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Are We Fiddling Around Like Nero?

25 Sep

by Roger White

“The decline . . . was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and, as soon as time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight. . . .”

—Historian Edward Gibbon on the decay and fall of Rome

“Why Bieber’s mom won’t have sex”

—CNN web site headline dated September 19, 2012

At first blush it may appear that these two quotes have about as much to do with each other as atomic theory and bacon grease, but to the keen observer inhabiting the proper frame of mind and sipping the necessary amount of espresso, the connection is readily apparent. The former is an explanation of one of an interconnected tangle of reasons for the decline of a great civilization. The latter is a symptom of same.

Ancient Rome didn’t have the internet, but you can be sure that at the height of the empire’s power, with little to challenge Romans but their own idleness, the scuttlebutt among the average corpulent, indolent citizens lounging about their atriums had much to do with which senator’s wife had been seen with a certain centurion after hours near the Pantheon. Or perhaps who would be featured next weekend at the Colosseum in “Gladiating with the Stars.”

Throughout America’s rise to power, particularly after World War II and again with the fall of the Soviet Union, many casual historians likened the U.S. to ancient Rome, both as a comparative study and a cautionary tale. From many of these same armchair history buffs came the postulate-cum-warning that Rome fell from within. Both statements are greatly oversimplified—America is certainly not the Roman Empire; and the decline of Rome occurred for many complex reasons—however, the tantalizing prospect of a circumstantial connection between the two is too intriguing to ignore.

By the time the Huns and Vandals were threatening the very walls of Rome herself in the 5th century A.D., the empire had been degraded through years and years of decay, corruption, internal strife, and general malaise. The culture that had built the world’s mightiest civilization had stagnated. In other words, Rome had grown lazy and fat. Its armies were so far-flung across the known globe that the once invincible legions could not defend even the capital city.

I’m not holding forth that the descendants of Attila will come rampaging up Pennsylvania Avenue anytime soon, but you must admit that events and trends from within and without our great country give any thinking person pause. We, as a nation, are fat and lazy. Most Americans don’t do much physical labor on a daily basis anymore. We are at our most overweight and short of breath than we’ve ever been. We don’t save anymore; the average American family carries about $5,000 in credit card debt—at a time when job security is at its worst in decades. We used to buy only when we had the money. Our national economy, anchored by financial institutions with questionable lending practices and regulated by insiders with personal interests at stake, teeters like a house of cards. Our arts—literature, music, film and television—are in a state of upheaval as publishers, producers, and purveyors of entertainment chart confused courses in their attempts to grasp new media, often leading to drastic actions such bookstore and music outlet closings, the demise of longtime news and publishing houses, and frustration and despair for many promising artists and writers. With more channels to choose from than ever before, TV now offers arguably the worst product in its history. Ironically, the great many cable choices chopped up major advertising dollars, which has prompted producers to grind out lower- and lower-budget shows in a pathetic race to the bottom. And perhaps most telling, news isn’t news anymore. It’s gossip. With an unlimited number of outlets, through practically boundless media technology, the goal is not to inform anymore—the bottom line is to attract the most viewers with the most lurid headlines; thus, to nab the precious advertising dollars. Hence, you have an intrepid reporter telling you why Bieber’s mom won’t have sex.

Last but least, our self-seeking politicians have abandoned any semblance of civil discourse to rabidly defend their respective party lines to the complete detriment of any action toward the advance of our society. They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, yet no one among them stands to say so. And nothing gets done.

There are those historians who argue that Rome never really fell. It simply degenerated into irrelevance. Sure sounds like a cautionary tale to me.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

An Insider’s Peek at Hollywood, Part II

26 Mar

by Roger White

I suppose I had my one real insider’s look at how Hollywood works some years ago, when I attended a screenwriters’ session on how to “pitch ideas” to producers during an Austin Film Festival annual gathering of would-be writers.

A panel of so-called idea people (a Hollywood oxymoron if I ever heard one) sat at a table and critiqued writers’ script ideas, based on approximately 30 seconds of monologue. If writers didn’t have what the idea people called a high-concept proposal, if writers paused for a breath, if writers tried to explain a complex plot turn, they were toast.

The guy who won the pitch contest did so with the following idea, I kid you not:

“So you’re walking along the street, a nice sunny day, and suddenly everything goes blank. Then you’re like HOLY F@#K!! WHERE AM I?!”

“Ooh,” said the idea people. “Nice.”

Cursing and yelling seemed to be high on their list. “High concept,” to these folks, who I must say all looked to be about 25 to 28 years old, meant explosions, gruesome terror, betrayal, deadly animals, killer robots, slasher horror, or Brad Pitt. This particular pitch session occurred as the movie “Snakes on a Plane” was in production. One of the idea people could hardly contain himself as he explained what a fantastic high-concept film this was going to be—a classic in the making.

“Imagine it,” he gushed. “Snakes set loose on a plane! Don’t you see? There’s no way off of a plane. And all these snakes are slithering all over the place!”

I sat and wondered how this expert panel would have rated the opening scene to the 1951 epic “A Place in the Sun,” in which Montgomery Clift is quietly thumbing for a ride along a lonely stretch of road. It was then and there I realized I would never be a Hollywood screenwriter. No, not sour grapes. I’m just not young and stupid enough.

Am I alone here? With very few notable exceptions, this is the state of film-making today. If it bites, blows up, bleeds, beheads people, or is Brad, it’s got a green light. If we run out of ideas, we do it all over again as a sequel.

Even my kids, teenage movie buffs both of them, understand by now the banal, bottom-line instincts of your basic Hollywood producer. Both my daughters are big “Twilight Saga” fans, but even they balked at the notion of “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Wind—Part II.”

Did I say “Wind”? I meant “Dawn,” of course. This latest gem, which opens in November, is a part two within a multi-part series of movies, mind you, all of which are looking more and more like the same vampire movie with simply fresh blood and longer fangs.

This got me thinking again. What if the great citizenry—that’s us—rose up and dictated to Hollywood: No More Sequels! I know, I know what you’re going to say, what about “Godfather II”? Simple, this is the exception that proves the rule. Just about every other sequel I can think of never should have seen the light of day. Here are just a few: “Basic Instinct 2,” “Caddyshack II,” “Grease 2,” “Jaws: The Revenge,” “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights,” “Dumb and Dumberer,” “Blues Brothers 2000.” The list is damn near eternal.

I shudder to think of the results if such movie-making titans as director Stuart Rosenberg (“Cool Hand Luke”) or Robert Mulligan (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) had been under similar pressure to squeeze out sequels. Oh, the horror.

Come to think of it, there’s no time limit on butchering classics. They have a new “Three Stooges” now, for crying out loud. So, as much as it strikes terror in my heart, you might look for these titles soon at a theater near you:

• “Cooler Hand Luke: Revenge of Them Damned Eggs”

• “To Sir With Even More Love”

• “Citizen Kane II: Rosebud Returns”

• “The Ten Commandments II: God’s Revisions”

• “Real Gone with the Wind”

• “Bonnie and Clyde Part 2: They Were Only Flesh Wounds”

• “The Post-Graduate: Revenge of the Robinsons”

• “Mockingbird II: Rise of Boo Radley”

• “Dueling Wizards of Oz: I’ll Witch-Slap You”

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Why Civility Matters

9 Mar

Editor’s Note: I rarely if ever post other authors’ material here. The many interesting voices in my head provide enough material to keep me sending missives to you, my demented following, for many years to come.

However, I couldn’t resist on this one. This is a topic vitally important, in my humble opinion. It’s quite serious, and I couldn’t have said it better than one Sara Hacala, so I sought her permission and the permission of AARP Bulletin to reprint it here.

It’s about how we have lost all sense of civility in public discourse today. I wholeheartedly agree, and I hope you’ll help me spread the word. I don’t care if you’re Republican, Democrat, Independent, Marxist, Atheist, Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, Jewish, Pagan, Tree-Hugger Party, Ted Nugent Bow-and-Arrow Party–whatever. We need to stop shouting at each other. When, for example, did it become OK to scream out “You lie!” to the president during his address? And remember when the word “sucks” was not an acceptable catch-all for something that is less than par? My eighth-grade teacher sent us to the principal’s office whenever she heard that vulgar word. (This was 1972, mind you.) But you get the idea. Today’s social milieu sucks! oop… well, here’s Sara’s column:

by Sara Hacala

“Whatever happened to civility?” is an oft-heard lament, particularly among those of us over 50 who recognize civility’s increasing absence in a world changing at warp speed. Technology has forever altered the style, speed, and reach of our decidedly less personal communication. Escalating vulgarity, lax standards, sensational media, and polarized politics reign. Society today is far different than it was when we were young.

While rudeness is pervasive and rising (one recent report concluded that bad behavior may be the “new normal”), the societal and financial costs of incivility are astronomical–impacting our homes and relationships, schools, economy, health care, and government.

Civility is more than polite courtesies. Derived from the Old French and Latin term for “good citizen,” civility enables us to live respectfully in communities; it is the glue that binds our society. It can be the difference between life and death–as, for example, when health care professionals bully subordinates, cover mistakes, and create mistrust. It is an essential component of our human sustainability, enabling us not only to survive but thrive.

Reversing the current course of incivility is a challenge for our times. Until a rudeness vaccine is developed, we must dig into our civility tool kit. There are compelling reasons why we should. A life is not defined by a single act, and few of us will ever achieve national acclaim or perform deeds that change the course of history. However, there is a “greatness” in treating others with respect, compassion, kindness, and generosity. With this, we can make a difference in the lives of many.

Here are five tools:

1. Regardless of your age, make a habit of practicing kindness, generosity, and gratitude. Substantial research shows that people who regularly engage in those acts live longer, healthier, and happier lives. It’s never too late to start.

2. Nurture your social relationships, which, scientists say, have the capacity to generate our greatest happiness. Enrich your connections by balancing Internet contact with phone calls and face-to-face visits, which are more personal forms of communication.

3. Establish meaningful dialogue with medical providers, asserting your right to respectful and compassionate treatment. As a patient, you have the opportunity to evaluate hospital care; hospitals with extensive negative evaluations can lose Medicare subsidies.

4. Seize “teachable moments” with your children and grandchildren if you love them but not their behavior. Child development experts say we’re no longer teaching our kids manners–or respect and empathy for others. By contrast, a major study reported that social skills are a more accurate predictor of future success than test scores. So step up your game with your children and grandchildren. Enlighten your progeny about the importance of developing interpersonal skills and relationships by engaging them in conversations without small screens and buttons. That may be your enduring legacy.

5. Promote decency and decorum among elected officials. Hold them accountable for behavior during campaigns and, more importantly, once they’re in office. Urge civil discourse and bipartisanship to avoid gridlock. You and your country’s livelihood are at stake.

Given our sheer numbers as older people, we can have an impact on transformation. At the very least, we can set an example. It may take a generation to create a positive cultural shift, but we have to start somewhere. These are the seeds we can all plant. One at a time.

Reprinted with permission from the March 2012 AARP Bulletin. Copyright (c) 2012 AARP. All rights reserved. For more information, visit www.savingcivility.com.

 

I’ve Seen the Future, and It’s Full of Zebra/Ostriches and Couchmallows

5 Oct

by Roger White 

If you’re like me, you have these nebulous questions in your head about what you might call life’s little givens. And, if you’re even more like me, you ponder on whether these questions are substantial enough to bring up in public or simply leave unanswered for fear that said public will back away slowly from you and call for psychiatric assistance on your behalf.

Here’s an example of one of life’s little givens that I’ve been contemplating for many years—well, mainly since I was a little kid and personally watched Bobby Hayes run down a football field faster than anything I’d ever seen before. Is it a given that humans will continue to become faster, stronger, and more athletically refined indefinitely on into the endless future, or at least until our sun goes supernova and we all die a horrible, fiery death and cockroaches rule the planet? And even then, will cockroaches evolve into ever swifter, hairier, and more repugnant strains of roaches than their forefathers?

I mean, when I was a tyke, Hayes was earth’s fastest human, and at the time I thought there was no way anyone anywhere, with the possible exception of the dolphin people of the Andromeda Galaxy, would ever cover 100 meters faster than Bullet Bob. His world-record time of 10.06 at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 was topped only by his come-from-behind anchor leg in the 4 x 100 relay in those games, during which he ran so fast that several timers’ watches liquefied and Hayes’ track shoes actually disintegrated into smoke and dust. Surely, I reasoned, Bob Hayes epitomized the zenith of man’s quest for footspeed. Of course, I was wrong. Not only has that record been lowered time and again over the years, today (at least as of this writing) Usain Bolt of Jamaica currently holds the world record in the 100 meters at a genuinely insane time of 9.58 seconds. A two-ton station wagon dropped from the Empire State Building can’t fall that fast.

I guess my burning question is when do we reach a point of critical mass, or do we ever reach such a point? Will there be a moment in history when scientist types say, “Okay, 5.3 seconds is the fastest any human will ever run the 100 meters, ever. So stop trying, people. It’s over.” Or—and this is the scary part—will we humanoids keep stubbornly developing until some mutant guy built like a two-legged zebra/ostrich runs the 100 meters in 0.25 seconds in the year 2107?

Same goes for other sports. Do you remember the classic old tennis matches from the days of yore? Say, for example, those terrific Borg versus McEnroe battles. I recall being glued to the set during those epic bouts: Borg the automatic baseliner against McEnroe the tempestuous serve-and-volley master. Such exquisite tennis. Such creative expletives. Such objectionable hair.

Have you tuned into those old matches lately? Yesterday’s heroes, the very best in the world for their time, now look like juniors playing on a court of molasses. The ball moves so s-s-l-o-o-o-w-w-w-l-l-y. After years of exposure to today’s ever-cyborg-like game of one-shot points and 150-miles-per-hour serves, it’s difficult to watch the tennis of even a decade or two ago and not think, heck, I could beat those guys. (Well, not me personally, but  . . . ) Today’s top players are fashioned like Kareem Abdul Jabbar with Schwarzenegger arms, and they play with rackets designed by Lockheed Martin. In a few years, we may not have to actually play any matches at all. Each player in a tournament will simply e-mail his or her top service speed into a central computer, and winners will be determined scientifically. Headlines will read something like “McEnborger to Win Wimbledon Next Week.”

Ditto for football. Dipping into my childhood personal reference bag once again, when I was 12 I met Dallas Cowboys legend Bob Lilly at a savings and loan grand opening in my tiny hometown. It was 1972; the Pokes had just won Super Bowl VI a few months earlier. Here was big Bob, the All-Pro defensive tackle, six foot five and 260 pounds of gridiron god. To me, he was a human mountain. Today, you have high school and even junior high players weighing in at more than 350 pounds. Some pro teams charter a team plane just for the linemen and another plane for everybody else. Lilly might qualify as a running back these days, or maybe even a trainer. No offense, Mr. Lilly, please don’t hurt me.

Same applies to basketball. The real reason the NBA went on strike this year was to give basketball arenas around the country time to refit the goals to 18 feet high. This just might make dunking a trifle harder, but they’re not sure. They are also contemplating redesigning the hoop to be one inch smaller than the physical dimensions of the ball, just for fun.

Now for you astute readers with long memories and grudge-type personalities, this column does not contradict what I opined some time back about us all morphing into atrophied mushbrains due to our chronic over-exposure to computers and acute lack of physical movement. This is a two-pronged evolution. Just as there will be no middle class by the year 2107, there will also be no “normal, average humans.” You will be either a mutantly gifted zebra/ostrich or a mushbrained couchmallow. There will be no middle ground. Kind of like today’s political scene.

Fortunately for me personally, my best predictions show me not quite making it to 2107, so I don’t have to choose. But you whippersnappers out there best be thinking: zebra/ostrich or couchmallow? Either way, you’re probably going to need a new wardrobe.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

Whatever Happened to Yesterday’s Tomorrow?

31 Aug

by Roger White 

It sideswiped me as I was watching the movie “Blade Runner” the other day: We, as human types, tend to either fantastically overestimate ourselves or woefully underestimate ourselves. We don’t have what you would call a crystalline view of just who we are. Or maybe we do, and we simply don’t like what we see. So we embellish a bit.

Let me splain, Lucy. If you recall the premise of Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi film noir, Harrison Ford was a Los Angeles cop in the year 2019, tasked with tracking down rebellious human replicants who had escaped the offworld colonies and were terrorizing people, spraying graffiti everywhere, and generally wreaking futuristic havoc. LA was a rainy, crowded, grimy mess, but we did have nifty gravity-defying Jetson cars, all sorts of cool robot toys, and apparently four-bedroom villas on the moon. And Darryl Hannah had great legs. For a replicant.

Kids, 2019 is only about seven years down the road (assuming the Mayans simply ran out of writing utensils and 2012 is not the ultimate calendar), and I really don’t see a gravity-defying Honda Civic hovering over my driveway anytime soon. Interesting, isn’t it, how badly we miss the mark when conjuring the future? We either envision that we’ve made such tremendous advances that we have a Wal-Mart on Neptune in a few decades or we’ve somehow erased ourselves from the cosmos entirely with (pick your poison) nuclear war, mutant avian flu, ozone layer neglect, overpopulation, underpopulation, zombie attack, alien invasion, bedbug pandemic, or End of Days Wrath incurred from The Big Guy. The one thing many religious texts and Hollywood have in common is the opinion that we’re not quite measuring up to The Head Honcho’s standards, if ya know what I mean. Personally, I think we’re being a little hard on ourselves, but that’s just me.

Let me give you some more examples. The Twilight Zone episode “The Long Morrow,” which aired in 1964, presented the dilemma of an astronaut in 1987 who was deliberating on whether he should be placed in suspended animation for his 40-year voyage to a star system 141 light years away. In reality, do you remember where we were technology-wise, as a civilization, in 1987? The only significant events I could dredge up from that year were the invention of the disposable contact lens, the launching of the Fox network on primetime television (oh, joy), and the world land speed record set by a diesel-powered locomotive at a mind-boggling 147 miles per hour. Oh, I almost forgot, “The Simpsons” debuted that year as a short film on “The Tracey Ullman Show.” And there was much rejoicing.

On the flip side of this—again using Mr. Serling’s master work for reference—the Zone episode entitled “The Old Man in the Cave,” which aired in 1963, gave us a post-apocalyptic view of an American wasteland, burned to dust after a nuclear holocaust that occurred in 1974. Everyone was going hungry; even the canned goods were irradiated. Then James Coburn came along and told them all it was okay to eat the food. No!!! Don’t do it!! Anyway, let’s compare to the reality. My research shows that there was a soccer stampede in Cairo in 1974 that killed 49 people, but I wouldn’t term that an apocalypse. A Hungarian guy invented the Rubik’s Cube that year, which is pretty horrible (you’ll concur if you’ve ever tried to solve one of these devils), but still, this doesn’t stack up to nuclear holocaust.

What I’m getting at, people, is that we’re all just regular guys, doing regular stuff, putting the cat out, brushing our teeth, going to bed, and doing it all over again the next day. And we will go on like this, our lives a gradual bell curve of existence, until the one that left us here returns for us at last. (Tip o’ the hat to The Youngbloods.)

Sorry, Rod. Our apologies, Mr. Wells. Condolences, Ridley. We’re not sinking foundations into the soil of Venus for residential development and neighborhood Starbucks franchises in the near future; but then again, we haven’t allowed our nasty little cockroach cousins to take over Wall Street by extinguishing ourselves, either. Maybe I should rephrase that. Anyway, we’re just muddling along, still waiting for the green left-turn arrow, still raising chickens for food, still tunneling into our planet for energy and treasure. Guess it is a tad boring, going by yesterday’s prognosticators.

Perhaps 50 years from now, when future types look back on us from the helms of their intergalactic starships, they’ll laugh at how silly we were. Then again, laughter may have been abolished by then. Who knows? (Insert Twilight Zone theme music here.)

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

All Aboard the E-Train!

31 May

by Roger White

 

I give. Uncle. Consider the amalgam of these words on this here page a verbal white flag. The great, crashing wave of technology, ultra-instant everything, modern living, and seven days a week of genius minds such as Glenn Beck has washed over me like a great, uh, a great crashing wave washing over me. That’s called a 360 metaphor—or redundaphor. I invented it, so if you use the redundaphor, you must write me for my permission. And put $1.55 in quarters in the envelope.

Anyway, I have ceased, as of this writing, digging my heels in against the onslaught. Everything and everything’s brother is electronic now, so survival actually depends on accepting the e-world, doesn’t it? Besides, my heels hurt.

Think about it. Just about every corner of life has an “e-” in front of it now. See here:

  • We have e-exercise. I actually sprained something playing Wii tennis the other day—and our den is now in need of a new sliding glass door. I swear I heard the little Wii guy snickering. It’s difficult and demeaning, in my opinion, to lose to a smiling computer opponent whose cartoon body is eerily reminiscent of the Weeble toys from the early ’70s. If you’re too young to remember Weebles (“they wobble, but they don’t fall down!”), then you’re too young to read this column anyhow. So go on. Git.
  • We have e-gambling. And just because your friendly e-gambling provider is based off shore south of Cuba somewhere, do not for one minute think they don’t have access to your home address, your work address, or guys named Rocco. This information comes from a friend of mine. Yeah.
  • There’s e-tax paying. All I’ll say here is that this organization has the same contacts as the establishment mentioned immediately above.
  • There’s e-school, e-friending, e-flirting, e-sex, e-marriage, e-affairs, e-divorce (note the rather chronological order here); heck, there’s even e-bankruptcy.
  • We also have e-cigarettes. Have you seen these? The e-cigarette looks just like your standard 20th-century Marlboro, but it’s basically a robot cigarette. Tiny electronic diodes and things give you a lungful of water vapor when you take a drag, but you still feel cool and hip because as far as anyone else knows, you’re still smoking and genuinely playing chicken with cancer like the good old days. The e-cigarette people have taken it a bit too far, though. You can fill your e-ciggy with any flavor imaginable, from strawberry and mocha coffee to grilled rhubarb and spring-scented Pine Sol. I guess you could use these unique aromas (odors?) to your advantage, however. Say you’re a female at a party being hit upon by that obnoxious paunchy guy who never takes the hint. Pop in the flavor cartridge labeled “Unwashed Southern European Cab Driver” and you’ll have the entire back deck of the party to yourself.

 

There are many more e-examples. And I’m saying to you here and now, I embrace them all. Bring ’em on. In fact, I’m writing this very column on what they call a “computer.” Yes, it was scary, but I put the pencil and paper away, I kissed my beloved Pink Pearl giant block eraser farewell, and began composing these words on a “keyboard.” Seriously!

And now that I’ve welcomed the new e-age, I say let’s explore the boundaries. Where can we go from here? What have our best and e-brightest minds not conjured yet? What about e-beer? Pretty much all of our other vices are available at the drop of a Caps Lock now, so why not brewski? There is an i-phone app that looks like a cold one being poured out; they just need to take it a step further. I envision that you touch your lips to your i-device while it’s in e-beer mode, and a wonderful pilsner flavor fills your mouth—accomplished via thousands of itty-bitty bionic creepy crawlers about the size of Glenn Beck’s brain. Oops, sorry. I promised myself I wouldn’t mention that guy more than once a column. No calories, just e-beer flavor.

You could have an e-burping option if you want the whole, true-to-life pilsner package.

How about e-travel? I guess we have that now with I-max theaters and multi-media travelogues. As with e-beer, however, this could be rendered more realistic with items such as a 3-D e-airport security app, complete with groping fingers, e-lost luggage, and, of course, e-stuck in a Turkish prison because the customs guys didn’t believe it was e-marijuana.

Let’s see. E-war? Remember that old Star Trek episode, where the two rival planets did away with all the messy fighting and bombs and things and simply pre-selected casualties (via computer, of course)? If your number was drawn—sorry, pal, you just became soylent green. I don’t know, that one might need more baking.

I guess this segues into e-death. I know, it’s a rather morbid way to end this installment. But there is a bit of logic here, in a what-goes-around-comes-around kind of fashion. For all our advances into e-this and i-that, we invented e-death a long time ago. Remember Old Sparky? Today, we’d call it the e-chair. Well, I guess for it to be truly electronic versus simply electric, the switch would need to be in Austin and the chair du char somewhere remote, like South Austin. Ew, that is a downer, indeed. You can see how I had to throw it in, though, right?

Suffice to say, I’m on board the e-train with all appendages. Life at the speed of electrons! By the way, if you want extra copies of this column for friends, neighbors, and enemies, send me a self-addressed stamped envelope and I’ll send you a genuine handwritten copy. Allow four to six weeks for delivery.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Oak Hill with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

I Want My Underwood Back

12 Jan

by Roger White

It has now happened with the computer, and I sit agog. I would stand agog, but I am old, ya know. Can one recline agog? Anyway, the once humble computer, originated as a simple means to an end, has mutated into an end unto itself. It has sprouted its own support system and rooted itself into our world as another new necessity of life as we know it.

Think about it. The first computers, understood and operated only by NASA brain surgeons (yes, they had to be rocket scientists and brain surgeons to be able to run these behemoths), were approximately the size of the Rose Bowl and could do things like add, subtract, and blink. That was about it. Nowadays, well, I can’t say because I’m being watched… (sky.net….)

And this is not without precedence. Take the automobile. It was created as a means to an end. Horses were slow, they got old and cranky, and you couldn’t make out in the back seat of a horse. So, man built the car. Faster transport, no flies in the street, dependable shelter for an attempt at second base.

The car’s purpose was merely more efficient, modern travel. Well . . . and sex.

Today much of the nation’s GNP is tied directly or indirectly to that one invention (the automobile, not sex; sex is high on the GNP list, too, but that’s a different column). I defy you to stroll two blocks in any city periphery without coming across an auto parts store, a car dealership, a gas station, a quickie-lube shop, or a car insurance billboard.

Got six DWIs? No problem. Call Happy Hank’s House of High-Risk!

We’ve nosed our way into wars over the stuff that keeps our cars going. Remember when Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock” was actually a ballad commemorating youth? I counted the commercials, by the way, while watching a TV movie last week. If I were driven (sorry) to purchase one vehicle per auto ad in that two-hour segment, I would now be the proud owner of a fleet of 21 Texas-tough cars and trucks. It’s Truck Month again! Woo hoo! (Wasn’t it Truck Month last month?)

But I digress. You get the point.

Lo, it is now thus with the computer. That benign wonder born around the mid-20th century, while we were all placidly watching “Leave it to Beaver,” that curious gadget that eventually allowed us to stop sniffing white-out, has evolved into a daily necessity. Who goes one day without logging in?

When I wrote for my college newspaper (early Mesozoic, I believe it was), the computer was a word processor—not much more than typing without paper. Brand new on the scene. How quaint, and, yes, somewhat helpful. You could take it or leave it. The deep and wide box of a machine I used emitted a ghostly green glow that melted flesh after an hour or so.

Some folks, even as late as the ’80s, saw the computer as the domain of those who wear pocket protectors. “Hey, honey, Filbert down the street bought one of those home computers. What a nerd.”

Nowadays, these sleek machines are crammed so full of megabytes and RAMs and WiFi pixellators and modems and gizmatrons that practically every human function can be accomplished with a keystroke. “To floss, press Shift-Option-FL.”

And they’re getting smaller by the day. You can practically wear one now. Soon, they’ll be implanted under the skin. Computers are no longer merely aids to more efficient work; they’re an appendage. In fact, take a closer look at that growth under your left arm. That may not be a mole—could be a modem port.

And, oh, the children. Eaten alive, you know. The ratio of footballs to kids these days is something like 0.3 to 1. Some group did a study on that. I believe it was the American Football Artisans & Retailers of Texas (AFART). AFART is busy trying to figure out how to build a third of a football. It’s frightening. Our young’uns aren’t playing in the street, dodging cars and visiting emergency rooms like we did. Nay, they’re turning into fish-belly-colored, atrophied cyberscouts with heads like those guys who captured the original captain in the old “Star Trek” series. You remember? Those know-it-all silent aliens with the giant veins in their heads and with brains the size of medicine balls. The captain (Christopher Pike, mind you, not James T. Kirk) could hear what they were thinking because they were telepathic, and those damn aliens always had that superior, sour-cream-cheese look on their faces, like they were tolerating this puny human’s very existence. Oh, how I hated those guys. Only when Captain Pike (played by Jeffrey Hunter, mind you, not William Shatner) was angry could he stop these melon-headed misanthropes from probing his mind.

That was a killer episode, no? Except Spock didn’t quite look right with that goofy haircut and terrycloth uniform.

Um, anyway. It’s an irreversible reality. You gotta have a computer now, or you’re simply not with it. “Hey, honey, did you hear? Marvin up the street doesn’t have a computer! What a nerd.”

I will concede that the possibilities are staggering. You can now connect with anyone in the world. You can tweet, you can google, you can bing, you can skype, you can surf, blog, browse, download, uplink, network, tag, text, byte, poke, ping, plug in, and do any and all manner of painful-sounding things to anybody this side of New Guinea. You can forge e-relationships that span the globe. You can transmit naughty photos to Ottawa. Likewise, ogres pretending to be Faceplant buddies can transmit naughty photos to you—or your kids.

Holy sh–

OK, concession withdrawn. I say pashaw. I want my old Underwood back. I guess this computer thing is even more like the automobile than I thought. Its purpose? More efficient, modern cybertravel. Well . . . and sex.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat daschund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.