior crowd, almost fourteen percent had marginal or non-existent critical thinking skills....with roughly a quarter of the crowd having just basic skills only.....even after four years.

The issue?  No one can say precisely.  Imagine yourself....father to some young gal.....putting out $88,000 for four years of university, and then kinda discovering that it's just a certificate and that your daughter really didn't learn much.  She can't think, analyze, ponder, and come to critical thinking.  The degree she holds?  Worthless.

Critical thinking skills?  No one usually teaches a class dedicated to such thinking unless it's a philosophy requirement or just some oddball class that a professor wanted to teach for a semester.

To teach critical thinking skills.....you'd have to cite Socrates, Plato and forty other Greek guys.  The vast number of professors around today can't do it.

The bottom line?  We developed ourselves as a society and culture, on the wings of critical thinking. To lose such a skill, or to marginalize such an ability....lessens us in various ways.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The True But Fake Story

Occasionally, you will find a story in the news....which is mostly a true story, but fake.  This came out this week....and meets the conditions of a fake story.

The Washington Post led the story of a terrible thing happening in America....we've reached the point where a majority of public high school students in America....are from low-income families.  To meet this statistical end-point, they used 2013 fed data, and a report from the Southern Education Foundation.  The study concluded that the majority of kids (more than fifty percent) got eligibility  for the free or reduced-cost lunch program.

So you look at this and ask stupid questions.  How many kids have stopped buying any and all school menu options, since the new nutritional program went into effect?  The Washington Times reported this a year ago.....1.08 million kids just plain stopped using their service by the 2012/2013 point.  Since then?  You don't know but I'd take a guess of another quarter-million quitting.

Fewer kids using the menu items.....same number of kids using the subsidy or free lunch program.  It's simple math....increase in low-cost marginal families?  No....simply less kids eating the meal.  If you did the math right....you'd see virtually no change.

Fake journalism, using somewhat truthful but fraudulent data....trying to make a basis for something that they desire a slant on a story.

Friday, 16 January 2015

The Civics Test

I noticed an Arizona news item today....the state passed legislation that requires each kid to pass a civics test.....in order to graduate.  On a test of 100 questions related to civics.....you need a sixty to pass.

Naturally, real quick....the news media jumped on this....being a Republican-theme and pounced the negatives.

Negative 1: It's relying heavily upon memorization.  This is basically true....but then what exactly is math, science, health, and economics?  About eighty percent of the final three years of high school is pure memorization.  You memorize enough each two weeks....to pass a stupid quiz, then enough to pass the final semester test.

Negative 2: You need critical thinking to be a good citizen.....not facts.  It's a curious statement.....you don't reach critical thinking, without some boundary....some platform....some facts.  The naive folks who cite this negative.....usually like to discuss things without any knowledge or basis....just work to convince people on opinion only.

Negative 3: Boring material.  I was kinda surprised when reading over the various commentaries related to the law....but they cited this as a big problem.  Obviously, they felt geometric equations were thrilling....or that English literature really pumped kids up.  Frankly, the final three years of school for me were fairly boring and I would have easily opted for some graduation test after the tenth grade.....just to move on.

The truth here is that you only have to pass with a sixty.  No idiot is going to form a rocket-science type test here....just multiple-choice and very simple questions.  If you paid attention during the final year of school.....you'd probably get a seventy-five on the test very easily.  And I'm pretty sure that the teacher will have an entire week of summaries at the end....hinting strongly at fifty of the questions just to give you a leg up on the test.

Will it improve anything?  I have my doubts.  I'd rather waste the efforts on economic situations, how to handle credit and debt, and grasping life's little curves on spending money.  But that'd scare just about everyone....if kids got smart and refused to get heavily into debt.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Bama Number One at Something

Whenever you do a statistical deal and rate the fifty states on something.....except for football and gun ownership....Alabama usually ends up around number forty-four on most collections of data.  Today, there was an odd new statistic where Alabama made it to number one......teacher to student physical relationships.

Some guy who'd served in the Bush era has been collecting numbers each year for affairs or arrests that come out in public.  The folks at Al.com did a full report on this.....noting that his analysis shows Bama as number one....with twenty-five episodes in 2014 out of a national number of 781.  He worked up the numbers to figure in per-capita.....which is probably the only way to relate it to a fair number of people.  In this fashion....we had a bigger problem than any other state.

Bama has this law which basically says.....any employee of the school system....even the counter gal with the chow-hall....that has a relationship with a kid younger than nineteen.....is bound for jail-time.

You can ask around and I suspect ninety-nine percent of all school employees know of the law, and the potential for jail.....but it doesn't really matter.  Folks do stupid things, as we say in Bama.

Alcohol and drugs involved?  Well....there might be some cases like this, but I doubt if it'd be worth discussing.

What will happen with this rating?  Nothing much.  Folks will talk about it at church and PTA meetings.  Some might go to their son Randy or daughter Candy......asking them if they know such students or teachers, and get some freaky look like you shot a dog or something.  A few folks will write letters into the local paper.....saying we need to jack up jail-time for perverts like this, but then get shocked with it's mostly female teachers that get into trouble.

I really didn't have this problem in the 60's and 70's....most of my teachers were either WW II or Vietnam War vets, or old women who drove Buicks.

Somewhere after the 1970s....things got whipped up into a frenzy and folks got lusty feelings (not just the students).  Maybe all of the war vets retired, and the old Buick gals decided to cash in and enjoy the golden years and a hefty Bama pension check.  New folks arrived....thinking that they were just in phase two of college, where lots of weird and kinky things happen.

The twenty-five episodes reported in Bama?  I'd take a strong guess that it's just ten-percent of the real number, and that thousands of folks would tell their story if they weren't afraid of getting jail-time or lots of trouble.

My suggestion?  Every month....put a slip of paper into the mailbox of each teacher and employee of the school system that requires a signature.  It'll be a two-line memo that just says.....if you get into love-trouble with the school attendees.....we don't pay you a penny of your pension.  You might mention that it's a minimum of two years in a state prison just for special effect.  And then just let that thought keep coming back....month after month.  A little reminder....that's all.

Course, this won't affect the forty sixteen year old slutty gals who are having weekly episodes with the football or basketball team from your local school.  In that case....it's just a parent episode to manage, and frankly.....good luck.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Statistic That Seems to Matter

I'm not an engineer or scientist.  Frankly, I'm glad I didn't go off into either such direction as a kid because it'd just be total chaos for me.  But I like both professions greatly today and can appreciate what it takes to be either.  The one key ingredient?  Facts that matter.....numbers that matter.....solid evidence that leads to better conclusions that 'guessing'.

People in the news media and in politics.....come around to tell you things which come mostly out of opinion or just slanted views of life.  I'd prefer facts and statistics....because it might be more truthful.

This week, I noticed a report from the kind folks at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. They put up a simple polling question to thirty-four-thousand American adults.

The poll question was: “Which of the following best represents how you think of yourself?”

You had five possible answers: straight, lesbian/gay, bisexual, “something else” and “I don’t know the answer.”

Now, you can note here.....the transgender folks weren't mentioned.  I don't know the reasoning, or if it was purposely done, or just that the Center didn't know such people existed.

Here's the thing....out of thirty-four thousand folks.....only 1.6 percent said they were lesbian/gay.  Only .7 percent said they were bisexual.

After that point, the "something else" and "I don't know the answer" crowd ended up with a total of 1.1 percent.

Yeah....roughly ninety-four percent were straight....more or less.

What does this say?  There just isn't a large crowd out there who practice anything beyond straight.  They didn't split this off into men or women.....or age groups.....which have told more of the story.

To put this into reality.....you leave work this afternoon and go to Wal-Mart.  You walk in and assume there are six hundred customers in the store.  At best.....seven of those customers are gay/lesbian.  Four are bisexual.  And six folks are "something else".  The other 583 folks are all straight.

The fact is.....there are likely more people in the store who graduated from college with a Master's degree than gay/lesbian.  There's likely more more people in the store who've been to an Indian casino in the last year.....than gay/lesbian.  And there's likely more people in the store who've read War and Peace....than are bisexual.

Now, if you walked across the street.....to the gay bar there next to Wal-Mart, and noted the sixty folks in there.....fifty-eight which are gay/lesbian....well, it's a statistic but it's not really a number you can use for a CNN journalist's article or round-table discussion.  

Bottom line?  It might help to work with facts.

The "Homeland" Show

There are a dozen-odd current US TV programs which I might have curious nature over and watch.  I admit.....I still have an enjoyment of watching the Simpsons and South-Park.  I still have some interest in watching the Big Bang Theory.  I enjoy Pawn Stars off the History Channel, along with Amish Mafia (I know, it's fake).  Among this entire group, I have a curious nature with Showtime's "Homeland", which I've probably watched a dozen of the episodes with the series.

I noticed in today's news....the Homeland production team is looking at the next season theme, and have decided that unlike the previous themes for each year.....the new season won't involve Muslim terrorism.

Naturally, you'd ask the question....here are these CIA folks who get all hyped up and charging off to protect America, and you need a pretty hefty subject area to charm the audience....but then you say....no Muslim terrorists?

North Korean terrorists?  No, I doubt that you can use that theme because North Korea would get upset and do some bad things (or least say they might do bad things).

Mexican terrorists?  The show would end around the fourth episode because you can't invent that many scenarios or situations with the current situation.

Canadian terrorists?  Maybe you could invent some bad French guys from Montreal, who steal liquor trucks in New Jersey and sneak them across the border to sell untaxed US booze in Canada.  And then what?

Brazilian terrorists?  It'd mostly involve sexual or arousing type scenarios....with hot lusty stuff.  It'd be tough to make this a weekly show.  Course, you could inject some Brazilian transsexual terrorist operation as the theme...just to be different.  Folks might get the wrong idea about the show.

Alabama terrorists?   Inventing them straight out of some US state and hype up the CIA guys on an internal threat....with a Rambo-like Bama guy leading the bad guys?  No....it just won't work.

French terrorists?  Guys who sip fancy wine and eat shrimp by the bucket?  Bad guys?  No.

English terrorists?  Well....they'd be soccer thugs or hooligans.....drunk most of the time and charged up on soccer violence.  It won't work.

Russian terrorists?  Hey, it'd be simple to bring in twelve actual real Russian mafia guys....teach them to act....and build the Homeland theme around real living Russian mafia thugs.  But who'd be foolish enough to be that creative? And what if we suddenly liked the Russian guys, then hating the fake CIA guys off Homeland?

Frankly, I think Homeland has come to the end.  They've used up every piece of creativity, and it's downhill from here.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Fake World of Documentaries

I noticed this weekend that the chief of the Discovery Channel came out and said they were going to stop making fake-but-entertaining documentaries.  He kinda admits.....they were successful....but they've run their course and probably aren't of the value they were a couple of years ago.

I hadn't been much of a Discovery Channel viewer....until I got to DC in 2010 and got my cable package.

Between the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, Arts & Entertainment, the Crime and Investigation network, and The Learning Channel (TLC).....I got used to fake programming.  I could go home and watch two to three hours of fake TV entertainment.....knowing it was all fake....and be fairly satisfied.

I imagine if you went and question the six million residents of Alabama today....of which half have access to the same cable or satellite package....at least ten percent will admit they watch the fake documentary programming on a regular basis.  If asked if they know it's fake.....most will grin and say it's kinda like wrestling but more evolved and characters that you feel charmed by their nature or fake behavior.

I look at this announcement by the boss of Discovery and wonder what exactly will replace the fake documentary programming?  Medical emergency room documentaries.....where you cart some guy into the backdoor and he fell into a pit of alligators?  Maybe some trucking documentaries where you interview twelve truckers as they cross America and get their opinion on flashlights, beer, and winter tires?  Perhaps some farming stories where one guy went to rehab because he was drinking all day while farming?

I'm of the mind that this brief period of non-fake documentaries will run through a phase where people admit there's nothing much entertaining about the truthful escapades of various folks.  So, after a year or two....a few fake pieces will run through the system, and we will be back to the norm within four years.

My suggestions for fake documentary material?

1.  It might be interesting to have some bonehead city-guy gave up the lifestyle....put on jeans....and pretend to be a farmer for while.

2.  It might be entertaining to put some castaway guy on some island with two or three buddies, some cannibals, and Amazon gals.

3.  It could be enchanting to put a couple of US Senators onto a lie-detector and let the public ask ten simple questions to each....seeing if they could be truthful in their comments or answers.

4.  It might be fascinating to put an entire city council onto marijuana for a year and see if they act different.

5.  It might be compelling to interview forty high-school kids, and year by year....tell their continued story and how they succeed or fail in life.

6.  It might be enjoying to put a couple of hidden cameras into a barber shop and let the barbers engage customers on aliens, UFOs, or ex-wives.

The sad truth here?  We actually want fake-but-realistic documentaries.  And we know it's all fake.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

The CNN Second-League Guys

For the last couple of days with the Paris shooting episode....I've sat and watched a number of hours of news.  It's mostly BBC, France-24 (in English), Sky News and CNN.

I have to admit....the France-24 crowd did probably the best coverage of an ongoing event that I've seen in years.  They didn't twist it into some dynamic or epic story.  They simply reported facts, interviewed witnesses, and did a very balanced news piece....around the clock.

CNN?  Well...the epic low point occurred with Anderson Cooper and his junior partner doing a live piece, and there was some need to describe the black guy at the Jewish grocery who was terrorizing folks.  The description?  "An African-American".

There was this awkward pause of silence....then Anderson Cooper corrected the guy and just said.....he's African.....leaving off the hyphen-description that we are so used to.  It was one of those moments when you know you are watching CNN and expecting this type of gimmick news moment.

You see, in Europe....while there are Africans in France.....they are French, or you end up saying they are Nigerian-French, or Sudanese-French, or Ivory Coast-French.  To be honest.....you just normally say French.

Same way for some African guy in the Netherlands, or Austria or Germany.

The use of an entire continent for a description?  It'd be like addressing a guy with Irish heritage and just saying he's European-American.  It doesn't happen.

This gimmick slogan....identifying some guy as 'African-American'.....it only works in the US.  Most international journalists don't fall into this identification trap.

I would imagine that I ought to address myself more often as "Norman-English-American"....to show my roots going back to east England, but the real line goes back to 1169 when the Normans came over the Channel and invaded England.

In some ways.....I watch CNN because I'm waiting to see them make a screw-up.....like going to a NASCAR race and waiting for an accident to occur or some demonstration that the minor league team is playing.

Friday, 9 January 2015

This Community College Idea

I looked at this brief proposal of President Obama.....free community college.  It's an interesting idea.....but basically just an idea thrown out there, without any substance.

How to make it work?  You'd start to toss out the idea of one-through-twelve grades of high school.  You'd come to some point of admitting that forty percent of all kids have the wit and knowledge....with a few changes....to wrap up high school by the end of the tenth grade.  You'd allow these kids to take a test and get a diploma.....then leave at age sixteen.  They'd get two years of free tuition at a local state-run public college....because of the savings that the state would have from them not having to attend the last two years of college.

The remaining kids?  They'd get another chance to test at the end of the eleventh grade....which fifty percent of this group would likely pass and get their diploma.....thus getting one year of community college.....free of charge.

The final group would wrap up their schooling at the end of the twelfth grade, and get no free tuition.  Simply their tough luck.

Who would stand against the idea?  School teachers would hate it because it'd put ten percent of them out of business.  From the twenty-odd teachers used for teaching the tenth through eleventh grade....you could dismiss three or four.

The school sports mafia would hate it because so many schools would end their high school basketball, baseball and football programs.....lacking enough mature students to have any decent teams.  Colleges would quickly falter and suddenly lack decent players as well.  Then the whole professional sports program would suffer.

Beyond this....it's practically impossible to come up with tuition for six-million kids who would want to attend some local community college.  And on the fairness scale....what do you offer the kids who are too stupid to attend community college?

RAF Mildenhall Closes?

Yesterday, the Air Force announced their next closure list for Europe.  The only thing of significance listed?  The closure of RAF Mildenhall.

Mildenhall is a base that the US has had around since 1950.  It's a mile or two outside of Bury Saint Edmunds.....maybe a ninety-minute drive northeast of London.

I went on temp-duty to the base on four occasions.  For me, it was like walking out of a door....into the 1940s.  Most buildings on the base were brick, and the landscaping was still you'd imagine from seventy years ago.

The best pub to go to?  Near the front gate was the Bird in Hand pub.  What you'd order was the Gammon-sandwich.  I'd describe the Gammon as a big one piece of baked bread....as thick as a pineapple, and big slab of ham in the middle with some salad sauce over it.  In brief, it was loaded with fat, calories, and bad stuff for your heart.  It wasn't exactly cheap.....but if you ate one of these for lunch.....you were generally full for the next twelve hours.

Out the back-gate....at least back around 1993....there was this cafe which served breakfast.  You'd get a heaping plate of your six essential fatty breakfast foods, with a big cup of coffee for roughly $8.  The British as I learned....are rather gifted at knowing the foods which are bad for you and making them look delicious.

I generally always stayed at the on-base 'inn'.....a crappy place which I'd rate at a two-star.  On one occasion, they put me up off-base.....at some no-name inn.....where in the midst of winter, I stepped into my room to find it pretty close to 32-degrees.  It took six hours for that room to warm up to an acceptable level.  The Brits are that way.....never wasting heat.

What they say is that they were spending $500 million a year on rent for three British installations, and they just quit those installations.....saving money by pushing some operations to Germany.

What becomes of RAF Mildenhall?  It's hard to say.  I think the locals are mostly in a state of shock and always thought it'd be the last place to close down.  It would make a decent regional airport.....but they already have a couple.  My guess is that it'll shut down and just be overgrown in five years.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

A Drinking Bill

There's a bill moving around in the Oklahoma legislature that has drawn some national interest. No one is sure if it will pass....if it will be challenged in court....and if the cops will even attempt to enforce (one of our modern problems....a law that won't be enforced).

The bill basically says.....if you get convicted of a DUI (driving while intoxicated)....you are directed to get a news driver's card via your county court house.  The card will identify you as under restriction (big BOLD letters) on the front.  With this restriction....for whatever period that the judge determines (it might be one month, one year, or several years)....you can't buy booze anywhere in the state.

The bill would also criminalize the act of your buddy buying the beer for you.....putting him at risk of serving jail-time.

The general thought on passing?  It's being given mixed results because people are somewhat fearful of the intentions.  Would cops even enforce it?  Would bartenders and grocery folks be willing to card EVERYONE (even a ninety-year-old grandma when she bought wine at the local Piggly Wiggly)?  What about the church wine event around Easter....would it be legit to serve all adults?

I kinda like the idea.  I'd probably break it up into two episodes.  Your first offense.....a minimum of six months with no booze.  Your second offense?  Permanent.  The odds are.....you will pack up and leave the state.  Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

From my Air Force years, I worked around a dozen-odd characters who got a DUI.  I worked with one pilot who'd had several DUIs and they'd kept this guy hidden in Panama....helping him get to twenty years and retirement.  Four months prior to retirement.....he got drunk and drove his car through the wing commanders front yard.  The wing commander instructed this guy's wife.....to drive him around for the remaining hundred-odd days.

On one base.....we had a guy who'd accomplished three DUI's over a four-year period.  After the third one, they decided enough was enough.....discharging him with roughly fifteen years of service (a general discharge).  A month or two later....he was in the National Guard.....at his old rank.

Through the 1960s....most DUI episodes ended up with the drunk guy dead, and the public just said some sorrowful words.  In the 1980s....the trend reversed and the drunk survived most of the time, while the other passengers or the opposite car suffered greatly.  Maybe we made better cars that could survive accidents.  

My humble guess is that this bill will fail to pass.  But somewhere down the line, the concept is going to be brought up in Mississippi or Alabama in two years.....and pass.  I'm not sure if the cops would desire to enforce it, and it might just end up like a thousand other laws.....just written text and not much else.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Movies For January

January is the month of the year that you tend to stay in....get cabin-fever...run out of spark from the holidays....add up the days of sunshine (less than four)....and feel like you got a six-pound rock in your shoe.  You'd like to soak up some sunshine, mow the yard, and yearn for just a little positive effect on your life.

So, my list of movies that are appropriate this time of year, to make up for the lack of sunshine or over-abundance of snow and ice:

1.  The Quiet Man (1952), with John Wayne.  Toss in some Irish landscape, a bit of humor, some hidden-story, and a good ending.....you have an epic.

2.  Forest Gump (1994), with Tom Hanks.  It weaves a long story with some dramatic pieces sprinkled into it, and delivers some inspirational moments.

3.  My Man Godfrey (1936), with William Powell.  It's a witty piece which surprises you with a great ending.  Maybe some five-star acting in between.

4.  Gladiator, (2000), with Russell Crowe.  Epic Roman era story.  I admit, there's some high and low points to the movie, but it is inspiring toward the end.

5.  Local Hero (1983).  A British piece over the odd way that locals handle big oil men.

6.  Along Came Jones (1945), with Gary Cooper.  It's a western-comedy which rarely ever gets played except on the classics channel.

7.  The Philadelphia Story (1940), with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.  What you end noticing toward the middle is a five-star comedy script, with a twist or two at the end.  The filming took barely six weeks and most of the movie was done with a take or two.

8.  A Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).  If you can find the director's version (192 minutes)....it's better than the normal version that you typically see on TV with the 160 minutes.  My favorite of the movie was the Dick Shaw-surfer dude, but there are a dozen oddball characters making the movie worth watching.

9.  Secondhand Lions (2003), with Micheal Caine.  It's a southern-type story, that involves two old guys who probably have led lives ten times over, and one brief summer with the nephew who comes to visit and will end up staying permanently.  Somewhere in the middle of the movie, they will introduce to the lion, and she influences the ending of the movie to some degree.

10.  The Sucker (1965).  It's a French-Italian comic gangster movie with Luis de Funes.  It might play once a decade on the classics channel.  If you can find it with the subtitles.....played on a large-TV screen....it's a great comedy that plays at a fast pace.  In essence, it's a French-made Jerry Lewis-style movie that progresses along at a mile a minute.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Hemingway Journalism Still Around

We used to have journalists who could write, if required, like Hemingway or Steinbeck. Somewhere over the past fifty years....that talent disappeared.

I noticed today.....off an article written on Vocativ.com.....a piece written by Mike Spies.  Mike decided to visit the Eric Garner grave in Linden, New Jersey.  Garner....if you remember...was the big-burly guy who sold loose cigarettes on the streets of New York, and was involved in a episode where the cops wanted to arrest him and he just wasn't going to cooperate.  They ended up putting into some type of hold....which resulted eventually in him dying.  You could review this a hundred ways and have a hundred opinions.

Mike Spies didn't care for that part of the story.  What Mike did....was old fashioned journalism.  He actually decided to go out to the grave-site of the guy, and give you an honest and humble view of the site and the activities since the burial.  Frankly, there's not much to report.

Mike arrived and had to ask some gal at the entrance of the cemetery for directions to the grave, and then he gave this epic-Hemingway-style response:  "A kind woman with a tattoo on her chest directed me to an area....".

It's a visual description.  You could sit there for hours...going through the description...'a kind woman with a tattoo".

Hemingway would have taken the directions to the grave, but stopped to ask the lady fifty-odd questions.  Was the tattoo something from a past love, or just from a drunken episode one evening?  Was kindness a difficult thing to display these days?  Do you have many people coming by each day to ask directions?

It's like watching the evening news and what you see is mostly marginal stuff that a 2nd-year college kid could put together.  The slanted stuff?  It's done in such a way that even a twelve-year-old kid can recognize there are pieces to the story missing, and mostly done to fake you into some belief.

As for the Garner story?  If you read the whole thing, you come to the point of realizing that there isn't much over the rest of the story.  For a brief ten minutes.....it was a four-star situation, and then it ended.  Not much else.