Sunday, April 27, 2008

Opposing Viewpoints

I am very used to dealing with opposing viewpoints. I have spent many, many year’s examining reasoning and arguments back and forth on a great many topics. This is an area that can be very difficult for many people that are not used to having their beliefs challenged. I think what happens to a lot of people is they have had certain beliefs for a long time, been isolated with people of similar beliefs, or just really have taken for granted a lot in life. Then when someone sees something that completely contradicts their point of view there is an initial shock of seeing this happen. This might bring about some fear and anger. It is almost as if someone is telling them the sky outside on a normal day is green. The thought might be the person contradicting his or her ideas is crazy or a crackpot. If you could only see some of the looks I have gotten when I have been seen with a book that others know I probably don't agree with, "What are you reading that for?" It can really be upsetting to others if you talk in hypotheticals to people that are not used to various ways of argumentation even if you have the same beliefs.

This is why the old saying, “one should not talk about politics and religion with others,” came about. Although, I have noticed in my experience, right after that said a lot of politics and religion still comes up. Part of the reason for that is one can never really escape those issues if they are taking the issues of life seriously. Although I keep up on those issues, this blog really is not the place for them; at least not a full discussion of them. Most political viewpoints one has can be strongly opposed by about 50% of the population. I figure if someone really wants those types of debates and discussions they have better places to go.

Even in issues of history strong disputes are certain because, as I just mentioned, one can never really escape the big issues of life. Those issues are always mixed into history. Let me give you some examples.

For quite some time I have had an interest in a Japanese police force called the Shinsengumi. They were a group of samurai hired out to protect Kyoto near the end of the Japanese shogunate in the 1860’s. Eventually, when the Tokugawa shogunate ended and the Meiji era began, those who had not died or left had lost their jobs. Lots of books and movies have been based on these men. I own a bunch. There story has been told in fiction a lot because there is this idea of their strong loyalty and ideals. They would fight to the end no matter what the cause for the authority of the Tokugawa (and Aizu clan who hired them). There is a lot of “if’s” and “but’s,” but that is the favorable side. The other side is much more negative. With the fall of the shogunate brought about the Meiji Restoration. The Meiji Restoration brought about many political changes after the year 1867. Naturally, if one sees the restoration as being good politically then whatever was trying to hold it back would be a bad thing. So, from the negative point of view the Shinsengumi have been described as Nazi like cultists who used their rules and power as an excuse to commit murder. See, a whole political viewpoint may determine how one views the Shinsengumi.

I enjoy reading and watching both perspectives. Some years back I was told that a new book in English about the Shinsengumi by a guy known as Romulus Hillsborough would come out. I knew right away, based on his pro-Meiji stance in previous works, what viewpoint this book would represent. I did not care about that though, but just wanted to see it because it would be the first real book written in English about the subject. However, I knew this might be a problem for those that really advocate a more positive viewpoint of them. It took a long time for the book to come out, but when it finally did it was the way I expected it to be. I have not really kept up with that “fanbase” on this since I left it, but from what I have been told since then the response has had downright hostile toward the book. One of the most recent messages I was forwarded was about a guy who was declaring that the book should be banned and not purchased.

That is the worst attitude one can have when investigating history. In order to come to a greater understanding of anything one must allow for opposing points of view. If there are errors of fact, bad assumptions, etc. so be it because those will be corrected in the overall process. In the long run, more essays and books will come out in response and, the way I look at it, the truth will come out. Also, allowing other points of view allows you to strengthen your own point of view. Can your viewpoint hold up under rational thought? Maybe you have made some simple errors and the other viewpoint helps bring them out. So, although it can be painful, one should welcome other points of view and have a more humble approach. There is tons of stuff that I have had to correct over the years due to different outlook.

The book I was referring to was really written as a popular level book. The author writes more from a narrative approach where he is trying to tell a good story, but also includes themes and facts. To me, that is more of a historical fiction perspective. The book is not a university press book. The difference is that, for the most part, university press books tend to be more professional with scholars in the field. I suspect that a lot of the criticism taken is because it was not written like a professional historian would write it.

I am currently re-reading two old west books that have just come out that are university press books. One, Salt Warriors by Paul Cool, is about the El Paso Salt War in which a group of Mexicans forced the Texas Rangers to surrender. This is the only time that has ever happened. Some time back I mentioned there are three major stories about the El Paso area that could use a movie. This is one of them. The book is to some extent revisionist in that it goes against some of the popular thought of whether the Mexicans were a chaotic mob, but well organized insurgents. I’ll write about it at another date since the book is rather detailed and, in all honestly, rather tough read for me. It is a good book because of this, but you really have to want to know about every person involved in the conflict and not just the conflict itself.

The other book I am currently re-reading is the most radical book I have read in a while. The Feud that Wasn’t: The Taylor Ring, Bill Sutton, John Wesley Hardin and Violence in Texas by James Smallwood is a rather hostile point of view in regarding something called the Sutton-Taylor feud. You can see there might be a problem right away because the book even disputes that there was a feud. I’ll have to come back to this at another time because to explain what has traditionally been called the feud would take a long blog entry in itself. Let me point you here:

In the feud traditionally understood, after the Civil War in the United States, the Taylor family got in a dispute with the Sutton side. The Sutton side is really not a family since Bill Sutton was the only participant, but it represents the law enforcement side. The Taylor’s were seen as outlaws who preyed on the cattle in the area. The Taylor’s saw the cattle as free to those who could catch them; this was known as mavericking (taking unbranded cattle). The Sutton side saw this as cattle rustling. I am really simplifying things here, but that is how it is traditionally understood.

Lots of books have been written on the feud. Most of them are from the Taylor point of view. Finally, a book has come out that gives more of the other side of the story. The author, James Smallwood, has written a lot in regards to the Reconstruction of the South after the Civil War. This book is another part of his view of the bigger picture. Now I am glad that the Shinsengumi fans I knew of are not into the Taylor family history. They really could not handle this. Smallwood is very hostile to what he calls the Taylor crime ring. In his view, the Taylor ring not only represents the family, but a lot more outlaw individuals associated with them. On each page he seems to constantly indict the Taylor’s with murders, rapes, racist acts, etc. as recorded by local law enforcement, the state police, and eventually the Texas Rangers. Again, some of the politics of the time period influences how one sees the Taylor family and the law enforcement of the period. If you think the south was mistreated during reconstruction by Yankee abusive rule then you might be sympathetic with the Taylor side. On the other hand, if you see the people like the Taylor’s as unrepentant confederates, criminals, and racists who were fighting a second civil war during reconstruction you probably will take the law enforcement side.

I have had some sympathy for the Taylor side from what I have studied in the past. Some of what Smallwood has presented is rather shocking. Some I would have expected. In Some instances I think he is rather biased and assuming the worst possible interpretation of the situation. At times I do not really care for the way he uses his sources in presenting the material; part of that maybe because he was limited to 200 pages and could not give full quotes of his sources. What is going to have to happen is a full examination of his sources that are mostly taken from the National Archives. However, when it is all said in done, I welcome a book like this. It helps in understanding the overall process of trying to figure out what was going on with the violence in Texas after the Civil War. Smallwood has filled in some of the details in some instances I have not found elsewhere. I think it will be a great thing to see further books on the subject and those in response to it.

I had to write a long blog to get out some of this. Seeing someone contradict what you believe can be a bit unnerving. It may produce fear and anger if you are not used to it. If you really are after truth then you will welcome it. It will help you reflect on what you really believe and whether would you really should believe it. I can not say I will do this with every entry I talk about regarding this, but I do try to give you sources for both sides when I can. At the end of the day, it is not up to me to figure out what you believe regarding anything in history or life. I will tell you what I think, point to a few sources, and it is up to you to figure everything out for yourself.

Let me give you some sources and alternatives. Regarding the Shinsengumi:

Hillsborough, Romulus. Shinsengumi: The Shogun's Last Samurai Corps. North Clarendon: Tuttle Publishing, 2005.

The next book is not so much an alternative point of view, but a university press text. The Shinsengumi are practically footnotes in this book. I wanted to refer to this book because it is done by a professional historian. There is a completely different style of doing history in both books. This is not a cheap shot at Hillsborough because he is using a historical narrative approach which is good when writing a story for the general public. Totman, on the other hand, is not so much trying to tell a story, but give you solid reasons for why the shogunate fell using historical sources.

Totman, Conrad. The Collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu, 1862-1868. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1980.

Regarding the El Paso Salt War:

Cool, Paul. Salt Warriors: Insurgency on the Rio Grande. College Station:Texas A&M University Press, 2008.

As I mentioned, a great detailed and epic book, but IMO not the easiest of books to read; okay, for those of you that obsess over everything in the old west I am not talking to you. There are a bunch of earlier books, but let me just give this one by Sonnichsen. He had a stand alone version with just the Salt War section, but one might as well just get this one for the extra feuds. It maybe good to read this one first then compare with the above book.

Sonnichsen, C.L. Ten Texas Feuds. University of New Mexico Press, 2000.

Regarding the Sutton vs. Taylor Feud (or No Feud):

Smallwood, James. The Feud that Never Was: The Taylor Ring, Bill Sutton, John Wesley Hardin, and Violence in Texas. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2008.

For the classic telling of what traditionally was called the feud I again refer to the other book by Sonnichsen about Texas feuds. This book covers lots of other interesting feuds so it is worth getting.

Sonnichsen, C.L. I'll Die Before I Run. New York: Devin-Adair, 1962.

For a free account that is actually pretty good from the time period download the Victor Rose book:

The Texas Vendetta, Or, The Sutton-Taylor Feud

or go to the google page HERE.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

James Dean Knife Fight Location

This is a well known one and is one of the ways the observatory people promote their location. Even before I was even into location hunting, as a kid, I could have told you where this one was.

There are some differences with the way it is now compared to then, but it is obvious that it is the same area. When you are facing the front of the observatory just follow it around on your left and you will run into this place.

Personally, I would have kept the lug wrench and not thrown it like James did. Ehh, I would not fight fair in a situation like this. That is just me though.

As I mentioned, part of the way they promote this place is with this movie. There is a plaque located here dedicated to James Dean. You can see the Hollywood Sign in the background. If you want to go to the observatory it is free. There are some short science movies they show for a fee, but the rest is free.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Tunnel to the Griffith Observatory

I guess you could say this is one for the kids. I think Nancy Drew (2007) bombed at the box office last year, but at least it provided this one location. In this scene Nancy Drew and her friend almost get run over.

The picture below is the direction you have to go to get to the observatory. You just take a left out side of the tunnel, and within a minute or two you should find somewhere to park. That all depends on the day you go. During the week you should be able to get really close. Other times you may have to park down the hill a bit to walk up it.
When I did this I was wondering if I had the right side of the tunnel. After all it could have been filmed at the opposite end.
To make sure I had the right spot I examined the left side of my picture...
with the one below. The bush on the left is the same one, but there are some color stains on the wall that are the same.
The first picture from the movie was helpful too. With location hunting there are certain thing you look for in comparing stuff. This was not that tough, but you do develop an eye for detail. I can not remember since I have not seen the movie in ages, but it seems to me that the movie about Who Framed Roger Rabbit had something here too or the other side. Okay, duh, I just looked up the filming locations on imdb and it says it was the entrance to Toontown. Naturally, within Los Angeles there is tons of places movies are filmed that people walk by everyday.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My Days of Debates

While I was in my second year of college a friend and I would talk about the various issues regarding history, philosophy, religion, and politics. He made the comment one day that I was going into areas that, “you have to expect people disagreeing with you all the time.” I understood at the time what he meant, but for some reason it was not as powerful to me at the time. I think I had this idealistic view that others will disagree with each other, but if you present the better argument then your chances of coming to an agreement are better. I still do to some degree; otherwise, why even present arguments? Let me give you some personal history on how I have changed a bit on this.

Not too long after what I mentioned above with my friend, I was on a Bulletin Board System (BBS) corresponding with others by message boards and e-mail. A BBS was a pre-cursor to the internet. The internet was really just taking off at this point, but BBSes were still in vogue until about the mid-90’s. There was this man I noticed debating a lot of teenagers on these message boards. How do I explain this guy? He had this 1960’s Existentialist Hippie thing going, and he had this way of really talking down to the teens on there. I decided to step in and debate this guy so the teens would not feel like they were walked on, but mainly because I thought the guy was wrong on so many things.

After months of going and back and forth with this guy something always came up. He would always say something like, “There are lots of people that disagree with you.” I would acknowledge that, but then try to get him to respond to the particular argument I had made. You know, “Which premise do you think is not true? Let’s talk about the reasoning.” Later, it would come up again that others disagree with me. Then I would respond with, “If everyone disagreed about what 2+2 equaled would that mean that it did not equal 4?” Or, how about the people that thought before Columbus crossed the Atlantic the world was flat (It turns out a lot of people going back to the Greeks thought the world was round, but you get the point)? He had this hang up over the whole concept of truth and, in his mind, the argument was over once he pointed out others disagreed with me.

I ended up debating another guy sometime after this that was a lot smarter. The problem was he was not as educated in the areas we were talking about. What happened is whenever we came to a point that he was not comfortable with he would make some sarcastic remark or try to be funny at my expense. I had a “stick to the facts” attitude about it because I did not want to get into just name calling. Eventually it got to the point where I felt like all he wanted to do was take cheap shots. It was not about having good reasons, but seeing if he could get me angry, the upper hand emotionally, or something.

This is part of the reason I do not get involved with online debating very much. Usually, if it is something I really care about I might try to present a few facts and let it go. My days of big, drawn out debates are long gone. It just is not worth my time. If someone likes that sort of thing then he or she should do it. However, I would encourage doing it to see how well your arguments hold up rather to see if you can “convert” someone to your point of view. Also, asking probing questions to better understand what a person means to create clarity is probably just as important for your own understanding.

That last sentence is what I want to emphasize. In any issue you care about it is important that you study the issue and find good reasons for what you believe. A few blog entries ago I mentioned that to know something means you have to have true beliefs, but also good reasons for that belief. This is not an easy thing to do because of some of what I have just mentioned.

Now on this blog I do go into a little bit of history from time to time. On just about every issue there is an opposing viewpoint. On a lot of things it depends how skeptical one wants to get. This is especially true in old west history because of the fragmentary nature of some of the history. On the other hand, it has to do with assumptions or biases involved what one considers a fact, and what one considers evidence. Next time I will go more into the issues of opposing viewpoints and how I deal with them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Hollywood Sign Hike

A few months back my partner and I decided we wanted to go up to the Hollywood Sign. It turned out that Huell Howser had just had his special episode up there where he had permission to go pass the fence to get directly under the sign. For normal people you have to stay behind the fence.

We decided to start the hike off at Griffith Observatory. I had been there recently and wanted to back again. To get to the sign you do not have to start there. You can get there from Beachwood Blvd., then park, but you still have to hike up the road that goes behind it. The whole point of us doing it from the observatory was to make it a fun exercise hike. I think it only took us about 2 1/2 hours to go up and back that morning. We really were not going that fast because we knew we had to wait until the observatory opened that morning anyways. No need to hurry just to wait around for it to open. Here is a picture on the trail we took looking back at it.

In all honestly, this hike is just walking a fire road after fire road. It is not the most scenic area to go to. It is nice if you just want to find a place close to the city to hike around. There were a bunch of Koreans out that morning for some sort of jogging race around this area of Griffith Park. The morning was really hazy, but not smog hazy, just a real foggy look that early morning. The trails took as back and forth so we curved around rather than head straight to it. We got to a short hill called Mt. Chapel that when we got there was covered with fog. There we took a quick break.

We moved down and on to Mt. Lee where the Hollywood Sign resides. The road took us back behind it. We looked down and saw the Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Memorial Park. I told my hiking partner that I thought I saw Lee Van Cleef down there. Lots of celebrities gravesites are there. We turned another corner and saw the fence. We were there.
I went the extra distance to get to the top of the benchmark indicating Mt. Lee and took these pictures looking down on the sign.

We spent some time there and then just head back down, but decided to get a good shot at the end of Beechwood.

I see the sign all the time in the news and in movies. There area I shot this was nearby a place used in the movie Mullholland Drive; the mysterious cowboy scene. Some of the areas I walked down to get to this point definitely looked familar from that movie. I can imagine something going on at night where someone would have to meet someone up near the sign. The whole end of the hike could have a real suspenseful feeling to it. Then again, I thought Leslie Nielson was up here somewhere in the first Naked Gun movie, "And where the hell was I?"

So, the hike was nice. I am not sure I really have the motivation to do it again. This is one of those hikes you do once, and you probably don't really want to do again unless you are just doing it for a bit of excercise. I have excercise hikes I do closer to home anyways. There is another nearby hike from the cemetery side that I would not mind doing.

The Official Hollywood Sign Site

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Arrastra (The Alabama Hills Series)

(GPS: N36 36.090 W118 06.855)

This is another one I have wanted to do for a long time. This is one of the man made artifacts that has been left behind in the Alabama Hills. The movie The Yellow Sky has the Arrastra in it. When the men are working in the mind not too far from this location they hear some Apache Indians coming and run over here to see them below.

This is one of those things that I am not sure there is some Wikipedia type of articles to explain it. I did not look to hard. I did a simple search and found THIS. Basically, it was used to grind up the quartz to remove the gold found. Something like a donkey could be used to walk around in a circle to get the "machine" going. It seems to me the movie The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly had one at the beginning with the intro to Lee Van Cleef. There was a boy riding the mule around. Here is the way the one in the Alabama Hills looks today: I mention this in the video, but the story I was told was that this Arrastra was designed for the movie The Yellow Sky. When the movie was finished the guy hired to take it down only cut off the top part of it so it could not be seen from the nearby roads. He took his money and ran before this was discovered. The problem is that I have seen this used in other movies. The movie Kim has it briefly and you have to look or you will miss it. That was filmed a few years after The Yellow Sky. No problem there, but one day I was watching an old Rex Allen western, West of Nevada, which for a few seconds had this: At first I thought this must have been another area, but then I matched up the big rock behind them that looks like it has a bunch of lines going through it with my videos. Sure enough, it is the same location. It is possible that it was a movie set piece for this movie or another movie done here before it. My gut feeling is that this was a real arrastra used for some mining at some point. I could be way off though. I do not know enough about mining in this area. If someone knows the real story on this please let me know. Either way, it is pretty cool that it is still out there and has been used in movies. Although I have a bunch of other Alabama Hills videos I am going to post, I am going to take a break from this since I have posted a lot lately. For a change of pace, over the next week or two I am going to cover a hike I went on a few months back and some movie stuff related to it.

YS: The Arrastra (Youtube Version)

YS: The Arrastra (Vimeo Version)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Making a Blog Relevant

In the past few blog entries I have talked about living in the information age, setting priorities, some of the pitfalls regarding the millions of blogs, vlogs, magazines, books, etc., and a little about knowledge and giving good reasons that are of concern to me. I will spend some more time regarding the last two in a blog I will do next week on how I handle various contradictory points of view in controversial areas. This is important in the areas of any type of history, so it is relevant here on this blog. However, in this entry, I want to focus on things I have kept in mind while doing this blog. Whether this is helpful or practical to you is something you will have to decide, but I wanted to just get this out there.

When I started this blog, my intention was to make it fun and deal with things that I consider hobbies. One may think I have many hobbies, but really a lot of what interests me comes down to the same things. I have found that a lot of the stuff I have been into in the past like locations, martial arts, movies, hiking, history, and a few other academic fields to name a few things, are very similar when I start to really examine why I enjoy them. Certain areas cross over into other areas the more I study them.

Most of what I have done so far in this blog is primarily in regards to my location hunting. Even with that, there is usually something related to one of the interest areas I just mentioned in the last paragraph. So, not only am I finding some interesting location, but there is usually something else involved along with it that is still as interesting to me as the location is. I like to integrate different areas of my life like this. I am slowly going into other topics that I have wanted to. These last few blog entries are my indication that I intend to slowly start branching out here and there a little more than I have done in the past. I still will be doing a lot of locations and will continue to do that. I have tons of more videos I am slowly going through to put out on my youtube account; I am actually a bit behind on a bunch of stuff. I think on any blog there is a time where one has to try to branch out when one is ready to do so to avoid just doing the same thing all the time.

My basic approach on this blog from day one, and here is where I start giving my “advice” which you can take for whatever it is worth, is that I do not focus on myself, but on something that exists apart from me. When I was kid I used to start these notebooks where I thought I might have a journal or diary. I would think to myself that I would record what happened during the day or write about something that interested me. Within a few days I would quit because I could not think of anything important to write about myself. The problem was, I was kid without a lot of life experience, but I was starting internally and trying to write about myself.

Now writing about oneself, one’s mental life, is not a bad thing. I think the pitfall that one encounters is that over time everything starts sounding the same. Then, it is just a matter of burnout and quitting. I suspect that there are a lot of people out there that have this problem. I know I have seen it on youtube where some younger people burn out of doing their videos.

My suggestion would be is to start with something external to you. Begin with the “outside world” and not just the contents of your feelings, desires, and thoughts of your inner mind. The focus of this blog is not ME. In fact, most who have read this blog in the past probably know very little about me from it. I do, from time to time, give you my thoughts and opinions on a few things, but this is just a small part of my life. Part of the reason for that is I like to keep a bit a mystery about myself, not that I have anything to really hide about myself or that I am really all that interesting either, but I write and show things that I think are interesting in the real external world.

One of the things that I get slightly annoyed about (pet peeve time) is when someone starts to focus on him or herself rather than the topic or area I enjoy. I encounter this a lot in an area I try to get hiking information on. One of the persons I know of that constantly writes messages about her hiking trips does this very thing. She has gone on a lot of interesting hikes and has posted tons of pictures. It is not a bad thing if done once in a while, but it seems like every hike she goes on or any information she gives there is always a smiling picture of herself showing every accomplishment. There is no problem with people posting pictures of themselves, but in what I am talking about is if someone makes him or herself the focus of everything then something has gone seriously wrong. Sometimes I feel this is more of an indication of mental problems, self-esteem issues, or trying to get approval from others.

The next thing I think of is related to what I just said regarding getting approval from others. My approach has always been that one should write his or her blog with entries that can be appreciated in the long term. I think one should be able to enjoy a blog two days from now, two years from now, twenty years from now, two hundred years from now, etc. In all honestly, I do not write, show pictures, or videos worried about how many people are viewing my stuff every day. It is nice to be recognized with whatever you do, but I like the stuff I do because it is good in and of itself. The nice word is intrinsic. There should be a timeless element to one’s blogs if you want it to be successful in over time. If you truly want more readers over a longer period of time this is the way I would suggest you do it. You will probably last longer than others out there this way, chances are someone will google search you out of nowhere, and you might get more readers this way.

If I want to get inspired to do new blog entries I do not go reading other blog entries, watch youtube videos, or whatever the latest computer or internet invention is. Those might have some interest, but actually going out to explore the real world, reading old paper books (both classic and modern), listening to the radio (both music and talk), and watching old and new movies. This is somewhat related to what I was saying in the past few entries about staying balanced in the life of the real world. Many would like you to think that the internet is the happening place where all knowledge is, but this is not the case. No, google searches do not give us some sort of omniscient access into all information. Do not give up the old ways of information transmission for the new ways because a lot of the new ways of the internet depend on the old.

Finally, in all of this, I do not take myself too seriously. I have made lots of mistakes in how I have done this blog. I have corrected a few recently with, “What I was I thinking when I wrote that way back then?” I try to keep a sense of humor about myself and what I write about. On the other hand, I do want to take the people that read my blog seriously enough that I give the best information possible as I know it. Everyone makes mistakes, but it is important to “not sweat the small stuff” and keep a sense of humility.

Enough of this. In my next entry I will talk about another cool location in the Alabama Hills. Sometime next week I will go into how I deal with different points of view on controversial subjects.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bad Information, False Realities, and Why Should I Read This?

This video is good for a laugh about what I am about to say. Take a look:

The amount of information out there in the world and online is enormous. For every topic there is to know about there are subtopics, links, and captions going on at the same time. A computer can multitask, but now a human is expected to do the same thing. The attention span of a viewer is supposed to be a lot faster. Everyday one is bombarded with advertisements, but the situation is even worse when people are bombarded with information that may end up being very trivial. I fear that this can cause anxiety problems because a person can feel he or she can not keep up. Somehow a way of keeping one’s life in proper balance must be taken.

I mention this because in the past I have had times where I tried to keep up with everything, and in the end it was just a waste of time. I am not just talking about being online and television, but I am talking about books, newspapers, and magazines in print too. I think the internet is the most obvious candidate for what I am talking about. First, if you are reading this you are online, but the main reason being the billions of websites, blogs, vlogs, message boards, etc. you have access too. Even if you narrow it down to the topics you care about there is still thousands of things you can spend your time with.

The thing to remember is the internet is accessed by people from all walks of life. This is good because it allows a certain level of freedom to explore and write or video aspects of things that interest you. The bad side is that not everything any particular person writes about is worth reading. This is a really strange thing about the internet, partly due to the anonymity one can have with an alias, that one can talk like they are an expert and may not have any authority in what they speak. As a hypothetical example, imagine an Albert Einstein still alive in the year 2008, under an alias, writing a message about his theory of relativity. Then someone who has never studied the theory, has had little education, but has an interest in science comes on and explains why Einstein is all wrong. Of course, theoretically, it is always possible a person like that could show Einstein’s theory is wrong, but in the real world this is not something that is taken too seriously.

Now imagine that this hypothetical person that thinks he or she has proved Einstein’s theory wrong creates a website, blog, etc dedicated to this. This person writes up hundreds of articles about this. We can not doubt the person has spent a lot of time in doing this, but at the end of the day is it really worth our time reading what this person has to say?

I admit that I do not spend my days reading too many blogs. I do some searches when I am in the mood, but there just is not enough time to read everything. Part of the reason I do not is because there is a lot of junk out there. A lot of them are cheap advertisements. On the other hand, it is like what I have written about above where people that really have not proven themselves start talking as if they are the authority in a topic. There are a lot people who write blogs online that do it for fun or have a humble attitude. Those I have no real problem with. Then there are those who are terribly obsessed with letting others think they are an expert. Ever read a really long rambling blog entry and then wonder, "Wait, what was the point of this? "
It gets really strange when people start fabricating and lying about themselves online. I have seen this happen a bunch of times. I do not want this to come across as a political cheap shot, but it does bring out a point I want to make. You may remember recently some statements Senator Clinton made about avoiding sniper fire in her Bosnia trip in 1996. As a factual statement, we know that never happened. This is not something unique when we examine the whole internet. There are people out there, for some reason, really like to tell stories that exaggerate and not give the whole story. I have even seen people make up more than one puppet account just so they can agree with themself. How do I know they were doing this? They were caught. There is some pride and ego building going on in those cases.

The internet, in all its various forms, can give a lot of bad and false information. It is almost like a person can create a false reality online. One might get the impression that some idea, product, etc. is very popular and mainstream by looking at some website or blog. There maybe a dozen people constantly writing messages about it back and forth on a message forum. I wonder how many hits the Flat Earth Society gets. Sometimes I tell others that I think the internet is where a lot of people go when no one in the real world takes them seriously. It is kind of like, “This journal will not publish my work. I will show them by posting all my research online and making a name for myself there!” Or, how about this, "I am really popular on the internet." Which has led to the "internet celebrity" which really makes me laugh. ;)

All the above are things that need to be kept in mind when you prioritize what is important about what you really need to know. There just is not enough time to read, watch, and listen to everything. If this is all anyone does they will have created an extremely unbalanced life. It will create anxiety about trying to keep up with a lot of stuff that probably is not worth the time anyways. Also, do not spend too much time on junk sites, articles, or books that lack that authority and the ability to provide good reasons whatever content is. The next entry I am doing regarding this will be about the approach I have taken on my own blog to avoid some of the traps I mentioned above.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Real World, Knowledge, and the Internet

This may seem like I am coming somewhere out of left field for those that have read my blog. It is something that does relate to the internet, this blog, every other blog out there, vlogs, and the real world. A few weeks ago I was reading a news item (no longer online) that was talking about most young people not knowing much about classical historical knowledge (ex. Who wrote the Iliad?) versus the latest in pop culture (ex. What has Britney Spears been up to?). This type of news article is not that unique. Every few months studies will come out or someone will come out with a news article with how less educated young people are. The idea is that the intelligence of the population is now degrading. If you want to see a real toilet humor example of this idea then see the movie Idiocracy by Mike Judge. Although really trashy, there is some thought in this movie of the logic of intelligence.

What these articles seem to be pointing at is that the information explosion has made knowledge of the real world very unbalanced. Let’s face it, trying to stimulate interest in learning about the United States Constitution (or, some treatise by John Locke) is much harder than giving someone a magazine about his or her favorite band. Most young people are going to want to know about what interests them, and not what seems so far away historically or abstract.

I have no doubt that many young people are exposed to some of these subjects, but their ability to remember maybe a problem. Some has to do with not having interest in the subject. The other is we do not live in a society like some of the ancients where oral tradition was passed down and central to a societies survival. These days we go to an encyclopedia or just do google searches.

One issue that is assumed in these types of articles is that our knowledge is fixed. When it is all said and done I would agree with this. However, I think people tend to underestimate how much of what was taught 30-80 years ago has been seriously questioned. We don’t live in the same world where the idea is to cram a bunch of facts into a person and that makes them educated. I see and hear this sometimes from others when someone talks about a textbook that is being used to teach a young person. The complaint will be that there are many errors of fact in the book. There maybe errors of fact, but there is a lot more that goes into this than just having the right answer.

When it comes to all of this I like to backtrack a bit. Ever since Plato’s Theaetetus, knowledge has been defined as having a justified true belief. I am going to throw out something called the “Gettier Problem” with this definition and just say that Plato’s three part definition is necessary for knowledge.

In plain English, the idea is that to know something you have to have the correct answer, but you also have to have a good reason for that answer. Sometimes you will hear someone saying that you need to know what you believe and why you believe it. Otherwise, all someone is doing is memorizing trivia. A lot of game shows are like this where all you need is the correct answer to win.

It turns out that in the world we live in that having good reasons is more important than the answer or conclusion. Sometimes a young person will tell me the answer to a math problem and I might be unimpressed. I then want to know why they came to that answer. If they get the answer and the reason for that answer I am satisfied. The real debates in areas in any field of knowledge is usually not the answers, but the evidence and reasons for those answers. This is where you start getting into proper valid logic, evidence, good reasons, the scale of rationality (ex. counterbalanced, probable, beyond reasonable doubt, evident, certain).

Why am I bringing this up? With the information explosion we are constantly being hammered with a lot of information each day. Watching some of the cable networks you get the main story being talked about, but then you get little captions keeping you up to date with everything else. Then with the internet you have websites, chat rooms, messages boards, blogs, vlogs, etc. that have different types of information. I like to keep informed, but even I have had a hard time keeping up with everything out there. I just feel worn down if I try to watch, read, and listen to everything out there. I do not mean to be insulting, but there is a lot of junk out there. Whenever I go to my local Border’s bookstore I am amazed at all the new books and magazines that are filled with stuff that just does not matter that much. The key is we have to find what is really worthwhile and relevant in life and make that the priority. I am going to come back to this soon, but I wanted to raise a few issues about this because of the billion blogs out there I am sure everyone wants to make his or her own blog something of importance.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Hopalong Cassidy Mine (The Alabama Hills Series)

(GPS: N36 38.915 W118 07.510)
This one is from the Hopalong Cassidy movie called The Dead Don't Dream.
There was actually a real murder committed here across the way in the 1950's. Someone was shot and killed, and the killer was sent to prison. Here is a picture from the Hoppy movie. Interesting enough, it too is about a murder, but was filmed a few years earlier than the real life murder. Life imitating art. ;)
The area is a bit worn down since 1948, but this is it. The mine is still there.
Hoppy is in front of the mine here. You can see some of the entrance.
Here is how the entrance looks today:
I took a picture of the inside. It would have been nice to walk into it, but being trapped alone in a mine is not something I really would enjoy. So, this will have to do.
I hoped you enjoyed this one!