Tuesday, August 23, 2016

You Are Your Cultural Influences

I was musing about technology advances, and got to thinking about stereo systems. What was your first stereo sound system? For many (most for my generation and earlier) of us, it was in our car. For me it was the first brand new car I ever bought - a 1971 Plymouth Fury station wagon. I bought it in Las Cruces, NM while I was stationed at Ft. Bliss, TX. (New Mexico exempted service members from the state excise tax.) I also bought a new Honda 350 CL Scrambler  motorcycle at about the same time. I was, indeed, living large! When they first came out, I added an 8-track to the car.

I started amassing a number of albums on 8-track, one of which was very instructive in a totally unexpected way. It was a "Favorites" compilation by a pretty poor cover band. Poor enough that listening to the album was pretty painful at first. But I persevered, and after awhile I got used to it.

Then I heard one of those songs being performed by the original group that had recorded it, and I (multiple choice here): a) realized just how bad the cover band was; b) realized that both of them really sounded pretty much the same; c) hated the original band's version.

Logically, we have good taste and can tell the good stuff from the bad - right? So the answer should be a), right? BUZZZZZZ! Wrong! My ear had been knocked so totally out of tune, that bad was good and good was bad. c) is the correct choice.

The same thing happens with our tastes in other areas as well. In Mexico, the people that harvest the high quality arabica coffee beans are not allowed to use them, because of their relative scarcity and value as an export crop. Instead, they are given the plentiful cheaper robusta beans. They learn to like them, and when they are given the chance to try the arabica variety, they can't stand it, so I'm told. Think, too of the folks down in Louisiana and their "coffee".

Our children grow up thinking McDonald's makes a great hamburger. Cubs fans grow up knowing you can never win it all. Yankees fans grow up expecting to win it all - every year. Little boys growing up watching sports nowadays know they'll have hard choices to make in the years to come - Bud Lite or the Silver Bullet; F-150 or Silverado; Viagra or Cialis. 

Increasingly, the media seeks out or fabricates conflict to win ratings to enhance the ad rates they can charge their sponsors. A good fight just reaps bigger audiences. Reality shows, the Bachelor, MMA. Even the mainstream news programs feature things like "Crossfire" where frothy-mouthed zealots from both ends of the political spectrum scream at each other over hot button topics. The worst part of this whole development is that the moderators, presumably (at least, ideally) level-headed intelligent types can't jeopardize their ratings by expressing their disgust with the whole panel of guests, kicking them off and then commentating on the issues. So they're becoming more like their guests - screaming and goading and trying to foment conflict. And viewers are never presented with any but the deep blue or the deep red views. What ever happened to well-reasoned, thoughtful, respectful conflict resolution? It doesn't sell Viagra, that's what! It was cancelled!

So folks lean a little one way or another and then go off and watch MSNBC or Fox News. Boy! There are a couple of places you can hone your diplomatic and negotiating skills. NOT!

We see clips of boys in extremist religious Islamic schools on their prayer mats doing their hypnotic head-bobbing chants and smugly think, "It's a good thing we're not into brainwashing in this country." Oh, really! Wake up and smell the chicory!

The first time you get shot at in combat is a sort of reality check. Here is some regular guy from another country, another culture, that hates you enough to want you dead, just because you are who you are. You may have a flash of realization that, except for the results of the crapshoot we call birthplace, our positions could be totally flipped. (Maybe you need to table that thought for right now, or he may succeed in his efforts to fulfill that deathwish on you. War is the ultimate "Him or Me" game. So don't do anything to jeopardize winning it. Think your profound thoughts after the battle.)

As humans, we are born helpless and ignorant. We reach adulthood mostly as a product of our upbringing. Nearly everything we think has been taught to us. 

Fortunately, or unfortunately, our societal attitudes and tastes are as pliable as our ear for music or our taste for coffee. With the right influence, we actually can refine and improve our tastes and attitudes. Or under the wrong influence, the exact opposite may occur. Our brains can be patterned, for better or for worse, through a process called neuroplasticity. We can be strongly influenced by those around us. 

The single best piece of advice a person can be given is this: Surround yourselves with the very best people possible. Because that neuroplasticity is, indeed, a sword that can cut both ways. 

Bike Helmets: Musings on Mandatory v. Voluntary Laws, Good Judgement, etc.

As the jackhammer slams away at the concrete on the sidewalk across the street - the first step in a process which I set in motion with my email to the city about my concern that a cyclist would drop his front wheel into the gap in between concrete slabs and take a header, I feel compelled to share this personal experience, which goes a long way toward explaining my consciousness of potential bike-related head injuries. 

On the first Sunday of January 1972, a crystal clear, cold day at Ft. Bliss, TX, I decided to forgo watching the NFC and AFC Championship games in favor of taking a good, long motorcycle ride in the desert. My "Career Course" (more formally, the U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery Advanced Course) classes resumed the next day, and I would have very limited opportunities to ride until leaving for Korea in a month and a half or so - our class would be very busy until graduating in two or three weeks, and then our family would be very busy clearing out of quarters, moving, visiting family, etc., until I left.

So I pulled on a couple of pair of bluejeans and otherwise bundled up, then struck out for the Hueco Tanks area, east of El Paso. And what a glorious time I had - mostly running the nearby pipeline right-of-way through the desert, which included lots of jumps! On the way back home, my bike started to lag just as I got back into the outskirts of El Paso, and I immediately thought, "Oh, crap! I've broken an oil line and run it dry!" So, I decided to wheel into the Border Patrol parking lot to check it out, as I had just passed a service station. When I turned the front wheel to the right, it jerked and locked against the right fork stop, and I went sailing over the handlebars at maybe 25 mph! When I landed on my head, that polycarbonate helmet sounded like a mortar round had hit it! Nope, it wasn't the oil. I had picked up a mesquite thorn in the desert, and my front tire had just gone flat!

So, I picked myself up, bushed myself off, assessed the damage - torn and scuffed jeans, scraped shins from the handlebars and mirror, severely scuffed jacket, scuffed gloves, bent foot-rest, broken mirror, shredded handlebar grip - picked up the bike, and walked it back to the service station to fix the flat. Thanks, helmet!! I've often reflected on how that helmet protected my wife, Nancy, from having to make the tough decision about whether to keep me on life-support or not. 

But - as Paul Harvey used to say, "Here's the Rest of the Story".

At the time, Texas had a mandatory helmet law, while my other riding venue, New Mexico, did not. So, one would think that my mature judgement and intelligence kept me in my helmet, regardless of which state I was in. After all, that is the argument put forth by the libertarian-minded folks who argue against mandatory helmet laws, right? To document my said qualities, allow me, without false humility, to enumerate a few examples. 

At the time, I was an almost 29-year-old Army Air Defense Artillery Captain, soon to be an Honor Graduate of the aforementioned Career Course, and soon thereafter to have my finger on the Big Red Button as Commander of a Nike-Hercules Battery in Korea. Just the previous June, I had graduated cum laude in physics from UT-El Paso, as part of the "Pilot Program" group of a new two-year Officer Degree Completion Program, which meant that DOD had picked me out of all the non-degreed (i.e. OCS-sourced) Captains with 2 or more years of college in all of the Army, to be in that first group. Heady.

After getting home from Vietnam, my first Air Defense Officer position was as an Instructor in Air Defense Tactics at the School at Fort Bliss. My students included ROTC and West Point Graduates in the Basic Course, other Captains and Majors in the Advance Course, and officers of all ranks, up to the occasional General or Admiral from other branches of the US DOD and foreign militaries in various familiarization and War College level courses. Heady.

Prior to that, while I was in Vietnam, the Air Defense Artillery and the Field Artillery branches split, and I became Air Defense Artillery. I then finished my tour in Vietnam, continuing to serve as a combat Field Artillery Officer - 6 months as a Forward Observer with Charlie Battery, 2/9 Artillery, humping the Kontums supporting Bravo Company, 2/35 Infantry, a grunt infantry outfit, 2 months as the Fire Direction Officer (AXO) and 2 months in charge of the guns (XO) of Alpha 2/9, a sister 105 mm Howitzer Battery, and then, after being promoted from 1st Lt to Captain, as Assistant Operations Officer (AS3) at the 2/9 Battalion, DS to the 3rd Brigade of the 4th Division. I earned bunch of little ribbons, including a Bronze Star, for my efforts. (OK, so the Bronze Star (no V-device, thank you very much) was kind of the Officer's "Participation Medal" for anyone who was actually in combat in Vietnam.)

As an FO, With a total of about two weeks in the field in what was my first Field Artillery assignment other than OCS, I brought the first high-explosive round of one fire mission within about 30 meters of our closest friendly element - with the full blessing of the Company Commander, CPT John Pipia, and to the relief of my supported troops, as we were pinned down by an enemy heavy machine gun. (This was in violation of the Rules of Engagement, which demanded 400 meters minimum distance for the first HE. But, while being incredibly lucky with the initial smoke spotting round falling about four hundred meters nearer than expected, my decision to immediately enter "Fire for Effect" was technically and tactically sound. Although without John's intervention, the little ring-knocker that was my BC, might have Court-Martialled my cowboy butt. John told him, "Why don't you just accept that my troops consider your battery our savior now, rather than the total bunch of screw-ups they thought you were after you had fired out on us twice in the two weeks before that mission?) About two weeks later, I faced down a veteran Field Artillery Major over his desire to fire a prep with a platoon of 8" howitzers, which had no smoke round available, into the middle of about a square kilometer area on the far side of a mountain from those guns, that we had twelve companies surrounding, hopefully. Actually, they had all fought through jungle, from different directions, over a period of about a week, and no one was really sure where they were - only two of the companies had linked up. (This was the area the machine gun had been deployed on the main approach to.) At this time, my supported company was on the fire-base, LZ Ryder, as "Palace Guard", and I was sitting in for the Liaison Officer to the Infantry Battalion, who had been medevaced with intestinal parasites. This had evolved into a brigade-sized operation, all under the control of our 2/35 Infantry Battalion, since it was in our Area of Operations. We were under the Operational Control of one of the 23rd (Americal) Divisions' Brigades - 196th, I think, I don't remember for sure - and the Major was the Operations Officer for that Brigade's Direct Support Artillery Battalion. After listening to my end of our discussion, the 2/35 Battalion Commander, "Wild Bill" Livsey, took the phone and pronounced, "Major, you're a damned fool!"" In that case as well, my reasoning and my judgement were sound and appreciated by the supported infantry, if not by my artillery fathers. I could go on, but for the sake of, ahem, brevity, I'll leave it at that.

So, I had proven chops in both intelligence and judgement, right? Ahh, well . . . Whenever I headed north on the I-10 toward Las Cruces, I would stop at the state line, take my helmet off, and strap it to the back seat. My goodness, how I loved to feel the wind in my face and the varied smells and tastes of the bugs, as you passed different kinds of crops up through the Rio Grande Valley! (The grasshoppers, on the other hand, really stung, but, oh, well.) Then heading back home - back on with that pesky helmet at the Texas line. That sissy helmet law, you know.

PS: Within a year or two, Texas "saw the light", as they are wont to do, and repealed that sissy law. So now, I thank God, not only for being in Texas when this header occurred, but for it being before I left for Korea, rather than later on.

Friday, August 12, 2016

My Luck in Observing the Leonid Meteor Storm of 1966


The current show featuring the Perseid Meteor Shower set me to reminiscing about my singularly envious, serendipitous opportunity to experience the full glory of the famous  Leonid Meteor Storm of November 17, 1966.

I was in the Artillery and Missile Officer Candidate School and we were six days from graduating and becoming prime fodder for Vietnam. (An Artillery Lieutenant's first assignment in-theater was for a couple of months as a Forward Observer (F.O.) in support of a combat unit of another branch, with a reported life expectancy (L.E.) of approximately two weeks. If you survived the first couple of weeks, the L.E. went up sharply. In my case, I walked with B Company, 2/35 Infantry for six months, since a dwindling number of  replacements were sucked up by outfits with F. O.'s who had been less fortunate than I, in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive of 1968.)

We were in Happy Battery - the final week of School - where we had no responsibilities but to navigate the Escape and Evasion Course and to run roughshod over the Lower and Middle Classmen. So, 16 November found us on the E. & E. Course, maybe 15 miles out from the lights of Lawton and the Main Post. The sky was crystal clear, and the moon was a thin waxing crescent, so that it set early in the evening.

The exercise started about noon. The hundred or so men in the Battery were divided into three-man teams, with each team being supplied one compass and one map with the intermediate checkpoint marked. We all took a long hard look at the map, especially noting the location of the checkpoint. Then, with the announcement, "Your position is being overrun! Run! Escape!", or words to that effect, we were off. The boundaries of the course were defined as the top of a rocky ridge line on the north and the middle of the valley on the south. we were to flee east and instructed to stay on the ridge for better cover. The Aggressors were dispersed along the course and would be looking for us. If we were captured, we would be taken to an Aggressor Camp and "interrogated". (This basically meant that these enlisted men would have a sanctioned free shot at guys that would become officers within a week! We had all been fed horror stories about the interrogation methods, so that was not in anyone's grand plan.) Two or three hours into the exercise, my group was spotted, and we flushed like quails in different directions. I'm not sure what happened to the other two, but no one pursued me, and I got away. Unfortunately, I did not have the map or compass, so, I was working on memory. An hour or so later, I came face to face with another Aggressor as I peeked up over a boulder. "Halt! You are my prisoner!" "Catch me, if you think you can, "some choice name"!" And I was off, bounding down the hill like I had nothing to lose! He did chase me, but, since he was in fighting web-gear and toting an M-14, I was able to put enough distance between us that I could cross a rise and disappear into a stand of bushes. He made a good effort to locate me, coming within about ten meters at one point, but finally gave up and went back to his post. I continued after a suitable wait, and was able to close on the checkpoint at about dusk. There I was fed, as I recall, and shown a map with the Objective marked. It was several kilometers further and up on the top of the ridgeline.

The best word to describe the next five hours or so is "gruelling"! A little moonlight early in the evening, but after that pitch black except for the stars and the occasional sweep of the Aggressors' spotlights, which, fortunately, were behind me. Those and the North Star were my navigation beacons. I stumbled and stumbled and stumbled through the loose rocky field that was the side of that ridgeline. At last, I stumbled into the Objective at about 10:00 pm, barely able to stand up on my tortured feet and ankles.

Three classmates had beat me in, but they had walked straight down the valley, staying ahead of the Aggressor deployments and spotlights. (I think mine is a much better story!) About an hour later, one other guy stumbled into the Objective. (As it turned out, we were the only five to close that night, and we had people coming in all of the next two days. My "Sick Puke" of a bunkmate, who got by on his father being a bird colonel, even after he was declared a safety hazard and banned from any contact with artillery, was located by a search party on the fourth day.)

After eating, we all fell into our racks, at least two of us totally exhausted. Then about 1:30 or 2:00 am, our Tach Officers rousted us all out of bed - "Get up! Get up!" "Wha'? are the Aggressors overrunning the Objective?" "No, no, no! You just can't miss this!" Outside the tent we were bedazzled by the most spectacular Meteor Storm of the 20th Century! Holy Cow! And we had the perfect observation venue - the top of a ridgeline relatively far from the small city's light pollution, with our eyes already adjusted to the dark, with a crystal clear sky, and the moon long since set! We were all simply stunned!

I have told an abbreviated version of this story to a few folks that I knew had some interest in the subject, and have, inevitably, drawn envious oohs and aahs. I thought it was high time I get the full tale down, for my family's sake.


Friday, June 24, 2016

Trump's Attack on the Separation of Income and Wealth in America - A Predictive Dream

I continue to be curious about what Da Donald's big surprise position that he will reveal after the GOP Convention, and it may have come to me in another one of my "predictive" dreams.
We see that his approach so far has been a populist appeal to the masses that have been denied participation in the fruits of our booming economy. (Yes, I did say booming - ask any rich guy.) We know how he has been using immigrants and "bad trade deals" as his "Jews". (This is, of course, a reference to Hitler's scape-goating of Jews as the cause of all of Germany's problems after World War I.) But, as I have said before, he has to make a broader appeal than to just the white-bedsheet crowd, in order to have any chance in the general election.
Give Da Donald his due - he is not dumb - he knows this. He is also not a hide-bound dogmatist. His "evolving" positions seem to make a mockery of the negative connotations associated with terms like "flip-flop" in the last few years.
It occurs to me that he might well steal a page out of Bernie Sanders' playbook.
Bernie is dead nuts right on about the separation of income and wealth being the biggest problem facing our nation today. It is what keeps us from having an Edenic society. And it is what makes our disadvantaged susceptible to the lure of extremists and fanatics of one stripe or another - left wing/right wing, Christian/Islamic, etc.
And don't try to float that one about people being lazy, etc. When the bottom 80% of the people own only 7% of the nation's wealth, something in fundamentally wrong.
When one family owns more wealth than the nation's bottom 42% of families COMBINED, something is fundamentally wrong.
And yet, the GOP has brainwashed enough people into believing that it is every American's duty to go out and buy an assault-type rifle , , , Oops, wrong brainwashing subject. Make that: And yet, the GOP has brainwashed enough people into believing that to attack income inequality is tantamount to high treason.
This extreme separation of wealth has accelerated in this country over the past 35 years. (BTW, 1981 is not some random date that I picked as the start of this phenomenon. And with all due disrespect to the late Great Communicator, the flaw in trickle-down (or Voodoo) economics is the plug at the top of the down spout - rich folks didn't get rich by being altruistic.)
Trump has said in the past that he thought the super-rich like him should pay more in taxes. That position has, of course, been stated more strongly and with much more conviction by Warren Buffett. And, to be sure, Trump hasn't said much like that lately. But once the convention is over, don't be surprised to see him roll out significant proposals about tax rates on capital gains, royalties, and other sources of extremely high incomes. Look for him to propose a significant increase in the top tier income tax rate. And look for him to put some teeth into eliminating off-shore tax shelters.
Yep, I think this is how Da Donald is going to attack the general Election - and it could work!
A Son-of-the-South got the Civil Rights Legislation done in 1964, so maybe a billionaire could get real economic reform done in 2017.
And then I woke up.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

TRUMP CAMPAIGN REVEALED AS A DNC STING! FIORINA TO THE RESCUE?

It has been revealed that the whole Donald Trump campaign for the GOP Presidential Nomination is actually a sting by the Democratic National Committee to discredit the Republican Party. The plan is for Trump to reveal the sting when he is supposed to make his acceptance speech at the GOP Convention, and then for him to soundly berate the Party for being such a bunch of greedy, unprincipled pawns of The One Percent. Trump will then stalk out of the hall in much ballyhooed disgust, and the GOP will be, effectively, destroyed.

The germ of the whole idea was initially tossed out by Warren Buffett as a sort of cynical joke in a conversation he had with Trump about a year ago. They were wondering just how far right candidates in the GOP could be pushed, if a ridiculously extreme right winger were to pose a viable threat to take the nomination.

After musing on that joke for a couple of weeks, Mr. Trump approached Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida with a fleshed-out idea for a sting to reveal that limit (or lack thereof) to the American public. Trump added that he thought he might be the only man in America that could pull off such an audacious "dirty trick", given his name recognition and flair for showmanship. At this point, the snowball began to roll, and the result is the farce of a campaign that Trump is running.

Up until this week, the plan was working beyond anyone's wildest dreams, with Trump's blatantly racist and sexist stances being received with a scary fervor by enough knuckle-draggers to cause even the most dedicated DNC members to have second thoughts about revealing and (Horrors!) perhaps even abetting such a sorry underbelly of American society. Most of the candidates have been making such a mad dash to the right of the Good Ship GOP that it is has been taking on water from the starboard to the extent that it is in dire peril of capsizing. I'm sure our enemies are gleefully taking careful notes. Even Trump himself is beginning to be dismayed by the reception his sham of a campaign is receiving.

But then along comes Carly Fiorina, who is not buying any of Trump's malarkey. With her evisceration of his vile little persona in Thursday night's debate, she showed that there is, at least, a modicum of decency left in the party. And, with her command of the substance of the issues, she appears to present a refreshing contrast to the rest of the candidates. She's a little right for my preference, but, depending on who the Dems put up, she seems to be someone I could vote for.

So, what will Trump and the DNC do? Will they reveal the farce now, or will they play it to the originally planned end? 

Unfortunately, I woke up before that dilemma was resolved. Oh, of course. I guess I failed to mention that the source of this revelation was a dream. You who know me as an elite troubleshooter and enigmatist already know that my solution to a knotty problem often comes in the form of a dream, after my subconscious has untangled the knot. And so it was in this case. It was a dream. But - - - my dreams never lie!







Thursday, September 17, 2015

Race Relations in my Youth

In a dialogue generated by the meme about Donald Trump's Grandfather being arrested in connection with a KKK rally, my daughter asked if my Dad had been a Klansman. My Dad was not, but my Grand-Daddy Jenkins was. He told me that at the time, it was more of a vigilante movement in the still somewhat lawless West Texas, mainly concerned with keeping young ruffians in check. By the time I was around, he strongly disavowed what it later had become.

But in my youth, we were all, somewhat, products of our age, largely unevolved socially, as far as racial relations were concerned, but mostly without malice.

Hamlin, the town where I was born and lived until I was nine, had a sizable black ghetto in the northeast quadrant of town. It had the reputation of being a sanctuary for the criminal element from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. It was largely autonomous and under the influence of an enterprising lady known as "Stabbin' Annie", who ran a saloon of sorts. My family was a bit disturbed one day when I told them I had delivered flyers all over that neighborhood as a Cub Scout, and I got the full safety lecture. Actually, I had found the residences to be pretty well maintained and not too dis-similar to our part of town. And I had been received quite warmly by the folks there. Except for that, pretty much our only contact with the black community was with Aleck, the shoeshine man in Mr. Moore's Barber Shop. My dad and he loved to talk baseball, as well as other sports. Bear in mind that Branch Rickey brought in Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947, when I was four years old.

A couple of incidents that I recall being told of sort of told the tale of the Hamlin of that day's black experience. One obliquely involved my Dad. He was waiting at the hospital to pick up my sister Gwen from work one night (At the age of 17, she was an LVN and Dr. Perrin's office nurse.), when Dr. Elmer Hawkins came out and asked him if he had "anything to pull an ice pick out of a N----- with". (The patient had made the mistake of going after Annie.} So, my Dad loaned him his vise-grips. (Annie was exonerated, based on a self defense plea.) The second was a tale involving Mr. Foster, who was, as City Marshall, the absolute stereotype of a potbellied worthless southern lawman. The story went that a young black lady came up to Mr. Foster at his "post" (hanging out at the southwest corner of S. Central and S. 2nd) and told him that she had been raped. He looked at her and replied, "I didn't know a N----- woman could be raped."

We moved to Olney in the fall of 1952, shortly before I turned ten. There were only six black families in town, all living in a small cluster on the northeast side. That spring my dad and several others, under the guidance of the folks from Mineral Wells, organized a baseball Little League, and we built our park just east of the black families' homes.. Since they didn't have enough boys for their own league, obviously, we integrated them into our league.

In the spring of 1954, I saw my first in-person MLB game, an exhibition game between the Giants and Indians, who played in Spudder Park in Wichita Falls as part of their trip back East after Spring Training in Arizona. The big attraction was Willie Mays, who was just returning from his stint in the Army. We were not disappointed. Not only was that game a preview of that year's World Series, but Willy made a catch in deep center field that was pretty much a preview of his iconic catch of the Vic Wertz fly ball to center in the deepest part of the Polo Grounds in the first game of that World Series.

Sports were in the vanguard of integration when I was young. We idolized star players without regard to race. Boxing, beginning with Jack Johnson, the Galveston Giant, winning the Wold Championship in 1908 and track and field, featuring Jesse Owens dominating the 1936 Hitler Olympics - both individual sports - led the way. Baseball was the first team sport to integrate for good at the major professional level, and it was followed quickly by basketball and football (The NFL had a smattering of black players in its formative years, and the Cleveland Rams were forced by the City of Los Angeles to integrate when they moved there in 1946, as part of their stadium lease. But those two black players were not allowed to actually compete, only making token appearances.).

Entertainment was another area that was integrating early on. While many of the roles when I was young were of the "Stepin Fetchit" variety, more serious entertainers were beginning to emerge. Part of that impetus was provided by Ed Sullivan, whose Sunday evening variety show was liberally sprinkled with black artists. The TV series Amos 'n' Andy was another vehicle for looking at black life. While it only ran from 1951 to 1953, it was in syndication for the next 18 years. Admittedly, it relied heavily on stereotypes, but it did serve to give white folks a point of empathy with blacks. Musicians like Harry Belafonte, Nat "King" Cole, and Louis Armstrong were well received by all audiences.

In the summer of 1956, we moved to Gainseville, but we moved on over to Whitesboro in the spring of 1957. Honestly, I don't remember anything about any black people in Gainseville, partly because we were at the lake most anytime we had a free minute. 

Whitesboro was just that - white. One of the service station operators told my Dad, "There ain't a damned C--- in town. They're not allowed to let the sun set on them in this town." This was not a terribly uncommon phenomenon in that area in those days. The Texas Almanac of the day prominently featured a photograph of the sign across Greenville's main drag referencing the region's dirt and demographics, "The Blackest Land and the Whitest People".

In high school in Whitesboro, the Principal, Charles M. Estes (whose summoning notes ended cryptically with the dreaded C ME) made one statement to prepare us for our entry into the real world, "Integration is coming, so you might as well get used to it." To the best of my memory, that was the only thing that was ever said about that subject. (Mr. Estes, who also taught physics and trigonometry (although we couldn't get enough people to sign up for a trig class when I was there) was one of the best educators I have ever been around. Mrs. Ruth Wylie, my English and Speech teacher, was another. Her classes also contained a healthy dose of philosophy, ethics, counselling, and discussions on a wide range of topics.)

Two events at WHS stand out in my memory, as far as race relations are concerned. In my sophomore year, all of the basketball players took a field trip down to North Texas State University to see the Mean Green play Oscar Robertson and the University of Cincinnati in a Missouri Valley Conference game. (Grinnin' Jim Mudd had a great game and got the Green into overtime, but then the Big O totally took over the game.) Then sometime in my Junior or Senior year, the Midwestern University Choir from Wichita Falls gave a concert in our gymnasium. They featured a black bass that was very, very good. What is striking in my memory is that I do not recall the race of either Oscar Robertson or the MU bass even being mentioned.

I should also point out the influence of North Texas State University (now the University of Texas at North Texas) in our area. NTSU was where many of our graduates went to college. That school integrated in stages between 1955 and 1956, peacefully and without major incident. So the community already had kids going to an integrated college by the time I moved there. http://www.unt.edu/northtexan/archives/s04/history.htm

So, even in this all-white community, race was a non-issue, and we were totally amazed and not a little embarrassed at the strife going on in the Deep South. Having said that, our vocabulary still included the "N" word, although to us, it was not a pejorative, it was just a word, like Japanese, Chinese, German, Jew, Mexican, or Arab. (We did have rarely used pejoratives - the "C", "Z", "Ch", "K", "K", "S", and "RH" words, respectively.)

Probably our worst fault was being patronizing and condescending. It was like respect was something we could bestow as we saw fit, not something that everyone was inherently due. Illustrative of that was the group of us from the Baptist Student Union at East Texas State College/University that periodically visited the First Baptist Church of Commerce's Mission in that city's black ghetto. We also visited the nursing homes, and jails in the area.





Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Volume Ducking - A Way Of Thinking

My wife and I were recently trying to participate in a conference with my daughter and some other folks at her house through Skype. My four-year-old granddaughter was getting bored, and so my daughter turned on the TV for her. From that point, they could not hear us talk, which was frustrating and a bit of a mystery, and we struggled with that through the rest of the conference.

Afterwards, I researched the problem and learned that this was due to Skype being a "half-duplex" audio mode, which basically means that it will transmit sound only in one direction at a time. The direction of transmission is governed by the relative volumes at the two ends - whoever is making the most noise gets transmitted, while the other party is not heard. This mode is called "volume ducking" - the lower volume gets "ducked", or shut off.

The reason for doing this is to prevent feedback from occurring, due to the sound of Party A's transmission feeding back through Party B's speakers. Until Microsoft took over Skype, there was an option to disable volume ducking, which was useful when both parties were using headphones, which themselves prevent the feedback. But Microsoft eliminated that option for Windows and Android platforms. Strangely, they kept it for Mac and iOS platforms, at least for now. It's like the're punishing their own customers.

You might note that the same mode is generally used for cellphones in Speaker Mode. So, if someone is on the road or in another noisy environment and using Speaker Mode, the other party needs to speak loudly, in order to overcome the background noise. Also, on Skype, you can get some improvement by having the party in the noisy environment turn off the automatic volume adjustment. That, at least prevents the ambient noise from being amplified.

It might also be helpful to remember your push-to-talk radio protocols, where only one person talked at a time and indicated that he was finished transmitting and was ready to listen by saying "Over".

I've also learned that people doing remote interviews on TV usually use Skype, but they have an arrangement where they use two channels - one dedicated to each Party's transmissions - so they can babble on simultaneously, although the lag in transmission time is also a hindrance to that, thankfully.

As an engineer, I took some ribbing from my colleagues for my penchant for looking for patterns and making analogies between seemingly dis-similar systems. I suppose it was sort of my way of giving homage to the search for the Unification Theory. But it was also a very useful tool for making extensions of logic. And, in truth, the ribbing was pretty limited, because I made a lot of  folks a lot of money that way. And I think I see some significant analogies between this volume ducking problem and the way people's communication has evolved, in general.

Perhaps my memory of the "Good Old Days" is a bit idealized, but I seem to remember being taught that common courtesy demanded that you listened to other persons speak, then you spoke while they listened, and so forth; so, push-to-talk radio wasn't that much different from the way we normally conversed. Even the early Presidential Debates were conducted in this manner. Also, journalists in that era held to a code of unbiased integrity and tried to give us an unslanted window into the world.

Then the MTV era of fast cuts and reduced attention span gradually took hold and we started relying more on 10-second sound bites as our preferred source of information. Then Rupert Murdoch set up Fox News as an overt right-wing political tool, eliminating unbiased integrity entirely. Then gradually, other mainstream media news turned more and more to semi-literate beautiful talking heads, taking their cues from their producers' desperate struggles for ratings. Well, nothing sells like controversy, so now we see these shows set up specifically designed to give us screaming matches, with moderators skillfully adept at bringing out the worst in their guests. And the guests are the shrillest voices they can find, because they know our brains have become half-duplex processors - we only hear the loudest voice!

Volume ducking. Our modern world's way of thinking.