Saturday, October 27, 2007

Experts and the Stupidity Explosion

It seems to be generally accepted nowadays (but I don't agree) that the current youngest generation is "more stupid" or "dumber" than previous generations, but I would like to point out that the people who say that seem to base this contention on experiences they have had with the particular age groups high school or college students. Perhaps they are teachers of them, for example, and are shocked that they don't seem to know fundamental things, or they don't have a grasp of certain basics such as the names of the parts of speech, or the locations of various geographical features. Or that they think they "know" quite a lot of things, but those things that they know happen to be wrong.

I don't have much interaction with high school or college students these days, so I don't have much to go on and I am not in a position to quiz them or to carry on intellectual conversations with them. Just about all I know about those two age groups are what I might happen to read by or discover of them on Internet sites such as MySpace, YouTube, or the Internet Movie Database comment postings. While quite often what I see isn't "good", it doesn't indicate "dumbness" so much as, perhaps, a disinterest in certain intellectual values. Mostly what is displayed in those various forums is an amazing obsession with the elements of surface physical beauty and sexual attractiveness; so much so, that all that really does is underscore what must be a scientific certainty, that the awareness, display, and pursuit of beauty, sex, and mating, is the primary biological task of that age group. As a society, we might not have actually known this quite so clearly before, because never before was there such a broad technological ability for it to be so widely displayed.

I do have a greater interaction with grade school students, however, and there is nothing that I see there that indicates any less degree of brilliance than there ever was. In fact, I have long felt that the brilliance, understanding, and clarity of thinking of grade school students is a hidden and unsung resource.

Clearly, childhood is a time of perhaps the most intense and immense learning and growth that a human ever experiences. Children basically grow from utter helplessness and not really knowing very much at all about the physical world, to full biological adulthood (i.e., puberty) in about ten years or so. If the focus of that growth then mutates in the teen years into a search for an "other", then so be it; far better to understand and accept that than it is to decry what is genetically ordained. Once those hormones have settled down, maybe then they could go back to other concerns.

However, where the so-called "stupidity" and "dumbing down" really disturbs me, though, is when I experience it in ever-more numerous adults (post the teenage hormones stage). For example, recently I broke once again a rule of mine that I have been working on maintaining (demonstrating, perhaps, my own contribution to this stupidity), and that is to not be pulled into an on-line debate with an all-but-nameless, but definitely faceless, stranger on any issue pertaining to "the controversial subjects" such as politics or religion. Those discussions which used to be banned from polite society now more stringently should be banned from "impolite" society, which is how I have come to view such Internet participants. If you ever want to encourage your feelings of disgust with and disdain for humanity, then I recommend that you have such endless and fruitless discussions with such people on-line, but otherwise, keep away from it and keep some sense of hope for the reasonableness of the rest of humanity intact.

The worst person for this kind of discussion is a type that I think of as a "Janet Tweet". There really was a Janet Tweet in my life and I probably should not use her actual name, because I really wouldn't want to hurt her feelings (she really was a very nice person and not out to harm anybody), but as her name is so deliciously appropriate for the concept I apply her to, I can't possibly change it with an alias.

I was in a kind of "brain" competition with Janet Tweet throughout high school. It seemed that she was in many of my classes, because we were both in whatever accelerated section of a particular course was offered, such as Advanced Placement English, and so on. I don't know if Janet Tweet ever got less than A in any class. I think she probably graduated from high school with a perfect 4.0. The same could not be said of me...that is to say, that for me, while I got mostly As, As were not guaranteed, not like they apparently were for her. And this really bothered me, for since I felt I wasn't much of a major player in the high school "mate-seeking" arena that I described above, (and neither was Janet Tweet), where I did feel that I did, at least, have some standing was in this "brain power" arena. Therefore I disliked the presence of this one who somehow seemed like she might be "smarter".

It wasn't until my senior year that I finally discovered something that has benefitted me ever since. I wish I remember what the discussion was or just exactly what it was that led me to have this particular epiphany, but I was having some discussion with Janet Tweet and realized that the way her brain worked, she really wasn't very smart at all! "True" smartness, to me, is what I think of as "synthesis", which is the ability of the brain to figure out something, understand something, or combine diverse elements to create new knowledge. A very, very simple example of this is when my parents told me that there really wasn't such thing as Santa Claus, that all the gifts had come from them, the parents. I immediately understood, then, that the same was true for the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and the Valentine Fairy. One would think then, sure, that's simple enough logic, I mean, duh!. However, two years later, when my parents had the same discussion with my sister, who is two years younger than I am, she refused to believe them. Her response was, "No, there very definitely IS a Santa Claus and there is no way that the gifts come from you." My parents had laid the illusion too well. It wasn't until my parents told my BROTHER (who is six years younger than I am, four years younger than my sister) that there was no such thing as Santa Claus, and he accepted it, that my sister finally "got" that there wasn't such thing as Santa Claus. "Okay," said, "but at least there still is the Easter Bunny." It is very clear by this (and ten thousand other examples) that this sister's brain does not work via synthesis, but requires the insertion of one fact at a time.

As near as I could determine, Janet Tweet could never figure out anything. Instead, what she was, was a phenomenal memorizer. You could tell her ("teach her") any number of strung-along facts and she would henceforth "know" them. "Albany is the capital of New York"; "hydrogen has one electron in its outer shell, oxygen has six"; "the formula for determining the area of a cylinder is pi times the diameter times the radius times the height"; "in Spanish, the word for 'yes' is 'si', but in French, while in general the word for 'yes' is 'oui', the word 'si' is used for 'yes' when your use of that 'yes' is to contradict a negative statement, such as, 'you don't know French, do you?', you would respond, 'si, je comprend Francais,', meaning 'yes, I do understand French'"; "the elements required of the protagonist in a Greek tragedy is a high-born or elevated hero with a fatal character flaw that causes him to be painfully knocked low, and if a high-up person can fall so low, that generates a catharsis on the part of the audience, which being lower in the first place, would never suffer quite as much as that hero"; "the main agricultural crop for Bangladesh is jute, which was used for making rough and cheap textiles such as burlap and twine, but now that plastic is ubiquitous, jute sells for less than the cost of growing it," and so on and so on. So she could ace any test in which all that was required of her was to "Tweet" back these same facts.

Janet Tweet would never be in a circumstance like I was when I sat down to take my calculus final exam at U.C. Berkeley. I realized, upon looking at the test questions, that I really hadn't memorized the formulas required to answer the problems and therefore I was looking at getting an F in that class. Memorizing things is not my strong suit, which is why on stage I would much rather improvise an entertainment for two hours than play a scripted part that requires the memorization of dozens of pages of dialogue. I wouldn't be anxious at all about my ability to improvise, but with memorized lines, I would almost have an anxiety attack over the thought that I might forget everything I was supposed to say.

Janet Tweet would have simply gone to work answering all the calculus problems by plugging the numbers into the memorized formulas and called it a day. I, on the other hand, suddenly realized that I could logically derive all the formulas I needed for the problems, did so, solved the problems, and ended up getting an A in calculus. From an F to an A, synthesized right there during the final exam. Janet Tweet would not have been able to do that.

So this most recent person on the Internet with whom I broke my rule, had a brain that was filled to the brim with historical political concepts and terminology. He knew arcane dates and the names of cabinet undersecretaries who worked on obscure government ministries a hundred and twenty-five years ago, he could quote sections of speeches given on the floor of the Senate, he knew the titles of books that had influenced a particular socialistic concept, he knew the bill numbers of certain pieces of progressive legislation...and yet this guy struck me as one of the most stupid people I have ever had the misery of wasting my time writing to, because he couldn't follow at all the logic of my arguments but instead continued to jump to the most bizarre conclusions from the things I said. I don't really know how to describe it, except to say that I realized that he was a Janice Tweet, and all he could use in his discussion were these sterile facts and concepts, not as stepping stones to construct a meaningful edifice, but as brickabats to throw at my head. It was almost like he was putting slogans over the gates of concentration camps, "Work Makes You Free", or deseminating mind-numbing slogans over a 1984-like television screen, "Corporations are Evil," "The Rich are Parasites," "Redistribute the Wealth", "The Carbon Footprint Must Be Reduced". If he didn't think, in turn, that I was stupid, he must have thought instead that I was evil, or selfish, or heartless, or however in his blindness his fingers feels the dots.

A person like that receives all his knowledge apiece, like a python swallowing a pig. That's no better than taking in no knowledge at all, except that in his case, he feels more meritorious than the average man swilling his beer while watching Wide World of Wrestling on TV. The latter is actually akin to an anarchist. I think I'd rather have anarchy than a true-believer-ocracy.

But it isn't just him...it is SO many adults, these days, yammering on and on, in the media, or leaving inane comments on the Internet.

For example, I read an article this morning that sought to renew the anti-population hysteria. Now THAT is our problem, isn't it, just too many people! However, hadn't I read several articles previously that outlined how the global human population growth rate is diminishing? Seems that "bomb" didn't happen either. Yet how many people don't really know that, but instead, line right up and say that "we countries should all get together to limit population growth". There were even a comment writer or two who praised Communist China's one-child policy, saying that we ought to have a law like that here! Hadn't they heard, like I had, that that program was a disaster? Hadn't they heard of the parents who'd kill their girl baby so that their "one child" would be a boy? And how now China has a generation of boys who are very, very unhappy...the boy-girl ratio was VERY much messed with. So sure, yes, that's a good idea, we always should copy the mistakes of Communist countries! Being the richest, most successful country on the planet make us EVIL. Parasites on the Earth. So say this type.

Well, I live in a very crowded city, and it seems that we have an endless crowd of people pushing in through our porous border. But is the situation as bad as it sometimes feels when you're in the middle of an urban crush?

I knew that one of my favorite writers, P.J. O'Rourke, had written on that subject, in his wonderful book, All the Trouble in the World, in a chapter appropriately titled, "Just Enough of Me, Way Too Much of You." If you want to have a blast while learning something, read P.J. O'Rourke. Just this evening, reading this chapter (which I had already read before), if I didn't laugh out loud over every single sentence, I did, at least, laugh out loud over every single paragraph...and sometimes every sentence in a paragraph. If that sounds heartless or even blasphemous--after all, the book is about "Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty"--one of my personal "aphorisms" is "The essence of humor is understanding." You don't see something as funny if you don't "get" it, and the corollary to that is that if you "get" it, you will often feel that it is really funny. And with O'Rourke, you will for sure get it (unless you just don't get it).

O'Rourke began his chapter on overpopulation in a country that most people presume is an example of a crowded hell on Earth, Bangladesh, which at the time O'Rourke wrote this book (1994) had a population of 118,000,000 people (nearly half the population of the U.S. at the time) all in a nation the size of Iowa. The population density of Bangladesh is 2,130 individuals per square mile. That's pretty crowded, says O'Rourke. But is that Bangladesh's big problem? He notes that that the success stories of Hong Kong and Singapore have a greater population density, 14,315 and 12,347 per square mile, having six or seven times the population density of Bangladesh. Bangladesh actually has the same population density of the city of Fremont, California, on the east side of the San Francisco Bay and just across the Dumbarton Bridge from Stanford University [when I worked at the Stanford University Medical Center, all the new interns and residents, who couldn't afford to live in Palo Alto, lived in Fremont.] The principality of Monaco has a population density similar to Hong Kong and Singapore; in fact the whole Riviera is that crowded in August, O'Rourke says, and no one is complaining about the topless beaches of St. Tropez.

Of course, hysterical population growth predictions have been wrong.

"'Malthus,' says Vice President Al Gore in Earth In the Balance, 'was right in predicting that the population would grow geometrically.' Al, as the father of four childen, should know," O'Rourke writes. "With an air of twerpy concern as thick as his literary style, the vice president announces 'No goal is more crucial to healing the global environment than stabilizing human population.'"

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich wrote the book, The Population Bomb, in which he wrote, "The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines--hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate...."

Here's Ehrlich's best case prediction of the future:

America, in 1974, stops food aid to India, Egypt, and some other countries which it considers beyond hope. There's food rationing in the United States. The pope approves birth control and abortion. Famines and food riots sweep Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Arab world, plus plagues and warfare. [Sounds exactly like what the doom-sayers are saying about "peak oil".] Russia has a lot of internal problems. What's left of the world sets a global population goal of 2 billion for year 2025 and 1.5 billion for 2100.

O'Rourke says, "He was right about Russia."

In Ehrlich's worst case scenario, famine, war, and plague hit Asia, Africa, and Latin America by the late seventies, the thermonuclear holocaust ensues, and everybody dies.

O'Rourke writes, "Has this nonsense discredited Dr. Paul Ehrlich? By no means. He is still regularly trotted out as an expert on matters populationish. And the bibliography of [Gore's] Earth in the Balance cites Ehrlich's new book...The Population Explosion."

During the time that O'Rourke wrote this book, there was a hue and cry about dangerous population growth, with various sources citing what the population could "explode" to by 2020. The 1993 Information Please Almanac predicted the Earth's population would be 8.2 billion by 2020. Gore wrote in his book that the population would reach 14 billion.

What was the population at the time? The U.N. said 5,295,300,000. The Statistical Abstract of the United States said it was 5,318,013,000. Information Please said it was 5,321,000,000. O'Rourke said, for calculation purposes let's just say that the Earth currently had 5.3 billion people. Excluding Antarctica (and the oceans), this gave the planet a population density of 101 people per square mile, a little less than Tennessee, which has a population density of 118. New Hampshire had 124 people per square mile, Indiana had 154. If Al Gore's prediction turns out right, the planet's population density would then be 267 people per square mile. At the time of the book, Pennsylvania had a population density of 265.

O'Rourke plays with these density statistics some more. Instead of spreading the people out evenly, but packed them in to urban densities, if we wanted to live like they do in cosmopolitan San Francisco with its urban density of 15,502, then the entire Earth's population of 5.3 billion could be placed in Texas and Oklahoma, "with a few million left over to keep the planet's bird feeders full and rake and weed the rain forests." If the Earth's people wanted a "more get-down, def and slammin' zip code, then--at the Manhattan population density of 52,415 people per square mile--everybody on Earth can live in former Yugoslavia."

So clearly, the Earth isn't really overcrowded. So what is the problem?

Ehrlich began his fear fest, The Population Bomb with "one stinking hot night in Delhi." While in a taxi, he got stuck in a traffic jam. "We entered a crowded slum area. The temperature was over 100.... The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping." O'Rourke says, "Ehrlich goes on to combine 'people' with eight other verbs that describe typical human activities and winds up with this memorable sentence: 'People, people, people, people.' Says Ehrlich, '[We] were, frankly, frightened.'"

"In other words," says O'Rourke, "people are--present company always excepted--just awful. And 'People, people, people, people' are that much more so. Especially if these people happen to be not-quite white. Notice that Paul Ehrlich is not panicked at being caught in the tremendous squash and jostle of rich folks around the bar in the Churchill Downs clubhouse on Kentucky Derby Day." O'Rourke explains that fretting about overpopulation is a perfectly guilt-free, in fact, sanctimonious way for "progressives" to be racists. And truly, behind all this overpopulation talk is the idea that too many people exist leads to unfortunate and even lethal plans for those people. For example, Ehrlich, who had had such a frightening time in India, said that India was one of "those countries that are so far behind in the population food game that there is no hope that our food aid will see them through to self-sufficiency."

However, the facts are that twenty-five years later (and a lot of population increase) after Ehrlich wrote his book, India no longer needed to import food. But Ehrlich had thought that "America should stop all help to India and just let the dusky heathen croak," wrote O'Rourke.

So going back to the beginning of this piece where I spoke of the population being dumbed down, I think there is a reason for the appearance of it beyond "people being stupider", which in general I don't think they are, as people of all ages would have at least the same native intelligence that I see in grade school children. Instead, what people are is caught up in an ever-increasingly complex and confusing world that is extremely difficult to understand without study and effort, an effort people do not make, because they make the (perhaps honest) mistake of trusting the "experts". They listen to people like Dr. Paul Ehrlich and Vice-President Al Gore, whomever it is who shouts the loudest and tells the most hysterical story. They swallow these stories like the afore-described python that swallows the pig--they take in this "received thought" whole hog. Instead, what they need to do is to is to fine-tune their bullshit detector.

O'Rourke ended his marvelous chapter like this:

"There are too many people. Anyone who's spent a week in the library with Thomas Malthus, Paul Ehrlich, Albert Gore, and the writers of Time and Newsweek can tell you--even one of these people is too many.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Noticing and Understanding

For quite some time, now, in a bid for greater health and better weight control, I have lessened my going out to eat. However, last night, I just felt like I had to go out for some Mexican food, so went to a Mexican restaurant in North Hollywood on my way home from work.

For some reason, even though the restaurant was far from crowded, I was seated way back in a seldom-used room. Did I look like I might cause a scene? Even the guy who sat me back there apologized for "the long walk"; but I wondered why he sat me there, then. But in my experience, single diners get treated weirdly in restaurants sometimes, quite a lot of times, actually, as if restaurants resent the fact that a diner alone is using up a whole table or booth for four. Maybe they knew that the restaurant was going to get very crowded very soon and so they were starting to fill themselves up from the back? Oh well, I don't know, and that back room is fine and the food is the same, so what's the difference.

When I was first sat down there, there was just one other booth occupied, with two fat young men who looked like they were settled in for the long haul, and I don't mean for eating, exactly, but more for their "writing by committee" "story conference". This is a very common scene in L.A., by the way, although I haven't seen it in a while since I haven't gone out to eat in a while, but it consists of two or more young men working together in a restaurant "creating a script" bit by bit. Instead of sitting down alone in front of a word processor at home or in an office, which is how I would do it, these kinds of people hash it all out in a conversation, deciding together plot points and dialogue.

"I think he should try to pick up a hot chick in a singles bar," said one of the guys.

"A bar in the Valley?" questioned the other guy.

"No, I think maybe in a more trendy location," said the first guy.

"Oh," said the second guy, "he will have to dress better, then."

"Yes," said the first guy, "he should dress better. Well, we want him to pick up a really hot chick, I think his character would want that."

And so then they discuss it a while further, determining what kind of hot chick the guy should go after, blond, dark-haired, tall, short, what kind of dress she would be wearing, etc. They droned on and on as the waiter kept bringing them more chips.

Then the first guy said, "After he talks up the hot chick for a while and he thinks he is making some headway with her, she gets up and asks the guy sitting behind him for his phone number."

"Very sad," said his companion.

Very sad way to write a script, I thought...tedious beyond belief and, again, NOT the method I think I would use. I wondered if those guys ever managed to sell a script, or any of the legions of guys I have witnessed following that same pattern. Who knows, maybe it actually does work. But I hope not. That, to me, would be discouraging, that this kind of boring, tedious method of pushing a heavy stone uphill actually results in a movie.

Then there was a commotion as a group of people were bought into the back room. This group consisted of two women, a little boy about seven years old, a little girl about three years old, and an elderly couple. As they were coming in, the boy was saying, "I want to sit next to Mama Bear," but the little girl was also saying, "I want to sit next to Mama Bear," while the two women were constantly going "Shhhh", "Shhhhh" to the two kids. I thought these two kids were very cute and endearing, and "Mama Bear" was obviously the elderly woman, whom I took to be their grandmother, perhaps visiting them from afar. I thought it was very endearing how the two kids wanted to sit next to their visiting grandmother. As it was, kids being kids, they couldn't manage to sit still for very long, so they kept changing places all over the place and each one managed to have a portion of the meal where they were sitting with "Mama Bear". That's how it sounded to me, although it could have really been "Mama Behr", or "Mama Bayer", and they had mutated into an endearing name that stuck.

I'm actually kind of fascinated by what names children call their grandparents.

For a while, I couldn't figure out what the deal was with the two women. Were they friends, were they sisters, was one woman the mother of the boy and the other woman the mother of the girl, or was one woman the mother of both of them? The kids were quite talkative (which constantly elicited "Shhhs" from both women throughout the whole meal), and I heard the word "Mama," quite a bit spoken by both kids. "Mama, I want to eat a tortilla," "Mama, can I sit next to Mama Bear?", "Mama, do they have French fries here?" And each woman seemed to mother each child equally.

I am very amused watching and listening to children in restaurants or other public places, and here I had a box seat on the proceedings where I couldn't help but see and hear all that was going on, even to the extent that when one of the kids would say something very cute or funny, I couldn't help but give out a little appreciative chuckle. I didn't want to invade this group's privacy (which I think a single diner is wont to do by default, as they aren't there with any other person to hold their attention), but I couldn't really help it.

The two women were perhaps overly-aware that they were in a public place, and they seemed to feel that their kids might be a bother to the other diners, which was why they were contantly holding them down with "Shhhs". I wanted somehow to let them know they needn't have worried on my account (I doubt if the two guys hashing out the script were the least bit aware of them), that in fact I rather liked their kids and thought that the family dynamic was appealing.

The little boy was well aware of the fact that he was in a Mexican restaurant, and considered it appropriate that he demonstrate the words that he knew in Spanish that went beyond mere food names. So he said he knew cabeza (head) ("Shhh!"), nariz (nose) ("Shhh!"), ojos (eyes) ("Shhh!"), pelo (hair) (Shhh!"), and several others (I think these are right!). I thought it was marvelous that he enjoyed so much his "learning", and I wished that the group would have been able to enjoy this boy without having to feel like they had to shut him up all the time.

Then the little girl said she had to go to the bathroom, so one of the women took her. When they came back, the little girl announced in quite a loud voice to the other woman, "Mommy! I went POTTY!", and "Mommy" looked absolutely mortified, said "Shhhhhh!" once again, and then looked straight at me and said, "I am so SORRY!", as if what the girl had said was just so offensive and maybe my whole dinner had been ruined because of it.

I laughed and said, "You don't need to worry, they are so cute!" I think she was relieved to hear that and the two women quieted down on their shushing of the kids while I made a more conscious effort to look like I really wasn't paying all that much attention to them (which I knew was a losing battle). In a time where a lot of parents do not seem to discipline their kids at all, in this case I really wanted this group of people to enjoy their dining out experience without worring about what impact their kids were having, because I thought their kids were wonderful and must have been quite fun to be with, short of this unnecessary social worry. Sure, they were kids and I know full well that children aren't going to behave like adults, they squirm, they ask questions about everything, sometimes they get upset or offended by something and so they cry for a while, they want to get up from their seat, and sometimes they want to interact with other diners--all this is acceptable and understood behavior, I feel, and it is necessary for children to have experiences out in public, that helps them to grow and to learn, and other adults have a social responsibility to accept this and not interfere with it, even if it somehow invades or violate their idea of a "perfect" world. Children, all children, other people's children, should be a joy to others.

I was much amused by the boy's attempt to use Spanish as much as possible with the waiter. Every time the waiter brought them something, the boy would say, "Gracias!", to which the waiter would respond, "De nada." The first time the boy heard that, his eyes opened wide and he said to one of the women, "Mama, I KNOW that word, too! It means 'you're welcome'!" How could someone not enjoy that? And he was experiencing that learning has impact on the world and I was thankful the waiter played along with the boy (I ended up giving him a larger tip, although he wouldn't know why I did).

Finally, when my meal was finished and I had signed my credit card slip, I stopped at that table on my way out and said to the women, "Your kids are very, very cute, and SMART too...am I right?"

Both women looked at me with faces glowing with appreciation and when I said the kids were smart, they both nodded and said, "Oh yes, and thank you so much for noticing." Relief seemed to flood both of their beings, as if some terrible burden had been momentarily unlocked and released. Then as I turned to go, I said to them all, but most pointedly to the boy, "Adios!" The women both made an "Aww" sound and the boy looked at me with astonishment, as if maybe some tiny bit of magic had just occurred.

As I slid into my car in the parking lot and turned the ignition key, I finally had an "aha!" moment--those women were "two mommies" and both children were theirs, which was why they were both mothering them both equally. No wonder they were especially sensitive to public notice.

I was then thankful that what they got from me at that moment had been an even greater appreciation and acceptance than I had known I was expressing. I was also thankful that in general I have the courage, or assertiveness, to tell perfect strangers what it is about them that I see as appealing. I wish people did it more. Don't we all wish for this kind of recognition and appreciation?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

An Example of Sustainable Architecture

Anyone who knows me pretty well knows that architecture is one of my interests, not as in being an architect, so much, but in appreciating their creations. Frank Lloyd Wright, for example, is one of my favorite people from history. Frank Lloyd Wright seemed to have, for me, a perfect balance in his love for nature, love for the creations of people, and love for spirit, and always sought a harmony in the interplay of those three elements. While his buildings blended beautifully into their settings and enhanced the landscape rather than blighting it, his structures also contained the latest and greatest in technology, often incorporating some technique, system, or creation of his own devising, and at the same time elevated the hopes, expanded the dreams, and amazed the appreciative senses of those who experienced what he built. The house, Falling Water, is a good example of that integration and most viewers of that house understand viscerally what a wondrous creation it is, but a strident environmentalist would be horrified by the fact that Wright's house was built, in, or on top of, or diverts, the natural course of the waterfall--as if anything that man touches is an abberation and only pure and untouched nature is correct, forgetting quite handily that man is as much a part of nature as the trees and all the elements are, and mankind is going to continue to express itself to the fullest extent of its nature.

And man's nature is to use tools, to build, to invent, and to continue technological progress.

This doesn't mean that such building and continuing with technological progress can't involve the design and utilization of systems of sustainability. I am quite sure that if Wright were building today, he would be designing energy efficient structures that made full use of natural forces and the properties of the elements in ingenious, cost-saving ways and with a minimum of waste. He might also see to it that his structures in some way generated their own energy through an optimum use of solar, wind, or water power, and he might have even seen a way to incorporate something like a home nuclear power plant (a system of energy generation that is cleaner and cheaper than any other technological method we have today, and people wouldn't have any more of a reason to be afraid of this than J.P. Morgan was when he agreed to work with Thomas Edison to have one of the very first electrified houses). Wright lived and worked during one of the most optimistic and exciting times in our country's history, the turning from the 19th century into the inventing and technological 20th century. That our own new century (and new millennium) of the 21st century has replaced that optimism and excitement with an all-pervasive fear of technology and industrialism is not so much a reflection of the times as it is a reflection of people no longer thinking and understanding for themselves. But that certainly isn't everybody.

I fortuitously learned today of a pretty fascinating house that was designed for sustainability, efficiency, and cost-savings. This house has geothermal heat pumps that circulate water through pipes buried deep in the ground where the temperature naturally stays an even 67 degrees. This circulating water heats the house in winter and cools it in the summer, using only a fraction of the energy that traditional heating and cooling systems use. Also, rainwater is collected from channels in the roof that, along with all the wastewater from sinks, showers, and toilets, goes into purifying tanks underground and is saved in a 25,000 gallon cistern for use in irrigating the landscaping that surrounds the house. The landscaping of the property makes use of plants that are native to the local ecosystem. The walls of the house provide thermal mass for passive winter heating and insulation from the summer heat. These walls are made of a waste product or a discard of a stone that is quarried locally, a limestone that is a foot to a foot and a half thick and has a green color at the top and bottom, but is cream-colored in the middle. Most people want the cream-colored center, so the green portions of the stone are cut off and discarded; it is this throw-away green stone that clads this house, and apparanty it is very beautiful.

I mentioned in my previous post that Nobel-prize-winning environmentalist, Al Gore, consumes in his house twenty times the energy compared to the national average, whereas the house that I described uses only a quarter of the energy. Whose house do you think that is, that Gore maybe ought to emulate? The President of the Sierra Club, perhaps?

Well, no. That's the house of George W. Bush, in Crawford, Texas.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The First Premier of the United Socialist Nations of Earth

There is so much more that I could say on this particular subject, but I am "preparing to get ready" to go out to a concert tonight, so I don't have much time at all. Since I have my new Apple iMac (written about previously), I have simply kept my Internet home page on the Apple page, which is how Apple has their browser, Safari, set up. I could easily change it to something else, but I rather like the Apple page, so, so far, it stays.

However, the current page made me send them an e-mail of complaint. On just one news day, FOUR out of their five news stories were about Gore's winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Isn't that a little bit overkill? Going beyond gloating and into cramming it down their readers' throats.

I know that, unfortunately, the Bloated Drunken Frankenstein is on their Board of Directors, as he is on other boards, as well, such as Occidental Petroleum, deceased Soviet-operative Armand Hammer's company. Communist Armand Hammer (who hoped that America would lose the Cold War, and whom President Reagan couldn't stand) was a great financial supporter of Gore's political career. Gore, who owns something like half a million shares of Occidental Petroleum stock, was in support of their drilling for oil in the Colombian rainforest, destroying the habitat and displacing the native indians who have long lived there. Tennesseeans know him as a slum lord (unless I am mistaken, Gore did not even win in his own home state when he ran for President). The rest of us know him as one whose 88-acre estate generates up to twenty times the amount of carbon emissions as the average American (for whatever that may actually matter).

And before somebody says that Gore negates his carbon emissions by "buying carbon emission offsets" (whatever exactly that means), what he really does is invest in a company that he owns part of, so what he is really doing is putting money back into his own pocket and saying "My, what good boy am I!"

And yet the Scandinavians saw fit to award him the Nobel Peace Prize, although whatever seriously divisive politics (and a "science" of lies, manipulations, and fear-mongering) has to do with "peace" I am not sure. Of course, this same body also awarded Henry Kissinger the Peace Prize (and terrorist Yassar Arafat!), and I will never forget the spitting damnation of Kissinger I heard uttered one evening from Geraldine Cox, a woman who had come to a screening in Los Angeles of a documentary about her to raise donations for a large orphanage that she runs in Cambodia. This orphanage houses children who have lost their fathers who have been killed in various wars and also by trying to support their family by farming. Even today, 30 years after the Viet Nam war, Cambodian men are being killed by previously-unexploded Kissinger-ordered American bombs that still pepper their fields. The men get killed and their wives, finding no other way to support themselves, go into prostitution. They will sell their children into prostitution, too, unless this orphanage can take them. According to Geraldine Cox (who really does deserve a prize) who founded the orphanage, runs it, and in each Cambodian regime change (from one dictator to another), BEGS for its continued existence, Kissinger was one of the most evil of the 20th century warriors. I wonder what prevented the Nobel Peace Prize from having been awarded to Pol Pot, Mao Tse Tung, Lenin, Stalin, or Hitler? Surely one or the other of them talked about "peace" at one time or another, didn't they? Or were they all up for the ECONOMICS Nobel Prize, instead, as the prize-awarding committee seems to run toward favoring some kind of socialism.

Some misguided people have thought that now that Gore has received this notoriety, he now just might be a viable candidate for president. But other Gore supporters think not, saying that now that he has been declared a prophet (oh Lord, please help us all when there are people so dumbed-down that they think like that), he's not interested in the presidency, but something "more".

I think he wants something "more" all right; what he's got HIS sights set on is being made the First Premier of the United Socialist Nations of Earth (what else do people think the whole "global warming solution" protocols are all about?). Whether in his dreams it will actually be an industrial global nation, or more savage/stone age, I am not quite sure. Maybe it would be sort of like the world shown in the movie, Soylent Green, except still somewhat environmentally intact, with certain elites living in splendor in walled enclaves with privileged slaves working for them (envying their masters for such things as air conditioning, hot water, and strawberry jam), all the rest living beyond the enclave walls in vicious squalor and periodically being harvested for food.

I hope to be successful in seeding the "blogosphere" with this concept of Gore wanting to become the First Premier of the United Socialist Nations of Earth. I think in one phrase, it makes a perfect argument. If you hear it from somebody else, please remember who said it first!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

I Thought I Would Never Buy A Ferrari

I always thought I never would buy a Ferrari. I guess that’s an obvious no-brainer, as currently I doubt I could even afford to get one tuned up, let alone actually buy one.

But what I always meant by that was that even I if could afford one, I thought I wouldn’t get one. There would be just too many other places to spend all that money, such as on a boat or an airplane (or at least entry-level versions of each). I would prefer to open up other avenues of transportation beyond just the asphalt. Besides, where and how in the United States could a person actually take advantage of what a Ferrari has to offer? Surely never in any insanely crowded urban area like Los Angeles, where I’ve always said the only solution for those mean streets is to take to the sky like in a Back to the Future DeLorean.

It would be an improvement, and maybe worth it, if a couple of thoroughfares such as Los Angeles to Las Vegas, or anywhere across Nevada, or Montana, opened themselves up to no speed limits. I know that it used to be that way in a couple of states prior to the mid-70s gasoline crisis which saddled us with the punitive 55 mph speed limit everywhere, a situation which thankfully finally was relaxed again, but still not all the way to “autobahn” status.

And I’ll just bet that with whatever “crisis” we are supposed to have, whether it be “peak oil” or “global warming” or some other anti-technology scare that there will be politicians activating for hobbling speed limits once again. You know, the concept is that faster speeds use up more gasoline, so if you want to conserve fuel you have to lower speed limits, although I don’t get that. I know that with my own car, when I am driving on I-5 from Los Angeles to San Francisco, between the bottom of the Grapevine all the way up to the Tracy turn-off on which 4-hour stretch one can drive 70 mph, when I set my cruise control to 70, I get 30 miles to the gallon. At a slower speed, such as 65, I get more like 20 or 25 miles to the gallon. So it seems to me that a slower speed not only takes me longer to get to my destination, it also uses up more gasoline to go that same distance. Everyone knows that when studying a car’s mileage figures, “city” is a lower number than “highway”. So is the solution to impose “city” type speed limits onto the highway in order to save fuel? I’d say leave us the H alone (and those people who want to be green can voluntarily drive slower if they want, and if they believe that would make a difference—yet you know they won’t).

I have driven at least one fast sports car on Southern California highways. When I was the executor and in pro per lawyer for my uncle’s estate, I had possession of his (the estate’s) brick-red Porsche 911 Cabriolet Turbo (of which admittedly, the price of a Ferrari would buy three or four). It was a beautifully-made, tight, powerful car which earned tons of admiring stares and comments, and yet it was a nightmare to drive in what was usually bumper-to-bumper highway traffic. Only on very rare stretches between Orange County and San Diego was I ever able to experience even a piece of its awesome “spine g-forced to the back of the seat” acceleration. The rest of the time, constantly moving up and down those gears and working the clutch and the brake pedals was like working out on a Nautilus machine. Frankly, after a couple of those trips, I preferred to use the car I had then, a Dodge convertible with automatic transmission, where all I needed to do was sit back and relax. It was bad enough for the Porsche that felt constantly muzzled; what must it be like for a Ferrari? I can forgive those occasional arrogant guys I see coming down out of one of the L.A.-area canyons suddenly gunning their engine and screamingly momentarily taking advantage of any opening in the stream of traffic; what seems like an irresponsible death leap to us plodding along must be a momentary escape from a potential anxiety attack for those guys.

So the Ferrari always seems like lot of money frustratingly spent, and for simply getting around, at least, the cheapest tin can on wheels is probably good enough and better for ones sanity. (For pride of ownership and ego, it’s a different story.)

But whereas the highway has speed limits, there are no imposed limits on the great frontiers of the ocean or the sky. You can freely go as fast as the technology of your boat or airplane will allow you to go. And if one wants to spend money, the sky’s the limit when it comes to airplanes, and the hole in the water into which boat money can be poured is depthless.

However, a couple of days ago as I was helping with the afternoon “kids being picked up after school” detail, a father in a shiny new black Ferrari convertible with the top down deep-throatedly purred in and happened to stop in the circle to wait for his child right next to where I was standing. Normally I only peripherally admire some of the cars that come in, of which there are quite a few admirable ones (top-level Mercedeses, stretch BMWs and Lexuses, Bentleys, even a Maseratti or two and an Aston-Martin), but this Ferrari could not be ignored. The sound of its engine pulled like a pace-maker on my heart. That black color made the normal red and yellow Ferraris I had seen look like child’s play; this one was serious business. And I could even smell the magnificence of the interior. I said to the Dad, “If your child doesn’t come soon, I’ll just have to ride home with you.” He understood what I meant, and responded, “It’s all good.” Yes, it certainly is!

At his request, I went to call his little girl from the crowd, because he said she wouldn’t be able to see his car, which was low and hidden by the line of monster SUVs in front of him. I found her easily and then helped to buckle her into her own little pink child seat sitting on top of the car’s brown leather. As they pulled away, I could see that the engine, which was in the rear, was not covered by a metal boot, but instead the covering was glass, showcasing what the car was really all about, that which powered it (all clean metal, with red-painted pipes). This astonished, amazed, and impressed me, so I had to tell everybody about it (and everybody’s response indicated that Ferraris, due to their price, regardless of design feature, simply were not on their radar).

Suddenly, I could absolutely see why a person would buy a car like this if they could. It tugged at you even while it was standing still and heaven help you if you ever took it for a test drive yet did not have the money for it—you’d helplessly put yourself into hock for life, I’m afraid.

Suddenly, an airplane or boat seemed to pale in comparison. After all, driving a Ferrari (again, if you have the money) is actually available, you merely hop in and go down the street. No special license, training, or knowledge, no heading out to a special location (airport or marina), no checking the weather, no pre-flight checklist, no unwrapping sails or blowing gasoline fumes out of the bilge. And what of the experience? I’ve flown airplanes (in beginning lessons) and mostly the experience felt like whatever was underneath me holding me up (air!) was likely to fall away (turbulence!) and there was the ever-present anxiety of “how will I find and recognize the airport when I need it to get down again?”, not to mention the stress of the landing itself (to the still untrained). Mostly, I imagined flying long distance (as a pilot) to be the exhaustion of constant attention to minute detail spread out over a field of elongated boredom.

Sailing, despite the thrill of the heel and the refreshment of the salt spray, is also a jarring chop chop chop as you plow through waves while half the time you have no control of the rudder that is up out of the water; the wind is shifting and always there is the ever-present thought that out here, you can drown!

Of course, my thoughts of flying and sailing are beginner’s thoughts, learner’s thoughts; for the experienced, these activities could be, should be glorious and less anxiety-inducing. One would probably not enjoy taking a Ferrari out on the highway on the second or third driving lesson. I don’t know if even a newly-licensed teenager would enjoy it—I sure wouldn’t have when I was a newly-licensed teenager. Wouldn’t that be much like jumping from a pony ride at a fair to racing a thoroughbred in a steeplechase?

But a financially successful person who can afford a Ferrari is probably not a newly licensed teenager (there may be exceptions, of course), so that easy availability to the quality and thrill puts having such a car in a separate realm from buying a boat or airplane. The brain doesn’t consider each of those in the same decision-making process, I wouldn’t think.

Which takes us back to me…maybe if I really could afford it, I would buy one after all. Probably pretty lucky that I can’t afford one. I mean, what would I have to do to keep it looking as nice as it should, especially with that window peeking into the engine compartment? Have that engine steam-cleaned once a week?

But please, just keep me out of the showroom…unless you hear that I have come into a surprisingly large financial windfall. Even then, it might be better to guide me back over to the marina or the airport first. Those skies and seas do await. Roads, I can drive over them in anything, even in what I have already.