Friday, August 28, 2015

A Decade of Writing on the Web

I've been so busy I missed my own blog birthday - 10 years are done and I'm now on Year 11. Yay me.

Obviously The Regular Reader knows the posts here have been intermittent in the last year or so, but that's changing as a few new adventures are compelling me to become more prolific here. Details on that will follow very soon.

When I began this page, the Web was exploding with blogs, and many of those are now kaput. I am not kaput. That noisy proliferation has now turned into a far more vast cacophony of voices and images which get Tweeted and Pinterested and Instagrammed and Facebooked and far more names of platforms being created. I'm a long-form writer who abhors brevity. Except when I don't.

And still, our world is only just inside the doorway of what is possible with the Internet. If the Internet is the New Alphabet then we've only gotten 3 or 4 letters figured out. More is to be discovered and the new combinations possible are far too large to even imagine ... so far.

When I was a wee boy, knowing down in my bones that I wanted to be a writer, I think I saw a Writer as a process that ended with being a Good Writer Who Writes. Now these many years later, I see it's a process of creation that never ends.

What's been the best writing here? The most popular? 

The Google stats say "Dr. Evil Running Congress?" has been the most viewed post, with over 22,000 views is Most Popular, but that's likely because the image I used of Dr. Evil became a hot listing via image searches using Google. Also popular, pretty much all posts about Frightmare Manor, the haunted attraction located just down the street, have been huge hits on the Web. And they are getting ready to open up again for 2015.

I have various favorites, but here are two posts that I rank as my own best.

First, "Martian", a rumination on the planet Mars and the robots we've placed there. It's from the very first weeks of publishing, and I really like it. In fact, other than movies, I've probably written the most about my fascination with our universe, our solar system and how we do and do not explore it.

My next favorite is also from the early days, "Would You Like To Hear Some Stories?", a post prompted by my sister-in-law and the very real and astonishing experiences of her family during World War 2 and how the posting of those events led to the discovery after many decades of what happened to Katherine's mother's cousin, revealed in the comments of that post.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Should Federal Election Day Be A Holiday?

Presidential candidate and senator Bernie Sanders says "Yes" and has prepped some legislation for it --

"[That] would indicate a national commitment to create a vibrant democracy."

Would it increase voter turnout?

Should elections be held on weekends?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Last Neighbor - Pluto

If you have more than 3 moons you're a planet in my book, but Pluto is what it is - a wee dwarf planet. It looks huge in the pictures now coming in from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. (Great links to the mission via KnoxViews, where Randy notes "It will take 16 months to download all the data and images collected by the probe... At 3 billion miles away, it takes 4.5 hours for signals to reach Earth.)

Here's the man who first sighted Pluto in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh, who is actually on-board the New Horizons probe ... well, a portion of Clyde's ashes are on-board. An 11-year old English school girl suggested the name Pluto.

There is a human fondness for the wee world.

It's also essentially our last neighbor here in this Solar neighborhood, and beyond it we see an infinity of galaxies and neighborhoods - and our little neighborhood appears very small.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Beyond A Battle Flag

It has been startling to see how quickly politicians in Southern states, including Tennessee, have stepped forward to announce that now is the time to finally remove a symbol of the failed Confederate states from government buildings. Quickly, that is, if you jump past the events of the last 150 years since the Civil War ended.

Growing up here in Tennessee, the battle flag was everywhere you looked. It perplexed me that is was so popular - especially when I'd see the image to the right, which was on beach towels, license plates, dinner plates, and on just about anything for sale. That creepy, angry old man defiantly refusing to move past the days of slavery and war and instead holding on to ideas steeped in horror was beyond my understanding. As I got older, I realized that racial hatreds were something a person had to learn from someone - and like many others, I hoped such vile teachers were disappearing. But still they hang on.

Tragically, too many Southerners carry today a wounded pride - and confused a pride in being Southern with a grim notion we should revere a society built on slavery. We should not erase the history of the cause and affects of the Civil War nor should we dismiss the reality that our nation endured beyond that war because we accepted a vital truth - no one has the right to own another human being, and that yes, we strive to create equality for each and every person. This struggle continues around the globe.

Removing governmentally endorsed symbols is a beginning point – but what is urgently needed is a long-overdue re-evaluation of beliefs. Increasing education, decreasing poverty, reforming prison and sentencing policies are just a few of the areas our society must address. 

For Southerners especially, we do have a rich and varied heritage worth celebration, but the legacy we offer needs to be much, much more than a history steeped in slavery.

Us versus Them is no legacy worth leaving future generations

Thursday, May 21, 2015

My First Appearance (Almost) on the David Letterman Show

In July and August of 1991 I was relentlessly scouring as much of the island of Manhattan as I possibly could.

It was an epic two weeks - I met legendary talk show pioneer Joe Franklin outside of Nathan's hot dogs in Times Square, I met (and bought a drink for) the actor Michael Anderson, aka the midget from "Twin Peaks", and I was almost featured in an episode of David Letterman's talk show on NBC.

You should know that I knew of so many landmarks and unique Manhattan locations, mostly from decades of movie and television viewing. Obsessive viewing one might say - which allowed me to locate the streets and buildings from "Taxi Driver", the steps in  Riverside Park where Charles Bronson turned into a killer in "Deathwish", the bench used in by Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in "Manhattan" ... you get the idea.

So one day I set my attention to the area around 30 Rockefeller Plaza - too many iconic images and locations to list. I puzzled over ways to get into Letterman's show, but none seemed to work. I circled around attempting to locate the building which Letterman had recently been using as he called up a woman named Meg he could see in a high rise window across from his studio. He'd call her up, she would do something wacky for him during the show.

Turns out I was right on time for something special because as I was looking up, I see a window in the building being raised and a woman poked out her head. My heart stopped when I realized I had hit the mother lode.

She withdrew her head and a large bag appeared, overflowing with multi-colored Nerf balls. I looked down and across the street and there was Biff Henderson, David's longtime stage manager, wearing his ubiquitous headset, darting back and forth with a laundry basket. Nerf balls began to rain down as Biff scampered about trying to catch them.

I was thunderstruck of course. They were taping a segment for that night's show. I then noticed a small camera crew to my left, and my mind seized on an idea - I'm going to just cross the street and walk past Biff. I'm going to be on the show.

As if in a dream, I eased forward - one step, two, and I'm on the street, eyes glued to Biff's antics ... and then I noticed the policeman, the barricades at either end of the street, and then the policeman noticed me and he gave me a look, a look that said "Don't even think about it, buddy."

I froze in place and did not move.

The scene continued to play out. I became aware of a lot of folks around, laughing and clapping. In seconds, Biff and crew were gone, the window was shut and the policeman smiled at me. I wandered off, pondering on what Letterman himself might call "a brush with greatness".

Anyway, I continued my sightseeing and adventures for the day and late that evening I was back in Brooklyn where I was staying with my brother-in-law Fred. I was tired - a good kind of tired - and I realized the time, realized the Letterman show was about to air.

Did I make it into the show? Possibly??

I tuned in and watched and there's Letterman, setting up the bit with Meg and Biff and the Nerf balls ... At several points, there was this shot from high above the street as Biff ran about and I can see ... I can see ... that if I had just taken one more step, just one move a couple of inches forward, I would have been in the shot and been on the show.

But I was not. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Former East TN Congressional Candidate Turns Terrorist

The ever-watchful and wily Southern Beale today points to reports (and the lack of them) of a 2014 4th Congressional District candidate, Robert Doggett who was busted by the FBI for plotting a mass murder.

"And if it gets down to the machete, we will cut them to shreds" he told the FBI.

Like Beale, I have to wonder - why didn't this hit the news? 

From one of the links in her post:

"Doggart, 62, has more than 40 years in the electric generation business, working as an engineer, manager, superintendent and other titles, including 17 years at TVA.

He is an ordained minister in the Christian National Church (Congregational). He is a past president, chairman, and director at large of the American Society for Nondestructive Testing. He is a 17-plus gallon blood donor with Blood Assurance and has received two presidential awards for lifetime public service."

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Science Shows Why Stupid Folks Praise Stupid Folks

Pamela Geller
I'm somewhat happy to report there appears to be a theory to explain why deeply uninformed folks suffer from "illusory superiority".

Such a theory helps explain the idiocy of, for instance, folks in Texas who firmly believe the U.S. Military is prepping an attack on Texas and even why rabid hate-speakers like Pamela Geller considers herself a defender of Free Speech. This theory likely explains why some consider FOX News a source of "fair and balanced" journalism.

The theory is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

A 1999 study at Cornell University by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Krueger concluded that this effect is:

"... a cognitive bias wherein unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude.
Pretend News on FOX

"The study was inspired by the case of McArthur Wheeler, a man who robbed two banks after covering his face with lemon juice in the mistaken belief that, because lemon juice is usable as invisible ink, it would prevent his face from being recorded on surveillance cameras."

Hoo boy, does that explain a lot of wacky thinking and talking from certain people and groups.

The summation here also notes such people:

fail to recognize their own lack of skill
fail to recognize genuine skill in others
fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy

recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill

There is a very real threat and danger to the rest of us from the folks who suffer from their delusions of wisdom -- incompetence grows quickly and, when voiced by someone in a position of authority their madness gets legitimized as having some value or truth.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Baltimore Boils Over After Years of Corruption

image via

The grim reality on the streets and in the neighborhoods of Baltimore currently stem from not simply one incident about police conduct and tactics. The Baltimore Sun last fall provided a lengthy investigation into years of brutality and civil rights violations by law enforcement:

"Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.

"Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.

"And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims — if charges were filed at all. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him — a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was “shocked.”

"Such beatings, in which the victims are most often African-Americans, carry a hefty cost. They can poison relationships between police and the community, limiting cooperation in the fight against crime, the mayor and police officials say."

Also worth reading, an overflowing crowd attends a meeting, prior to Freddie Gray's death, held by the city and the Department of Justice:

" ... hundreds of Baltimore residents gathered to air grievances over years of harassment, beatings and other mistreatment they say they have endured from city police.

"They turned out for a meeting convened by the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate, at the city's request, complaints about Baltimore's Police Department. When a former San Jose, Calif., police chief hired to lead the meeting told the crowd he wanted to know whether they "trust" the city's police, a woman shouted "No."

"From that point on, dozens of residents — most of them black — inundated federal officials with their assertions that city police have been brutalizing residents with impunity."

More on the years of corruption in law enforcement:

"What's crucial to understand, as Baltimore residents take to the streets in long-simmering frustration, is that their general grievances are valid regardless of how this case plays out. For as in Ferguson, where residents suffered through years of misconduct so egregious that most Americans could scarcely conceive of what was going on, the people of Baltimore are policed by an entity that perpetrates stunning abuses. The difference is that this time we needn't wait for a DOJ report to tell us so. Harrowing evidence has been presented. Yet America hasn't looked." 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tennessee: God, Guns, Booze

The State's Official Gun (almost)
State legislators aimed this year to define Tennessee via the designation of "Official State _________ " resolutions and came up with some true weirdness.

What did they select to identify Tennessee?

The Bible.
The Sniper Rifle.

How did Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey describe this legislative session

"I have said it before and I will say it again: it matters who governs."

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Testing Requires More Testing

The Tennessee Legislature deploys some logic - because so much time in public school is spent on increasing testing scores in science and math and technology, other classes, such as in civics and social studies and history have been hampered. So, now students will have to take a citizenship test to graduate.

Too many tests, it seems, denotes a vital need for more tests. Of course, the new law says a student can take the test as many times as needed in order to pass it. 

The legislation is created by a the Joe Foss Institute.

Maybe students should be directed to learn how lobbying by large national foundations is so effective.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Armed Guards Protecting Last Male Alive

Last week while wrangling with a dicey alternator in an older model pickup truck, I encountered a couple of folks from Cosby who went far beyond being helpful. These folks went out of their way to provide aid and assistance to strangers - so much so that we had to marvel at such vivid proof of how good people can be.

It was one of those small events that makes one feel so upbeat about humanity.

And today I read of a male white rhino - one of only five alive and the last male - that's being guarded around the clock in Kenya in an effort to keep a 50 million year old species alive.

How good, on the one hand, an effort is being made to keep the critter alive. 

How sad it has come down to such action. It sounds like a short story, a rarest of the rare animals being guarded by gun-toting watchmen.The rhino horn is basically hair - wiping out a species for a hunk of hair likewise seems a made-up story, but it is not. So much for feeling hopeful about my fellow humans.