Tuesday, April 13, 2010

More Miscellaneous Ramblings

My brother, when he graduated High School, and was bound for college in an Engineering discipline, was the proud recipient of a calculator that could add, subtract, multiple, and divide, and (I believe) do a square root function. It was a bit bigger than an iPhone and cost somewhere on the order of $50.

All of my brother's mathematics, through High School calculus, was done using slide rules.

To put that in perspective, I recall my mother and father paying something like $52 - $55 for a week's worth of groceries in the same time period.

About this time I learned about programming in BASIC on a teletype terminal to a mainframe school district computer. The terminals had that distinctive yellow paper and made a distinct chunck-chug sound.

As kids, my brother and I were quite the fans of Star Trek, and in 1977 I stood in a long line for the opening of Star Wars at a cruddy little theater than no longer exists. To say we were stunned and awestruck hardly does justice to the effect of that movie.

Some twenty five years now away from my own High School graduation, I spend a lot of time at the computer. Yesterday I dictated the text of a lengthy letter, told the computer to open Word, to copy my dictation and paste it into that program, and also verbally relayed instructions to my computer to send an e-mail.

My phone does more than Mr. Spock's tricorder and communicator in combination could every hope to do, and it has the capability to hold many, many times more albums and books than my father's LP collection and library.

One can play video games that are breathtaking for their realism and for which we would have slavered in my youth.

Yet for all of that, I find it largely restrictive, this "world wide web" of electronic capability. It is increasingly hard to be "legitimately" incommunicado, with friends, with family, or with business associates. The devices which are supposed to allow you the freedom to do your work on the move don't really accomplish the hype of a life of greater freedom - I do not look at the stars at night as often as I used to, for I always seem to be tied to the glowing screen for one reason or another. My ability to be present in the moment is robbed by the constant awareness of the communication and computing devices at my disposal, and my pocketbook is depleted by their repair, replacement, and upgrading.

I am no Luddite - Google Books has offered the opportunity to obtain old texts (in pdf form), and search them, in a way that would not have been possible. Information is far, far more available for fast research than was possible in the 1970s and early 1980s. I happen to like that.

But deep down, I might miss these new things if we were to suddenly lose them . . . but not that much; as long as I have a decent bookshelf.

So if reduced to a small library of real books, what would YOU put on it? Let us arbitrarily say 50-100 books tops.

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So I'm down to the school the other day for one of my kids' music programs. Children doing their bit, proud parents taking pictures - you know the scene. It's elementary school.

But . . . the program was about "Healthy Choices" and the "6 Pillars of Character." This is part, I believe, of a statewide curriculum requirement to indoctrinate students, with the added benefit (if you do this music bit) of getting to have the children indoctrinate the parents.

Now, the 6 "Pillars" were, I suppose, something any parent could approve of: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship.

The national producers of this program describe it thus:

The nonsectarian and nonpartisan assembly programs entitled “CHOICES COUNT!”, “IT’S YOUR CHOICE!” and "START DREAMIN'!" feature an interactive educational format focusing on the nationally recognized Six Pillars Of Character. These six pillars are: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship and are presented as a counterbalance to the negative influences bombarding our children everyday such as bullying, conflict resolution, drugs, tobacco, alcohol, gang violence, and dropping out of school.

As basic ideas, not bad. However, the delivery was as muddied as anything could be. At one point, a little vignette is played out where children of different types
ask each other "why are you so small," "why do you dress like that," "why are you so pale," "why are you so brown," "why don't you go mass like us, we're Catholic" [to which the other replies "We're Jewish, we go to the Synagogue."

Then follows a brief lecture about being rude and how we should be kind and not make note of our differences in race, color, or religion - and then we are admonished as to how we should follow the Golden Rule in all things (I nearly chortled at that as this is most directly the command of a certain Jesus of Nazareth).

It included such rousing songs as "If it is to be it is up to me," where we parents were commanded to read the words as they sang in a sort of cheer/chant.

Thinking about the whole episode, I realized that what bothered me was that the ideas, not bad in themselves, were the product of convergent thinking. So that, at the margins, the values themselves may not mean the same thing depending on one's cultural and religious heritage.

For example, in being admonished that one is responsible for the consequences of one's own choices, and that therefore don't drink, smoke, do drugs, etc. A grand non-sequitur. If one is a peace loving pot smoker, he may find the consequences of supporting a certain governmental action to be more morally objectionable than sparking up a doobey. Thus, at the margin the idea of healthy choices takes a different dimension than the neighbor down the street who thinks all drink is of the devil and military action is necessary in some cases. Both sets of parents can agree on the slogans, but only because they loosely converge, not because their moral source is the same.

The reasons that certain cultural and religious viewpoints might converge on these "Pillars" suggests that, at the limits, the meaning of the same may grossly diverge, so that the Buddhist, the Hindi, the Muslim, and the Christian may see these things in a different light.

In the end, I felt like I was in some sort of State indoctrination class, devoid of any deeper content as to "why" I should be fair, trustworthy, or care. That this must come from the parent and the child's cultural and religious upbringing is obvious, but it obviously shows the lack of depth to which our public schools can reach to draw on such matters.

I get all my papers and smile at the sky, for I know that the hypnotized never lie.

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[segment deleted]

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I've planted broccoli, onions, lettuce and spinach in the garden. Rhubarb is coming along well, as well as grape buds, and the fruit trees. I have some red spuds to dig in, but need to get some tractor/rototiller attachment to dig the patch for my rows. I'm looking to get some 50+ lbs of spuds this year as it's my first year doing this.

I'd like to plant about 50 linear feet of grain, too, but I need a spot. Maybe next year. I'd like to mill a certain amount of my own grain.

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For you readers out there that are trying to do smallholder farms - you might care to visit this guy's site:

http://thedeliberateagrarian.blogspot.com/

This fellow obviously has some interesting ideas and has some useful kits.

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If anyone is looking for raw fleece, I have some.

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