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Since I Never Get the Last Word


Wednesday, September 28, 2005
The Grass is Less Green on This Side of the Fence

Males in the civilized world understand a basic facet of civilized behavior revolves around a sports team. There are many possibilities for this expression of our rise from primitive man, U.S. football, real football, basketball, baseball, rugby, et al. The characteristic they all share in common is the requirement of fanhood. Fanhood is a recently developed scientifical term I just made up this morning that describes that state in nature when a male has devoted at least half his spirituality to a group of men wearing the same uniform scampering about on some predefined playing venue.

The very good thing about fandom is that it channels male aggressiveness into a relatively harmless outlet where cursing, chanting, stomping about, at the very minimum breathing heavily, are considered acceptable behavior. At the same time, the need to see scantily dressed females is sublimated and focused to a mere handful of maids dancing prettily on the sidelines thereby releasing all other females from the ugly necessity of avoiding men’s advances. Certainly, these channels can overflow and true violence can erupt in the process of participating in this supposedly harmless outlet but that is the exception and not the rule.

Over time, fanhood has its ups and downs. No team stays on top of the pile forever, not even the Yankees. Sooner or later, an upstart team will dethrone the current champion and send the fans of the former into fits of religious ecstasy while plunging the latter into the depths of despair. I’m working on a hypothesis that this is really a female plot to teach humility to the male population but the only evidence I can produce is their superior smiles when the unthinkable happens.

Another aspect of fandom is that some teams, perhaps all teams at one time or another, never rise from the lowest echelons of their league. One can point to the Chicago-St. Louis-Phoenix-Arizona Football Cardinals to produce the classic example of such a team. Many experts theorize that this perennial dismal performance is due to the penny-pinching nature of the team’s owners but those of us who have been condemned to watch several decades of ineptitude understand the basic problem to be a lack of blocking on the offensive line. One can wonder how a team can go half a century and never put a decent offensive line together but such speculation is metaphysical and not subject to objective analysis.

You may wonder what brings about this musing on a Wednesday morning in the 4th week of the NFL season. You see before you one who has devoted his spiritual energy to the same team for more than 40 years. In the beginning there were glory years which may cause you to believe I simply jumped onto the winning franchise of my youth but I was 22 years old before I opted for this team. Books bought my loyalty. Books by the coach, Run to Daylight,and an offensive lineman, Instant Replay,convinced me this was a team worthy of my devotion. Shortly after tendering my allegiance, things went south. The team struggled for three decades but then, slowly, glory returned. I was riding the crest of redemption,a half dozen or soyears of success, until this year. This year, the team that holds my soul in trust forgot what made them great. They gave away the offensive line and now reap the fruit of such poor decision making. My greatest fear is that it will take them another three decades to figure out where they went wrong.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-09-28 10:25:14


Monday, September 26, 2005
A Signifying Ratio

According to the U.S. Census Bureau (quoted by Rodger Doyle in this month's Scientific American), the ratio of men, ages 20to 44, to women in the U.S. peaked out in the second decade of the 20th century. About 1917 or 1918 – depending on how you read the graph – there were 108 men for every 100 women in the country. This ratio bottomed out in the early 1970s when it hit 95 men for every 100 women. The data for 2002 shows the trend rising rapidly again to 102 men for 100 women. The prediction is that by 2020, the ratio will have capped at 103/100. The current common wisdom is that immigration – legal and otherwise – is the source of the fluctuation.

Some folk believe that the diminishing ratio is at the heart of the feminist movement of the 60s and 70s. Being on the high side of the supply and demand equation the thinking goes, women were more apt to have the time to consider their wants and needs. These same folk believe that diminishing ratios can only work to women’s advantage as prospective partners, in order to win fair maid’s hand, will be more apt to consider their wants and needs.

Since I am not commonly wise, I suspect that “the pill” is the bedrock of the feminist movement. Once woman achieved a measure of control over their reproductive systems, all bets were off. Males’ ability to keep them barefoot and pregnant evaporated into thin air along with the idea that women are incapable of fending for themselves. Even the most chauvinistic male could no longer support that line of argument.

Be that as it may, I wonder what the rising lopsided ratio forebodes. The cat is out of the bag so I doubt that men will be able to return to the "good old days." Women will retain control of their bodies and men will be required to live with the notion. Unless one wants to write the new apocalypse story where monotheistic fundamentalists take over the world to blow up the “pill” factories, imprison all the women everywhere, and settle in to rule the roost the way “that god intended.”

Oh, yeah, Margaret Atwood already wrote that story, didn’t she?

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-09-26 09:28:55


Friday, September 23, 2005
Anniversary

Nearly four decades ago I spent a year in a place the Chinese call Ywenan. The year passed quickly highlighted by loud noises, a truly fierce New Year’s celebration, and my gaining a deeper appreciation for the fact that people come into this world and then they die. These days I remember that year more because it was the same year the Lady Who Shares Her Life With Me decided to do that very thing.

Today, though, marks the passing of another year for me. This time it was our son who traveled across a pond to spend a year trying to convince people democracy can save the world. He and his had about the same success level as me and mine four decades ago. But he and his did it better. They survived an environment every bit as harsh as Ywenan and they did it with just about as much fanfare as the Arizona Cardinals receive when they arrive in an opposing team’s town. There are some who notice, some who care, but most have lives they want to live and could not care less the good guys are passing through.

As I write this, he’s in the air heading home to wife and children, safe enough for now.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-09-23 09:02:10


Thursday, September 22, 2005
Five Score and Fifty

Not surprisingly, Scientific American magazine feels compelled to enter its needles into the great debate of our times. This great debate is distinguished from the long debate which concerns itself with the issues of philosophy which are said to be the nature of knowledge, the nature of individual conduct, and the nature of people living together in a body politic. The great debate represents itself as an argument over the pros and cons of ideas of how we arrived here. There is the school that says we evolved which some refer to as blind chance masquerading as evolution. There are some who insist on the hand of a creator being involved in theprocess. The matter matters because the winning side determines what our schools may teach our children.

This month’s issue of Scientific American quotes George Gamow, the mathematician. Fifty years ago, this George wrote: “What right have we to assume randomness in the hereditary material, the product of a natural selection process which has operated for millions of years? In answer we can cite the fact that the sequence of digits in the number ð (3.14159265….) is also random; there is no discernible system or pattern in the sequence. We may imagine a mad mathematician who, searching for “useful numbers,” writes down one random sequence after another, until after rejecting millions of numbers as useless, he finally stumbles on the random number ð and finds by test that it is very helpful indeed. Similarly, in a living organism over eons of time the random mutations may once in a great while produce a sequence of nucleotides which blueprints a new and helpful enzyme.”

A hundred years ago Dr. A.R. Wallace took the stage again to note that our planet is the only possible place in the cosmos suited for life-as-we-know-it. His assertion immediately stirred the interest of “progressive scientists,” who first noted that Dr. Wallace was by then a very old man and like Lord Kelvin, he had at that age found a Providential design in the arrangement of the material universe. One school, it seems, claimed that he was old and in his dotage; the other that he had become a wise in his old age. Dr. A.R. Wallace was the fellow discoverer with Charles Darwin of the origin of species.

The more times change; the more they remain the same.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-09-22 10:35:40


Tuesday, September 20, 2005
The Basque Not In Our History Books

If your name was Juan Sebastián and you happened to hail fromElcano, it would be a good bet that you couldn’t catch a break. This would not be because you had not accomplished something that no one before you had ever accomplished. It would be because you lacked the publicity machine your former boss had at his disposal. Consequently, even when the modern world tries to acknowledge that you were the one who actually got it done, they’d either misspell your name or spend three centuriestrying to ignore that it was you and not your boss who gotit doneIt would not matter that your homeland is quite content with its spelling or that all Spanish language references to you on the internet spell it as your homeland does.

One of the few facts I recall from my early education was being required to know the name of the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe. The correct answer in the 1940s was Ferdinand Magellan. For some reason, the history books of my youth thought it would only confuse me to know that Ferdie didn’t complete the trip. He died fighting a war he had no business involving himself in in the Phillipines so that his navigator had to complete the voyage. The correct answer should have been – you guessed it – Juan Sebastian de Elcano.

Even today, the textbook used at our local community college, The American Nation, doesn’t mention Juan in its text at all nor is he listed in its index but it does show on its Voyages of Discovery map his trip from the Phillipines to the Spanish port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda as being accomplished by “del Cano.” It’s just a quibble that the line depicting Juan Sebastian’s voyage stops at the tip of Africa so the authors can enter de Gama’s trip around the same cape. I suppose that (a) de Elcano takes up too much space or (b) ‘del’ is a common Spanish contraction so it must apply here. Either way, it’s sloppy history. This text was published long ago in 2003 so I suppose the authors’ access to the Internet was limited. After all, I didn’t join sffworld until September 2001.

The textbook used in our local high school district, Creating America, acknowledges Magellan died fighting in the Phillipines but then it says: “The sailors in Magellan’s crew became the first people to sail around the world.” Accurate enough, I suppose, but when history books make such a big deal about the names at the head of events, what did poor Juan ever do to piss them off? Ferdie gets an entire strait named after him but Juan can’t even get a one-line credit for his accomplishment.

Posted by Dan Bieger 2005-09-20 11:13:38


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