May 22, 2010
I arrived on the Berkeley campus in the fall of 1966, which means I missed the Mario Savio-led Free Speech Movement, but I was around for most of the other major spasms of dissent which rocked the campus in later years. These included the People's Park riots of 1969 and the Cambodia Invasion riots of 1970, occurring, not so coincidentally I'm sure, in the spring, when the hormonal sap tends to run high, especially among the young, and no one wants to be inside anyway. Besides these two main events, there were various other causes which disrupted the university's normal functioning (or as normal as it got after the FSM), including the dispute over the firing of Angela Davis, the ongoing leitmotif of Vietnam War dissent and other causes.
May 21, 2010
The Blob I was originally worried about was a piece of protoplasmic, shape-shifting Jello that starred in its own movie in 1958. The Blob's co-star was a young Steve McQueen, although they were mortal enemies in the movie. My older brother saw the horror flick at the Third Avenue theater with a bunch of his no-good delinquent friends, then he couldn't wait to tell me about it.
May 20, 2010
As I mentioned before, I'm in the process of reading, and trying to comprehend, Nassim Taleb's book The Black Swan. Taleb takes issue with the Gaussian bell curve as a means of probability assessment, specifically its incompleteness in accounting for events in what he calls "Extremistan" (as opposed to the everyday variations in "Mediocristan"). All very cute. Taleb's dissatisfaction with bell curve analysis led him to adapt the work of Benoit Mandelbrot, the fractal mathematician, as a means of new insights.
One of the main reason recruits don't qualify for the service is inadequate education. One in four between the ages of 17 and 24 does not have a high school diploma, according to the report. And many who do still fail the military's version of the SAT, known as the Armed Forces Qualification Test.
Asthma, eyesight and hearing problems are also factors. But about a third of all potential recruits can't join because they're too fat and out of shape.
"When you get kids who can't do push-ups, pull-ups or run, this is a fundamental problem not just for the military but for the country," said Curtis Gilroy, the Pentagon's director of accessions policy. Many kids are not "taking physical education in school; they're more interested in sedentary activities such as the computer or television. And we have a fast-food mentality in this country."
Sobering observations. I think that the overwhelming majority of my own contemporaries, those who would have reached the age of 17 in the mid to late 1960's, would not have had any problem qualifying for the military. The Army's weight limit, for example, is 259 lbs. for men and 241 lbs. for women, both rather liberal standards, if you ask me. (How does someone between the ages of 17 and 24 even have the time to eat enough to weigh more than 259 pounds? is one question that occurs to me.)
My older brother informed me that one of his contemporaries, a teacher in inner city schools, intends to leave the United States as soon as he retires, because he sees all hell breaking loose as soon as his former students are in charge of things. There's both a wacky humor in his reaction and a very scary portent of things to come. Anyway, using the law of self-similarity, as applied to the American population as a whole, we might extrapolate outward to conclude that if this is the sort of progeny the society is producing (and is there some motivation for the military to denigrate its own recruiting cohort unfairly?), then things must be generally very bad indeed, and it would be miraculous if many more older Americans didn't have retirement plans similar to my brother's friend. It would not be possible to be mass-producing so many dysfunctional younger Americans (the fractally smaller component) unless the larger structure of which they are a part (the whole American society) were not also sick to its very core: uneducated, obese, degenerate.
Not to bum anyone out or anything. So one way to apply such a fractal insight is to consider the future of Social Security in this country. As we know from oft-quoted government statistics, the actual members of the workforce on which a given retiree must rely is dwindling; in the heyday of the Social Security system, as many as 15 or 16 workers might support a single retired senior; whereas as we move forward, this number will shrink to two or three. And two or three youthful Americans of the kind Mr. Gilroy of the Pentagon's Accessions Office is describing.
Hey, good luck, old friends. I'm beginning to miss the illusions of the Parallax.
May 19, 2010
Liberals, who now call themselves progressives because they were cowed into shaming themselves by Right Wing attacks, are an endangered species in American life, which will do them no good because the EPA itself is under merciless assault. I don't know if there is much to be done about it. My own political belief system might be called Jeffersonian liberalism; I am not a "Big Government" fan, per se, but I think it's unrealistic to think that modern Big Business can be regulated and controlled by a weak central government, and I'm certainly not a Free Market Purist of the Ayn Rand persuasion. That, to me, is the nuttiest approach of all. A completely unregulated business world leads to environmental and economic collapse of any complex modern society. These very days we are seeing the handiwork of unregulated Big Business, and it's not a pretty picture. The Gulf oil spill, which will probably turn into the greatest environmental catastrophe in the history of the world when its full extent is known and calculated, can be seen as the end result of believing that business, when left to its own cost-cutting devices, will take environmental effects into account. Ha ha. To save a few million in "mud pumping," British Petroleum has destroyed an entire eco-region.
May 18, 2010
May 16, 2010
If it weren't for fearmongering, I wouldn't have no news at all. Still, as a public service I offer "Meltup," the viral video from the National Inflation Association.