Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The World By Our Fingertips

A lot can be said about the internet -- both good and bad. On the negative side of the ledger, the internet has pushed people farther apart. While it is true that you can converse with individuals you most likely would never meet (e.g., someone thousands of miles away), this lack of platonic intimacy allows people to write things they would NEVER say to a person's face. It's very unfortunate indeed that a great many people revel in this kind of virtual anonymity by viciously attacking anyone who happens by.

On the plus side, however, the internet has brought libraries home to anyone with an internet connection. Need to find a new recipe for stuffed peppers? Need to look up a phone number or address? Looking for a new pair of socks or jeans? You can find all this and more with a few mouse clicks.

For someone like me -- who loves to do research AND who lives in a small town in a rural county far from a quality library -- my computer and the internet have become the closest of friends! Almost anything I might need (job) or want (interest) to look up, I can find, if I'm patient.

Just yesterday, I watched a documentary on The Weather Channel about the famed "Serum Run of 1925". According to Wikipedia,
During the 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the "Great Race of Mercy", 20 mushers and about 150 sled dogs relayed diphtheria antitoxin 674 miles (1,085 km) by dog sled across the U.S. territory of Alaska in a record-breaking five and a half days, saving the small city of Nome and the surrounding communities from an incipient epidemic. Both the mushers and their dogs were portrayed as heroes in the newly popular medium of radio, and received headline coverage in newspapers across the United States. Balto, the lead sled dog on the final stretch into Nome, became the most famous canine celebrity of the era after Rin Tin Tin, and his statue is still one of the most popular tourist attractions in New York City's Central Park. The publicity also helped spur an inoculation campaign in the U.S. that dramatically reduced the threat of the disease.
After watching the documentary, I wanted to learn more about the one musher who covered more distance than any other, Leonhard Seppala. Among the many facts I learned was that Seppala lived his last years in Ballard, Washington (a section of Seattle). A Norwegian friend of mine lives there now and I emailed her to ask if she ever met the man!

Were it not for the internet and the world wide web, I would have known very little about the Serum Run, other than what I watched on TV. And this is but one example that is representative of many such occurrences.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Knock, Knock Who's There?

As today is the holiest of holy days in Christendom, it got me to thinking about the "rapture". Since, according to the bible, most people of his day didn't recognize Jesus as the Messiah back then, why do present day Christians think they will recognize him during the second coming?

By almost all accounts, this Jewish carpenter had a decidedly small following and, even amongst his own followers, many didn't view him as the son of "God" -- He was simply a wise teacher and a sage. Even after the "resurrection", most people still didn't view him as anything divine or special. So I ask again, why do contemporary Christians think they will be any different?

For one thing, whose to say that he hasn't already come and gone? Because so few people recognized him for who he is, he just threw up his hands in frustration!

For another thing -- if you even believe in these fairy tales -- do people think he will send out an advance team to work up a big pr campaign announcing his arrival? Are they expecting the kind of spectacle that one might see on Super Bowl Sunday? Are they expecting the right wing blogosphere to create an internet event of epic proportions?

My guess is that, if the second coming ever came to pass, contemporary right-wing Christian zealots, who chortle incessantly about the impending rapture, wouldn't even bat an eyelash. They would summarily dismiss this obvious crackpot or lunatic. Others would froth at the mouth and mount an extensive "Swift Boat" campaign declaring that this person was not the second coming of the Messiah at all, but the antichrist himself.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

No Back and Forth for Me

The other day -- whilst taking a break from a marathon research session -- I was flipping around the TV dial and came upon the movie, Back to the Future. Yes, I know, we're not talking about about an Oscar-winning flick, but it's one I've enjoyed many times...that is, if I don't think about it very deeply.

While the film is a rather whimsical look at "time travel", it suffers from the same fatal flaw that all books and movies of this genre suffer from -- there's one variable not accounted for.

The person who leaves "today" for their trip to past or future can never return again. Of course, their body can return to the appointed time, but their consciousness is forever altered. For example, in Back to the Future, Marty changes some past events by his very presence, yet, when he returns to the "present", his consciousness is not altered.

Everything around him is changed. His parents have different personae as do his two siblings. The bully of his father's youth is now dad's gofer. Yet, for all these critical changes, Marty is the same. His consciousness basically is unchanged from the time he left.

As Taoism teaches and commonsense reveals, every action taken creates a ripple effect. It spreads out from the original point in ways we are unable to fathom. This is the prime lesson in the classic film, It's a Wonderful Life, in which George Bailey gets to see what life would be like had he never have been born.

Returning to Back to the Future, if Marty McFly's parents had tread a different path, the Marty that returned to the future wouldn't have been the same Marty that left for the past!

Moving beyond the fantasy of film, this same principle applies to real life. I don't know how many times I've heard a friend ask the question, What if s/he had done such and such a thing at a critical point in life instead of the path that was chosen? The friend then tells you how they imagine their life would be so different.

Unlike most people, I don't spend a lot of time looking back. What has been done was done and, rightly or wrong, it's led me to the present point. I realize intuitively that had I chosen a different path, I wouldn't be in the same place right now and, thus, could not even entertain the question.

For me, this is why second guessing our life's choices is an utter waste of time. If we had chosen a different path at any point -- whether we deem it significant or not -- our lives may have gone off in an entirely different direction and none of us would have even the tiniest inkling what that direction might be.

So, I try to embrace the present without spending too much time thinking about the past or future. I can't change my past and I can only influence the future when it becomes the present.