Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Friday, February 03, 2012

Pompton Paul's Prediction

Yesterday, Pompton Paul saw his shadow. Our neighborhood groundhog doesn’t predict the length of winter or the coming of spring, though. His job is to predict the length and severity of election season.

We showed him pictures of all the candidates, including Obama, whose portrait our goodly groundhog promptly skittered away from. Looking over all the GOP candidates photographs, he couldn’t pick one that suited him or that he thought was eminently electable.

Nosing Ron Paul’s photo, Pompton Paul immediately began spinning around in circles, never a good sign with any animal. He selected a weed from the riverbank, masticated it for awhile, then spat it on Ron Paul’s picture and turned his back on it with a woolly harumph.

Next, he went to Newt Gingrich’s photo. After snuffing at Newt, he wrinkled his nose and began digging a hole. Then with one dainty claw, he pulled the picture into the hole and buried it.

He sat gazing thoughtfully at Mitt Romney’s photo for awhile. He cocked his head from side to side and rubbed it with the side of his muzzle, a sign of ownership by animals. He was about to continue on to the last photo when suddenly, Pompton Paul returned to Romney’s photo. He gently picked it up, so as not to tear it, and placed it by Obama’s picture, which was over by the garbage dump.

Finally, he came back to Rick Santorum’s photo. This he played with for awhile, pushing it with his nose and turning it over and over, sniffing the ground on which it laid, and then re-examining it. Then he sat for awhile in front of, sitting up on his hind legs. We shrugged. What to do? Pompton Paul got off his haunches, and went over to the river bank. He scrambled among the underbrush and rooted out a mouthful of acorns, which he placed in front of Santorum’s photo.

We told Pompton Paul that we were sure Santorum appreciated the donation, but it probably wouldn’t be enough. Pompton Paul sighed and returned to his den in the thicket on the other side of the parking lot.

It was going to be a short winter, maybe, but a very long spring and summer.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Erasing the Writing on the Wall

If you think buying a new book is prohibitively expensive, just try to buy a book that’s out of print.  A friend recently bought an obscure book on music, last published in 1977.  He found one online from a used bookseller and had to pay the princely sum of $80 in order to acquire it. 

The New York Public Library recently announced that it is moving 3 million books out of its main branch on Fifth Avenue – across the street from where the NYPL used to be located but is now an art museum – to a warehouse in Princeton, N.J.   We warned you of this months ago.

According to Ivan Kenneally in a column in the New York Post, “NYPL President Anthony explained that the purpose of the Central Library Plan is to ‘replace books with people.’”    It’s the latest trend in libraries – getting rid of the books and making more space for people – and computers.

“The NYPL will spend at least $250 million on this project — at a time when it has slashed its workforce by 27 percent since 2008 and its acquisition budget by nearly as much. The resources lavished on the renovation of the Schwarzman building come at the expense of the 91 other branches, many starving for funds. But these are minor issues compared to the rewriting of the NYPL’s core mission.

“The twin pillars of the project, we’re told, are 1) modernization, meaning the digitization of books, and 2) democratization, understood as the increasing accessibility of the library as a physical space. Both require a seismic reconsideration of the central function of the library within society.”

Kenneally rightly deplores our busy, working class society’s disdain for reading, particularly literature.  He worries that libraries will become a thing of the past.  The NYPL’s plan for its Main Branch is to get rid of all the books and turn the building into a democratic “open space” where people can gather.   If people want open space, they can rent out Madison Square Garden or the Jakob Javits Convention Center.  There’s more than enough room over there on the West Side for Occupy Wall Street.

We mustn’t miss the real danger in creating an electronic open space for people who already don’t savor reading or knowledge (and it’s taken a couple of generations of some really awful modern literature and socialistic teaching to discourage them from the practice).  Carnegie Mellon University discarded The Tuba Family.  Judging by its excellent condition, not many students read it.  But many other books from the early and mid-Twentieth Century are out of print as well, such as Madame Chiang Kai Shek’s   (who died in 2003 at the age of 106!) China Shall Rise Again.  Wikipedia doesn’t even list Madame Chiang’s books.

Ostensibly, it would make sense to digitize The Tuba Family and China Shall Rise Again.   The esoteric readers of The Tuba Family would be satisfied that the 1978 book would exist in some form for the next generation of tuba officianados to access it without the excessive cost of printing it.  When its new owner produced the book at rehearsal, a group of brass players crowded around eagerly to see it and peruse it briefly.   However, entrusting all literary works to digitization presents some problems for the preservation of knowledge.  One difficulty is that the rapid pace of technology can quickly make whole libraries completely inaccessible.  Libraries would have to completely overhaul their computer systems, re-cataloging all the extant works and buying new hardware and software.  Not exactly the cost savings it seems.

Then there are the problems of censorship and piracy.  Online piracy is so prevalent that Congress is considering legislation such as SOPA to deal with the legitimate problem of piracy, yet fostering an entirely new problem by crossing into the territory of censorship.  With the click of a mouse, a hacker or a politicized government bureaucrat could make a book like China Shall Rise Again completely disappear.

Public libraries, and even book stores, aren’t of much use in a democratic society if the guardians of knowledge practice censorship, impatient customers believe reading is a waste of time, or legislators, jealous of the funds that go towards maintaining a library, threaten a library’s funding to punish an electorate for demanding financial accountability.  The Great Library at Alexandria was the victim of a different sort of war.  The knowledge and historical records were irreplaceable.

The Vikings burned the Library at Lindisfarne, on England’s East Coast, although the monks were able to save some of the most treasured books.  We are at war again, yet another cultural war in which one side wants to wipe out all the ideas of the other side (interestingly, it’s reported that the books Hitler burned were books about a communism and socialism).  Imprisoned authors were known to have written books on toilet paper and smuggled them out of the country.

This censorship is of a more insidious, sneaky sort.  “We’re just going to digitize all the books, to make it easier and less expensive for the readers,” claim these new censors, “and ‘repurpose’ the old library building on 5th Avenue.  Don’t worry the original books will be quite safe in the warehouse in Princeton.”

Safe, and inaccessible to all but the elite.  This will be good news for the booksellers, who will make a fortune selling rare books like The Tuba Family.  An inured public will accept their plight with a sigh, turn to their e-readers, and hope the book they want to read is available.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The 20 Percenters

The 20 Percenters.  They’re that portion of the registered, voting-age population fashioned out of a mixture of cranky libertarians, old codgers, stupid kids, infatuated schoolgirls, addled housewives, gamblers, liars, and speed voters who wind up casting the deciding vote in every election.

The Democrats never worry much about playing to the middle.  They’re the Pied Pipers playing a misleading tune of hope and change for this bunch.  The new GOP figures if you can’t beat ‘em, beat up your own base and then join ‘em.

Mitt Romney won big in the Florida primary yesterday, gathering up all the Sunshine State’s delegates.  At least you can say this about Romney – he’s more vigorous and youthful-looking than Bob Dole or John McCain, or for that matter the pudgy Newt Gingrich or the hoary Ron Paul.

Thanks to the GOP’s early backing of Romney, he can afford all the media time to promote himself, and that’s all it takes for a Speed Voter to decide:  about 30 seconds.  Tell me in two minutes why I should date you – er, vote for you.  Romney flashes a dazzling smile, utters some patriotic slogans, and the Speed Voter is all in for him.

The same for the stupid kids and infatuated schoolgirls.  Remember that scene from Back to the Future where Michael is back in the Fifties and he’s trying to get his teenaged mother and father together?  She follows him home to where he staying and boldly asks him to take her to the dance.  Anxiously, Michael Fox asks her, “Well, what about George McFly?”

She replies, “George McFly?  Oh – well, he’s kind of cute and all…” and goes on to say something about a girl wanting a man who can stand up for himself and protect the woman he loves.

Well, what about Rick Santorum?  Rick Santorum?  Oh - well, he’s kind of conservative and all, and he would stand up for himself and protect the country he loves.  But he’s penniless and he doesn’t make silly school girls go limp inside and see stars like the tony, well-bred Romney.  We won’t make a mountain out of his millions here.  He can't beat Obama, they claim.

Meanwhile, the cranks and codgers detest the impeccable Romney.  Santorum is too poor to be of much help, so they turn to the Man in the Moon himself, Newt Gingrich, to keep the door open for some other possibility.  Otherwise, the primary will be tied up in a nice, neat package as the moderate GOP always intended.

In a distant third are the young Conservative students lured by the elderly but savvy Ron Paul’s promises of legalizing marijuana and closing all our worldwide military bases.  The addled housewives, gamblers, and speed voters are just waiting for the dust to settle so they can vote for the anointed candidate when their primary turn comes and get it over with.

“So who are you going to vote for?” I asked Big Brother, the king of the political jellyfish.

“I’m going to vote for whoever is electable and can beat Obama!” he cried.

“And how do you know who that’s going to be?”

“It’s whoever the idiot students and starry-eyed schoolgirls vote for,” he answered.


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Called on the Tarmac

Years ago, my mother and younger brother had a heated argument about something.  My brother was still a teenager.  He was six feet two inches tall (and had another two inches to go).  Mom was 5 feet 7, tallish for a woman.  In the midst of the argument, my brother yelled something and raised his hand as if to hit her.  His fist was still in mid-air when my mother thundered, “Are you raising your hand to me?!  Do you think you’re going to hit me, your mother?!”

With that, she put the old choke hold on him and lifted all six foot two of him, and commensurate weight, to the ceiling.  As he dangled there, his arms flailing and his face turning lobster red from the lack of oxygen, she let him know what would happen to him if he ever struck or ever dare tried to strike her again.  He never raised his hand to her again.

Obama flew to Arizona in great state, where Gov. Jan Brewer awaited him to personally deliver a letter to him requesting that he support Arizona’s right to guard its borders and enforce federal laws against illegal immigration.

Obama had a very different agenda on his mind.  As he descended the airliner staircase, the engines of the jet still running, he quickly took the letter and without reading it, handed it off to a Secret Service agent who threw it in the back of the presidential limousine.

“I don’t appreciate what you wrote about me in your book,” he said angrily of a book she’d written six months earlier, “saying I treated you poorly.”  A heated exchange followed with the now-famous photo of Brewer wagging her finger in Obama’s face.

Obama’s cheerleaders have painted a portrait of an insignificant governor excoriating the poor President of the United States of America.  All the president’s secret service agents and all the president’s jets couldn’t protect him from the wrath of one woman.  Poor Obama.

So the President flies to Arizona, with his phalanx of Secret Service armored cars, his 747, and fighter jets flying overhead.  Is Gov. Jan Brewer intimidated by this display of power and hubris?  Nope.  She gives it right back to him and wags her finger in the face of the President of the United States.  Does it matter that he outranks her?  Nope.  Does it matter that he has the U.S. military and the Secret Service at his disposal?  Nope.  Does it matter that he’s so much taller than she is?  Nope.  Does it matter that he’s a man and she’s a woman?  Nope, nope, nope.

All that matters is that she took him on, after personally delivering a letter to him allegedly asking him to support U.S. immigration laws.  Now that’s chutzpah.  The true picture is rather obvious; of a courageous woman standing up to the president of the United States.  His cheerleaders must somehow burnish his tarnished, humiliated image. 

Make no mistake; it’s a humiliating picture for Obama and his cheerleaders, and an encouraging portrait for the beleaguered Conservatives.  We were looking for someone who could stand up to this guy, and there she is, on the tarmac in Arizona for all to see.
How did the GOP manage to overlook her when vetting candidates for the 2012 election?  It’s too late now, but what a great team Brewer and Chris Christie would make in a future election.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Math is the Path

Tough times demand tough questions when interviewing prospective employees for your company. The Wall Street Journal ran an article recently about the upgrading of interview questions. Google, in particular, gives its potential employees some real brain-teasers. No, “What’s your favorite color?” at Google.

The company is primarily interested in software engineers who are expected to know their math and physics. One word problem states, “You are shrunk to the height of a nickle and thrown into a blender. The blades are about to start. You have sixty seconds until you’re pureed. What do you do?”

The prospectees had some interesting answers to this dilemma. Jam the blades. Lay inside the core of the blades. Huddle up against the glass wall of the blender. Swim for it. Use their shoelaces as a lasso and climb up. Stand on the blades and let the centrifugal force throw you out of the blender. The article says that Google was looking for inventive answers and these certainly were inventive.

But they were all wrong. Google was really looking for the mathematically-correct answer, despite the author’s assertion that Google wasn’t looking for the smartest or technically-correct answer. In fact, they were, and you would have to understand physics to get it.

The answer is: jump. The answer has to do with density, which is implied in the question but not actually quotable. Most non-engineers would not realize density was even a factor. Having been shrunk to the size of a nickel, or 1/10th your present height, your muscles would only be 1/100 as powerful - but you’d only weigh 1/1,000 of your ordinary weight. Small beings are butter able to lift their bodies against gravity. Think birds. Shrunk to the size of a nickel, you’d be strong enough to leap like Superman (or a flea), right out of the blender, taking the heavy sealed rubber lid with you.

The WSJ included a wonderfully telling graph of a man sealed inside a blender, though he is not the size of a nickel. It’s the very picture of our plight as Americans, trapped inside a burgeoning, socialist bureaucracy. By the end of 2012, with the presidential race decided in favor Obama, the fate of free people everywhere will be sealed.

Gravity has sealed us onto our planet and current physicists say we’re trapped, just like the nickel-sized man in the blender. Students in communist countries like China are outpacing American students in the sciences and mathematics, while American students study revisionist history and post-20th century modernist literature. Practically the whole canon of 20th Century literature is composed of nothing but Marxist propaganda disguised as literature and drama (which is why my master’s degree will be in history, not English).

If our students don’t accelerate their mathematical and scientific skills, their communists “brothers” and “sisters” will be on top and will seal us in, preventing an escape from the totalitarian recipe for world government they’re mixing together. Freedom will be pureed and our economy liquidated.

Our students can’t be the grasshoppers fiddling, while the rest of the world builds a prison around us. If the theoretical nickel man can pop his way out of a blender, then there must be a way for man to escape earth’s gravity other than atop a roman candle. We shouldn’t have to be thinking of “escaping” from a political situation on Earth, but it may just come to that - the only way freedom will survive is to seek out new frontiers.

Unless enough of our students wake up to the importance of mathematics and real science, we - or our descendants - will be stuck here. We must find the way out in the next few generations, or all the scientific decisions will be made for us.

Make no mistake - I was one of those daydreamers who had no use for math and didn’t think I ever would. I was busy drawing maps of little stick figure rocket ships heading for distant stars, and dreaming of what those planets were like and who might be living on them and whether Man would visit them someday.

That’s what I thought at 16. Now, as I study those same algebraic problems to prepare for the GRE, I have a very different notion of Mathematics, but the same dream about the little spaceship heading for the stars. Only it’s no idyll; it’s an imperative. Not that imagine myself an astrophysicist. But somewhere out there, across the fruited plain, is an intelligent, freedom-loving student who will either find the way or teach future generations to find the way to freedom. I hope they’re listening.

You can’t reach for the stars just by dreaming. Yet you can’t dream if you can’t reach for the stars. Math is the path.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Silence is Not an Option

Last week on his television program, Glenn Beck introduced some Internet security experts who gave dire warnings about our growing dependence upon computer-based communications: Google, Facebook, Twitter, e-mails, and so forth.

Studying the advent of the Anti-Christ (being an astrologer), I warned about this very problem many years ago, when I was still a student in college. I theorized that the number 666 which Biblical prophecy warned of, would be some sort of computerized number of password that not only the Anti-Christ have, but would compel everyone to have. You wouldn’t be able to do business, to make purchases, or to cash a check without it.

Yet when all these features came along, Facebook, Google, and blogs, I fell in love with them. I’m not completely dependent on them - yet - but have found them extremely convenient. I still insist on paying my bills by check. My employer sends my paycheck by direct deposit and I can only access by paystub electronically, which I sore unhappy about. But since my paycheck will disappear in about two months, along with my job, I suppose I have nothing to work in that regard.

The security experts’ warnings were well-timed. I was unable to post a blog on Friday because some time past, hackers had wormed their way into my computer and disconnected me from the Internet. It’s not the first time; I’ve become an expert at rebooting my computer. I’d finally restored my Internet connection. The last stage was rebooting Microsoft Word. I’ve been so busy, I just didn’t have a chance until Friday and by the time I got everything set up, it was too late in the evening (as it is now) to write the blog.

Saturdays and Sundays have been devoted to studying up for the Graduate Record Exams, which is why you generally don’t see weekend blogs anymore. But since I missed Friday, I figured I’d have to do one today and the corruption of the Internet seemed the perfect target.

It’s pretty scary to think that hackers can access even a dedicated computer (one that’s not plugged into the Internet but serves as a stand-alone). There isn’t a firewall built that can keep them out, apparently. So far, the last time any strange charges appeared on my credit card was years ago when the hacker robbed me the old-fashioned way; the store clerk swiped my card a second time on a hidden card swiper that remembered my number. Someone then began an 24-hour porn site. A call to my credit card company put them out of business.

We can fear all these Big Money types like George Soros. Or we can gather up our courage and our common sense. Pay our bills via check but go on posting blogs and comments, sounding the battle cry of freedom. I keep my reboot disks handy now, for I know the hackers are tireless and indefatigable. But so am I. I wouldn’t call myself “Anonymous” since they can get into my computer and learn name. But what if they do? In the end, I’m not “Anonymous; you could call me “Obscure.” Too obscure to be particularly frightened of them. I speak up. They shut me down. I reboot and go on speaking out for freedom. I do so because I must.

Silence is not an option.