Retiring While Oil Prices are Rising

Remember the 1970s?  You personally might have been discoing, but the economy had a heart attack.  Two oil shortages.  Inflation.  Stagflation.  Recession.  Investments took a dive way before the fifteenth round.  Luckily the rise in oil prices were artificial due to political influence, and they settled down to allow us to have two decades of growth and relative prosperity.  We baby boomers have been building for our retirements during a time when the investment future always looked rosy.

Now oil prices are climbing up again and the future is returning to the past.  This time oil prices are rising, blowing through the top of the derrick, and it’s not artificial.  The only way oil prices will ever go down is if demand goes down.  And how likely is that?  A big recession could take a bite out of prices.  Everyone could start driving an electric car and put solar panels on our roofs like Jimmy Carter wanted and demand would go down, but how likely his that?

We constantly hear promises that oil prices will drop to the good ole days of $50 a barrel or less, but it’s not happening.  Remember inflation and how fun those times were?  Our leaders claim there are no gloom and doom shortages of oil.  They’ve been promising things should be stable for decades to come.  Then why is oil over a hundred dollars a barrel?

Our retirement future is based on a steady but reasonable growth that nurtures our savings and investments.    If inflation returns we’ll have less to live off of from our fixed incomes.  As long as oil prices rise we’ll have inflation, and maybe worse.

We can effectively cut the price of oil in half by being twice as efficient or using half as much.  If we had followed the policies set up in the 1970s – yes Jimmy Carter was right – we’d have pushed this current crisis ahead in time two generations.  Instead we bought SUVs and drove them fast and now it’s time to pay for our speeding tickets.

I don’t know about you but I don’t like getting old, besides the growing aches and pains I don’t like uncertainties and becoming dependent.  I want to stay in control.  78 million of us are in the home stretch for the Medicare finish line.  As we all queue up waiting to blast off to heaven we’ll have ten, twenty, thirty and maybe even forty years of living off our fixed incomes, savings and investments.  It now appears that the quality of those years could be directly related to the price of oil.

Is there anything we can do about it?  Maybe.  The price of gasoline has always been unnaturally low to begin with because of government subsidies.  With oil production leveling off and new demand from India and China, it’s really a matter of supply and demand which might be beyond our control.  

It is possible if our society quickly switches to alternative forms of energy that we’ll beat the oil crisis and maybe spur continued economic growth so our investments will grow as we age.  If our leaders drag their feet like they have been doing since the 1970s when the problem was obvious, we’ll see some very bad economic times.  In essence, back in the 1980s we collectively said, let’s party while we have oil and then worry. 

Having a society built on irrational greed hasn’t helped.  The housing market soared off the charts with unrealistic values.  The Bush years of wars and occupations, Katrina and Rita, the housing loan crisis and Republicans spending like Democrats has left a big debt.  In other words, there is no trend to believe we’ll suddenly start acting rationally.

So how do rational individuals plan to retire when oil prices are rising?Can we get AARP to promote energy efficient, conservation and the development of alternative forms of energy?  The issue doesn’t seem to be a major topic in the presidential debates.  Does buying solar panels and an electric car make economic sense during retirement years.  I could retire early, next year after 30 years on the job, but I doubt it’s practical.  I’m thinking I should retire and get another full time job to save money for another ten years before thinking about retirement.  I’d like to retire and write those science fiction novels I’ve always wanted to write, but that won’t be practical now.

And if the cost of living is going to shoot up, where’s the best place to retire?  And do I need to rethink our 401k programs?  Planning for the future seems to have suddenly changed.

Jim

Imperfect Memories

As anyone who regularly reads my posts knows, I have an obsession about memories.  This post is about remembering a NPR radio show about remembering.  It’s even more complicated than that, because it’s about finding that radio show from This American Life for a second time.  My friend Connell called me up a few weeks ago and started telling me about a show he heard on NPR – but after a little bit I interrupted, “Hey, I heard that show years ago and I tell people about it all the time!”

Connell told me where to find the show but I promptly forgot after getting off the phone.  Now three weeks later I remembered and called him back and he patched up my leaking memory.  It didn’t take long to go through the back shows and find “Ich…bin…ein…Mophead” by Alex Blumberg, from 03-07-08.  It took a little Googling around and I found the episode where I first heard the show on 03-23-01.   The Internet is such a wonderful auxiliary memory – still imperfect, but retains data much better than my old noggin.

I highly recommend that you take the time to go listen to this show – use the 2008 link because it’s the second story in the lineup, and the first story is great too, about a seventh grade girl going back to the fifth grade and realizing how much she has forgotten and wisely noting how much she will forget in the future.

Our memories are so imperfect, so untrustworthy, but so loved and trusted.  Alex Blumberg’s story is about being nine and having a memorable babysitter.  Twenty years later he talks to his mom and sister about her and finally decides he wants to talk to the babysitter herself.  After a lot of amateur detective work he hires a professional private eye and he finds Susan, his old babysitter, and they have a three hour phone conversation reconciling memories.

I tell people about this story all the time, so it was fun to hear it again, especially since I was able to learn how much I had remembered correctly, and how much I had forgotten.  Our minds are like sieves – we just can’t hold memory details worth a damn.  The moral of this story I got right – that different people remember things differently, and even when we remember something significant to our lives, other people won’t remember that significance.  The story is also about reconnecting with long lost friends, and I think that’s something we’d all like to do.

This month I was also asked to join Facebook by my friend Dario that I met while at Clarion West Writers Workshop in 2002.  I did join and also got connected with other people from the workshop, as well as getting people I haven’t talk to in years asking me to be friends again.  I’m not sure exactly what I’m supposed to do on Facebook – a technology up to now I considered for young people, but it is neat.  Facebook found three people from my high school class of 1969 at Miami-Killian.  Sadly, I remembered none of these people.  Even more sadly, I could have known them and have forgotten.

We meet so many people in our lives, and many of them we think about from time to time.  There’s a reason we forget people, so I’m not sure if maintaining acquaintances through Facebook is good or not.  But like Alex Blumberg I would like to track some people down and ask them their view of past memories.  Even in his piece about Susan he realized that Susan worried she had affected him badly in some way and was hesitant to recall old memories.

I remember my babysitter from when I was nine years old.  I don’t remember her name.  I don’t remember what she looks like.  I have only sketchy memories of what she did while taking care of me and my sister.  She sometimes dumped us on her parents, and mostly she spent her time with us hanging out with her boyfriend.  The last time I saw her was when she ran out of our house bawling hysterically and jumping into her two-seat sports car to zoom home.  She had been wailing because I had punched her in the face.

I suppose I should get a private detective and find her and apologize, maybe even see if I had inflicted any permanent psychological memories on her.  She probably even gave up her career in babysitting because of me.  However, I still feel justified in my action.  She had kept my sister, who was seven, and I, out all day at the beach in Hollywood Florida while she spent time with her young beau.  We were burned to a crisp, cranky, and hungry, and it was time for The Flintstones.  Our fight was over The Flintstones.  She wanted us to come back over to her house and hang out with her and her boyfriend, I wanted to see the cartoon.  When I dug in my heels, she leaned over and put her screaming face a little to close to mine, just close enough for a good poke in the kisser.  She should have known better to get to close to a wild brat.

If I was going to call someone from my lost memories I think it would be Charlotte Travis my 12th grade English teacher.  I owe her a big thanks.  Every week she’d tell me about a classic novel that I would go to the library, check out and read for the next week.  Then we’d talk about it on Fridays after class.  She got me to read books other than science fiction.  Miss Travis treated us kids as adults and gave us a lot of good advice.  She was the kind of teacher that all teachers should be – inspirational.

If Facebook was a perfect technology and I could see listings of all my classmates from first grade to twelfth with the teachers – how many would I really want to talk with?  And what would I say?  I don’t know, but it would be cool tech.  It would help if Facebook collected photos to prompt our memories.  Here’s a good idea for that company to really get some some attention.  Borrow, buy or steal all the high school annuals and grade school photos and put them online.  Everyone with any kind of large group shot should register their photos with Facebook and ask viewers to help attach names to faces.

Another thing Facebook could do is to allow more school networks, including options for all classes back to Kindergarten.  Not everyone lived in one place and graduated together with their childhood friends in the 12th grade.  For every academic year you should be able to register up to three schools.  I say three because I went to three first grades and three seventh grades.  If anyone went to more schools in one year they should put in their own request.  Then allow people to attach class photos to those years and schools.

Another good idea for Facebook is allow people to register neighborhood streets and years, and encourage people to register photos of them too.  I’d love to see photos from Maine Avenue at Homestead Air Force Base for 1962 and 1963 and Air Base Elementary for 1961/62 and 1962/63 academic years.  Hurricane Andrew blew away Maine Avenue, and all that is there left of my cherished neighborhood is a mown field and decaying asphalt.  (At least, that’s how it looked the last time I saw it.)

Our memories are imperfect.  They are fleeting.  We baby boomers are getting old – so chances of finding people who can collaborate and corroborate memories are disappearing.  Most people can’t afford detectives, so Facebook may be a wonderful tool.  Then again, maybe we like living with our faulty memories.  Maybe they are good enough.

Jim

Faith in Science

Unless you are a scientist working on a very specific area of research and actually understand a particular phenomenon in detail, you take everything else stated as true by science on faith. When I argue with my friends we need to change society to slow down global warming I’m really preaching on faith – my faith in a particular idea. I can’t personally prove its true. I’m testifying for the global warming gospel. I am not a scientist. I read a lot of popular science books and magazines, and that isn’t science either, nor does it make me a scientist or even scientific in my thinking. Popular science books are the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John gospels of the world of science.  The real enlightenment is through understanding experiments. 

Last night I attended the Memphis Astronomical Association meeting and heard a lecture about how the speed of light was figured out over the centuries.  We are told the speed of light is 186,282 miles per second in a vacuum.  I can’t prove that.  The lecture last night covered several methods that scientists used since the 17th century to calculate the speed of light.  If I wanted to I could recreate those experiments myself and have a better understanding – one that is not based on faith.

For our culture to be based on scientific experience rather than faith we need to train kids to practice science.  Even though measuring the speed of light is a difficult problem, there are probably many many ways to get the job done.  One creative approach I found was by melting marshmallows in a microwave.  I have no idea if this experiment is real or not. Right now it’s in the faith realm.  There are other stories like it on the net but using cheese instead of marshmallows.  My point is people can come up with creative ways to solve the problem.  Teachers need to find more of these experiments to help raise kids to understand how things actually work.  If the marshmallow experiment is bogus, then they need to learn why?

I’m reading Death by Black Hole by Neil deGrasse Tyson, and in one chapter he explains how much astronomy can be achieve by an ordinary person with a stick.  I don’t need to duplicate these stick experiments because Tyson explains them so well that I’m willing to accept them as true.  However, I think our schools would be better if we actually let kids do these stick experiments.  Knowledge is more than words.  Our society is failing because people live too much in fiction and not enough in fact. 

When I argue with my friends about global warming I need to understand the science behind the concept and I need to do some experiments on my own to have experience, or at least read about specific experiments and understand them.  So I’m wondering what are a basic list of experiments that can prove that people are impacting the global weather?  These can be thought experiments too – Einstein discovered a lot about reality with some good thought experiments.

From my reading, most scientists now support the idea that humans are impacting the global environment, but many people do not believe that or refuse to believe that.  Global warming is a vital issue with many people but it ranks very low among all vital issues the public is considering in the current presidential campaign.  If the impact of global warming will be as dire as some scientists predict it should be rated #1.  Why isn’t it then?

There are very few climatological scientists in the world, and few people want to take up the discipline as a hobby.  Most of the talk about global warming deals with CO2.  Normal people have to take on faith that extra carbon in the atmosphere is bad and that people are at fault by adding it to the air in their daily lives.  I meet lots of people who flat out say they don’t believe this.  How can I counter this belief without whipping out a series of scientific proofs to change their mind?

Our society and all the other societies around the globe need to be more scientific in their thinking.  Faith in science doesn’t cut it.  We need an educational system where more real experiments are practiced by school kids.  After that, they need to study of historical experiments until their logic is a sixth sense in which they view the world.  We need to develop a mind set where we can understand scientific ideas and not just argue the ideas on faith, like ancient religious scholars discussing how many angels fit on the head of a pin.

Now all I have to do is go out and find those proofs – any help will be welcomed.

Jim

 

 

Hugo Winners on Audible

Years ago when I first started listening to audio books I felt there wasn’t much available in the way of great science fiction. Recorded Books did have a lot of good Sci-Fi titles, but they weren’t easy to get. This week I noticed many of those Recorded Books titles have come to Audible, and many other award winning science fiction books are now available. I decided to see just how many Hugo winning novels could be bought at Audible.com and I was surprised to find quite a few.

The Hugo winning novel I’d like to hear the most on audio is Hyperion by Dan Simmons.  But if you’re an audio book publisher there’s plenty of good titles to produce.

I also checked these other sites to see if I could fill in any gaps – but with limited luck.

  • BA – Blackstone Audio
  • BOT – Books on Tape
  • RB – Recorded Books
  • AB – AudioBookstandDL
  • Year Title Audible Other
    2009 The Graveyard Book
    by Neil Gaiman
    Yes
    2008 The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
    by Michael Chabon
    Yes
    2007 Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge Yes  
    2006 Spin by Robert Charles Wilson Yes  
    2005 Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke Yes  
    2004 Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold Yes  
    2003 Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer Yes  
    2002 American Gods by Neil Gaiman Yes  
    2001 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling   Yes
    2000 A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge Yes  
    1999 To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis Yes  
    1998 Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman Yes  
    1997 Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson Yes  
    1996 The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson Yes  
    1995 Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold Yes  
    1994 Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson Yes  
    1993 A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
    Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
    Yes/
    Yes
     
    1992 Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold Yes  
    1991 The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold Yes  
    1990 Hyperion by Dan Simmons Yes  
    1989 Cyteen by C. J. Cherryh    
    1988 The Uplift War by David Brin Yes  
    1987 Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card Yes  
    1986 Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card Yes  
    1985 Neuromancer by William Gibson   BOT
    1984 Startide Rising by David Brin Yes  
    1983 Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov    
    1982 Downbelow Station by C. J. Cherryh    
    1981 The Snow Queen by Joan D. Vinge    
    1980 The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke Yes  
    1979 Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre Yes BA
    1978 Gateway by Frederik Pohl Yes  
    1977 Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm Yes  
    1976 The Forever War by Joe Haldeman Yes  
    1975 The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin    
    1974 Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke Yes  
    1973 The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov    
    1972 To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip José Farmer Yes  
    1971 Ringworld by Larry Niven Yes  
    1970 The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin    
    1969 Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner    
    1968 Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny Yes  
    1967 The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein Yes  
    1966 Dune by Frank Herbert
    This Immortal by Roger Zelazny
    Yes/Yes  
    1965 The Wanderer by Fritz Leiber Yes  
    1964 Way Station by Clifford D. Simak Yes  
    1963 The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick Yes  
    1962 Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein Yes  
    1961 A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller    
    1960 Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein Yes  
    1959 A Case of Conscience by James Blish Yes  
    1958 The Big Time by Fritz Leiber Yes  
    1957 Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein Yes  
    1956 They’d Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley    
    1954 The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester    

Going Paperless 4 – Alternative Methods

I’m not sure how many people are interested in the topic of going paperless since it gets few hits on the stats page – but I’m enjoying exploring the idea.  And I did get an email from Adam Kadleck suggesting I try out Zinio, an online magazine service.  Since he works for the company he also provided me with a sample subscription to Saveur Magazine, a colorful periodical about cuisine.

A huge shortcoming of the Kindle is its lack of ability to show photographs and color graphics.  I remember reading an early complaint about the Kindle from a Slashdot kid who whined the Kindle couldn’t handle comics and porn -reading material that Zinio can handle. 

A magazine is not very magazine-like on the Kindle.  Zinio sells magazines and has a custom software reader so magazine pages look exactly like they do in their paper form.  It even fakes page turning with graphics and sound.  Zinio is paperless but with more of the natural features of paper.  Saveur Magazine would not work on the Kindle.  Without the appetizing photos of the food it would lose much of its appeal.

The Zinio software reader works very well on my 19″ wide-screen LCD monitor showing two full page at a time.  However, I need to zoom in to read the content.  Zinio makes this a breeze, but I wonder if I had a 22″ monitor if I could read without zooming.  The height of my 19″ monitor is about an inch less than the height of a standard magazine after you take into account the Zinio menu.  The screen view on 22″ monitor could well be the same height as a paper magazine.

Right now Zinio has a decent selection of magazines, but far from the selection of a good bookstore.  And like ebooks, the issue of the pricing of e-magazines is still questionable.  Why pay the same subscription price for a paperless magazine when the publisher isn’t covering the overhead for paper, printing and postage?  It’s not uncommon to see $5.99 and $6.99 mags at the bookstore – I would think going paperless and using Zinio they should sell for $1.99 at most.  PC World is $19.97 a year on Zinio.  I’ve gotten better offers than that in the mail.  Science is $99.00 – and that seems way too much for electrons.

The photographs on Zinio look pretty good but nowhere near the quality of a slick paper print.  Strangely enough the quality reminds me of the new paper used in Sky & Telescope, a big step down from their old paper.  You can magnify Zinio photographs but they break up.  It would be great if the Zinio photographs offered quality features over print magazines, like larger hi-rez popup views.

The feature I would want the most from Zinio is full text indexing.  I have several years of Sky & Telescope on my shelves, but finding an article means lots of flipping pages.  It would be great if I had a library of Zinio magazines that I could quickly query for instant data.

There is an online company Press Display that offers reading newspapers online in the same way Zinio works for magazines, but their reader is browser based.  Even though many of these newspapers offer free online editions, the ability to read a newspaper that looks like the printed edition does have value, maybe even value worth paying.  The New York Times offers the Times Reader for $14.95 a month.  It’s not a system for seeing the paper as printed, but a online viewer to making newspaper reading better than reading through a web browser, so its yet another alternative to paper.

The problem with these solutions is being tied to your monitor for reading.  Now I don’t mind reading off a monitor – screen resolution is now better than newsprint and fonts can be enlarged to beat tiny magazine typefaces.  What I’d like is to read in my La-Z-Boy, but to do that will require waiting for an ebook reader with a hi-rez color screen the size of a standard magazine page.  I expect such a Star Trek like tablet in the next few years.

I don’t think it will be long before we’ll stop murdering millions of trees just to let people read a couple headlines and do the daily crossword.  Going paperless means changing habits but I think there will be technology to help us to keep our old addictive reading behaviors while adding new features that help us process knowledge.

Going Paperless 5

Jim

1965

Yesterday I discovered Playa Cofi Jukebox, an Internet radio station that lets listeners time travel back to any year from 1950-1982 to hear a rotation of the top 100 songs from that year.  I immediately jumped to 1965 and was transported to my all-time favorite musical year.  Go look at that link and see if you can think of any year that has more fantastic hits.  What year do you most identify with musically?  While I natter away about 1965 always substitute your favorite year and remember your songs.

I’ve been wishing for such an invention for a long time now.  Actually, I’d even like to pick the month and year, but I’m overjoyed to have a by year destination for now.  I’ve often daydreamed of collecting music with an idea of creating playlists on my computer so I could fake late night radio shows I heard in my kid days while discovering science fiction books.

I’d love to hear the old WQAM and WFUN AM stations from 1961-1967 Miami – and poking around the Internet shows that other people remember those stations with lots of fond nostalgia too.  I’m guessing there is something in our biochemistry that burns the pop culture of our teen years into our brains so nothing else ever seems as exciting.

I often reread the books I discovered in 1965 – mostly the twelve Heinlein juveniles that were first published in the 1950s.  The books still move me as much as the music.  But I have discovered when I see TV shows from that year like Lost in Space, Green Acres, I Dream of Jeannie, The Wild Wild West and Get Smart I have to wonder if I wasn’t simple-minded back then.  I know that science fiction and rock music back then wasn’t that sophisticated either, but they feel like art today whereas the television shows seem silly.

I have to wonder how much of the 1965 me is still stored in my brain?  Physicists still grapple with the concept of time, some even theorize that time doesn’t exist – suggesting that we live in a continual succession of nows.  I know my old brain now is much different from my young brain then, but I’m guessing much of the same programming and circuitry still exist.  If I put on 1965 on the Playa Cofi jukebox and start reading Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein how close can I get to the original experience?  Time appears to be change, but what is changing?

What if I had a brain injury or Alzheimer’s and did this experiment?  What if I could move back to my old house in Miami.  Would it feel like 1965?  Would I feel like I’m 13 and something really bad happened to my body?

Why do science fiction writers and readers love the concept of time travel?  Wouldn’t time travel also involve space travel?  Wouldn’t we have to jump in a space ship and go back to the coordinates of where Earth was forty-three years ago?  (Oddly The Shangri-Las was singing “I Can Never Go Home Anymore,”  And “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds just started playing.  Very appropriate songs for this essay.  What synergy with 1965.)

The Earth has gone around the Sun forty-three times, and the solar system has moved around the galaxy, and the Milky Way has moved in whatever direction it is heading, and the Universe is expanding.  It’s damn hard to believe that time travel will ever be possible, but it’s also hard to imagine that time does not exist either.

The question I really should ask myself:  Why would I want to time travel to 1965?  Is it because I had so much fun listening to WQAM and reading Heinlein and watching The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on television?  Don’t we all time travel every day when we turn on our TVs and watch movies from the past hundred years?

What is something I couldn’t do now, that I could do then?  For one thing, I could go see Bob Dylan perform during the height of his talent.  (“Mr. Tambourine Man” just started playing after I typed the words Bob Dylan – this is getting spooky.)  How important is that?  What does it tell me?  I guess I’d like to do all the things back in 1965 that I didn’t do the first time around but wanted to so badly.  (The Animals just started singing “We Gotta Get Out of this Place.”)

And I think the Animals song is informative.  I think one of the basic urges for time travel is the same as space travel, we just want to go somewhere in space-time where we think it’s better.  Was 1965 really a better place?  (Jesus, this is starting to weird me out, Sonny and Cher just started singing, “Baby Don’t Go.”)  Maybe they’re right, now is the only place that counts.

This makes me wonder how many science fiction fans would jump at a chance to go somewhere fantastic.  If a powerful being suddenly appeared in your room right now and commanded:  “Name a destination in the universe – any time, anywhere, and I’ll send you there right now” would you jump at the chance?  (The Shangri-Las are back and singing, “The Leader of the Pack.”  – Umm)

Let’s imagine I say, “Miami, 1965” – and pop I’m there.  What would I do then?  (I wished I had written “and clap I’m there,” because Shirley Ellis just started singing “The Clapping Song.”)  The first thing I’d have to do is get out of my old house because my parents, who would be younger than me now, would find a stranger invading their house very scary.  I’d be out on the streets and homeless.

(The Moody Blues just started singing “Go Now.” – I’m not making this up.  If you could hear the song like I hear it, it has mystical thrills.  It always had.)

The job of a time traveler is a tough one.  At least in 1965 Miami, everyone speaks my language, but walking the streets with only the clothes on my back and a wallet full of funny money wouldn’t be an easy start to a new life.  (I hear Joe Tex telling me to hold on to what I’ve got.)

A lot of science fiction stories starts with this very problem, remember John Carter arriving on Mars.  But how many of us would buy a ticket to another city and start an adventure by being homeless.  (The Four Seasons sings “Let’s Hang On” repeating and emphasizing the wisdom of Joe Tex “Let’s hang on to what we’ve got”)

I guess 1965 is telling me to stay home in 2008.  What if I never owned a radio or discovered Heinlein in 1965?  What if I had taken up sports instead and all my memories of 1965 would be about ball games – this essay would be about how I remember seeing some great games.  Time is always something we did.  The year 1965 is just a label I put on a period of my life when pop culture was very impressionable on my mind.  For other people that might be 1983 or 1942, and all my fond memories would be meaningless to them.  In forty-three years some guy is going to be writing about 2008 and his nostalgic memories of Rap music.

Last night my wife and I had a party at our house celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary and everyone sat around trying to remember 1978.  Our wedding reception had been at my wife’s parent’s house, the house where we live now.  And a number of people who had been there thirty years ago sat around looking at photos of the 1978 event.  We sure do love to time travel.  In 1965 I was terribly anxious to live in the 21st century.  I wonder if I’ll ever live in a year that is the one I want to be living in?

The Four Seasons just started singing, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (The Wonder Who).”  I think I spend too much time thinking twice.  I can’t go home to 1965, but along the way time has eroded my desire to live in the future.  I think reality has overtaken science fiction.

I keep waiting for The Rolling Stones to sing, “Time is On My Side,” which came out in late 64 and was popular in 1965.  I need to get over looking backwards.  What I really want from 1965 is a way to live looking forward again.  I need to stop thinking about 1965, and start planning for 2065.  Having a grand distant future inside of you waiting to unfold is the way to feel young again.

Jim

The Cart Before the Horse

Back in the eighth grade my English teacher loved all us brats and did her best to teach grammar.  She even saw the wisdom of forcing us wildcats to diagram sentences – a concept so useless and inane I thought at the time, that I could never imagined wanting to know or need.  Forty-five years later I finally go, “Damn, I wish I had paid attention.”

Tonight I started listening to The Elements of Style by Strunk and White on my evening walk and it made me remember all those painfully boring grammar lessons.  I wonder if I had started blogging in elementary school if I would have been a different person and actually wanted to learn what my English teacher was dishing out.

Now that I’m studying the history of physics I sure wish I had paid more attention in math class too.  Why has it taken so long to want to learn?  Now, don’t get me wrong, I wanted to learn back in 1965 – I just wanted to study science fiction, rock and roll and Estes rocketry.

I work at a College of Education and I hear a lot of talk about teaching.  I can’t believe anyone would want to be a teacher.  Lion taming would be easier.  I think my problem as a student was I had no reason to learn what they so desperately wished to shove into my noggin.  The whole system of teaching us ideas before we needed them was putting the cart before the horse.  Of course I understand they needed to stuff a certain amount of data into our brains as soon as possible but why didn’t they trick us into wanting to learn?

I’ve seen copies of my report cards for the first, second and third grades.  The big complaint was I was a daydreamer.  Jesus, what’s a little person to do when a big person is going blah, blah, blah, blah, blah for hours?  Hell, they didn’t even think I could read.  Between the third and fourth grade they even sent me to summer school to learn how to read.  I ended up in a cramped room with a few other kids and a bored old man (he could have been twenty-five or forty-five for all I knew).  He didn’t bother to teach me anything, but gave me a copy of Up Periscope, a book about submarine warfare.  Damn, I could read – all it took was something I wanted read.  I bet if you gave little boys, who hate to read. books about war and sex, they’d start reading.  Don’t underestimate the value of smut and violence on the young male mind, even second graders.

I wished I had been introduced to science and astronomy as a tiny kid.  I wish I had been introduced to boat building and plane building and car building too.  If teachers had given us projects that required me to figure things out so I’d end up asking “How do I do this?” – They could have replied, “Well kid, you need something called mathematics,” maybe I would have gotten the math bug.

I was just reading Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Death By Black Hole and he had a chapter about how much astronomy you could learn with a stick.  If some enterprising teacher would have taught me that when I was ten and the mathematics that went with it, maybe I would have calculated the size of the Earth on my own.  It’s one thing to tell a kid to memorize a fact and another thing to teach him how to discover the fact.  It’s hard to say, but I’ve got to wonder how different my educational years would have been.

Maybe I’m expecting too much.  The trouble with this educational pie-in-the-sky system is you have to customize it for every kid.  If one kid says he wants to build a plane and another kid says she wants to play the guitar and another says he wants to dissect a frog, how many teachers will you need?  Is it any wonder that home school kids often turn out better educated?

While walking and listening to the sage advice of William Strunk I couldn’t help but wonder if we should be encouraging little kids to blog.  Not every kid will want to, but those that do, wouldn’t it start them on the track of wanting to know how to write better?  How many activities that appeal to teens and grown-ups could be offered to kids that might inspire them to want to learn more?  I remember reading a story about a teacher that had his elementary class build a wooden boat.  Eventually that led to math and a lot of mechanical skills.

That eighth grade English teacher of mine did divert the course of my life, but maybe not in the way she expected.  She had one great trick.  She said anyone who read five books, five newspaper articles and five magazine articles and wrote a report on them each six-week grading period would get their grade raised by one letter.  That’s how I made up for not learning grammar and not having to take a C home but got to brag about a B instead.  She also had an approved reading list and Robert A. Heinlein was on it.  That little trick got me to reading hundreds of books.

Now that I’m writing for public consumption, I actually need to understand language and grammar.  Back in grade school one of the most embarrassing things around was if someone read your paper when it was handed back.  We did everything in the world not to have our words seen.  Today kids put their diaries on the world wide web – you’d think they’d be literary geniuses if they weren’t embarrassed to do that.  Today’s kids write more than ever for their peers to read.  Why hasn’t that encouraged them to write better?  I guess I just proved my assumption wrong – but maybe not.

Jim