Category Archives: Culture

Space – A Great Frontier

Echo 1 was a Mylar balloon satellite launched in 1960 that was visible from the earth. At night, we’d rush outside at the time printed in the paper and watch it go by.

During the Mercury launches 1961-1963, we sat in the classroom clustered around a transistor radio.

For Gemini launches in 1965 1nd 1966, someone brought a 45 pound “portable” black and white television into the classroom.

For the Apollo Missions, especially Apollo 11, we watched from home on console TVs with a 17 inch color cathode ray tube screen.

I lived in Florida for a portion of the shuttle era, I walked down my driveway, turned tight, and saw it live. For most people, there would be a brief mention with a few seconds of video on the evening news.

Today, I watch the Space-X Crew Dragon return to earth, with live video from inside the craft and the recovery boats on my iPad.

Cool.

LT (j.g.) Madeline Swegle, We’re Proud of You!

a man holding a sign posing for the camera: ecgspwvwoaipfmv.jpg

I guess it’s easy to let expectations exceed reality.

I spent many years serving in the Navy Reserve and the active duty Navy. During that time, I saw many things progress. I saw female officers command ships. I served with and under a number of female officers.

I was surprised to find out that it has taken the Navy until now to have its first Black female fighter pilot.

I have three things to say:

  1. LT (j.g.) Madeline Swegle – Bravo Zulu! You, and you alone, earned this. Feel free to be proud of yourself.
  2. The next generation of tactical pilots will look to you for inspiration.
  3. And to my beloved Navy–it’s about damn time.

Change comes far too slow far too often. However, when positive change finally occurs, it’s a wonderful thing.

 

Heroes Wear Masks

In the midst of the COVID-19, where are our inspirational influencers?

  • Batman wears a mask.
  • Black Panther wears a mask.
  • Spiderman wears a mask.
  • The Green Lantern wears a mask.
  • Ironman wears a mask.
  • Captain America wears a mask.
  • The Lone Ranger wears a mask.
  • Medical and Surgical teams wear masks.
  • Dr. Fauci wears a mask.

On the other hand, who are the trend setters in the other direction?

  • The Joker does not wear a mask.
  • Jabba the Hutt does not wear a mask.
  • Lex Luthor does not wear a mask.
  • Lord Voldemort does not wear a mask.
  • Captain Hook does not wear a mask.
  • Snidely Whiplash does not wear a mask.
  • Neither Boris nor Natasha wear a mask.
  • [Fill in your anti-mask politician here]

 

 

Oath to the U.S. Constitution

I served as an officer in the United States Navy.

I am currently a federal civilian employee.

I took the following oath to the United States Constitution:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Not only did I take the oath “without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion” but I took it with pride.

I am bound by that oath and will be for the rest of my life.

Please note that there is nothing in the oath requiring me to blindly obey any and every order. There’s a reason for this–I am expected to refuse any illegal order.

After World War Two, many Nazis attempted to defend their brutality by claiming that they were only following orders. That defense is insulting.

Why am I writing this? I read “Illegal Order” and the linked news story dated 26 July 2020 on https://diogenestoday.com/

 

Today’s Cartoons

New! Series 2 LOL Dolls! - YouTube

Image courtesy YouTube

I grew up with cartoons that were leftover from the 1940s. There was Popeye fighting Nazis, Woody Woodpecker, and, of course, Looney Toons with Chuck Jones art and Mel Blanc voices.

The newest we had were Hannah Barbera products–the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Huckleberry Hound, etc. Television was only available during limited hours, ending with the playing of the National Anthem after the Tonight Show.

My granddaughters watch cartoons on cable. Cable cartoons are apparently like cable news (You get the picture). I can only watch about 30 seconds at a time, but as near as I can tell, they are all commercials all the time.

One they watched on their latest visit was LOL Dolls, which is apparently a Disney product. The entire program–based on the compilation of the aforementioned 30 second views–seemed to consist of hands opening up the various LOL products accompanied by manically enthusiastic girls’ voices.

My favorite (?!?) was the kitten character series, which come with various accessories, including a litter box. Children are expected to gleefully peel through simulated cat litter to find surprise toys that are hidden therein.

These cartoons are truly different than Popeye.

The New Normal

By limiting my exposure to the news, I’m beginning to feel much better.

When I see something, instead of letting it upset me, I merely ask myself, “Is this fundamentally different than it was yesterday/last week/last month?” Most often, the answer is, “No.”

I guess I’m just adapting to the new normal.

Luddite Audiophile

Today I saw an advertisement for bone-conduction headphones at Sam’s Club.

In my young adulthood, I enjoyed stereo systems with awesome fidelity. I  worked my way up to a Dual turntable that had stroboscopic speed adjustment, a top of the line Fisher amplifier and speakers, a Technics-by-Panasonic cassette deck, and Koss Pro-4AA headphones.

Today, fidelity has given way to compressability–how much music can be fitted into the smallest space. Almost everything is MP-4 or other streaming media, which is relatively low fidelity. And bone-conduction? That was once a last desperate method to convey sound into the auditory nerves when the natural routes failed.

Cochlear implants use bone-conduction, not fine music systems.

Or do they? Maybe bone-conduction is superior. I don’t know. The range of frequencies I can hear has narrowed with time, so maybe bone-conduction would be better.

I’m not quite ready for that. I’ll stick with my Koss Pro-4AA headphones. By popular demand, they began manufacturing them again.

Luddite – Part Two

I actually did write this out in longhand with my Cross pen circa 1985 (75 percent off when I bought it), which I carried and wrote with through Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait. My article was barely legible to me, and if I scanned it, it’s too small to post, so I had to resort to the word processor.

When I was young, most cities had one or more newspapers. Toledo was ahead of its time, with two newspapers owned by the same company and printed on the same printing presses–much like many cities see today. The owner supposedly said that the biggest news was the Dempsey-Tunney boxing match of 1919 and if he had his way, it would stay the biggest news.

In any case, most newspapers published one major edition each day. Unlike in the movies, the editor screaming “Stop the presses!” was rare, as was newsboys in ill-fitting clothes and funny caps yelling, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!.” There may have been an extra edition when President Kennedy was assassinated, but since that was early afternoon, it’s unlikely. The evening news was a half-hour (including commercials), as was the 11:00 PM news.

Today, we are bombarded 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year on multiple channels, news feeds, social media, etc., much of which is intended to draw you to click-bait, sell you hemorrhoid medicine, or miracle cures for erectile dysfunction. It’s all BREAKING NEWS that’s JUST IN.

I think the old style was better, thank you–one newspaper and 30 minute news programs.

Becoming a Luddite

I have always appreciated technology. I had one of the very first home computers (RCA Cosmac 1802 processor with 256 BYTES–yes, bytes–of memory and a hexadecimal keypad). At last count, I have five computers running in the house. That does not count smartphones, iPads, Kindles, or any devices belonging to other family members.

Every time I turn on the television, the radio, or check online news I get frustrated. It doesn’t matter your political views or whether you like masks or not. It doesn’t matter as to your religious views or lack thereof. The world has raised stupidity to an art form.

If I touch a hot stove, I immediately remove my hand and avoid the heated element. If I taste something nasty, I spit it out and don’t consume any more. If the news disgusts me . . . .

So, don’t expect me to be writing a lot. If I do, it will be written using a real fountain pen in my renowned, mostly illegible, chicken scratch.

Aging

Clocks Challenge - The Winners by annewipf on DeviantArt

I don’t do hip-hop or whatever young people listen to today. If I tried, I’m sure I’d hurt something or maybe even cause some body part(s) to fall off. It would be embarrassing. That’s how Mother Nature ensures that old people will eventually give way to the younger ones. Like it or not, it’s the way it is. It has worked for eons and is not likely to change.

When I was young, I had fresh ideas because I had no clue as to what would work and what wouldn’t. However, as I gained grew older, bold thoughts were more difficult to come by because they were tempered by experience and reality. Today, bold ideas are not my job.

However, that doesn’t mean that I cannot appreciate someone else’s fresh new idea or root for their success. In some cases, I can help younger people with good ideas maneuver through the bureaucratic mishmash that reality throws in their way. I understand mishmashes, especially bureaucratic ones.  That’s where I can help.

The progression from old to new needs to be a collaborative hand-off, not an abrupt change. Outcomes must not be seen as a personal triumph, but instead as a step forward for all of us.

As the saying goes, it’s amazing what you can do if you aren’t concerned with who gets the credit.

Wrong Way COVID*

I had hoped that by now we’d be past the worst of the Coronavirus pandemic. I hoped that by now we could be back to normal. I’d hoped that my wife and I would be able to go out to eat or take a little trip. I’d hoped that going to the store would be a normal activity.

Alas, it was not to be.

As of today, there are 1,859,511 active COVID-19 cases in the United States and  we’ve had 140,702 deaths. Nevertheless, some people still insist that the pandemic is a hoax.

With more than 140 thousand deaths and many COVID-19 survivors facing life-long health problems due to COVID-19, I believe that it’s hardly a hoax. In fact, it scares the heck out of me.

The problem is that as cases climb, the load on hospitals will also climb. COVID-19 deaths have been lower lately because hospitals have had the capacity to treat coronavirus patients. Once hospital capacity is reached, deaths are expected to increase, quickly and significantly. I hope that I’m not one of those statistics.

When we speak of hospital capacity, it is important to remember that a one-thousand bed hospital is not able to take care of 1,000 COVID patients. COVID patients need intensive care during which they may be placed in isolation and/or on mechanical respirators. Respirators often require inducing a medical coma because people don’t like finding someone has stuffed a breathing tube down their throat. It’s best if they sleep through it.

So I shall wait. I will continue to avoid going out except for medical appointments. I will telework and attend church services via live video. I will continue to wash my hands about every thirty minutes. If I go past my mailbox, I will wear my face mask.

I will do these things, but I don’t have to like them.

*Apologies to Wrong Way Corrigan

 

Visual or Text?

As I get older, I find things out about myself that I never realized before. They’re things that have been the same for all my life, but I just never noticed them.

For example, when I daydream, it isn’t all graphic. If I’m daydreaming about going on a boat trip, I may visualize water or even the deck of the boat. However, the main daydream is more like a script:

“The weather was calm that day. The waves were high enough to lap against the hull, but not enough to create any discomfort. The sun shone in a blue sky spotted with wispy cirrus clouds.”

I’m almost surprised that my brain soesn’t include stage and camera directions:

“Boat arrives from left. When it reaches center stage/screen, camera zooms in on small waves then pans up to people on deck shading eyes and looking forward.”

I guess it’s one of the hazards of  being a writer. Artists probably see pictures, but we writers see words.

As I sat and wrote this blog, I happened to look at the top of the WordPress screen. There are two tabs labeled “Visual” and “Text”. Maybe my perspective isn’t so unusual after all.

Pandemic Update – 5 July 2020

As I watch the statistics–new COVID-19 cases and new COVID-19 deaths–there are other observations that present themselves. One is that every weekend the numbers fall in comparison to the weekdays. I attribute this to delays in reporting. Weekend staffing in hospitals and government agencies tend to be lower than during the week, so the cases and deaths get added after the weekend. Numbers tend to run higher early in the week, which I believe is to catch up for the weekend.

Although new cases are increasing in many areas, deaths continue to decline. Among those with the most new cases, Florida started to climb about 24 June, Arizona’s cases began increasing 16 June, with a similar trend in South Carolina. North Carolina, on the other hand, has been on a steady rise since March.

I thought there might be an increase after the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and I used Minnesota, Washington state, and the District of Columbia as likely examples. I saw no dramatic increases. These demonstrations began 25 May, so we’ve been through two incubation cycles. On television, it appeared that many demonstrators maintained wore masks.

I have no idea where things are headed and I make no sweeping claims based on the statistics I’ve been tracking. However, I believe that facts are important and they are the first step toward solving any problem, including the pandemic.

 

I’m Feeling Petty (or is it Petit?)

The Supreme Court of the United States grapples with many important issues and “hands down” their rulings. “Handing down” is meant to imply something like dealing with the gods on Mount Olympus.

However, I do wonder why, when nine of the greatest(?) legal minds are put together, why do they disagree so often? Why are so many decisions 5-4?

Oh.

Silly me.

Politics.

When I took business law in college, the professor advised us never to confuse justice with fairness. The judicial system, he explained, was not fair and was merely a mechanism to resolve disagreements without resorting to duels, trial by combat, or shootouts in the street at high noon.

A pity, as resolving disputes would be far more interesting with those methods. A good shootout would be interesting to watch. The Supreme Court? Not so much.

In any case, today the Supreme Court ruled that adding “.com” to any word makes that word+”.com” copyrightable. Therefore, I’m putting all of you on notice.

Be aware that sfnowak.com is copyrighted. Don’t try to steal it. It’s illegal to do so. The Supreme Court says so. Neener neener neener!

Besides, why in the world would you want to?

Success

When I was growing up, it was still possible—and often expected—that a young man would finish high school and get a factory job with one of the automotive companies in the area. Grandpa had worked there, Dad still did, and Junior would carry on the family tradition.

Success was having a decent wage, benefits, and a pension. It was expected that there were certain trade-offs, such as losing the occasional finger to a punch press or periodically taken from work to the hospital for stitches. The work was mind-numbingly repetitious, but that was just part and parcel of the process. It was okay, though, until manufacturing moved overseas or was automated.

For other people, the self-imposed standard is higher. People study music or art, practice their chosen mode of expression throwing themselves into it, heart and soul. Imagine, after years of study and dedication:

  • The musician finds that the culmination of his talent and effort provides music for telephone callers who are placed on hold.
  • The artist, skilled in a variety of visual techniques, from oil painting to sculpting, ends up producing billboard illustrations.
  • The young model who has posed for a variety of photographs, finds that one of them shows her face on the internet with the captions “All cheaters have one thing in common.”
  • The actor, after years of stage plays in high school, college, and off-off-Broadway finally makes it as a movie only to find that most of his time is spent repeat the same lame line over and over to allow for different camera angles, the reaction of other actors, etc.

I’m grateful for what life has given me, even though (especially?) I’m not in the spotlight.

Juneteenth

The South’s “Peculiar Institution”of slavery allowed wealthy property owners to have millions of laborers work without pay. Not only was this free labor valuable, but selling the children of slaves was profitable as well.

The American Civil War was initially fought by the North to preserve the Union. This was after years of conflict, both in the legislature and elsewhere, regarding slavery, especially regarding which new states endorsed their citizens to buy and sell human beings.

The Civil War began on 12 April 1861. Under his war powers, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in all states engaged in armed conflict with the Union on 1 January 1863. Any slave who reached Union territory or if Union military lines reached them, they were, by law, free.

The South ignored the Emancipation Proclamation, even when the war ended. In Galveston, Texas, African Americans who had legally been free since 1863 only found out on Juneteenth, 19 June 1865, when Union Army General Gordon Granger read the federal orders that all slaves in Texas were free.

That is why Juneteenth is such an important day and should soon be a national holiday. How could we not honor and celebrate it?

 

Southern History

Although I was born, grew up, and was educated all the way through graduate school in the North, I have lived in the South—on and off—for several decades. I’ve worked with people whose ancestors fought against the Union during the Civil War. Some were members of “The Sons of the Confederacy” and had a whole different perspective on the Civil War than the one with which I was raised.

I love history, so I listened to their viewpoint with as unbiased a mind as possible. After all, it is normal for history to be adjusted as additional facts are uncovered. Recently, I did a little research and here are some interesting facts and figures from credible sources.

DISCLAIMER: Some of my ancestors may have been heroes, villains, or just plain folks trying to get by. I cannot control my ancestors, but I can maintain my own set of values and accept or reject their actions. I do not hold others responsible for their ancestors’ actions, only their own. In that frame of reference, here are some of the data that I found.

  • Records indicate that 1,082,119 men served in the Confederate Army, throughout the Civil War, although not all at the same time.

I tried to determine how many Confederate soldiers owned slaves. Nowhere is that number directly reported, but the following statistics are:

  • According to the 1860 US census—just before the Civil War—more than 32 percent of white families in those states which would secede from the Union owned slaves.
  • There were approximately 2,880,000 slave owners when the Southern population was about 9 million people.
  • There were estimated to be more than 3½ million slaves in the South. (For full disclosure, there were also 432,586 in the border states—those states that did allow slavery but did not secede from the union.)
  • Some slaveholders in the South did not actually own the slaves who worked for them, but instead rented them from slaveowners.

I suspect that the numbers reported in the 1860 census were reasonably accurate, since each slave counted as 3/5 of a citizen toward the number of Congressional representatives, Electoral College votes, etc. (Isn’t it ironic that there has recently been pressure to count only citizens? The founding fathers from the South wanted ALL people counted since it benefited them.)

Based on the data I acquired:

  • There were more than 3 times as many slaves in the South as there were soldiers who fought for the Confederacy.
  • If the total population reported in the census included slaves at the 3/5 ratio, then the white population of the South was closer to 6.8 million. In which case one-third of the actual population of the South would have been enslaved persons.

In addition:

  • After the Civil War, many slaves were not told that they were free. In fact, by virtue of the Emancipation Proclamation, those enslaved people in the Confederate States had been freed on 1 January 1862.
  • Juneteenth celebrates 19 June 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger read federal orders in Galveston, Texas—one of the most remote locations—the first news those slaves had that they were free.
  • The border states either freed their slaves by state law or else by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified in December 1865.

A couple of thoughts.

  • For several centuries—in the Land of the Free—some people believed it was good business to have a workforce that was not paid, had no rights, and could be beaten, bought, and sold at will.
  • For more than a century after that, there have been some people who seem to be wishing for a return to those days.
  • If you ask many of those waving the red flags with the “X” what they are, they will probably misidentify it as “the flag of the Confederate States of America.” It’s not—it’s a battle flag. The Confederacy went through a number of national flags.
  • If you really want to have fun, ask them which former US President became a Confederate legislator. (John Tyler)

One final trivia item – Many people talk about freedmen (former slaves) owning slaves themselves. There is truth to this, but most of these freedmen owned one or a small number of slaves. Why? Historians believe that once a man or a woman was freed, they would purchase their spouse and, if possible, their children. If so, this was not slavery, it was a family struggling against all odds to be together.

 

Thanks to:
https://www.history.com/
American Battlefield Trust

Monuments?

In order for the nation to figure out its future, it must first figure out its past–in particular, the appropriateness of monuments to the Confederacy.

Let’s start with one authoritative source, Robert E. Lee. Lee, a top graduate of West Point who had served in the US Army for 32 years. As a commissioned officer, he had taken an oath to the US Constitution. He chose–albeit difficultly–to disregard his oath, choosing Virginia, his state, over the United States of America, his country.

After the war, “He swore allegiance to the Union and publicly decried southern separatism, whether militant or symbolic.”

“I think it wiser,” the retired military leader wrote about a proposed Gettysburg memorial in 1869, “…not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”

As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated,” Lee wrote of an 1866 proposal, “my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt in the present condition of the Country, would have the effect of retarding, instead of accelerating its accomplishment; [and] of continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour.”

Many of the Confederate monuments were not erected until the late 1800s and early 1900s. While the stated purpose was to honor those who fought, many–including myself–believe that it was a blatant trumpeting of white supremacy.

Why are the number of people who today condemn the monuments increasing? The list of reasons is long and growing, but let’s look at one–just one–reason.

Treason.

In law, treason is criminal disloyalty, typically to the state. It is a crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one’s nation or sovereign. This usually includes things such as participating in a war against one’s native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state. A person who commits treason is known in law as a traitor.[1]

The Southern states took up arms and engaged in war against their own nation. The individuals involved were traitors–Lee, Jackson, Bragg, and all the others. They may have been brilliant, but they were still traitors. In other times or countries, such as England, traitors were subjected to the horrors of being drawn, hanged until they were almost–but not quite–dead, eviscerated while still alive, decapitated and their bodies divided into quarters.

Such is not the American way. Instead, the Southerners were welcomed back, if they chose–like Lee–to once again honor their nation.

However, there is no good, logical, rationale reason to build monuments to traitors.

(Thanks to PBS and Wikipedia for much of this material. Links are embedded for your convenience.)

 

 

Black Lives Matter

I am totally unqualified to write this. If I am wrong, please correct me.

I’ve never been pulled over for driving because of my color. I’ve never had to have “the talk” with my sons. I’ve never been watched suspiciously while shopping.

I am not black. If I were, I wouldn’t be able to say the things I wrote above.

To me, “Black Lives Matter” is an attempt to make the first very tiny step to address 400 years of inequality, oppression, and cruelty.

It’s about damn time,.

 

 

A Solemn Oath

An oath is defined by Merriam Webster as:

(1) : a solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says

(2) : a solemn attestation of the truth or inviolability of one’s words – The witness took an oath to tell the truth in court.

An oath is a sacred promise. While this might not carry as much weight today as it once did, it does for most of those who take an oath. It is a commitment that not only defines what a person agrees to do, but also defines who that person is.

Oaths are used for major offices, including members of Congress, judges, and other elected officials. For example, Presidents swear the following oath at their inauguration:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.[

Commissioned and warrant officers in the United States uniformed services swear the following oath:

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.[1]

Each person enlisting in an armed force swears to the following oath:

I, (state name of enlistee), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (So help me God).”

Those in the National Guard take similar oaths, adding their obligations to their state or territory.

The common factor is that the core of each oath is the commitment to the US Constitution. Those in the military are pledging their lives. I’ve seen enough inverted rifles, boots, helmets, and dog tags to know that those in uniform really mean it.

That’s what makes the US what it is.