Friday, July 3, 2015

Historical Picture for the Modern Fourth of July?

Will internet search engines ever get better? They are supposed to be so good now, but I don't believe it. All they do is match keywords, buzzwords.  And then use your search as the input to an advertising algorithm. They don't respond to thoughts or ideas.

For instance, we are on the eve of  "our" most obscene national holiday. A more optimistic person would have merely said "most ludicrous and hypocritical" holiday. I have trained myself to tune it out, rather than dwell on it with sourness, and then lash out at what America has become.

But it would be better to find something more constructive. What if internet search engines were actually good, and I came to them with a thought instead of a keyword? What history books or novels could I read that would inform on the situation an American finds them-self in, today? 

Who else has experienced pride in their country when they were young, and then grew to despise their country? Was it only grouchy old men who did so, and if that were true, did that alone invalidate their opinions? How did they handle the transition from Pride to Disgust? Did they manage to put it to good use?

There are probably illustrations from societies that have experienced defeat.  Consider what the southern states went through, in light of the novel, "Gone with the Wind." Or consider what Germany went through in the 1920s.

But those are defeat-based pessimisms. In contrast, modern America has not been conquered by outsiders, militarily or otherwise. Perhaps the existence of nuclear weapons will ensure that it never will be conquered militarily. Instead, it has merely degenerated, voluntarily, to a travesty of what it once was. The most relevant society and historical epoch might be nominally-successful Rome, which degenerated into a militaristic empire by the time of Julius Caesar.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A "Rez" Dog at the Stage Coach Stop

Cuba NM is a shabby rez town, like they all are. And yet, there was something I liked about it. It is the only real shopping between Albuquerque and Farmington, NM, on busy US-550. Travelers do need services, you know. There is something redolent of the old southwestern stagecoach way station in this place. 

When you drive in perpendicularly to the busy highway after seeing no population for 100 miles, it is gratifying to see people and stores again. You know better of course, but it is enjoyable to put that aside for the moment.

If any place were the modern equivalent of the old stage coach stop, it would be the McDonalds, convenience store, and gas station. Cars drove in and out in a hurry; it was like being back in the "real world."  It really is true what they say: 'busy-ness implies purpose in people's lives.'

I sat in my van, soaked up the free Wi-fi, and compared all the different motor vehicles coming in off the highway. Something grabbed my eye as not quite fitting in. It was a half-lab dog, a lactating female mother dog, presumably. She wandered around from the door of the McDonalds to the gasoline pumps, and somehow avoided being run over. Apparently she had experience. She seemed quite professional, friendly, and got attention from the suckers.

But she wasn't scoring much food. All of a sudden the pathos of this hit me: here was the reality of being in "harmony with nature." For a female that means being constantly knocked up, and desperate to feed a new litter of pups. Imagine what sort of condition the pups were in. Nowhere could the Darwinian struggle for existence be more grim for a mother dog and her pups than on an Indian reservation or some other third world country.

So I softened and bought a $1 burger for her.  When her vacuum-cleaner tongue touched my hand with the food in it, I was alarmed to see a bloody wound around her neck, as if she had had a biting collar on, and desperately struggled to escape it. (Think of that the next time you are visiting a pile of rocks in a national monument, and the white suburban PC college-educated ranger or volunteer is rattling on about this, that, and the next thing being 'sacred to the Native American.')

But even when a hungry dog's tongue touches your hand, a hand holding Survival itself, you are remarkably separate, as if inhabiting two parallel universes.

In the "Tholian Web" episode in the third season of Star Trek, Spock explains the importance of the "Interphase" in getting the Captain back alive.
Picture it this way, Mr. Chekhov. We exist is a universe which coexists with a multitude of others, in the same physical space. For certain brief periods of time, an area of their space overlaps with an area of ours. That is the time of "interphase", during which we can connect with the universe of the other ship...
Silly science? Sure, but that isn't the point. Science fiction provides metaphors and modern myths: it personifies the universal. We can't live without some of that.

A multitude of parallel universes overlapping in physical space, for short periods of time... Doesn't that account for much of the special-ness of travel? Think of some of the semi-classic travel movies: "Stagecoach" (1939) which made Monument Valley and John Wayne a star. Or "Baghdad Cafe."  Or any movie on a ship, or at a desert oasis, like "Casablanca."  Or the 'being trapped together' type disaster movie.

Of course the metaphor appears profoundly, but less frequently, in non-travel life. Such as just after the dreaded announcement is made at work, and your cubicle-mate is cleaning out his desk, but you aren't. Or a friend's funeral. 

The limiting case of the metaphor might be when holding your mother's hand as she lies dying in the intensive care unit of a hospital, the same hospital where you were delivered many years before. 

My dog playing mommie with someone else's Corgi pup, a couple years ago.