Time Travelers

Sometime in the late nineties there was a common spam email that went “I’m a time traveler stranded in your time.  I have reason to think you know what I’m talking about.  There is this part I need.”  Anyway… I don’t actually know what they were meant to be except a prank, because there were no links to follow.  Or perhaps they harvested the emails when you responded.  One of these hit strikingly close to home because the signature was my nephew’s name.  And while our last name is common, in Portugal no one goes just by the last name, but by two conjoined names, and his is  an ancestral thing in our family (which I don’t have) that my brother chose to recreate, and therefore relatively arcane.

No, I didn’t answer that email. And this is a good thing. (Probably.) BUT this morning when I was thinking of the “uniqueness of the American experience” what I thought was most unique about us was innovation.

Yes I know.  You’re going to come through and rant that Israel is eating our cake on research (bet you I know a lot of those projects, too) and so is Germany, and, and and–

But books for technical fields abroad are often in English, imported from America (I should know, I’ve shipped off my share of those, and got on the most FASCINATING mailing lists.) and even in fields like plumbing and car mechanics, most of the time you have to learn from Americans how to do it.  (Yes, yes, there’s some things we got from abroad, but some of them don’t even become widespread till they come to America.)

Even science fiction (yes, yes, Mary Shelley and Jules Verne and H. G. Wells — pfui) as a popular and widespread genre wouldn’t exist without Americans.

Which brings us to why.

It’s not magical.  And it’s not genetic. What pushes a country to excel in this or that is often the fruit of a confluence of happy accidents.

I spent a lot of time studying why the Portuguese discovered new lands; why larger, better equipped countries didn’t do it first (and yep, without Portugal starting it off, the whole age of discovery might have been delayed another 100 years, at least.)  The answer, if I remember correctly started with: Stayed out of the 100 years war; had a tradition of seafaring and knowledge from both Greeks and Moors; didn’t lose as much population as other countries to the black plague; is a tiny, not particularly fertile (landwise) country.  Etc.

In the US if you ask why we tend to be more… future inclined than other lands, I would start with: the people who came here broke with their past.

You can’t start to understand how much Americans underestimate the influence of the past in other countries.  Sure they go elsewhere and see modern appliances/plumbing, etc.  And they attribute the differences to quaint culture stuff.

Which is true.  It’s also true it goes all the way down.  A friend once told me that she grew up among people still refighting the Civil war in arguments.  I told her that was nothing.  I grew up among people who in every day association, unconscious prejudices, reaction to certain features, and occasionally verbally, are still refighting the Punic Wars.  And most of this is subconscious, so it’s hard to tweak.  You just feel there are things you do and things you don’t do, people you associate with and people you don’t, at a GUT level, and it’s very hard to bring it to the light and examine it.

My older son describes Portugal as an iceberg: a tiny, above the water part, towing an immense weight of history, some of it so deep and dark no one is sure about it.  BUT all of it influencing how the iceberg moves and what it does.

Note some of this is changing with TV and mass media.  And that’s part of why Americans have this advantage in creating the future: because people came here and changed languages (most of them) and therefore lost touch with the old legends and the things grannies teach their kids.  They became people who learned stuff from the same mass media.

Sure, there is a shallowness to that type of culture — everyone complains about it, even us — but then again there isn’t.  When the culture is purposely designed for that (and some of it was.  A lot of it… well.  More in another post) it can create a society that thinks over what it does and what it wants to do: a society uniquely suited for innovation.

This contributes to the US being like the aspergers kid in the playground.  Things other cultures do (or more likely don’t do) instinctively, we think over to the nth degree, then try to do consciously.

Now what we are and what we do is largely an accident. It is, it occurs to me, what China tried to achieve all the times it burned its books, jailed its storytellers and wiped out its history.  But because they were all the same people in the same place, stuff leaked through, and while they managed to forget a lot, it was just enough to repeat the same old blood-soaked mistakes again.

So, it’s purely an accident.  And one that forces on both extremes keep trying to undo (both weirdly trying to make us more like Europe, only their own version of Europe in their pointy little heads.  None of them would know the real Europe if it took a bloody chunk out of their asses.)

However doubt not that if America goes down for the long count, so does innovation, at least for a while, and maybe forever, until the same accident strikes again elsewhere.

Which is why we’re not going to let it go down.  We’re Americans.  We’re time travelers.  We come from the future.  And we’re going to take the world there.

 

 

240 responses to “Time Travelers

  1. It’s not magical. And it’s not genetic. What pushes a country to excel in this or that is often the fruit of

    Was there supposed to be more to this paragraph, or was it supposed to be cut out entirely? I can read it either way.

    (Not meant to be picky. Much.)
    c4c

  2. We’re all Time Travelers here? Whew! Anybody got a Phase transducer for a chrono-induction multiplexer? I’m pretty sure mine went on the fritz and I landed a couple of universes out of synch.

    I mean, really? Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Donald friggin’ TRUMP all trying to be nominees for President? How did I wind up here?

  3. I think you hit on why, even though my academic* specialty is US history, I spend so much mental time in Europe – I want to know “Why.” Or in my case, “Whyyyyyy? Whywhywhy” inhales “whywhywhywhywhy????” It is the same reason I want to know the geology of places, so I can understand the topography to understand the geography to understand how the physical environment responded to humans and vice versa. I suspect many, if not most, environmental historians have that streak in us. So much of Europe’s history affected (afflicted?) the US in teh 19th and 20th centuries that knowing more about the forces that shaped European history opens up new bits of US history.

    *I originally typed acadelic. Which describes some of the theories of history and society currently in the air. Post-colonial intersectionality as seen in the literature of Subaltern peoples? “Acadelic, duuuude.”

    • That’s one thing that infuriates me about the ‘multicultural’ and ‘progressive’ study of history. As much as I enjoy reading about Chinese and Japanese history, I’m left thinking “what difference did it make?” every time. (Ok, the Mongols made a difference, I’ll give you that much.)

      Meanwhile, some Slavic nationalist gets lucky and knocks off a central European aristocrat, and next thing we know, there’s war everywhere. Intrigue in Mexico, revolution in Arabia, bloodshed in Africa, Australians dying in Turkey, the Japanese navy in the Mediterranean…

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        As much as I enjoy reading about Chinese and Japanese history, I’m left thinking “what difference did it make?” every time.

        Of course, how often do the “multi-culturalists” get it right? 😦

      • The Other Sean

        Don’t forget Indians, Irishmen, and Germans intriguing in New York, ammunition plants exploding in New Jersey, etc.

        • And so we could top it, the sequel, started by an idiot from the same country as the dead aristocrat, featured Canadian, Polish, Indian, New Zealander, Moroccan, and Brazilian troops (that’s all six inhabited continents, folks) on the same side in the same relatively narrow front.

          We need to get some evil overlord into Antarctica if we’re going to do another one…

          • If we just get enough global warming, Antarctica would be perfect for us. Let’s do it! (Or, you know, Mars would be fine, too. Maybe the asteroids would be best. I could see a mass exodus of USAian minded folks to the asteroids.)

          • I volunteer for the position of overlord!

            Now, I will require a volcano fortress (in Antarctica, of course), A Giant Orbital Death Ray, and minions. Lots and lots of trustworthy minions…

            Oh, and a phase transducer for a chrono-induction multiplexer- orange flavor, of course, ‘876 version.

            • Ok, what we have in the budget is a used yurt with space heater, a reconditioned satellite dish that gets Argentine soap operas, and a crate of silver jumpsuits in penguin sizes. And the chrono-induction multiplexer, while ‘876 version, is watermelon flavor.

              • Do the jumpsuits have hoods?

                • I’m sure we can do *something* with the satellite dish other than watch tv.

                  • You can use it as a wok to stir-fry reindeer jerky…

                    • We don’t supply reindeer; shipping’s too expensive and the Fat Man gets annoyed. And before you ask, they’re still trying to find all the parts of the former owner that tried to stir-fry one of the penguins. Where that penguin got a little razor-rimmed bowler hat is beyond me…

                      Now, if you promise them Orca jerky, you might actually get somewhere.

                    • What do we have against supplying reindeer? Reindeer need logistics, too!

                    • It’s not us, it’s the shipping companies. They’re a bunch of SJWs who got upset because we wouldn’t force the reindeer to let Rudolph join in their games.

                      On the plus side, a bunch of old has-been rock stars are cancelling their concerts.

              • How hot can that heater get space? It does start at 0 Kelvin, after all.

                • It may take a while to get warmed up. Space seems to be about 3ºK or so in most parts. Probably needs stirring.

                  • Since I happen to be living on one of those chunks in the space soup, I would really prefer it if you used that spoon gently when you do the stirring.

            • Just remember, being an evil overlord isn’t as easy as it sounds:

              http://www.eviloverlord.com/lists/overlord.html

      • To be strictly fair, there was always intrigue in Mexico, alternating with civil war. I think they are on their sixth or seventh so far …

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Nod, I doubt if Mexico’s problems had anything to do with what happened in Europe.

          Of course, the “insanity” of Germany’s “Zimmerman telegraph” was that Mexico wasn’t in any shape to declare war of the US and both Mexico & the US knew it.

          • Mary Thornell

            Three words : Cinco de Mayo

            • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

              True that, but it was long before WW1.

              The problems Mexico was having just before & during WW1 had little to do with what was going on in Europe.

      • Ok, the Mongols made a difference, I’ll give you that much.

        Vote Genghis in 2016! He’ll make a real difference!! And perhaps pyramids of skulls of our enemies who do not submit!!!

        • From DangerMouse: Ghenghis Kahn and So Can We!

          (But Immanuel Kant?)

          • Emanuel certainly can, and you better start spelling his name right!

            😛

          • I spoke Immanuel Cant once, fluently, but a lot of it has atrophied through disuse.

            • Right! Bruce, Bruce, and you there, Bruce! Let’s have a sing!
              “Oh…
              Immanuel Kant was a real pissant
              Who was very rarely stable.
              Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
              Who could think you under the table.

              David Hume could out-consume
              Schopenhauer and Hegel,

              And Wittgenstein was a beery swine
              Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel.

              There’s nothing Nietzche couldn’t teach ya
              ‘Bout the raising of the wrist.
              Socrates, himself, was permanently pissed.

              John Stuart Mill, of his own free will,
              On half a pint of shandy was particularly ill.

              Plato, they say, could stick it away–
              Half a crate of whiskey every day.

              Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle.
              Hobbes was fond of his dram,

              And Ren Descartes was a drunken fart.
              ‘I drink, therefore I am.’

              Yes, Socrates, himself, is particularly missed,
              A lovely little thinker,
              But a bugger when he’s pissed.

      • “Australians dying in Turkey, the Japanese navy in the Mediterranean…”

        During World War I, German prisoners of war, captured by the Imperial Japanese Army at Tsingtao, were treated fairly well with the help of the Japanese Red Cross. (By the start of the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), the Japanese Red Cross was the largest in the world, with over a million members.)

        • Huh. What changed in Japanese military culture between WWI and WWII, then? If you are familiar enough with it to explain.

          • IIRC, it was a shift from civilian government driving army policy to army policy driving the civilian, and the more extreme part of the army’s version of bushido at that. It probably helped that the Imperial Army was pretty much on its own out in Manchuria and then China from the early ’30s on.

            Although I have to admit that until recently I didn’t know the Japanese Red Cross had been significant at all.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            The Tokugawa shogunate was not a nice place by American standards, even if the Japanese of the time liked it better than the Sengoku Jidai. They had a civil war about the same time as ours, and the new regime (Meiji) was quite keen on modernizing. The modernizing ideas they picked up included some of the ‘totalitarianism is the future’ crud bouncing around Europe. They’d had some of the foundation implemented in civil society for decades before WWII.

            The WWI era Japanese military was built to modernizing standards that included fairly decent values as far as mistreating noncombatants went.

            The colonial intrigue in China probably was not manned by the most ethical and decent. I do not know what how the army troops were used in that, but the officials probably cared more about results than the older standards. An organization changes as it is used.

            When the Soviets triggered the Marco Polo bridge incident, the IJA hadn’t prepared for the conflicts and the victories. If they had advanced at the same rate, but had prepared, they could have anticipated and mitigated the risk of atrocity, if they had wanted. After Nanking, it would have taken severe efforts to reverse the changes, and get back to the earlier standard. But the Japanese government wanted to keep playing the conquest and colonization game.

            • After WW1, the Japanese Army was pretty much invested in what became the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”, which sound a good deal more grand than what it ended up being, especially if you weren’t Japanese.

              One thing lead to another, and the Imperial Army pretty much ended up with Manchuria (Manchukuo) as their own playground after 1931. They placed the last Manchu emperor in place as a figurehead, but it was their show, and they were far enough away from Tokyo to make it stick. Meanwhile, Russia and China got drawn in and kept things boiling for quite a while.

              Back home, the militarists contended with more moderate factions to determine who would run the war effort, but in China and Manchuria, they pretty much had their way, and even at home they often got their way in determining strategy, at least over asia. The army and the navy were often at odds, too.

              After 1945, they left Mancuria (mostly), and eventually the area ended up being a staging ground for the Communist’s effort to take over China, driving the Nationalists offshore to Taiwan. Interestingly, some of the old Manchukuo army, and even some Japanese personnel stayed and served with the Communists after 1945.

          • There was a military “reform” at the end of the 1920’s (1928 IIRC) that had the effect of putting all the rural, pig-ignorant, xenophobic, nationalist/shinto-indoctrinated Japanese officers into an overwhelming majority within the Japanese Army’s officer corps. These were the guys who pushed for all the invasions and expansions, who led and encouraged all the atrocities, and who assassinated any senior officer or politician who they judged guilty of “treason” (by not doing what they wanted). These were also the guys who tried to stage a coup when the Emperor chose to surrender to the atomic bombs.

    • “Acadelic”: Academial psychedelics. Explains a whole hell of a lot about universities, does it not?

    • There’s cultures of second lieutenants?

  4. Yes, we are all time travelers, currently advancing at the rate of 1s/s.

    Re: English being the new lingua franca, two stories:

    When I was working in the Pacific I had a chance, with a small group, to tour the Pohnpei Agricultural and Trade School, an institution dedicated to helping young people from all over Oceania acquire skills in bringing ‘appropriate’ modern agricultural methods and industrial techniques back to their home countries. One young lady from the group asked the young man conducting the tour if the students could all understand each other. he replied, “Sure, if we all speak English.” Sadly, PATS is no more.

    When I was working in Saudi Arabia in ’91, I had a chance to work on some captured Mil helicopters. Russian equipment, taken from the Iraqis, yet all the avionics, both on the instrument panel and on the devices themselves, were labeled in English. Granted, English is the language of international aviation, but WTH. Plus, where did such aviation terms as fuselage, empennage, and aileron come from? 🙂

    • The Other Sean

      From Froglandia? 🙂

    • Yes, English is the language of international aviation – but not everyone who speaks it, speaks it.
      Ref. a story from my private pilot ex-boss – about the instructor who cued his ESL student, as they rolled down the runway, to advance the engine power to “Take-off Power” setting — whereupon the student immediate took off the power, i.e. reduced it to zero! Instructor barely got the engines rev’d up enough to get airborne by the end of the runway…
      (It’s the assumption that you know what you’re doing that kills ya.)

      Back on topic: what America does, innovates, etc. doesn’t always translate all that well. IF that results in the people trying to import it thinking through how to adapt it and make it better for themselves – that’s probably the real lesson to be imported: Not how to do a particular thing, but the attitude of continuous skepticism of the past and continuous improvement for the future.
      Not something Americans always did to the extent we do now, either.

      • The engine wasn’t set to take-off power *before* they started the roll-out? Huh.

        As to ‘English’, one of my jobs in the Pacific was as a night shift aircraft dispatcher. One of my duties was flight following, taking messages from overflying airliners and forwarding them to their home offices by Telex. OMG, some of the accents!!!

        • Unless you’ve been directed to position and hold on the runway, you’d be taxiing from the taxiway to the runway at reduced power; add power once you’re lined up with the center line.

          • But the post said the instructor directed the student to set take-off power *as* they were rolling down the runway. If they’re not at take-off power *before* they’re rolling, somebody’s f’ing up.

            At least as far as my admittedly limited (@ 50 hrs. dual, 5 solo) student pilot experience tells me.

            • Well, remember this was a story, told to illustrate a point, by my boss of 20-some years ago, who had been an instrument instructor and aerobatic pilot in his younger days – and he told it as if it were a story that had been going the rounds years before that – say, 30-60 years ago, now? So a word-by-word critique isn’t appropriate, except that particular detail makes the story work.
              I can imagine (without your experience), a student turning from taxiway onto the runway at reduced power, and being talked through the process step-by-step by the instructor to go to “take-off power”, perhaps a few seconds later than he really should have done so on his own account. Or something like that.
              If there was a bit of a language barrier, each thing the student did to the instructor’s cue might have been delayed by the internal translation time. {Shrug.}

            • In some planes, you do not go to max non-emergency power (“take-off power”) until you are in motion on the runway. We are talking high-power engines that tend to overheat, or places where blasting the people/cars on the other side of the fence is frowned upon. Your basic trainer is different, but for a P-51 or B-24, some of the jets and older piston-engine airliners, max-thrust before being on the take-off roll can lead to problems.

              • Makes me remember a tale from my time driving a van for the hotel where I was working.

                Imagine driving down the highway and listening to the flight crew’s conversation, when the pilot says to the co-pilot, “You know how we always just shove the engines up to max when we’re taking off? I read the other day that it IS possible to overboost those engines and damage them.”

                GAH! I might never fly again!

            • I stand sit corrected. the biggest thing I’ve ever had ‘hands on’ was a CASA 212, and that was already aloft when I took the controls. The one time I was in a B-727 flight simulator for company ground run and taxi cert., there was a bit of time left in the sim when the official session was over, so we trainees got to do some landing drills. On my attempt, I managed to put the thing, inverted, into the Mississippi River southeast of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Seems the whimsical trainer had given me a 90 knot crosswind.

              • 90-knot crosswind; uh huh!. NOT a pilot, myself, but I’d think the appropriate pilot response would be “diversion to alternate airport”!!

                • Or at least tried (been directed to?) runway 30 instead of runway 4 where I was ‘set up’, in several meanings of the phrase.

        • In another life I worked at Japan Air Lines flight training center at Napa, CA (no room for operation in Japan at the time; they later built a training facility in Okinawa). The Japanese students were usually pretty understandable, not to mention highly motivated students.

          In sometimes huge contrast to the Gulf Air (think Persian Gulf) students who replaced them as our customers after JAL scaled back their pilot training in the late 70’s. Gulf Air had operated largely with veteran ex-RAF pilots, who were starting to retire from flying. Their replacements were UAE/Qatari/Kuwaiti young guys (and an ex-Iranian AF maintenance sergeant, who was the best of the first lot by far), and the cultural difference from the Japanese was striking.

      • I worked on avionics in the Marines, and one day received some paperwork along with a piece of gear to repair, on which a young pilot had written “Would not work when selector was in the Officer position”. I was confused until I figured out that the “Officer position” on the controls for that particular thingie-wingie was labeled “OFF”. As opposed, I assume, to the position labeled “ON” which was clearly there in case an enlisted person were to need to fly that plane…

        • “Would not work when selector was in the Officer position”

          Must have been for 2nd Lieutenants.

        • Sounds like something from the list of (supposedly apocryphal) stupid pilot write-ups/snarky mechanic sign-offs that was going the rounds while I was an active wrench. As I recall, the Corrective Action was something like ‘replaced loose nut behind First Oficer’s control yoke.’ Another was, ‘Number 3 engine missing’/’Upon brief inspection, No. 3 engine located attached to starboard wing.’

          • Perhaps you are right. I remember seeing the MAF myself, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility that it was written up as a joke. One of the squadrons we supported was a training squadron, we got an awful lot of goofy stuff back then. We occasionally got in equipment for repair because it “didn’t work”… only to find out the pilot had never left the ground (Radar systems have a weight on wheels shutoff to keep ground crews from becoming microwave burritos).

      • > Back on topic: what America does, innovates,
        > etc. doesn’t always translate all that well.

        The foreign markets might be one reason for the strange lack of comprehensibility of much of Hollywood’s output…

        Backstory is one of those things that’s hard to do, even if you have a film targeted to the US market. Look at the reviews for “Gran Torino” sometime.

        • I haven’t looked at the reviews, but no matter how bad they are; they’re too good. That was a horrible piece of SJW propaganda.

          • How do you figure? The protagonist was someone who honesty didn’t give a crap about skin colour, and the kid’s route to success was in getting a job and working his ass off.

            • The entire point of the movie (or at least the only one that I got) was that you couldn’t solve problems yourself. You needed the government to solve them for you, even if it killed you.

              • ((blink))

                Are we talking about the same movie?

                Clint Eastwood as a grumpy old man who befriends and mentors a young asian guy?

      • Ah, av-lish. One early morning (as in 0500) I was outbound from Denver-Jeffco. Lufthansa was passing through. Lufthansa’s English was . . . intersting. The Center controller finally had enough and said, “Lufthansa Flight 1234, maintain a heading of 090. Squawk ident. Do not reply verbally!” Not exactly per the manual, but he got his point across.

        • Don’t worry, if the pilot ever lost his job, he could easily get one working the phone lines at the help desk.

        • Sometimes, even if the English is good, other things can get in the way.

          The head of the American side of JAL’s ground school operation was an ex-USAF pilot. He started out as an 8th AF B-17 pilot, ending up flying B-47’s out of Guam. In the mid-60’s he was flying cargo for Hapag-Lloyd, with a German co-pilot and Canadian flight engineer. They had not flown together before.

          Sometime during the long transatlantic night flight, they got to swapping “what I used to do”, and Dave mentioned his 8th AF experience. Noting that it had suddenly gotten very quiet, he glanced over to his co-pilot, who appeared on the edge of apoplexy. Which ended as he screamed at Dave “I hate you guys!!!!”

          Kurt had been a Luftwaffe fighter pilot, trying very hard to shoot down anything related to the 8th.

          Things eventually thawed out, and they ended up friends, and worked together for several years. But the beginning was a bit tense.

    • My trip to Scrabble-player’s-nightmare-stan, which actually was pretty nice, was similar. The country was a former Soviet Socialist Republic, so it had a lot of imported Russians. The locals are ethnically a Turkish offshoot. The country does not actually border Russia, but China. And yet the more popular parts of the culture, from the loanwords on the ads, to the insipid radio pop music, to the movies in the theater? American. And I had no problem hailing a taxi despite my language skills being, basically, American Standard English.

      We got all you can drink bottled water, because the local water supply was… former Soviet. The water was bottled nearby and labeled in Cyrillic, except for the small print at the bottom of the label which said “product of the Coca-Cola company”.

      • I was in Israel last Fall. I noticed that all the road signs are trilingual, Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The few bilingual ones were Hebrew and English.

      • In Japan, all the train station signs are in both English and Japanese. Well, Roman alpabet at any rate. Same with Greece, Greek and English/Roman.

        Now, in Bahrain, or other parts of the Middle East, where there are the thousands of TCNs, you get State Department officials and military personnel who study Arabic and then have to use English when grocery shopping or out in town. The coalition guys all speak English to each other, although sometimes you do get Canadians and French speaking French to each other. It’s just weird seeing a Danish officer speaking to a Spanish officer and a Korean officer, all in English. With heavy accents, some of them.

        • English is common enough in Japan. It pops up frequently in anime series, particularly when you have things like a scene involving an official announcement over a public address system.

          One of the most notable uses of English in anime that I saw involved a character speaking in English to the UN (or whatever the show’s equivalent was). But the accent of the speaker was so thick that the company that did the US release had the English dialogue sub-titled.

      • > product of the Coca-Cola company

        I had a sudden “Doctor Strangelove” flashback there…

      • Polliwog the 'Ette

        Where you in Kazakhstan? Mongolia is very similar. I’m afraid they are going to become fully English speaking just as the original English speaking nations entirely abdicate their places on the world stage.

    • > lingua franca

      I once worked at a place that had several Southeast Asian immigrants. Laos, Vietnam, Thailand. They often sat together in the break room and talked among each other.

      This profoundly annoyed a couple of the Americans, who didn’t realize that, since the immigrants’ French was much better than their English, they were speaking French.

      My high-school French was too rusty to participate, but still good enough to get the gist of a conversation even if I couldn’t get every word.

      A while later there was a funny/sad culture shock incident, where one of the Chinese guys (we had a little UN going there!) took his shiny new driver’s license and went off to visit some relatives who had wound up in Dallas. Hien made it OK, hung out, and volunteered to go to the store to pick up a few items for dinner. He got to the store, stood in line to check out, and realized that he couldn’t read a single word in any of the signs. He completely freaked out; he thought he had had a stroke or something. He left his cart, ran outside, and drove back to his relatives’ place, who tried to explain to him that they lived in the Spanish part of town. Hein was having none of that; he threw his things in the car and drove back to Arkansas.

      Three days later when I saw him at work he was still freaked out. “What? What is this? You go China, everybody speak Chinese. You go America, why everyone not speak American?!?”

      Well, it was a lot more amusing in 1982, before Spanish-only stores made it up here…

      • “Well, it was a lot more amusing in 1982, before Spanish-only stores made it up here…”

        *snicker* It’s still amusing, even now.

        I grew into adulthood with enough Border Mex that I can usually puzzle out most Spanglish only signs and labels, but it was still a massive culture shock going back to Dallas in 2010 after almost a decade away, and discovering that Oak Cliff where I’d grown up was now 99% Spanish signs only landia.

        It really, really drove home to me that the place where I grew up was gone, and not home to me any longer.

  5. c4c

  6. You’re going to come through and rant that Israel is eating our cake on research

    In the US if you ask why we tend to be more… future inclined than other lands, I would start with: the people who came here broke with their past.

    The second quote explains the first. The early Zionists were also people who broke with their past. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negation_of_the_Diaspora

    • Yeah, I know. And Israel actually has come through with some VERY neat stuff. 😉

      • And of course nothing gets the creative juices flowing like living in the desert surrounded by people who want to kill you and your children.

      • No kidding. Did you see the artificial gill that came out recently?

    • It’s also our love of cultural appropriation. When it comes to stealing cool ideas, is there really a difference between a foreign culture and the future?

      • Well the past is a foreign country, it makes sense that the future is as well.

      • That’s one of the things that annoys me about the idea of “cultural appropriation”. We’re supposed to be multi-cultural, celebrate diversity, learn how other cultures are different from our own…but heaven forbid we adopt a philosophy, or a religion, or a costume, or a dance, or a construction style and technique, or anything else that we find attractive in one of these cultures, and adopt it as our own! That’s insulting their culture, somehow, even if they don’t hear about it (and sometimes even if they fully approve).

        It’s as if culture is ok only if it’s frozen in amber, with no change allowed whatsoever…

        One of the deciding factors of becoming a mathematician was learning about Benoit Mandelbrot using decades-old mathematics on new things. He was asked “Do these mathematicians know that you are using their work?” and he answered “No, and they probably don’t care.” I don’t know why, but the idea that mathematicians pursue mathematics without giving a darn about how it might be used, and even with the idea that it might never be used, was particularly attractive. Looking back, I think this is what happens when you pursue something because you know it’s going to be beautiful, and nothing else matters…

        But, in any case, “appropriation” doesn’t hurt the culture that is appropriated from, and indeed it helps in awareness. Indeed, I suspect Mandelbrot was wrong: that mathematicians would be amused to know their work is being used, particularly if they thought it hand no real-world applications at all…

        • Well, of course. You can’t possibly have a chance of doing things right, or they won’t have a grievance.

        • This.

          If you don’t like Mexican food, you’re a racist. But if your frat house holds a burrito party you’re indulging in ‘cultural appropriation’, and so, racist.

          AAAAUGH!!!

          • “If you don’t like Mexican food, you’re a racist.”

            Nah. If you don’t like Mexican food you’re merely tasteless and uncultured.

          • They think “cultural appropriation” because there can be no joy nor appreciation in the lives of the perpetual victim — unlike those who do appreciate differences, they don’t believe (maybe never heard) “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
            Sad way to live…

  7. Jerry Pournelle just announced 2016 winner of the Robert A. Heinlein award, from the National Space Society. Congratulations!

  8. sabrinachase

    In H.Beam Piper’s Fuzzy timeline, there was a prior period of *forced* cultural mishmashing (I don’t recall if he ever explained exactly how it worked) that resulted in delights like the Turko-German Selim von Hornholst 🙂

    Physics has been an English field worldwide for some time. I gave a talk in Switzerland once –in English. And I noticed many of the grad student texts were the same ones I had (except for a truly wretched quantum mechanics text. It was in French, and I had suffered through a translation. I learned nothing from it, because it was foggy and incoherent.)

    • scott2harrison

      Foggy and incoherent, or FROGGY thus incoherent.

    • Regarding Piper – in his timeline there had been some nasty atomic wars that had reduced most of Europe and North America to ruins (I think large chunks of Asia, too.). Since most of his stories were set well afterwards, the centers of civilization were South Americe (the University of Montevideo in Uruguay was mentioned in several stories), Australia, and South Africa.

      And many of the mixed-Euro descendants mentioned their ancestors had been “refugees” (Nazis, collaborators, etc) who’d fled to Argentina following WW2.

      More than most other writers of his era Piper *did* show most of his characters were mixed race – names like “Hideyoshi O’Leary”, “Themistocles M’Zangwe” etc. Though I’d always suspected that “Selim von Hornhorst” was a sideways tip of the hat to Heinrich Schliemann’s role in the excavation of Troy.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        Nod, there was a joke in one of the early (internal timeline) Piper stories that South American didn’t get involved in WW3 because many of its citizens were the losers in WW2. 😉

        • Yeah, de Camp’s Viagens universe had the same backstory.

          • I don’t think the Viagens universe had a nuclear war – it was more that he’d posited that Brazil (with its huge areas of then-untouched land) would outgrow the US in much the same way the US had outgrown Europe.

            There were certainly many Viagens stories set in North America, and more that referred to both North America and Europe.

            I’ll leave it to those who actually speak Portuguese to say how correct he got bits he used in the stories.

            • He forgot that Brazil has the culture it has. It is the country of the future. And always will be. In the same way there’s Free Beer Tomorrow.

              • Country of the Future, yeah. In a lot of ways, seems to be embedded in the national psyche there.

                In ll fairness, at one time there was a prevalent attitude in a lot of Americans that upper South America was going to be the next bloom of Western Civilization, innovation, and industrialization. Brazil and Argentina attracted a lot of American investors, businessmen, speculators, and adventurers in the 20s and 30s, and then again in the late 40’s through the 50s.

                A friend of mine had an uncle who lost his shirt in one of those (don’t recall which country off the top of my head) in the mid 60s when one of the inevitable political upheavals resulted in the nationalization of a lot of foreign owned properties and business, including his.

                • They still attract adventurers, or did at least up into the 90-00’s when I debated going. But enough investors got burned that it is only the truly big boys that can protect their own investments, like Big Oil (I hate the term, but it fits here) that do much investing down there. And even they are very careful with their investments.

              • In the same way there’s Free Beer Tomorrow.

                They will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today?

              • Anonymous Coward

                Please educate me. Did the free-lunchery in South America start with Peron, or does it go back farther than that ?

      • When I was in Platteville, WI in the late 1980’s there was a little place with a striking name: Pancho Steinberg’s Mexi-Deli.

        • Anonymous Coward

          Local Vietnamese restaurant serving the traditional noodle soup pho (pronounced ‘fuh’) is named Pho’ok (say it quickly).

          • We have one nearby that has the far less “controversial” name of “Pho’licious”.

          • Pho places over here are in a constant competition for the most amusing names based on how it’s spelled, rather than actually said– things like “Pho Sure” and “pho ever” and “pho U.”

            Also the ever popular “pho king.” -.- They do seem to keep closing down, though.

          • Then of course there is a very popular resort province in Thailand, Phuket.

            • Which is actually pronounced with a hard P sound, not an F sound: “Poo-ket” would be the right way to pronounce it. When spelling Thai words in the Latin alphabet, an h after a consonant usually means a “hard” sound, whereas no h would have been a “soft” p, which is a sound English doesn’t have, about halfway between a b and a p. But yeah, the “Phuket” spelling does lead to many amusing mispronunciations.

              • For some reason (having nothing to do with me spelling my name either “Alphy” or “Alpheus” all my life, to be sure!) I have a particularly strong tendency to think of “ph” as an “f” sound….

          • The Other Sean

            Most liberals don’t find out about these because they refuse to tune into what they insist is really Pho News. 😉

    • Richard Feynman wrote about being invited to present a paper at a university in Brazil. He spent quite a bit of time with a dictionary and some helpers to be able to present his paper in not-too-ridiculous Portuguese.

      At the symposium he was horrified to find out that all the papers being presented were in… English. So when his turn came up, he apologized and said he had only prepared to present his paper in Portuguese. After his presentation, the next speaker (Portuguese) said that he would follow the example of their guest, and he would also present his paper in Portuguese…

      • Feynman also told a story about being in an absolute panic on his flight to Brazil – after all his practice, he couldn’t follow the conversation a couple of fellow travelers were having. It wasn’t Spanish, Italian, or French, it sounded a little like Portuguese – but he understood almost nothing. He was greatly relieved when they (in English) laughed and told him they’d been speaking Ladao (Judeo-Portuguese).

        BTW – Wikipedia insists that Ladao went extinct in the 18th century, so it might have really been Ladino. But the version I read says “Ladao”.

    • “I learned nothing from it, because it was foggy and incoherent.”

      As opposed to those paragons of clarity that are other quantum mechanics books?

      • I was sort of thinking the same thing, but I figured Ms. Chase did better in quantum mechanics than I did. Actually, I didn’t have a course in qm, just a course that used Schrodinger’s equation for electrons; short answer is it’s in there somewhere. (The professor was cool too; he gave me a piece of cadmium that I still have, mostly.)

      • MadRocketSci

        I could rant for hours about the obscurantism that was worked into the field in the early century.

        Also: Einstein is severely disrespected by modern pop-science, wrt QM.

    • One of my Physics profs was French, after spending 20 years in South Africa. Took a while to get my ears tuned to his frequency.

      • Heh. The instructor for my first year of college Russian was from China. That was different.

        • Feather Blade

          My mother said that her French instructor in college spoke the language with a distinct Cockney accent.

          … Which naturally, affected the way his (American) students spoke ^_^

          • My second year of high-school French was taught by a woman with such an over-the-top hillbilly accent that I couldn’t understand her in English, much less French.

            • What little French I know, I learned “by osmosis” from my wife – who insists that I (for some reason I can’t figure out) mostly pronounce it with a distinct Russian accent!

              • I had a volunteer job when I was in college – working with Vietnamese refugees; and I could hear the ghost of the accent of whoever had taught English to the Vietnamese who did speak English. It was quite surreal, detecting a bit of Southern drawl, or Brooklynese.

                Years later, another broadcaster and I were hired to voice English-language lessons by an educational producer in Seoul, ROK. We took very, very good care to quash any hint of an accent that we had remaining after our turn through DINFOS. Because, we knew that Koreans learning English from this would copy our pronunciation exactly.

      • I remember attending a math colloquium as a graduate student. The professor giving the colloquium had a heavy (possibly German) accent, so I didn’t understand the first half of his presentation; by then, I acclimated to the accent, but I couldn’t understand the second half because I missed the first half.

        (Although, to be fair, I’m not sure if I would have understood it at all: it’s not uncommon for colloquiums to go over the heads of the listeners. Indeed, it’s been said that the first fifteen minutes, you’re supposed to talk to the graduate students, the second fifteen, to your colleagues, and the final fifteen to yourself…)

        On the other hand, I’ve also heard professors talking about how students will blame their misunderstanding of a course taught by Asian-descendant professors who grew up in the United States, and thus have no foreign accent, on “not understanding the accent”…

        • The professor giving the colloquium had a heavy (possibly German) accent, so I didn’t understand the first half of his presentation; by then, I acclimated to the accent, but I couldn’t understand the second half because I missed the first half.

          Too bad it wasn’t in German. Even if you missed the first half, there’s a chance you could have puzzled it out once he got to the verb.

        • I once shared an office with a co-worker from China. Another co-worker confessed that he would start to talking to her, and only when I turned around and made a comment could she figure out what he said.

  9. Admiral Heinlein sent me back to study the Crazy Years.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Can you take us back with you? Please?

    • MadRocketSci

      Here’s a bit of an open secret:

      ALL years are the crazy years (unless you are very lucky.)

      I suspect that every age is also a golden age: You just have to find the people that are creating the future, and tune out howling insanity everywhere else.

      • MadRocketSci

        Sort of brings to mind something Zubrin said about 1492: “What happened in 1492?” The audience mumbles something about Columbus. Zubrin goes on to mention all the other crazy stuff that was happening all over the world in 1492, then he said “In 400 years, what about our world will people remember and care about?” It was a talk about Mars exploration: here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2Mu8qfVb5I

        (Not that that is a foolproof guide for judging importance either!, but it is an interesting way to think)

        • This reminds me of a saying from one Alan Kay, the creator of a quirky computer language called “Smalltalk” (which was instrumental in developing the GUI that was later adopted by Apple for the Macintosh), and who created a prototype laptop well before electronics were small enough to create it:

          “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

          I wish I could say this is a guiding principle in my life, but it is not. I *do* reflect on it now and again, though…

  10. Stuck here. DeLorean? Huh. Well, they had to make do. No 1984 or 1985 Studebaker, see.

  11. In the US if you ask why we tend to be more… future inclined than other lands, I would start with: the people who came here broke with their past.

    Indeed, they renounced it explicitly, knowing full well what they were doing and why. Which stands in stark contrast to the many “legacy societies” we’re constantly being called upon to succor.

  12. Bjorn Hasseler

    c4c

  13. This struck me as a most excellent post. Coming to America, many (possibly most, but enough) cut or lost their cultural sea anchors, and wanted to or were able to “start anew”. The leftists want to reinstate European thought here (Marx and Engels and aristocracy).

  14. Marx, on an innovative dynamic analysis of economics, predicted a capitalist death-spiral down to starving workers. His analysis was incomplete, but not totally wrong. Innovation leading to increasing productivity overwhelms the dynamic he identified. As long as it lasts.

    As applied, Marxism yields misery at best, mountains of skulls otherwise.

  15. SheSellsSeashells

    I had a wonderful history teacher in college, who ably passed on to me his sheer culture shock at traveling through Eastern Europe. They were passing a pile of rubble that had clearly once been *something* when the guide explained “*Turks* did this” in a voice of immediate and visceral loathing appropriate to, say, the World Trade Center site in October of 2001. My teacher thought from the tone that he’d lost a family member within memory, at the very least. “I’m sorry. When did it happen?” “1565.”

    • The Acropolis, perhaps?

    • Yeah. And 450 years later, nobody had got around to rebuilding it.

    • It’s not just Europeans. As our hostess noted, US culture is the odd one out on this compared to almost everyone else.

      My wife can be *very* serious about events in Chinese history. And can get excited explaining them. Many of them events I can’t even identify online unless I ask “when did this happen” or at least “which dynasty was this?”

      • In some places, America perhaps more than many, a substantial fraction of the population learns “you can never go back” by attempting to revisit childhood locations, etc.that have changed. The adaptive response is to re-center your idea of who you are on your role in managing the present and creating a future.
        For those who don’t have that experience, that realization forced on them, it’s much easier to get stuck in old, familiar, comfortable hates and reactions.
        Seeking the security of a comfortable place begins in early childhood, I think; not everyone “grows up” out of that.

  16. “Sometime in the late nineties there was a common spam email that went ‘I’m a time traveler stranded in your time. I have reason to think you know what I’m talking about. There is this part I need.'” – ATH

    *grin* Were they signed “John Titor” by any chance?

    • I’m wondering if the one I got was just to pass along a brief encrypted message in the “garbage characters” in the subject line. Or to prank someone; none of the email addresses matched as in:

      Received: from [ a “.cl” address???]
      Received: (from nobody@localhost)
      by [deleted]; Sat, 6 Jul 2002 23:23:14 -0400
      Date: Sat, 6 Jul 2002 23:23:14 -0400
      Message-Id: [deleted ] To: [29 email addresses, in alphabetical order]
      From: [doesn’t match anything above–faked?]
      Subject: Time Travelers PLEASE HELP!!! {garbage characters}

      Plus the one more: This is not a joke! I am serious! Please send a separate email to me at: [deleted–not seen above] if you can help! Thanks

  17. If you’re doing old jokes remember:

    Tom Snyder says, “Remember, everybody, when John Glenn lands Saturday everybody put on their ape costumes.”

    • Except… planet of the Apes, the film, was 1968, and the novel was 1963.

      • The Other Sean

        Which is perfect, because John Glenn would have even less reason to suspect.

      • Just to be pedantic (to a Spockian, if not Sheldon degree) I seem to have sent that email in November of 1998 so apparently the late Mr. Snyder was jesting about Senator Glenn’s second trip to space.

        (But the way The Other Sean explained it is much better.)

  18. Do you ever wonder if there’s some obscure pokey little office, somewhere in some government building. There’s a phone on the desk, and a really bored relative of a highly place official sitting there, waiting for it to ring. It is required that all time travelers be given that phone number before they travel, so that they can receive assistance if needed.

    • There’s a sci-fi story in there somewheres. Hrmmm….

      • a sci fi story idea, idly thrown about? here? never!

        • I know. Perish the thought, huh? 🙂

          • Yep, bored Geek, dropped out of college because he knew more about both hardware and software than any of the profs. Dad _makes_ him take this stupid job . . . starts thinking about just what a Time Traveler might need to do whatever he needs to do. ID, money, credit cards, cutting edge computer and communications, cars, weapons . . .

            If his boss ever finds out he’s doing anything but sitting there playing computer games he’s toast.

            • Boss finds out, storms into the office and starts chewing him out, and then the phone rings.

    • And that, o best beloved, is why you want to be on actual good terms with your highly placed official relative. Otherwise, family pressure can only make them do so much.

      Especially since highly placed officials are given the treatment so they won’t believe claims of time travel, so you’re on your own if someone does call.

    • I think there was some sort of similar setup in a set of time travel-related stories I read a few years ago.

    • Anonymous Coward

      Actually that is pretty close to the premise of the TV series “Seven Days”
      (1998-2001). Technology salvaged from Roswell crash allows US to send a time traveler back exactly 7 days in the past in order to help with world-threatening crises. A procedure was set up to avoid wasting time when the ‘chrononaut’ suddenly appeared from the future.

  19. This is the reason I’m not a big fan of the genealogy fad* that Americans are getting into. I don’t really give a flip what your great-great-grand did; it’s what you do that matters.

    *Especially because in Europe, it isn’t a fad, but a way of life to look at what all your ancestors did and a) decide what that makes you capable of doing and b) brag about what your ancestor six generations back did rather going out and accomplishing something worth bragging about yourself.

    • Other than finding out that a branch of the family left France in the late 1600’s due to being Huguenot (we were told that we were all Scots/Irish), and there were a bunch on that side of the family from the 1450’s to 2010 who lived to be 70-90 (I hope I got their genes), it’s only been mildly interesting to my family.

    • And there is the fact that if you do genealogy according to the records, you’re trusting that a host of women you never met were honest. Yeah.

      • Given all the bar sinister connections in mine, I figure they mostly were.

      • Oh for Heaven’s sake, Sarah, she wouldn’t have lied – she’s my arriere-arriere-arriere–,,,,arriere grand-mere! Sheesh!

    • Anonymous Coward

      My take on genealogy is a bit different. Just about all of my ancestors were trying to get the heck out of Europe to avoid poverty, war, pestilence, political or religious strife, unpayable debts, prison cells, etc. I take pride in being of solid “white trash” ancestry, completely free of any illusion that the path to improving the US is to become “more European”. Those who don’t remember history, etc, etc.

      • I sometimes call myself an improved redneck “because I go to family reunions to learn who *not* to marry,” but I’m being ridiculous since I don’t think I thought of that bon mot until after I married–and she’s not kin to me on this side of Noah although she’s from the same county. She cheated (or I did); her grandfather was a German immigrant, and her Native American ancestry is Sioux while mine is Cherokee, several generations back in my case.

        (And about that “Native American” thing; I asked my Lumbee roommate about that when I saw the shirt he or his friend were wearing, way back when. I said that my family has been here since before the Civil War; how long do we have to live here to be natives. Then again, perhaps I was hoisted on my own petard, as it were; to illustrate I paste the following lengthy extract from a 2003 email (note well the last bit): Differences Between North And South

        If you are from the northern states and are planning on visiting or moving to the South, there are a few things you should know that will help you adapt to the difference in lifestyles:

        The North has coffee houses, The South has Waffle Houses.

        The North has dating services, The South has family reunions.

        The North has switchblade knives, The South has Lee Press-on Nails.

        The North has double last names, The South has double first names.

        [snip]

        In the South:

        If you run your car into a ditch, don’t panic, four men in a four-wheel drive pickup truck with a tow chain will be along shortly. Don’t try to help them, just stay out of their way, this is what they live for.

        Don’t be surprised to find movie rentals, tanning beds, and bait in the same store…. Do not buy any food at this store.

        Remember, “y’all” is singular, “all y’all” is plural, and “all
        y’all’s” is plural possessive.

        Get used to hearing “You ain’t from round here, are you?”

        Save all manner of bacon grease. You will be instructed later on how to use it.

        Don’t be worried at not understanding what people are saying. They can’t understand you either.

        The first Southern statement transplanted into a Northerner’s vocabulary is the adjective “big’ol,” truck or “good’ol” boy. Most Northerners begin their Southern-influenced dialect this way. All of them are in denial about it.

        [snip]

        If you hear a Southerner exclaim, “Hey, y’all, watch this,” you should immediately move aside and stay out of the way. These are likely to be the last words he’ll ever say.

        If there is the prediction of the slightest chance of even the smallest accumulation of snow, your presence is required at the local Ingle’s [a grocery store]. It doesn’t matter whether you need anything or not, you just have to go there.

        [snip]
        In the South, we have found that the best way to grow a lush green lawn is to pour gravel on it and call it a driveway.

        AND REMEMBER:

        If you do settle in the South and bear children, don”t think we will accept them as Southerners. After all, if the cat had kittens in the oven, we wouldn’t call ’em biscuits.

        😉

        • I need to remember some of those.

        • If you hear a Southerner exclaim, “Hey, y’all, watch this,” you should immediately move aside and stay out of the way.

          Slightly less dangerous activities are often preceded by the warning “here, hold my beer.”

  20. I knew enough history of the US to know that the present is not the first time we tried to ‘be more like the Europeans.’ This helped keep me from being particularly persuaded by the argument, during one more recent scandal, that ‘The French are laughing at us.’ So what? The French think that Jerry Lewis is a comedic genius, me, I would rather watch Pierre Richard…


    .

  21. Off topic, but Bill Whittle has a great vid on SJWs:

  22. Speaking of time travelers, Commander Salamander has a link on his blog to a great reversal of a what if–just go look and laugh: http://cdrsalamander.blogspot.com/2016/04/i-am-reassessing-my-previous-statements.html.