23 July, 2007

Perhaps it's a bit hypocritical, with having a blog myself, but I just don't read blogs very often (aside from my friends, of course). I know that this is the zeitgeist, and everyone talks about how weblogging in the medium of the early 21st century, but I just don't follow those.

Guess I just can't get into them.

All this said, while bumping around the intertubes today, I found myself on a military blogging site (The Sandbox). I know that this shouldn't really be news to anyone, but it is the thinks like this that just depress the hell out of me more than anything else. Maybe I am partisan, and against Bush's War before it even started in '03, but I really wish that more people read these-- its too real.

It's a real privilege to live in a nation which handily has the most capable and powerful military force on the planet, and to remain a civilian. I think that the current U.S. armed forces number around 1.1 million (active plus reserves), which means that this accounts for about 0.3% of the total population. I'm pretty sure that I know more than 300 people, and until yesterday when I found a high school friend on facebook who enlisted after the Catastrophes of 2001, I know none. (To be completely fair, I haven't even spoken to him yet, so the number is essentially zero). In all truth, I think that most of the people I know don't know someone who is there. This insulation is at once unsettling and confusing.

About a week after the towers collapsed in New York, I found myself at the site, before the cleanup, before (literally) all the dust had settled yet. There are few experiences in someones life which can truly be described as haunting, but that is what the ruins in Manhattan were to me; it forced a detachment because it was too real. So many Americans--myself included-- have been fortunate enough to think of destruction and war as an abstract thing that happens "in other places" and only exists to us in history textbooks and movies; and then I think of the men and women in the deserts of the Middle East who are immersed-- quite literally, as one who drowns-- in war.

War is no stranger to this part of the world, or even to America, and the blood shed in the sand will join with the countless others who have fallen in battle in the millennia since the first cities in the land. How does one deal with history in the "present-tense"?

I tried to read as much as I could on the page, but each line of text was another impact. All of us are well aware of the scars-- physical, emotional, psychological, financial, familial, and social which every enlisted man and woman in the War has, are, and will face. This is reality, this is the world of man's own hand.

Today, I know one man who has been to Afghanistan, but in a year? I teach seniors at a high school, and too often I wonder which one of my students will know the trauma and pain from which I have been free? There are so many "ripe" eighteen year olds, and I see the recruiters in the school; I seek no malice against these men, they do their jobs, just as those around the world in uniform are commanded to do, and thank all the goodness and luck in the world that they had the good fortunate to be stationed in a school in Massachusetts.

The feeling after reading these blogs can probably best be described as "hollow." It certainly makes most things I do in an average day seem trivial.

Yes, this is a jeremiad of sorts that I have seen no real war, and I have no desire to ever. It takes a certain bravery to volunteer for such service, and this is simply not a part of who I am. It's angering to think that this bravery has been taken advantage of. A war is a war, and it is always sacrificial, but all things about this aside, how is this even being done correctly?

The purpose of Bush's War aside (I think we can all agree that there essentially was none), the handling of non-combat both in Iraq and America is sickening. There is absolutely no direct goal of our forces there other than "survive," and even less at home. The last two years has been filled with stories about how our returning soldiers are mistreated by their own government, whether they are on a two-month leave before returning to the Mideast, or home after wounded discharge. So many wearing uniforms have given so much, but what of those at home? The fools who have justified this as a "just war" have drawn allusions to World War Two; if this is indeed a war which must be fought, where are the victory gardens, the oil rationing, the volunteer corps?

An army does not go to war, a nation does. Our leaders forget this, and too many at home do. This is on people's radar, but for too many, seems to be a faint aspect of life, as what will be on television this week. There is a war, and the news will report on trivialities. Things like this will only re-enforce the adage of "If you are not enraged, then you're not paying attention"

Read on, think, yell. I'm not sure what I meant to accomplish with this post, there is no grand thesis, or point with this diatribe.
I suppose that's just as much like Bush's War.

19 July, 2007

"You say you want a revolution..."

How do you rebuild a society? When someone begins to speak like this, often one expects radical statements of anarchy and open revolt. When a revolution is called for, it is often to hearken back to an idealized era of the past, or a Utopian future.

There are many ills in America which are commented on by many (i.e., see any previous post), but that which bothers me the most is the emphasis (or lack thereof) on knowledge. Over the previous six years, there has been debate on the No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and various other reforms within the educational system; there has been debate about what the definition of "theory" is-- for an excellent commentary on this, please read up on the Flying Spaghetti Monster; and, if nothing else, an overall disinterest in where human civilization is moving as a whole.

I will begin with enumeration of the last point. The "direction of civilization" is not one I speak of with grandiose applications about the placement of of good and evil, or how, why, and what wars are forged, but our direction as a human community in advancement. Western society, for approximately five to six centuries has been one of expansive knowledge. Of course, there are stops and stumbles and regressions, but since the Renaissance, our collective body of data has been growing on an exponential scale, the most dramatic of which has been seen since the dawn of the 20th century. In America, in particular, there had been a steady interest with the growth of our technological and intellectual prowess until a particular waning in the latter part of the century. How long has it been since a man like Einstein was a hero, let alone a household word?

Indeed, there had been a prolific and successful relationship between science and society for a long time, which sadly seemed to have seen its peak during my parents generation (those educated in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s). I'm uncertain of the exact point of departure, but it seems to me that science stopped being regularly interesting to the public in the late 70s/early 80s. I can't even begin to extrapolate what precipitated this shift. Of course, the placement of science in American culture is just my own special point of interest. That which worries me is a seeming anti-intellectualism strung through our culture. There are far too many people alive today who not only advertise, but are proud of the fact that they are ignorant of specific areas.

The "classic" juxtaposition of this context is the high school story of geeks vs. jocks. I am more than willing to accept that there will always be those people for which academia comes much more easily, but to be proud of not knowing? I can simple not fathom why someone would not not want to know. There was a time in our history when the most refined of people were the intellectuals, and these were the archetypes to which people aspired.

Today, as always, there are heroes-- there will always be heroes. In the ancient past, all knew of the heroes such as Achilles or Hercules, or even the biblical ones such as David or heroic saints (George and his dragon come to mind), yet these men while strong and powerful often relied on their wit, their creativity, and ocean of knowledge for their adventures. Indeed, as Western society progressed into the Industrial Era, the heroes changed, and eventually from quasi-mythological people into real-life men and women from histories or even current news. In the early part of the twentieth century, scientists and explorers would be on the covers of magazines. Lo, in the era of abstractionism in the 1920s, art, music, literature, and physics moved from classical, well-known areas to experimental and often weird levels of discourse as seen by (respectively) Picasso, Gershwin, Joyce, and Dirac's work in their fields. This was the popular discourse of an era, this was on the tips of people's tongues as they discussed the future of us all. Then move onto the next generation of boomers. I would like to be able to see some data comparing how many five year-olds in 1961 wanted to be astronauts as compared to today.

Now the heroes are sports players and musicians, which is nothing new at all, but this, as it seems, is all that the heroes have become. There are professional athletes recruited right out of high school, or shepherded through college in "fluff" majors who later go on to moronic futures both on and off (especially off) the field. On the other end, there are vapid singers who project no other image than how much money they have, or what their sex appeal is. Where is the future in this?

I probably sound like like a crotchety old man, but it simply appears that the population of people who wish to strive for the betterment of society is ever shrinking. There will never be a shortage of high schoolers who want to be doctors, but knowing some that I have taught, I would never want to be their patient. And yet the standards just drop and drop. By definition, a grade of a "C" is average, "B" is above average, and "A" is excellent. The parents and students and teachers who I have met lately, who insist that "B+" is now the average grade are saddening. Oh, there are so many directions to go from here, but I wonder if I even should. In future posts, I will address the issues which I have not fully elaborated upon here, and outright forgot.

Any ideas of how to run this around? It is a bygone fact by now that this century belongs to Asia, but how can America compete, will our empire decline like the Spanish, into chaos and poverty, or like the British, in a lesser, but strong land?

Sorry for the disjointed rant. This will be refined in the future.

18 July, 2007

Not too much today. Yesterday, I had a couple of wisdom teeth out, so today, I'm vaguely annoyed and achy. It's time to start being productive and the like, so I'm going to be working on improving my teaching style for next year (not to mention actually write some lesson plans). Also in the works is looking into graduate programs for both Meg and I. If I come up with anything else to rant about, I'll let you know.

17 July, 2007

Hey, maybe if people know this exists, it will be read... perhaps then I can actually get around to posting more than once every two months.

Today's point of anger: Paris Hilton
Not that point of anger is going under-reported, but I recently caught the end of an NPR story regarding not this "celebrity", but the fact that hundreds of millions of people are obsessed with the lives of the famous in a time of war, disease, terrorism, and panic. One could suppose that this is an anathema to the dark actual news of our times, and evidently there are enough people who see this as an escapism. I can certainly sympathize with escapism (admittedly a video game addict), but I feel that this (well-founded) worry that celebrity is over-reported is a concern about the symptom, and not the disease itself.

A great metaphor of this American addiction is that is an indulgence, as a dessert. It is certainly true that there are many people who follow the latest adventures of heiresses, as well as be aware of the tragedies in Darfur, and Iraq. A nice, balanced diet will allow anyone to have a horribly unhealthy cake to treat themselves every now and again. As I regard FFXII, others will regard their own outlet of stress, this does not control us. Yet in a nation who loves its dessert, but just does not want to eat its vegetables (as well seen by the American obesity problems), are both of these two faces of the same root cause? America's consumer culture, which with problems of its own, has become a something-for-nothing culture. This is created news-- celebrities are celebrated because they are famous and they are famous because they are celebrities. Again, something for nothing. We are at war, but few civilians have sacrificed for a war which they support. We want to watch the news, but hear of movie stars we create rather than the climate changed we have caused. We want to go to school, but not learn anything.

Yes, yes, there are exceptions; and it is likely that many of those who ever read this will be of such an accepted class. Personally, I have no illusions that I am a part of the America with an ever-growing waistline. What does these symptoms tell us? Do we just not care anymore? Are we rich enough to be so crass as to care of nothing other than frivolous "news"?

Well, it seems that I'm out of vitriol for now. Tomorrow I'll be on pain killers, so let's see if I have anything interesting to say then