The Cherokee Conundrum

The other day, I read an article on Slate: Why Do So Many Americans Think They Have Cherokee Ancestry?

It caught my attention, due to an old bit of family folklore: long ago, my mother told me that my brother & I were “1/32 Cherokee”. She didn’t say from which of our thirty-two great-great-great-grandparents we received this curious heritage. Perhaps she didn’t know, and was just passing on something her mother had said.

Well, that’s interesting, thought I, but really it didn’t mean all that much to me. It didn’t change what I thought of myself; I took no particular pride or shame in it. Being 1/32 anything is just too diluted to matter.

When I started doing genealogy, I kept an eye out for this elusive, alleged Cherokee ancestor; but in fifteen years of research I have yet to find him. I have mapped out my mother’s side of the family tree, going back at least five generations (further, on some lines), and it’s Northern Europeans all the way down.

The gist of the Slate article is that far more people think they have Cherokee ancestry than actually do. Apparently, I’m one of them.

(I don’t know nearly as much about my father’s ancestors. Perhaps the rumored Cherokee is lurking in there, somewhere. But somehow I doubt it.)

Argument clinic

Lately, I’ve wasted way too much time poking around reddit, YouTube, etc., observing the arguments people are having there.

I’m astonished at how much effort people will put into these interminable disputes. I’ve seen YouTube channels where a new hour-long video goes up every week, and wondered: Does this person have a job?

(A sufficiently-popular YouTube channel can generate an astonishing income for its owner, so perhaps the truth of it is that these people really don’t have jobs, and really do spend forty hours a week producing video rantage on the issues of the day.)

It’s all very…unsatisfying, after a while. It isn’t just the muddled thinking, the talking points, the rhetoric, nor even the suspicion that none of this sound & fury will ever accomplish anything – it’s the realization that nobody’s trying to accomplish anything.

Arguing isn’t the means, whose end is persuasion. Arguing is the end. Counting coup against one’s enemies is all that matters.

Life’s too short to waste on schieße like that.

RIP, Timeful

Once upon a time, there was a thing called Timeful.

It existed for a while; then – last May – it was acquired by Google; then, today:

…at the end of August, we’ll be removing Timeful from the App Store. At the end of September we’ll be shutting off our servers permanently.

I never used Timeful. I never knew it existed, until I heard it would cease to exist. No skin off my nose, etc.

But it’s a story I’ve heard too many times: plucky, world-changing tech startup burns through some venture capital, makes a few users happy but doesn’t change the world all that much, then sells out to Google (or Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple…) and shuts down.

It’s been a long time since plucky, world-changing tech startup meant anything more than serial entrepreneurs looking for an exit. Investing time, data or money as a user of one of these puffballs is futile.

I have to wonder how much longer the scam will keep working. If potential users don’t buy in, there won’t be anything to sell to Google. All those serial entrepreneurs might have to get real jobs.

Quelle horreur!

Walking

Every afternoon, I walk a few miles: it’s about the only exercise I get, in a life otherwise filled with sloth & lassitude.

My route varies – the thought of trudging along the same path, day in day out, wearing a rut in the earth & in my soul, is deeply distressing to me. But most days, I find myself on Armory Avenue, westbound from Prospect Avenue.

With the country club on my left, and a row of million-dollar houses on my right, I climb the hill toward McKinley Avenue, harshing the collective mellow of the rich folks with my middle-class scruffiness.

And I smile to myself.

Kitbashing

Forty years ago, a large portion of my allowance went toward plastic models: battleships, military aircraft, that sort of thing.

I built the same ones, over & over: USS Arizona, Bismarck. (What did I do with the old ones? Destroy them? Throw them away? Alas, I do not recall. It’s been too long.)

I built a race car, once. After a few months on my nightstand, it met its end in the form of a carelessly-swung aluminum baseball bat. Oops.

I built the Revell P–61 Black Widow any number of times. I never painted it, nor did I attempt any of the dioramas shown in the instruction booklet; I glued the parts together – badly – and figured that was enough.

One time – doubtless inspired by The Flight of the Phoenix, one of my favorite movies – I decided to use the P–61 kit to build my own aircraft, instead of the one Revell intended. I had an old electric motor that fit in the engine nacelle, so the propeller spun just like a real airplane. Fourteen-year-old me thought that was pretty cool.

These days, people call that sort of thing kitbashing.

Sometime in the 1977–8 school year, my sophomore English class did a speech unit: stand in front of the class, tell them something about yourself that they might not know. I elected to talk about my kitbash’d airplane.

I showed them my creation, explained how I’d built it – and they stared at me like I’d sprouted a second head. I still resent them a little for that, though after so long I’ve forgotten all their names.

Ten years later (more or less) my brother Mike (of whom, requiescat in pace) built one last Revell P–61 kit, this time giving it the full treatment: paint (inside & out), decals, everything. I believe it’s still on display, somewhere in the house in Arlington Heights.

Video nasties

I often see things on the internet that I do not understand. Here’s one:

It’s a YouTube video, in which three or four fellas have set up somewhere on Market Street in San Francisco, to address passersby on the subject of…something, though it’s never clear exactly what.

A woman – in standard college-student uniform: t-shirt, jeans, sneakers, backpack – is arguing with them, about…something, though it’s never clear exactly what. They seem mostly focused on provoking each other, not on explaining, persuading.

A third party is recording video. This person is never identified, and his / her connection with either the fellas, or the woman, is left unexplained.

After a few minutes of rather pointless back & forth, one of the fellas pushes the woman away; she falls to the sidewalk.

“That was uncalled for!” says a passerby. Police are summoned, but it’s the woman – visibly upset, possibly injured – who is handcuffed & taken into custody.

Meanwhile, the fellas shout hateful slogans.

The whole scene seems a bit off – staged, faked, or just carefully edited so as to deceive. I would like to know more about what (if anything) actually happened, but the comments are as YouTube comments usually are: uninformed, incoherent, & (artlessly) vulgar.

Faced with something so disturbing, yet so bereft of context, people tend to see in it confirmation of the biases they already hold. If I am just confused, rather than outraged, what does that say about my biases?


This just in:

The fellas are apparently street preachers from The Real Israelites, an organization with a…unique perspective on the world.

Still no idea who the woman is.

Memento Mori

Thinking about two people:

Derek K. Miller, an eloquent fellow of wide-ranging interests: music, software, podcasting, writing…and, alas, cancer.

In November of 2011, Derek posted The Endgame; until he did, I really believed he would get through all the chemotherapy & suffering, would get better. Six months later, his final post made the news (and brought so many readers to his site that the server crashed).

Derek’s web site, penmachine.com, is still up. I visit it now & then, to re-read the old posts. For a time, there was a problem with spam comments, but someone’s taken care of that.

Also thinking of Martin Manley, a sports writer & statistician. I never met him, never read anything he’d written, never knew anything about him until he died – of suicide, meticulously planned & prepared over the last fourteen months of his life.

Martin left behind a web site – Martin Manley Life & Death – written in secret, published on the day he died: equal parts autobiography, apologia, and suicide note. He paid Yahoo for five years’ site hosting.

Two days later, Yahoo took down the site, for unspecified terms-of-service violations. (At least one mirror is available.)

Not so long ago, people left behind tangible, real-world artifacts when they died: letters, diaries, photographs. Now it’s all online, quickly erased & forgotten.

That’s beginning to seem like a huge mistake.

Will people fifty years from now realize how much of their history has been lost? (How much has already been lost? Has anyone noticed?)

Altitude sickness

The CBC says:

Malaysian police said Wednesday that they have detained four Westerners, including two Canadians, suspected of posing naked at the country’s highest peak last month, just days before an earthquake killed 18 climbers on the mountain.

Last year, it was Machu Picchu; this year, it’s Mount Kinabalu.

What is it with people these days…?

De-meta-ization

The other day, I posted something to Twitter:

That’s a typically oblique comment from me. Its surface meaning is clear enough, but there’s a subtext known only to me.

I had the notion today to move aside the curtain, to reduce the meta, to…explain myself. Quelle horreur!

Anyway.

I was wandering clicky-clicky about the internet – as one does – when I landed on Twitter user @KivaBay. I scrolled. I read. I looked at the pictures. And I thought:

Interesting person.
She draws very…expressively.
I wish I could draw.
Wow, she’s not holding anything back.

(“I wish I could draw” – my mind isn’t linear. It’s a jumble, charging off in several directions at once. Irrelevancies creep in.)

It seems Ms. Kiva got into an online squabble recently, with Adam Baldwin. (Yes, that Adam Baldwin.) I read through some of it – Twitter’s support for conversation threading is pathetic – but did not understand.

I understood her side of the argument, what she was doing & why. But his side of it made no sense.

Was he trying to change her mind about something? Was he playing to the invisible cloud of lurkers? Was he just trolling?

Celebrities don’t usually behave like that – at least, not in public.

Missing the point

Once I learned how to read – in kindergarten, if not earlier – I read voraciously. I started out with the usual children’s books; by the mid–1970s, though, I was reading mostly science fiction.

Mike was the same. He & I read every science fiction book we could find in the Hobart Public Library; and, after the family moved to Dyer in 1975, we set to the Dyer Public Library’s collection. (This led to frequent…disputes over who got to check out / read which book. I’m sorry for that.)

Most of that early reading has long since faded from memory, but not all of it. I remember reading, in one or another Best of Analog Magazine anthology, the story Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand, by Vonda N. McIntyre.

It was an interesting story: an itinerant healer, snakes, aliens; beautifully written. Later, there was a novel, Dreamsnake; I read that, too.

Years later, I was surprised to see Vonda N. McIntyre and Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand mentioned in an essay on feminism in science fiction.

Apparently, in reading & enjoying the story and the novel, I’d completely missed the significance of certain aspects of both: the female protagonist who has adventures & accomplishes great things, while the male love interest stays home & waits for her return. (I oversimplify. Grossly. If this were a book review, I’d be ashamed.)

Others weren’t so oblivious. There was controversy.

As there is now controversy over Mad Max: Fury Road, episode four of the Mad Max franchise, currently in theaters. Is it a feminist movie? An anti-feminist movie? Across the nation, people anxious to preserve their ideological purity await word on how empowered / offended they should feel.

Me? I don’t care. I haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road, and most likely never will.

I harbor the (admittedly, cynical) expectation that Fury Road is not so different from The Avengers: Age of Ultron (which I did see, a few weeks ago): two hours of special effects, pretty explosions & snarky dialog, uninterrupted by character development, plot, etc.–far too frothy a confection to support any ideological analysis.

Arguing about What It All Means just seems…pointless.