Independence Day, History, Technology, and Making A Better World

Independence Day is a few days away here in USA.  It is a time to reflect on sacrifices of current and previous generations of military personnel during times of war and crisis in my nation’s history.  It is also a time that the public at large gets some refresher courses on American history.  One of my Independence Day traditions is to watch the fireworks after dark while I have songs like “America the Beautiful” playing courtesy of Google’s Youtube (both tech firms that were started in the USA).

While it is a celebration of the USA’s beginnings and struggles to become what we are (and what we can become in future generations), for me it is also a time to remember the efforts of non military personnel and brilliant leaders.  I remember the contributions to the USA and the world of immigrants like Nikola Tesla and Andrew Carnegie (among numerous others) in the fields of science, industry, and commerce.  While they were not born here, it was here in USA that they had the opportunity to follow their dreams.

I remember the science breakthroughs in agriculture and food production led by such people as Norman Bourlag, the Armour family, the Cargil family, and Roswell Garst that made crops and food available to, not just Americans, but to billions of people all over the world that will probably not know their names.  In fact, we now have more people on earth being overweight (slightly over 2 billion) than we do have people suffering from insufficient food (around 800 million).

I remember that it was computer scientists and engineers from America that were among the big drivers in getting personal computers and internet access made available to the public at large. It was this year (2019) that we crossed the threshold where now slightly over 50 percent of the world’s population has access to internet, whether it be smart phones or tablets or full size computers.  It was also primarily American scientists and engineers (and immigrants working in American based firms) that got GPS navigation going.

I know some people (myself included) sometimes get irritated by American pop culture, tv shows, music, etc.  But no one forced me or anyone else to pay attention to our culture.  I, and many others, sometimes get upset about how much war my nation has fought over the course of history.  Yet, most previous powerful nations annexed or colonized the territories and peoples they won wars over. Many powerful nations in past eras colonized territories that weren’t on even the same continents as the home nation. Yes, our practices of slavery and taking land from the Native Americans will be a dark mark against my nation for the rest of history.  But many nations won’t even acknowledge their past sins and transgressions.  A couple of weeks ago I heard there were talks before congressional committees about possible reparations for past practices during slavery.  The idea of reparations can be debated one way or another ad nauseam, but at least there is even talk about attempting to make amends for past sins.  Every civilization as far back as we can tell had some form of slavery, indentured servitude, etc.  Yet it wasn’t until a few centuries ago that people began to acknowledge that the idea of one human owning another the same way one would own a building or a horse, even in past times, as disgusting and barbaric.  Now slavery is officially illegal in every country of the world.  It still goes on in the forms of human trafficking, sex slavery, etc.  But even two hundred years ago, that would have been acceptable in the entire world.  I don’t write this to justify my nation’s past sins.  We certainly made our mistakes.  I won’t hide our mistakes. But I also won’t hide the progress my nation or my species progress.

On another note, many advances we take for granted in 2019 were pioneered in the USA. This includes things like electric light bulbs, telephones, airplanes, people on the moon, common pharmaceutic medications, do it yourself investing in the stock markets, television broadcasts, much of what computers, internet, and cell phones have become.  Even with our current internal strifes and issues, the USA is still a world leader in the emerging fields of Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, nanotechnology, fusion technology, robotics, autonomous automobiles and drones, etc.  Even though our government officially pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreements, many local and state governments, along with private businesses and industries, are still implementing nonpolluting technologies and power generation.  Many businesses and individuals, are voluntarily severely limiting their uses of disposable plastics.  Even the people I personally know who are skeptical of the sciences behind climate change, most of them still recycle their garbage, take car pools to work, limit their uses of pesticides, use less water than previous generations, drive fuel efficient cars, use solar panels to power anything that can be by traditional grids, or allow wind turbines and solar panels to be built on their farms and ranches.  Even though our elected leaders may not see that renewable and recycling tech are the future, most of my countrymen see that it is even if they don’t accept or understand the science behind climate change or environmental pollution.

I know I am often tough on my friends, family, countrymen, etc.  But I am tough because I know even ordinary people are capable of accomplishing great things.  Even though I see ignorance and stupidity every day, I also see people doing great things and changing for the better every day.  Sure the ignorant and hurtful actions catch our attention more because it is natural for us to pay more attention to negativity than positive news.  I wasn’t born an optimist.  I had to become one by forcing myself to find out the good that is going on out in the world and in my hometown.  And thanks to inventions like internet, search engines, and social media, it is far easier to find such good news than even twenty years ago.  Sure some people will abuse such tech.  Every tech in history has been abused by at least one person or group.  A sharpened stone tied to a long stick can kill a deer and feed a family just as easily as it can kill another man and be used to enslave his survivors.  And on it goes.

I should wrap this up.  Sure much bad has been done in the name of my nation and science.  Yet, much good has been done too.  We rarely acknowledge anyone’s decency simply because we are not hardwired to do so.  Many cool things are happening right now.  And among the leaders forcing these positive changes are American scientists, engineers, medical personnel, teachers, craftsmen, construction workers, factory workers, farmers, students with dreams, business people, etc.  It is an eventful and hopeful time to be alive.  I am grateful to live in a college town in America in the early 21st century.

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Pessimism and Optimism

Haven’t been outside of my neighborhood for almost two weeks now, mainly because of the bitter cold, snow, and ice.  I haven’t even gone outside this week because it’s been so cold.  Hopefully it doesn’t stay this bad all winter because I’m beginning to get kind of tired of being housebound all the time.  And I don’t think I’m the only one.  Seems to me that even my family are starting to get short tempered and irritable over the cold weather.  My neighbors are getting short tempered too.  And of course the people on social media have been short tempered and joyless ever since social media was opened to the public at large.  At this point I’m not sure I want to stay in touch with anyone besides family and a few close friends.  It just seems that humans get some kind of sadistic joy out of being angry all the time.  Personally I’m burned out on all the anger and pessimism.  Have been for a long time.

I almost never heard anything good about my fellow man or the world in general from my teachers and elders while in school or even in college.  I had one teacher in junior high who seemed to get joy out of ranting about how the “cold cruel world” was going to kick our thirteen year old butts.  And of course I rarely heard anything good about people in general from the news stations or even church service.  After observing these happenings until I was in my mid twenties, I started taking notice of what was actually happening compared to what I was being told by my elders and bosses.  After the economic crisis of 2008 and hearing that civilization was fixing to collapse any day, I payed attention and took notes.  Of course it didn’t happen and the people who stayed in the stock market and didn’t panic are now making major money.  That is when I came to the conclusion that the crowd is usually wrong. The whole ‘wisdom of crowds’ usually comes to nothing or mob mentality.  The world didn’t end with Y2K, or 9/11, or the housing bust of 2008, or the Mayan calendar of 2012, or when the conservatives were in power, or when the liberals were in power, or when social media became a festering cesspool for people to gladly wallow in negativity and pessimism.  After years of hearing that the world was going to end any day now and that younger people (or older people depending on who you ask) would be the death of us all, that’s when I had enough.  Enough is enough.  I have had it with fear mongering and pessimism about things that never come to pass or turn out to me more manageable than we previously thought.

Many worries are much to do about nothing and come to nothing.  And everything else seems to be more manageable than previously thought.  If our species can survive world wars, crippling famines, plagues that kill off millions of people, ice ages, tyrants, incompetent leaders, and even science used for evil purposes, some people can survive just about anything barring a comet hitting our planet or the sun going out.  I probably wouldn’t survive most major events, primarily because of my mental illness and declining physical health as I age.  But it’s okay as far as I’m concerned.

I can say that I have lived a pretty good life considering the circumstances of having a mental illness my entire adulthood.  I have a good relationship with all my family members, I got to know my nephews and niece, I got to know quite a bit of my family history, and preserve it, before my grandparents died, I have cool friends who are willing to at least put up with my eccentric behavior and mental breakdowns, I haven’t been to jail or homeless, the longest I spent in a mental hospital was one week (and I have been working with a mental illness since age seventeen), and until recently was in good physical health in spite of fighting weight problems.  When I was a teenager I was able to go scuba diving and climb an Aztec pyramid when I visited Mexico.  In my early thirties I could walk five miles a day easily in spite weighing over 300 pounds.  I got to hike and camp in the mountains of Colorado.  I got to see B.B. King preform live a couple years before he died.  I got to see country music acts like Brad Paisley, Reba Macintyre, Sarah Evans, etc. preform live before they became big stars.  I have been able to live on my own with a mental illness for almost fifteen years.  And I got to learn about some of the cool things that science and tech are doing that will be coming to fruition within the next ten to twenty years.  My only true regret is that I might not live long enough to see some of the really cool things coming, like colonies on the moon or the first people on Mars or life extension tech or nuclear fusion plants.  But I am convinced that such things are coming in most people’s lifetimes.  And I am not an optimist by nature.  I had to force myself to become this way until eventually it became second nature.

Reading, Learning, Advances, and Hope

Ever since I changed medications back in March I gradually started reading more.  For several months before I changed my psych medications I had little interest in reading.  I had gotten rid of some of my books.  I still had several hundred ebooks and I kept my books I wanted to reread.  But I hadn’t been reading much for a long time.  I had just lost interest in reading.  I was watching a lot of educational videos on youtube and netflix.

Now it was quite unusual for me to lose interest in reading.  I have known how to read even from my earliest memories.  I didn’t have to be encouraged to read as the village library was a second home to me.  While most of the neighborhood kids were playing basketball or throwing around the football during our summer afternoons, I was spending my time at the library.  I never really did like fantasy books or get too much into fiction.  But I absolutely loved books about different animals, different plants, different nations, and the high achievers of history.  Reading so much nonfiction during my summers off from school really helped me in my classes once school started.  Sometimes I would read ahead in the textbooks because I wanted to know what would be covered next.  I read ahead especially in science and history books.  I didn’t have to be encouraged to read.  I had to be forced to put down the books and get physical activity with the neighborhood kids from even an early age.

I read because I thought learning something new was entertainment.  It actually makes me feel good physically to learn new things.  Reading a good book and learning new ideas gives me a high that no booze, money, or woman could possibly give me.  I know I’m weird for loving learning, at least I’m weird in my culture.  But I certainly wouldn’t want to ever be where I couldn’t read.  That’s why I would prefer to go hard of hearing rather than lose my eye site.  It’s sad that not very many people continue their education after high school or college.  For me that’s when my self education really took off.  I’ve learned more history, economics, philosophy, biology, chemistry, and literature since graduating college than I did when I was in school.  Being in school laid the foundation but my love of reading took it to levels that not many achieve on their own.  I would rather read a book than go to a nightclub.  I have always been that way.

I know some people think they were born in the wrong era and would have been happier in medieval times or in the old west.  I don’t look to the past like that even though history was one of my best subjects in high school.  Part of me wonders at what excellent things my five year old nephew will see in his lifetime should he live to be in his late nineties like my grandmother.  I think about some of the changes she saw just in her lifetime.  She went from being in awe of Henry Ford’s automobile to having a Facebook account that she used to keep up with friends and family.  She didn’t even have indoor plumbing in her house until after she was married.  My grandfather used to trade in his car after it had over 50,000 miles because it was wearing out.  Now a car can last much longer even with minimal maintenance.  My five year old nephew will never know a world before the internet or basic automation.  He will never know a world where we didn’t know the human genome.  He will probably never own a music CD.  If self driving cars gain wide spread acceptance, he might not even need to own a car or even have a driver’s license.  I can’t imagine what he will see in his lifetime, let alone his children’s lifetime.  For me things have gotten really interesting just in the last twenty five years.  I wouldn’t want to live in the past.  I would be even more ridiculed in the old west because of my reading.  I would have been burned at the stake as a heretic in medieval times.  I would have been a terrible hunter in the Ice Ages.  My only hope then would have to become the tribal medicine man providing I didn’t kill myself from doing experiments with poisoned plants and mushrooms.  In short I love learning and seeing advances.  I love seeing the advances I have seen just since I was old enough to pay attention thirty years ago.  I can hardly wait to see what advances come by the time even I’m an old man.  It’s things like these advances and seeing people becoming less accepting of violence, sexism, bigotry, and cruelty that give me hope for the future of my species.

 

Thoughts On 2015 and Looking Ahead to 2016

Another year has come to pass.  We humans have survived yet another lap around the mother star.  2015 has had, like all years, it’s ups and downs.  Some really cool stuff happened like the sending a space probe to Pluto, vertically landing a rocket (I knew I should have bought SpaceX stock several months ago), and discovering water on Mars are just a few of the highlights I can think of right off hand.  This was ‘the future year’ of Back To The Future II.  My enjoyment of the internet and wearable electronics outweigh my disappointment of not having a flying car and not having a computerized Ronald Reagan taking my order at a 1980s nostalgia restaurant.

Looking back on 2015, I accomplished most of my goals.  I set goals every year instead of resolutions.  I actually write down my goals (i.e. make at least 30 blog posts, get my amateur radio license, get rid of my clutter, etc.) and I rewrite them at the end of every month in a journal just to remind myself to keep going.  The two goals I’m most proud of are getting my Amateur radio license and having more visitors to this blog in 2015 than 2014.  The only real goal I didn’t accomplish was losing another sixty pounds.  I started off well as I lost fifteen pounds in the winter months to start 2015.  But things fell apart about late May.  Having a college buddy visit for a whole week in June when we went out to eat and hit sports bars several nights in a row didn’t help the cause.  Things got even worse after the week in the Black Hills for Matt’s wedding.  I’m not blaming my lack of staying on track with diet and exercise on my best friend but friends do sometimes get you in trouble.  But those are the friends you should hang onto.  If the worst Matt causes me to do is eat like a horse for much of a summer, well there are worse things he could have involved me in.  But he’s one of these tall guys who’s skinnier than a rail and can eat whatever he wants and not gain an ounce.  He’s only a few pounds heavier than when he graduated college thirteen years ago.  I simply won’t even try to keep up with guys like him anymore.  In August, my last living grandparent died.  Went through several weeks of pulling all night internet research and computer game marathons at least three nights per week.  That caused even more weight gain and mental health issues.  My car wreck in late October didn’t help the effort any as it made exercise nearly impossible as I had a few weeks of chronic back pain.  But that’s all cleared now.  It wasn’t until mid November did things return to a sense of normal.  And now I’m where I started 2015, at least weight wise.

I also decided to get somewhat more cultured in 2015.  To this end I watched a few foreign movies on Netflix.  Also watched some classic movies like Citizen Kane, some Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns, and saw 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The only Stanley Kubrick movie I saw previously was Full Metal Jacket.  I guess my impression of 2001 was it looked like a mashup of Jane Goodall, Buckminster Fuller, and Carl Sagan on bad acid trips.  This was the sixties after all.

For 2016 goals, I want to lose at least sixty pounds.  I also want to post to this blog at least forty times.  I want to have more visitors to this blog in 2016 than 2015. I want to write poetry again as I’ve been lazy about that for two years.  I want to revive some of my older writing ideas.  In years past I wrote rough drafts for two truly lousy novels. I’m going to see if I can find those old files and dust off the cobwebs.I want to continue to save at least ten percent of my monthly pay.  I’m saving up in part because I want to take a couple good old fashioned American road trip in a few years.  I haven’t been to the East Coast before.  That is one place I want to visit.  I’d love to see autumn in New England and visit some of the old Revolutionary and Civil War battle sites in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.  Sometime within the next five to seven years I’d love to visit the Deep South too.  I have a couple college friends from Alabama who are always raving about the barbecue places and good diners down there.  Here in Nebraska, we don’t really have a specialty besides steaks and prime rib.  In short I have a few goals for 2016 and beyond.

 

Attempting to Let Go and Move Forward

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It has been said, I think it was in the movie ‘Forrest Gump’, that “in order to move forward, you have to leave the past behind” or something along the same idea.  I admit to having problems with letting go of what happened in my younger years, especially during times when my mental illness flares up especially bad.  During such times I have a very hard time coming to accept that my life did not turn out how I remotely imagined it would when I was sixteen and looking ahead to the vast expanse of years that was ahead.  At that age, I pictured that I would be doing something in medical research and married with at least a couple of children and living in some large metroplex by the time I turned 35.  Like many intelligent kids that could be classified as somewhat ‘nerdy’, I dreamed of the day I would move out of my hometown of less than 500 people and onto bigger and better things.  Like most of the few close friends I had, I so desperately wanted out of Nebraska.  I figured there was nothing here for me in the science and medicine fields and I would be wasting my life if I stayed behind.  Well, time has a way of making fools of even the smartest of us.

I never left Nebraska while all the friends from high school I stayed in contact with did.  In fact, none of the friends I made in college stayed in state either.  I didn’t end up working in any scientific or medical field for even one day of my life.  I certainly never got married or had kids.  I never even worked in a job that would require me to graduate high school for any real length of time, and I essentially failed at those jobs.  In spite of my illness, I retained almost all of my natural intelligence even though now my ability to work under stress and read anyone ‘between the lines’ was completely gone.  Any of these instances, let alone all of these put together, were serious blows to my pride and ego.

For the first several years of my mental illness, I agonized over where I went wrong.  I retained my natural intelligence yet I couldn’t do well in even minimum wage work.  It was baffling to my caseworkers at Vocational Rehab that I was so smart yet couldn’t handle any real stress.  For a long time, I thought I just wasn’t working hard enough and that work was supposed to suck.  I had spent my entire life hearing adults complain about their jobs as if their misery was something they took pride in.  So I just tried harder and attempted to abandon any idea that I was supposed to enjoy work or even life for that matter.  In time I came to believe I was doomed to be a failure at working a regular job.

For the next couple of years, I threw myself into my writing.  I was working part time at the courthouse as a janitor by this time.  I came to believe that the only way I could ‘make something of myself’ was to write a decent selling book.  I knew that the odds were against me as less than one percent of even published writers would make above poverty level if they relied solely on their writing work.  Well, that didn’t work either.  I self published a couple books of poetry, a book about my experiences as a mentally ill person in a ‘chronically sane world’, and even wrote rough drafts for two novels.  Found out the hard way that I have almost no talent for writing fiction.  I don’t even like reading fiction, especially modern fiction.  Even though I sold a few dozen copies of my mental illness book, the others didn’t sell at all.  So for a few years after that, I felt like a failure as a writer.

Now that the traditional writer door had been rudely slammed in my face, I became very depressed and angry.  I couldn’t understand what was the point of retaining my intelligence and not being able to use my abilities to even support myself, let alone help others.  I couldn’t figure any of this out.  I just couldn’t let go of what this illness cost me.  Occasionally I still find myself angry over what I lost.  I had the example of what I could have, and should have, been in the person of my older brother.  He is currently working as an electrical engineer for a defense contractor, making more money per year in his mid 30s than my parents ever made at any point in their careers, living in a excellent neighborhood in a metroplex outside of our home state, married to an intelligent woman (who also is an engineer), and has four children that he’s absolutely devoted to.

I suppose it’s wrong to be envious of him, though a part of me sometimes is.  I know as kids, I actually got better grades in school and read more books than he did.  When I’m in the grips of my mental illness, I often find myself thinking our lives could have been similar.  When I’m seriously in the grips of the illness and feeling nothing but anger and hostility, I find myself thinking our lives could have been easily reversed with me doing the work of my dreams and him being mentally ill.  Fortunately that doesn’t happen often.

When I’m not caught in the grasp of the illness, I find it very easy to let go of my past and move forward.  I have found an outlet of sorts though blogging.  Sure I don’t have thousands of visitors every day like some blogs here on wordpress.  No I’m not known outside of my family, my current hometown, my handful of friends, and people who follow and/or happen to stumble on these writings.  No, I haven’t made even one cent off these writings on this blog.  Sure, I’m dependent on the government for my medications and even my living.  Yet, when I am doing well, I have completely accepted all the aspects of my mental illness and have moved forward.  It is now only the small minority of times when I’m in the grips of the illness that I have to worry about stumbling and dwelling on everything that has happened over the last seventeen years.