In the Very Big City, once upon a time, O you Little Monsters, there was a Knowitall, and he knew everything. Or perhaps it was in the Impressive University, or the Efficient Workplace. I can’t recall which it was. It is just possible that the Knowitall was everywhere then, as he is today. Suffice to say that he was somewhere, and he knew everything there was to be known. He knew the depth of the ocean, and the height of the sky, and the speed of a thought, and the value of an hour well-spent, and the cures for all sorts of diseases–so!
There was one thing the Knowitall did not know, and that was how to make anybody like him. Whenever he encountered other people, and shared with them all that he knew, solved their problems and averted their wars, he found that they cast a bitter eye upon him, and treated him as the Fire might treat the Driving Rain, if the Fire but had voice to insult or hands to gesture rudely or a shoulder to turn coldly (in a fiery sort of way), or anything at all but tongues of flame which could not speak, but only lick the air.
(The Fire, O Little Monsters, once had voice and hands and shoulders all, but lost them. That is a story for another time.)
One day, as the Knowitall was telling the Unruly Squirrel how to carry his nuts, the Unruly Squirrel said to him, “Knowitall, I do not like you.”
The Knowitall hung his head in a sad but knowing manner and said, “I know.”
“No one likes you,” said the Unruly Squirrel.
“I know,” said the Knowitall. (He said this often.)
“Do you know why?” asked the Unruly Squirrel.
“I…” The Knowitall paused, and coughed, and scratched behind his ear in a queer sort of way. Something very peculiar was happening to him, and it unsettled him. It was something that had never happened before. He was being asked a question, and all he could say in reply was, “I don’t know!”
The Knowitall burst into tears.
The Unruly Squirrel laughed.
The Sun went down.
The Sun came up.
The Sun went down.
The Sun took a day off and read a book from the New York Times Bestseller list, and decided that leisure time was overrated; so the Sun came back up.
The Unruly Squirrel was still laughing.
The Knowitall waited patiently, for he knew exactly when the Unruly Squirrel would stop laughing. It happened precisely twenty-three minutes after the Knowitall stopped weeping.
“I haven’t laughed like that in years,” said the Unruly Squirrel. “I don’t like you, but I will help you, since I feel so good right now.”
“How will you help me?” asked the Knowitall. “Will you tell me why people don’t like me?”
“It will do you no good, for it’s a plain fact that people hate anybody who knows more than they do. You cannot change what you are.”
“But I do not know everything,” said the Knowitall. “I know everything but one thing.”
“Hatred doesn’t quibble over trifles,” said the Unruly Squirrel. “Hatred is pure.”
“But if I cannot change, how can you help me?”
The Unruly Squirrel narrowed his large (for a squirrel) black eyes and said, “Have you considered distraction?”
“I have considered everything,” said the Knowitall.
“Stop!” said the Unruly Squirrel.
“Do you mean, have I considered distracting people so that they don’t realize that I know everything?”
“No,” said the Unruly Squirrel. “I mean have you considered drawing people’s attention to how stupid other people are, instead of to how smart you are? If you show people how stupid another person is, they’ll be grateful to you, and never notice how utterly despicable you are.”
“Why would they be grateful?”
“Because, most people, deep down, believe themselves to be failures.”
“That is because they do not know everything but one thing, as I do,” said the Knowitall.
“Whatever,” said the Unruly Squirrel. “People feel like failures, and the only thing that makes them feel better is to know that someone else is an even bigger failure than they are. So, rather than spending your time showing off your knowledge, you should just tell people what they’re doing wrong.”
“And then show them how to do it right?” asked the Knowitall.
“Absolutely not,” said the Unruly Squirrel. “You just point out the error, give no help whatsoever, and walk away. Soon you’ll have more friends than the King and Queen.”
“But I can’t see how it’s right to bring people problems without solutions,” said the Knowitall.
The Unruly Squirrel sighed and sat down on his nuts. “Do you want friends or not?”
“I’ll try it,” said the Knowitall.
So the Knowitall walked until he found a Celebrated Author who had written a celebrated book. The author was reading his book to an audience, who was enjoying it immensely. The Knowitall knew every word in the book, of course, since he knew everything but one thing. He made his way to the front of the crowd, pulled the book from the author’s hands, held it up, and said:
“On the forty-eighth page of this book, the author says that a ray of sunshine weighs six ounces. A ray of sunshine weighs–” And the Knowitall stopped himself. He remembered the Unruly Squirrel’s words, and did not tell the Celebrated Author how to correct his mistake. He simply finished with, “A ray of sunshine weighs something other than six ounces. You are a terrible author.”
The crowd cheered. The Celebrated Author collapsed with an attack of asthma.
The Knowitall walked away amidst slaps on the back, toasts and offers of cash, and smiled. It did strike him odd, however, that he suddenly could not remember what was on the other pages of that book. Come to that, neither could he remember the weight of a ray of sunshine.
The next day, the Knowitall attended a concert by a Famous Composer. In the middle of the concert, he walked up to the stage and told the audience that the Famous Composer’s finger placement on the piano keys was off by a fragment of an inch. “You are a terrible composer,” he said. (No one even commented that perhaps he was merely a terrible pianist.)
The crowd gasped. The Famous Composer hung his head in shame.
The Knowitall exited the hall to thunderous applause. It was only days later that he realized he no longer knew how to play a piano.
And so it was. The Knowitall spent a year telling people their mistakes, but not how to fix them. And each piece of knowledge that he withheld from them vanished as well from his own head.
Soon he knew nothing at all.
And yet people still believed him when he said another person was wrong.
They still believe him to this day.
So I’m sitting at lunch, reading, and there are these two guys at the next table. One is young–under 30, I think–one middle-aged. My generation. Full head of hair but it’s gray. I judge by mannerisms. Young guy has a couple lines on his face, but his body language says his mind is still in a dorm room. Middle-aged guy has that pose that says he knows he’s in charge. Call it 55-60. I suck at guessing ages. A lot of people my age look pretty damn old to me. I’m still reeling from learning that I’m now older than Frank Morgan was when he played the Wizard of Oz. Damn.
Anyway, this older guy was berating–civilly, but still berating–the younger one for things like “not stepping outside the comfort zone,” and not being aggressive enough with clients or customers or whatever. And the younger guy was taking it, apologizing all over himself, explaining himself, admitting that he was falling down on the job…
In a pleasant lunch area, outside on a warm Fall day.
It was painful.
I don’t even know what they were saying, but the body language was enough to turn me off. What gets into a person my age that makes him think it’s okay to treat people that way? Like inferiors? And what gets into young person that he feels he has to respond in such a subservient manner?
Well, I guess that’s a little more understandable. We all need a way to earn a living. If this older guy is providing employment, it’s a survival mechanism for the younger one to treat him with deference, lest he lose his job.
But, really…? Should it work that way? Should people feel like grocery store produce that has to be properly oiled and placed, so they can sell themselves? And should anyone feel like it’s appropriate to receive that kind of deference? Or deliver that kind of harsh reprimand?
I guess it’s just my egalitarian nature, but that kind of display just makes me uncomfortable. Above all, when it comes to the people who work for me, I believe in displaying compassion, letting them know I’m on their side. Encouraging their strengths, and, if I find weaknesses, addressing them with an eye toward help the individual employee make his life better, not making him fill some mold I’ve chiseled out. Sure, if the person doesn’t fit the needs of the job, they may have to find another job. But you accomplish an awful lot by treating people as though they’re succeeding, and believing the best of them at all times.
I think–I hope–that I tried to raise my kids the same way. I’d hate to meet that guy’s kids.
Which guy? Honestly, either one. Kids don’t need role models who bully, and they don’t need to be taught that the way to succeed is to toady to bullies.
Maybe I’m misjudging the entire situation. I don’t know how I look to outsiders. I don’t know how I look to my own employees. I can ask, and I do. “Do I ever set unreasonable goals for you?” “Do I ever leave you wondering which way to turn?” “Do I ever make you feel like I don’t have time for you?”
They give me positive feedback, but… do they do it because they feel they have to? Last week I was told that a colleague was “afraid” of me. Didn’t want to ask me for anything, because I’m so intimidating.
I don’t think I’m intimidating, but who knows what we look like in the eyes of others?
That scene at lunch still bothers me. It’s like it was happening in a world I didn’t want to be a part of. But can a whole different world by just a few feet away?
Tonight, a guest blog, and the blogger is Battalion Chief (ret) Donald Howell. Although Chief Howell and I share long service at Howard County Fire & Rescue, we never served together as members. He retired a year before I began working there. We became co-workers, and then friends, while he was Executive Director of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF). He hired me to be his IT Consultant back in 2001.
This past Friday, we lost a dear friend, another retired firefighter who also served with ICISF. His name was Don Gow, and he was one of the dearest, most loyal, most giving souls I have ever encountered. But I couldn’t memorialize him half as well as Chief Howell did in this wonderful essay, so I asked permission to share it here.*
Take it away, Chief Howell.
I just wanted to let you know I lost a good friend of mine today, Don Gow.
Don loved his God, his Country and his family (Jean, Sissy and Donnie). The rest of us fit in somewhere behind those three, and probably even behind his love for his dogs, Duncan and Pixie. Continue reading
Now, before you call the cops on anyone to report me as a victim of assault, domestic or otherwise, be aware that the 18-year-old in question is me. And to be absolutely accurate, he’s between 18 and 21, all those ages, all at the same time. He slapped me upside the head with memories of him… me… when I took a nostalgic trip to my alma mater this past weekend.
Warning. This blog is stupid self-indulgent. There is no benefit to you, the reader, intended herein. This is all about me, and I make no pretense to the contrary.
My son’s marching band was performing at halftime at College Park’s Byrd Stadium as the Terps played the Bowling Green Falcons in a game that was interrupted by a severe thunderstorm. In fact, the game itself was not interrupted. It was the band’s fourth number, “Rock Lobster,” which was cut short just seconds in.
Basically, the Orange County School System in Florida has started using a software package to monitor the social media posts of all students and staff. The software, SnapTrends, would harvest posts (presumably after a list of names or user IDs is uploaded into it by the School System) and filter for certain words like “kill, knife, or gun.” If it finds them, school personnel will presumably investigate further to see if a student is a threat or needs mental health services or both.
Indeed, per the article above, they’ve already identified at least one student who was making suicidal threats, and sent officials to investigate. The article tells us this in support of the assertion, “The district said it has already prevented incidents.”
But is the incident loosely described proof of a prevented incident? I’m not saying you should talk to a student who is threatening suicide. I’m not saying you should not take every such threat seriously. I am saying that the threat is not the act, and you cannot claim you have “prevented an incident” simply because you followed up. You took steps to try and prevent a potential incident. You have no proof that your actions changed the course of events.
The rallying cry of proponents is, “Who cares? It’s all public information anyway.” This was certainly the opinion of the Today show staff when they aired the story.
It (the set of all posts by students) is public information, nominally. It’s also “public information” that I drive a certain way to work every day. I can’t disguise the fact that I do, and, legally, I have to display an ID number for my car where everyone can see it. Anyone who knows me knows what car I drive. If I think people can’t track my movements, I’m dreaming. A similar statement is made about people who think their Facebook postings are “private.”
But if you start following me everyday and taking notes on my actions, you’re a stalker.
“Oh, but a police officer is justified in following you and taking notes.”
Um… Maybe. If he or she has reason to consider me a person of interest in an investigation, certainly. But if I’m not? If a cop just feels like following me because he or she wants to know what I get up to? Courts have ruled that a police officer may follow a car 24/7 without establishing probable cause. Similarly, courts have ruled that a police officer may, secretly and without warrant, GPS tag a car parked on a public street.
I still think that’s stalking, but it’s legal. But a cop is a cop and a school administrator is not a cop. There’s also a question of scope. Cops physically couldn’t GPS-tag every resident of a single community, or actually follow them around in a car. The day they try, United State v. Pineda-Moren will go down in flames. Lawmakers tend to suck at thinking about scope.
I think the same is true of mass surveillance of social media. Watching one person based on probable cause is a good safety practice. Watching one person without probably cause is legal, but creepy, and probably won’t stand the test of time as a defensible behavior. Watching everybody? In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Aw hell no!” (I can’t prove he said it, but, hey, he was a redhead. We know he had a streak of rebellion in him.)
I have no objection to a private investigator, a school administrator or a police officer checking the Facebook posts of a kid who’s made threats to which they’ve been tipped off. That’s probable cause and grounds for investigation. Such tactics have resulted in the unearthing of credible threats. But watching the Facebook accounts of every single kid and teacher in a school?
That’s completely counter to the spirit of the law, which maintains we are all innocent until proven guilty.
“But safety is the most important thing. As long as we’re keeping the children safe, does it really matter if we’re infringing on people’s rights?”
I refer you to the late Mr. Benjamin Franklin on that one. He really said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
(There are some who claim that Franklin’s quote does not mean what we now say it means. Maybe I’ll tackle that in a future blog…)
Working on a novel that I just started this past week, I’m a little drained of big, substantive blog ideas right now. I do have a lengthy list of topics I want to write about, but I’m saving them for an interlude when I have more emotional energy, more creative spirit, and just more time to play with.
So, for times like now, I’m kicking off a new series (which has already resulted in a lengthy list of potential sub-topics) to explore my first impressions of some fictional worlds that became hugely important to me later on.
And one of the first fictional worlds I fell in love with… other than maybe those of Winnie the Pooh and Samantha Stevens of Bewitched, was Lost in Space.
My brother had a model Saturn V rocket. Assembled, I believe it stood about 30 inches tall. I guess he assembled it. I remember yellow streaks of model glue on the… does a rocket have a fuselage? But you could separate it into stages (what good is a rocket if you can’t separate it into stages?) and it was almost always disassembled. It was almost always disassembled because his annoying little brother, who was much too young for such a model, wanted to play with it all the time.
And who wouldn’t want to play with it? It had the Apollo command module and capsule, the capsule just the size of an acorn, but still… It may have had a lunar module on the side. And I’m pretty sure there was a completely-out-of-scale figure of an Apollo astronaut in full gear.
It now lies in state in a cardboard box in my old bedroom at my parents’ house. What’s left of it lies in state, anyway. The bright orange launch pad is still around, and some odds and ends, including that little capsule. Yeah, we’re that family. I haven’t lived in that house for 28 years, but my room is still full of my stuff. And… y’know… stuff I permanently “borrowed” from my brother.
Read this article. Just read it. Now. Every word. If you don’t understand it, ask someone who can explain it to you. Hell, ask me. Or, if available, ask somebody smart instead.
But don’t ignore it.
I had a whole blog post prepared for tonight about Saturn V rockets, Star Trek and childhood memories, with a gentle dose of being careful about your political environment tossed in. You can read that next week. This week, read something by someone who’s paying close attention than I am, and is here to tell you that the future is going to SUCK.
At least, the future is going to suck if you keep letting power-hungry assholes convince you that “the issues” are the need to re-illegalize abortion, legislate away climate change, defend marriage against those who just want to get married, or provide for absolutely FREE every damn thing our parents used to work for.
Those are not the issues. HERE are the issues, the ones important to people way beyond the borders of these United States, and the threats that exist to your future, brought to you by someone a lot smarter than I am. Her name is Jennifer Granick, and this is her keynote speech from this year’s Black Hat 2015 information security conference:
Read it. Read every damn word.
(Or watch the video.)
Spoiler: CyberSecurity is the threat. Donate to EFF.
There’s nothing more baffling to me than having to deal with someone who lies. In particular, I’m concerned with someone who lies about another person in order to look superior, or, more accurately, in order to make that other person look inferior.
The whole concept of making yourself look good by making someone else look bad is alien to me. Sure, you made that other person look bad, but can’t someone else just do the same to you? What have you proven?
If we throw objective measures of virtue and success out the window, isn’t life just a free-for-all? And then there is no virtue, and no success, just an endless parade of people trying to boost their image.
You make yourself look good by, well, making yourself look good. By doing something of value.
This is a short entry. Today is my birthday (my 50th) and I’m spending it all with my family and dear friends.
A while back, I reviewed Ultraman Mebius, a series from 2007 which continued the very successful Ultraman franchise. I believe I explained then that Ultraman was a character created by Eiji Tsuburaya, also the creator of Godzilla, in 1967. The show had been imported to the US shortly thereafter, and was a big hit with kids my age in the early 70s. Mebius was the 40th anniversary tribute series, and I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it.
Since then, Tsuburaya Productions has released a couple of other series, including Ultraman Ginga. I didn’t watch it, and I got the impression it largely existed to market toys. Apparently, its premise was that all the Ultramen and all their monster foes had been turned into vinyl miniatures call Spark Dolls. None of the subsequent series seemed to hold the same interest for me that Mebius did.