Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Longhaired Hippies and Today's Energy

These days, lots of males are shaving their heads as bare as the ostriches you see on the farm. There’s something horribly symbolic there: I mean the animals, not the people. I’ll get back to them…

I still remember when we said “Don’t trust anyone over thirty!” This was back when the “older generation,” the “establishment,” really didn’t like long hair. The hair symbolized youth solidarity, with all youth wanting to bring in a new improved world, one where everybody would know words like Ecology and Environment and Love. Far out! Soon the world would be groovy with alternative energy, we could almost touch it—it was just around the corner! And if “the older generation” claimed they too had always wanted a better world, then we just figured they were talking down to us. Call it a generation gap.

I was amused when our high school coach compromised. For team photographs, our coach said he merely wanted to be able to see our earlobes. Some years passed. As an adult, I have a memory of keeping my roommate awake by laughing aloud at a comic book I found in a “head shop.” It was of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, a bunch of drug-using longhaired freaky people. At the time my roommate and I both had short hair. No, we weren’t science nerds: We were in barracks, within a city of longhaired youth. Of course I liked my civilian peers—and I liked liberals too. What didn’t I like? Those blasted longhaired hippies!

Looking back, and having read a sociology paper, I can see the young hippies were taking time out from society as a rite of passage—like doing a stint in the peace corps or the navy. Except the sailors, “in the service,” were engaged in service to society, while the hippies, to my eyes, were just useless parasites. On the one hand, I hated hippies for rejecting my wholesome clean-cut values. On the other hand, I hated them for being members of the upper middle class, that is to say: rich. They had that certain inner confidence that comes of never having heard their parents argue over the bills. Naturally these kids could take time out from life: They had waiting for them, at a moment’s notice, money and a warm bedroom and funds for college. It must be nice. I wouldn’t know.

Many of the scruffy young men would go on to major in basket weaving or business, not something hard like science or engineering. This was partly because hippies are lazy, partly from rejecting the establishment, and partly from trying to take easy courses so they wouldn’t flunk: Flunking out made them eligible for the draft. In time the hippies and the other rich boomers got degrees and business suits and short hair. Like their elders, they too came to condone US imperialism, no matter how much this infuriated the rest of the world. Forget Love… You know, sometimes I don’t love my US civilian peers very much.

I still smile over a big picture I remember from the Freak brothers comic. Instead of wasting city space, the brothers had converted a big flattop roof into a lush garden with hammocks and, get this, an environmental wind fan for electricity. No, not to keep from wasting energy: The brothers with their hammocks were just too lazy to pay for power. And besides, it was so cool! The fan was quaint, looking more like a common elephant ear factory fan than a modern stir stick turbine. Since my youth the science nerds have continued to research new turbine shapes.

As I said, not many hippies went on to study science. More of them became business yuppies manipulating the devil’s invention: compound interest. This morning I am gritting my teeth: Couldn’t any of those affluent idealists ever stop and think about “compound research?” Didn’t they ever reason that research knowledge grows not linearly but geometrically? So that a constant trickle of research-dollars, steadily growing ever since the 1960’s, would mean that by today all of our household appliances could run off a little disposable battery kept under the kitchen sink? And that by now any glamorous James Bond sports car could be fully electric, not just a hybrid? That atomic electricity could, to use a phrase from my youth, be “as safe as houses?” I guess not. A phrase from my mother’s youth went, “I’ll tell the cock-eyed world!” Now I’ll tell anyone: I didn’t like arrogant longhaired hippies then, and I don’t like arrogant ecological baby boomers now.

But then again, thinking calmly… the first time I ever saw a wind farm was in the desert, outside Los Angeles, on a TV detective show, back in the early 1970’s. I breathed, “Wow.” The silent spinning turbines looked just like the ones I see today, a couple hours south of town. Back then there were solar panels too, in basic black. Again, just like the ones I see today. What if, down the years, there has indeed been a steady stream of research producing a state-of-the-art green energy … with only teensy improvements left to discover? It beats me, I’m only wondering aloud. Keeping calm… just like those bald executives at General Motors. I certainly don’t expect to see any excited GM executives chanting slogans like:
“Capitalists, unite to fight!
Cheap green energy, is your right!
It’s just a-round the cor-ner!” …Poor GM; it takes so many ergs to smelt a car.

The good news is I see various government jurisdictions, both here and abroad, (Germany) putting a little effort into a little green alternative energy. Clearly, the effort is not as coordinated as, say, the D-Day invasion, the Manhattan project or the Apollo program. I sense no urgency, no deadlines and no collaboration-with-accountability. Still, at least there is a little effort. Especially now, after the Wall Street melt down—I guess the stimulus money has to go somewhere. Yet… what if the effort’s all wasted? What if the laws of nature will not be mocked? Maybe extracting clean energy from Mother Gaia is like extracting gold from seawater: Doable, yes, but forever too costly. The latest word on the street is that extracting clean helium, to run my car, would put out even more carbon dioxide than my car would have spewed using traditional petroleum.

Some folks keep saying a brave new energy industry is just around the corner. Really? Maybe we are just as mistaken now as we were back in the 1960’s. Perhaps various governments have their head in the sand, like ostriches, in fearful reaction from aggressive green eco hype.

Ostriches… Come to think of it, here in North America, I’ve seen ostriches. Not in a zoo, in a pasture, along the main Highway West of town. Thanks to the government, such farms came out of nowhere, slowly increasing in number. But no more. All the time the farms had been spreading, it turned out, “the fix was in. ” It was only a glorified government pyramid scheme, with older farmers selling birds to newer farmers, dependent on government dollars. No sustainable brave new ostrich industry is just around the corner. It never was.

Sean Crawford
In the foothills of the Rockies
June 2012
~Footnote: I don't write detailed stuff myself, so here's a link to a guy who writes lots about eco-energy

Friday, June 8, 2012

Voices of PTSD 

A Book Announcement (review)

When the War Never Ends
The voices of military members with ptsd and their families
By Leah Wizelman

“I’ve often heard from military members with PTSD that they feel that only other participants in wars or peace missions can understand what they are going through. This is why I decided to write a book that focuses only on the experiences of service members and their families. I wanted them to feel connected when reading the stories and to know that others who have not walked in their shoes will be walking beside them as they read this book.”
From the forward, p xix.

I like that phrase: “… and their families...” I think this is an important book, which includes voices from Canada and Germany, sailors and marines, regulars and reservists, and males and females. PTSD, of course, stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. It was known in classical times, and in earlier US wars, under other names. Back in the 19th century, novelist H.G. Wells showed his hero suffering hallucinations for years at the end of The War of the Worlds. Unhappily, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs did not recognize the issue until the 1980’s. One daughter of a Nam veteran realized that no one ever knew that her father’s harsh behavior, which hurt the whole family, were from PTSD. She only figured it out as an adult, after her husband came home a changed man.

I am not confident, despite the many years, and many engagements since Vietnam, that at last society has learned; meanwhile, at least many people now know what the initials mean. I dimly recall an episode of the evening sitcom King of the Hill where Hank Hill’s judgmental father refused to believe in PTSD, while at the end the episode Hank himself –a better man than his father! - was sympathetic to some Nam veterans. Unfortunately, based on the stories, society has not yet learned… which makes this book so important.

The sad yet true fact, common to nearly all the stories, as unbelievable as it may sound, is that it often takes years, even decades, for vets with the disorder to realize what is going on. Too often, even if a veteran remains in the service, the servicemen surrounding him just don’t clue in. Family members are usually the first to realize. From the stories, I think PTSD is often an “isolating disorder” which thereby reduces the pool of people who would spot any PTSD. I think part of the disorder is unawareness, both by the veteran who thinks he can handle things on his own, who doesn’t want to be “crazy” or a “wimp,” and by in-laws and friends and neighbors who, perhaps from denial or sheer ignorance, get impatient and abandon the veteran. Often there is a great relief in finally giving the symptoms a name…. As I see it, as for anything in life, a concept is the beginning of knowledge; knowledge is the beginning of power.

The wife mentioned above says, “I just want people to know there is hope. Things can be better, but it takes not only the willingness of the spouse to be supportive, but also the willingness of the vet to at least try. I am a firm believer in counseling and medication because they have helped myself and my spouse.” (p. 180)

A man from the Royal Australian Air Force who served with the UN in Somalia says, “My family all knows a lot about PTSD, as my wife did lots of research and made sure the girls were always truthfully informed about my condition. My family is my best support, with maybe three close friends, two of whom have PTSD too. Often all I need is someone to talk to. I know I can talk to my family and friends without being judged, and that’s enough at the moment.” (p. 77)

The book came out last year, 2011; from Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
There are eight titles of suggested reading; the most hands-on are the last two:

The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook: A Guide to Healing, Recovery, and Growth. 2nd ed.
Glennn Schiraldi, PhD
McGraw-Hill, 2009
This book describes many treatment strategies, alternatives, and self-management techniques that are helpful to trauma survivors, including war veterans and substance addicts, and shows that recovery and growth is possible.

The PTSD Workbook: Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms
Mary Beth Williams, PhD, LCSW, CTS, and Soili Poijula, Phd
New Harbinger Publications, 2002
This book offers exercises, techniques, and interventions to conquer physical, mental, and emotional PTSD and Complex PTSD symptoms.

Sean Crawford
During the Diamond Jubilee
June 2012

~Some civilians I've known may identify with quotations from a Canadian who was thirty years old during Bosnia:

After being powerless: (as civilians died in front of him) “… I felt horrible… I lost my self-confidence and stopped believing in myself. I also constantly panicked during conversations, and afterwards I always felt guilty.” (p. 208)

“My goal for the future is to get better and to became a “better person,” not to feel guilty anymore, to be calmer and relaxed.” (p. 213)

~Hank Hill's father, after WWII, could have plenty of time to decompress: on bases overseas, on a slow troopship, then bases here. The Nam vets could go as individuals, not with their units, directly from jungle to-airbase-to-jet-airliner-to-the-states, sleeping on the plane, to be released at the airport, all alone.

In Canada, from a 09.22.06 Calgary Herald Swerve magazine sidebar by Yvonne Jeffery:
"(After Sarejevo) ..."There was absolutely no assistance,"he says. "It was bango. I was on block leave (vacation), then I was in my new job and no one gave a rat's ass."

Not until Lt-Gen. Romeo Dallaire showed up, drunk and disoriented in an Ottawa park one morning as a result of his service in Rwanda, did the military begin to acknowledge that something was seriously wrong with some of its returning soldiers.

Within the CF, the  focus has changed. Instead of having an army social worker ask a roomful of soldiers to "raise their hands if they think they have problems," troops returning from Afghanistan get several days of decompression in Cyprus, and a military culture that now watches for early warning signs, accepting stress injuries as fact, not fiction. And that's a sign of progress—because seven months in Afghanistan shouldn't mean a lifetime reliving it."

The ending of The War of the Worlds, 1898, before there were flying machines or radios:

"I must confess the stress and dangers of the times have left an abiding sense of doubt and insecurity in my mind. I sit in my study writing by lamplight, and suddenly I see again the healing valley below set with writhing flames, and feel the house behind and about me empty and desolate. I go out into the Byfleet Road, and vehicles pass me, a butcher boy in a cart, ... and suddenly they become vague and unreal, and I hurry again with the artilleryman through the hot, brooding silence. Of a night I see the black powder darkening the silent streets, and the contorted bodies shrouded in that layer; they rise upon me tattered and dog-bitten. ... and I wake, cold and wretched, in the darkness of the night.
And strangest of all is it to hold my wife's hand again, and to think that I have counted her, and that she has counted me, among the dead."

Friday, June 1, 2012

Jetpacks and TV News

They lied to us
This was supposed to be the future
Where is my jetpack
Where is my robotic companion
Where is my dinner in pill form
Where is my hydrogen fueled automobile
Where is my nuclear powered levitating home
Where is my cure for this disease

(Seen on a T shirt designed by John Slabyek over at Threadless)

I laughed, at first, but only until I remembered a couple of secrets about the public… I don’t suppose you would forgive me, right here and now, for breaking the “prime directive” by blurting out society’s secrets. I  don't throw the truth at people like a wet dishrag. But maybe if I reminisce, then I might, accidentally-like, unfold some secrets…

Before the Star Trek’s prime directive, before color TV, I too wanted a jetpack, especially on Monday nights while watching a young pre-teen Johnny Quest, with a rifle, flying alongside his dad’s bodyguard. (They don’t make such violent cartoons anymore, a pity) It was an age of both vacuum tubes and something new and “mighty:” As Chief Engineer Scott said once, “I think they called them transistors.” As a child I occasionally used pencil and paper to calculate how old I would be when the year 2000 arrived. Unthinkable! I would be as old as Mr. and Mrs. (no Mizz) Duplesie, George and Janet. Their names, I realize today, were something out of a childhood Saturday morning cartoon, The Jetsons, while their plain home, not at all futuristic, retains in my mind symbols of the past.

On summer days I might walk up the gravel road to Duplesie’s place. In his garage George had a skeleton of an enormous Alaskan king crab. I don’t suppose they grow that big anymore; I don’t suppose any modern sensitive environmental man would collect such trophies, either. On Janet’s kitchen counter, bolted down as tightly as a vice, was a meat grinder. You don’t see them these days, not when we can afford to buy our meat already minced, but once they were a common warning reference to the horror of war. In the corner of the front room stood an upright player piano. In the middle, inset above the keyboard, was a perforated scroll, like a scrolling computer punch card. If you pumped the foot pedals the piano would play itself. Alas, it always stood unrepaired.

As for punch cards, there was belief at the time, propagated by “they,” that everyone put out of work by computers could get a job as a computer repairman. Even as a child I knew they lied. Kurt Vonnegut’s first science fiction novel, Player Piano, (1952) skewered such beliefs. The not-too-heroic viewpoint character meets with an expert, and with honest people displaced by punch cards, and then he ponders. Of course, because the novel used the print medium, no reader would groan at the “talking heads.” (People who simply appear in front of a camera and speak) At last he rebels: A natural consequence, I guess, of a hero pondering the absurdities of society and his corporate life.

Written science fiction, “sf,” is truly a medium to encourage pondering. A scene in my cherished 1948 young adult novel, Space Cadet, by Robert Heinlein, has the hero’s bratty little brother saying, “Mom doesn’t even know what holds the moon up.” Heinlein could be sure his young readers would pause and reason things out for themselves. Not so for Hollywood “sci-fi.” Not when “moving pictures” allow no pausing. And no reasoning. Sci-fi suits many people: They don’t want to think, just as they don’t want talking heads. Alas, this may be a steadily growing social trend. Sad to say, in the big box bookstores, it’s probably no coincidence that in my lifetime I have watched fantasy go from being mixed in among sf to being in a big separate section, safely separate, that now just dwarfs the little struggling sf section.

Hollywood knows what people want to not-think about. “Hey, how about those special effects?” I was among the first in North America to see Star Wars, at a midnight preview, before it opened on Friday across the land. My adult buddies and I left the theatre excited, but we didn’t think we had seen anything too special. Not when we had grown up on similar stories. Before Star Wars I don’t suppose I read film reviews. After Star Wars, as best I can recall, every sci-fi review would evaluate the special effects right away, right up in the lead paragraph. This bugged me. Would Hemmingway and Faulkner ever need special effects? I figured the public “just didn’t get it.” After all, that play about the robots, R.U.R., was an international classic although having no effect more special than a cloud of dry ice to start the last act. (No, I won’t link to R.U.R: I expect you to reason out how to find it)

Hollywood is accused of making movies so bad, it’s as if they disrespect the audience. Meanwhile, sf has a respect rule as hard as titanium: everything in the story must be constrained by the latest findings of science. Not like sci-fi. Perhaps passive watchers don’t care about respect, but engaged readers care very much. Without the laws of science their fiction would be merely “playing tennis without the net.”

And just how do you put sf ideas, or any abstract ideas, before the public by using moving pictures? You can’t. There is a reason why, for the six o’clock news, if a world-changing international economic summit were held in Japan, then it would get less airtime—if any!—than a story of the Japanese princess walking under the cherry trees. (As Neil Postman has pointed out)

With ideas so critical, we have a fundamental consequence: One can always translate to the screen beloved westerns and nurse stories and Agatha Christie mysteries and classics of English literature, (War and Peace may need to be done as a mini-series) but one can’t always translate sf. You can try, but often you end up keeping the book title, and some of the character names, but little else. Unfortunately, as the central ideas drop away, the very plot and characters must be totally changed. For example, a lonely troubled veteran of a fierce interstellar war, getting a fresh start as a rancher in a little democratic colony, a man who ponders racism versus peace, (and strives to prevent a local conflict) becomes, in Hollywood’s version, a guy wearing scraps of clothing, living in an illiterate feudal landscape. (Andre Norton’s 1959 The Beast Master) One of my favorite novels, written “first person in a future culture,” was about a thoughtful investigator, sans fedora, who discovers cases of human possession by alien parasites. And gets possessed himself. It was a flop as a movie because the camera only showed “third person in the present culture,” with no introspection, no commenting on the surrounding society. And besides, how could a camera ever capture the despair and sheer horror of feeling emotionally certain that if you die while still possessed then your soul must be dragged down to hell? (Robert Heinlein’s 1951 The Puppet Masters)

Yes, “they” can make a classic black and white version of Shakespeare, and yes, writer-director Bergman can make The Seventh Seal, but I don’t expect to ever see a classic movie version of Nineteen Eighty-four. In that novel of ideas, as you know, one of the main ideas is how the public doesn’t care to hear certain secrets of their society… Just like us?

If the public, in our age of computers-calling-to-satellites, still hasn't even the foggiest notion that science fiction doesn’t translate, then… is there some sort of psychological prime directive going on? Something the public really doesn’t want to hear? I wonder.

I discovered something when I took a university night class among students in their final semester. If there was a balm of humor, then these scholars might admit their TV set is an idiot box, or that police shows are merely a way of passing time, but what they certainly wouldn’t admit was a certain open secret: The evening news isn’t real news… By not reading newspapers these students were shortchanging themselves. We all had a good long laugh when I used the term “6 o’clock infotainment.” How nice. I was baffled; why didn’t every student already know (as Postman explains) that TV couldn’t provide context? Perhaps they weren’t ready to ponder their life-style: having higher education yet choosing not to read. Perhaps, then, the voting public’s overall relationship to the boob tube is a really shameful secret. And if, apparently, even scholars don’t grasp the political implications of the public obtaining their news from “sound bites” and “moving pictures” then what hope is there for the rest of the body politic? ... I wonder, in the lonely chill of night.

In my sunny childhood I perused old fading science fiction magazines. There were sometimes flying cars, usually to speed up the plot, but none of the other things mentioned in the T-shirt quote. Such things didn’t decorate the background of a science fiction story, although they might, rarely, be in the foreground as being what the plot was all about. (A robot companion who rebels, for instance) No, some things are just too unscientific for fans to read about.

One magical summer day, over at the Duplesie’s house, I found a newspaper my family never bought. It was opened at the Sunday color comic page. Here were pictures, showed sequentially, almost moving. Wow! It was Buck Rogers, with some ape-creature buddies, hiding in the foliage at the edge of a big garden party. The guests wore flowing capes and funny headgear. Buck, who of course was from our own century, had exchanged his old bullet gun for a ray gun. Neat! I’ll never know what happened next… To a science fiction fan, comics are lumped together with sci-fi as being “media” science fiction, a thing apart, a media without any need for thinking or accurate science. When you see fans at conventions wearing costumes, if they’re not fans of written fantasy, then –you guessed it- they’re media fans. An old writer, L. Sprague de Camp, at a convention here in Calgary, told us of attending the first science fiction convention, held in New York City. He still remembered the name of the first guy to a wear a costume, a man who went across the street to the automat dressed as a media character, Buck Rogers.

I relish an image: Somewhere, Buck Rogers is still flying with a jetpack. Meanwhile, I remain an avid reader. I know better than to give credit to any complaining T-shirt based on “pictures” for an unaware public.

Sean Crawford
In orbit between Venus and Mars
June 2012

~ Even though Neil Postman has an excellent book called How to Watch TV News, I would recommend first reading his more general Amusing Ourselves to Death. For that book, the opening chapter is so good I once saw it published alone as a separate essay.

~Hark, librarians: In late August I’ll again be attending a weekend of sf and fantasy, of romance and erotica and farm wife writing groups, a weekend where librarians host seminars and are an esteemed part of the opening ceremonies panel. It’s called When Words Collide, a pun on the old Philip Wylie novel about the end of the world. (later a 1950’s movie) It’s for “readers, writers and publishers.” Yes, publishers too. For example, the manuscript buyer from Penguin Books (Canada) will be there. Trust me on this: There will be no costumes.
Even though I’m shy, and live in the same city, I’ve booked a hotel room to give myself a little more exposure to my fellow avid readers.

~A local retired newspaper woman, with a Troy Media on-line column, Catherine Ford, was being interviewed last week on CBC Radio One. This was after we learned the Post Media Sunday papers were being cut. When the interviewer said the younger generation “is still getting the news, only from different sources,” Ford said “No.”
She explained they are missing some context because while they are “getting what they choose to read” they are no longer coming across little stories in the bottom left hand corner right next to what they are interested in.