Sunday, July 28, 2019

The new English

Every once in a while, when I'm perusing (not persuing) my friends on Facebook, I'll come across a post where someone uses Internet shorthand to articulate their message.

I'm not sure "articulate" is actually the correct word here. The message can be filled with acronyms all over the place, which requires something like a code-breaking machine to translate. UKWIM?

I think this particular type of shorthand came about with the advent of Twitter, because apparently, you can use only so many characters in a Twitter post. I don't Twitter. I don't Tweet. IDK, it just seems like a CWOT to me, if not a GWOT.

The King's English (or maybe it's the Queen's English, since she's been on the throne for about 70 years now) has always been good enough for me. I like words. I like to play with them, to fool around with their meaning, to make them rhyme, to make them paint a picture if I can. Too many acronyms slow me down and distract me from comprehending the actual message. It requires a multitasking ability that I guess I don't have. I'm sooo OOT.

Some shorthand I just don't get. Why is K the Internet substitute for OK? Are we really saving bandwidth with this? Saving time? I'm O_O.

Then there are acronyms with letters and numbers in them, similar to a license plate. Like "P3r5On", which means "person." It actually looks like the word "person", it has the same number of characters as "person", why can't we just use "person"? It actually seems more difficult to type out the shorthand version. DOH.

All of this kind of makes me wonder how Shakespeare, the master wordsmith, would shake out in today's world: 2B or not 2B, that is the ?

Hmmm. Maybe not. Quill pens don't travel through time very well.

BTW, do these acronyms take some of the venom and vitriol out of swearing? Can I tell somebody to GTH and it simply makes them LOL 4COL? J/W.

Well, G2G. CUL while I CUWTA.


Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Eagle Has Landed

We were living in Connecticut, if memory serves (a somewhat spotty thing for me these days), back in 1962. I wasn't a news junkie yet. I mean, I was just 11 years old. Televisions offered only three networks, and those were in black-and-white. Radio was mostly a static-filled AM thing. Newspapers were for adults; I read comic books.

Even the Beatles were trying to find themselves back in 1962, replacing their drummer, Pete Best, with some goofball named Ringo – if we even knew who the Beatles were back then.

But in September of that year, President John F. Kennedy told a crowd of 40,000 people sweltering in the Texas heat at Rice University football stadium that it would be nice if we, the United States, could put a man on the moon – and bring him back home again – before the end of the decade.

I didn't hear the speech, but I heard the request. What an audacious thing to say. In 1962, we were just 35 years removed from Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis. We had no rockets that could reach Earth's escape velocity. We had no spacesuits. We had no astrophysicists. All we had was Walt Disney (from 1955):

And you want to put a man on the moon?

But a mere seven years later, I was sitting in front of a color television set. I'd become an 18-year-old  news junkie by then, hooked and fueled by the coverage of Kennedy's assassination just a little more than a year after his speech at Rice University. All of us knew who the Beatles were by then and we listened to them enchant us on clear-as-a-bell FM radio. And we had Mission Control, where all those 30-year-old engineers, mathematicians and physicists wore white dress shirts, skinny ties and chain-smoked cigarettes.

And we had Project Apollo.

Fifty years and several hours ago, I was in front of my TV, patiently waiting for Neil Armstrong to set foot on the moon's surface. It was getting late into the night, almost 11 p.m. The lunar module, Eagle, had landed at 4:19 p.m., but it took Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin seven long and unending hours to prepare for their moonwalk.

I wondered if it was even going to happen as I listened to fatherly Walter Cronkite assure me that it was. I'd watch a little, walk away for a bit, and then come back to watch some more. It might not even have been wall-to-wall coverage back then; I'm not sure. It probably was.

And, finally, it was time. I remember being drowsy, but I wasn't going to miss this for anything.

Then, almost as if by magic, the grainy live pictures of Armstrong climbing down the ladder of the lunar module were broadcast into our living room. I remember thinking that it was amazing that we had live television coverage of this event, an historic endeavor somehow transmitted 240,000 miles for the world to see. How'd they do that?

I really thought we were on the cusp of something spectacular back then. I could see missions to Mars and beyond. Star Trek made me think Vulcans, Tribbles and warp speed could be real things. We could do anything.

But, no. Budget cuts and shifting priorities have distracted us from our natural inclination to explore. Just three years later, with Apollo 17 in 1972, Gene Cernan became the last man to set foot on the moon.

I can only hope that we're in a holding pattern right now. I remember how excited I was about space exploration back in the 1960s, and maybe NASA, in conjunction with commercial entrepreneurs like Elon Musk or Richard Branson, can take us there again.

I hope so. I mean, I really want to see a Tribble.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The helping hand

Years and years ago, when I was still just a pup starting out on a career in sports journalism – and thus seriously underpaid – I tried to maintain the family tradition of sponsoring a child through the Save the Children Federation. (See here)

My parents sponsored a Navajo Indian child, keeping our dollars in the United States, and I thought I could do the same thing. So I signed up. This was back in the late 1970s, when I was making less than $200 a week (or $10,400 a year, before taxes). I gladly assumed sponsorship of an 8-year-old Navajo child in Crownpoint, New Mexico. We'd occasionally write letters to each other and that usually made me feel pretty good about my altruistic self. That was especially true when the child's parents would add a note thanking me for my support. I knew I was doing something good.

There were times when this was not financially easy to do. There would come the odd month when the car payment, car insurance, gas for the car, rent, utilities and other sundry bills would conspire to come due at the same time. My $20 monthly contribution to save my child put a serious crimp in my personal finances. I remember buying a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, or a pack of hot dogs that I could grill on my hibachi, and make them last and live off those for the rest of the week until the next paycheck came.

No sweat. All those hot dogs and fried chicken helped me become the man I am today.

Anyway, I kept the sponsorship going until he turned 18 years old. Never having children myself, I felt like I made a contribution in someone's life, even at $20 a pop. I still feel that way.

The other day, I was watching something on television, and suddenly, Marlo Thomas is talking to me. It's that time of year again when St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital makes its annual fundraising pitch (see here), and the images are heartrending. They're designed to be, no doubt, but still, seeing a young child hooked up to an IV bag when he should be playing outside with his friends pretty much grabs me by the throat.

I think St. Jude's has done incredible work over the decades. According to the commercial, St. Jude's, through its research, has produced something like an 80 percent survival rate among its youthful cancer patients. That still means 20 percent are dying. That's a hard statistic to absorb.

While I was trying to assimilate that hard truth, as the St. Jude commercial was going to fade, in the very next commercial block came an ad for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (see here).

I feel a little bit guilty – or something, I'm really not quite sure what the emotion is – because my TV screen is filled with pitiful dogs limping around on three legs or cats pleading to you with soulful eyes in a way that you never knew animals could communicate.

What to do? What to do? I want to save the children. I want to cure cancer. I want to do all of these things, but the reality is we can only pick and choose our battles. Yes, I still pay outlandish fees for my cable and WiFi. I still make the occasional contribution to save a Civil War battlefield, for crying out loud. We're still separating families and locking up children in cages. I'm not a particularly religious person, but I sometimes ask myself, when confronted with these seemingly moral dilemmas, What Would Jesus Do?

I'm not sure what the answer is. We are a race filled with contradictions and hypocrisies and apparently, nothing will ever change that. There may not even be an answer, other than doing the best we can and hoping it's enough.