Month: May 2013
Koro Dewes
by Ken Arneson
2013-05-30 11:51

The Māori language, the language spoken by native New Zealanders, is a member of the Polynesian family of languages, along with other Pacific island languages such as Tahitian, Samoan and Hawaiian.

Back around the year 1900, a large majority of people of Māori descent spoke the Māori language, or “te reo”, as their first and native tongue. But then the New Zealand government decided that all schools should be taught in English, and the Māori language was not allowed to be spoken in the classroom. A generation later, when the children of that policy grew up, they were fully bilingual. But as most educational and economic opportunities were in English, many people of that generation spoke Māori to their older relatives, but English to their children. This next generation was also bilingual, but spoke English as their first language, and Māori only passively. As a result, in the third generation between 1950 and 1975, there began a rapid decline in the number of native Māori speakers, and the language appeared to be headed to extinction.

“…the ability to speak te reo amongst Māori children declined from 90 per cent in 1913 to 80 per cent in 1923 to 55 per cent in 1950 to 26 per cent in 1953–58 and to 5 per cent in 1975.”

Waitangi Tribual Report, 2011

Alarmed by the declining state of the Māori language, a movement arose in the 1960s and 1970s among the remaining native speakers to try to preserve and restore the language. At first, they faced a lot of resistance from the New Zealand government. As late as 1979, the New Zealand Minister of Māori Affairs, Ben Couch, said that he saw no need to take legislative steps to preserve the language. However, the movement persisted, and major advances were made in the 1980s. The Kohanga Reo movement brought Māori language instruction to preschoolers in 1982, followed three years later by Kura Kaupapa Māori, which created Māori-language primary schools, as well. They pushed for, and got, native-language broadcasts on TV. And finally, the Māori Language Act of 1987 brought official language status to the Māori language in New Zealand.

These measures brought some measure of success to growing and promoting the Māori language. For about 10-15 years, the decline of the language reversed, and populations of native speakers grew steadily for a time. However, sometime around the turn of the century the growth seemed to stall, and has in the last few years returned to a slow decline. There is more work to be done to keep the Māori language alive.

* * *

The Random Wikipedia of the day is the entry for Koro Dewes, a man who was a key figure in the struggle to promote the Māori language. Mr. Dewes, who lived from 1930 to 2010, did most of his advocacy for the language at the university level. He was a lecturer at both the University of Auckland and Victoria University of Wellington. At Wellington, he helped extend the course catalog so that students could get a degree in the Māori language studies. He was also the first person to submit a post-graduate thesis written in the Māori language without a translation.

Here is a news story on Mr. Dewes’ life, presented in the Māori language, of course, with English subtitles:

James E. FitzGerald
by Ken Arneson
2013-05-23 23:01

The Random Wikipedibottle spun around today to Reverend James E. FitzGerald, S.J.

S.J. in my mind stands for “Statens Järnvägar“, which is the name of the Swedish national railways. But here, it means Society of Jesus, the formal name of the Jesuit Order. The abbreviation after a name means that this person is a Jesuit priest or brother.

From 1958 to 1964, Father FitzGerald served as the fourth President of Fairfield University, a Jesuit university in Connecticut.

The Jesuit Order has received a lot of publicity lately after Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina was elected Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, becoming the first Jesuit pope.

Pope Francis made news today when he said that people who do good deeds, even atheists, are good people. “Just do good and we’ll find a meeting point,” he said.

Fairfield’s diversity statement seems to reflect that same “find a meeting point” sentiment that Pope Francis expressed today.

Fairfield University defines diversity in the broadest sense, reflecting its commitment to creating a more inclusive community that is reflective of the richly diverse global community of which we are part. Diversity encompasses not only racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, but also diversity of socioeconomic contexts, cultural perspectives, national origins, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, physical ability, and educational backgrounds.

Not sure how much that’s a function of their shared, timeless Jesuit values, which Father Fitzgerald would have agreed with back in the 1960s, and how much such a diversity statement is a function of the values of the 2010’s.

But it seems that Fairfield’s commitment to diversity at least welcomed both extroverted and introverted personalities back in the 1960s. Fairfield’s web site describes Father FitzGerald as “a determined man who wanted everything to be very structured and orderly. He avoided public appearances as much as possible and suffered when obligated to make speeches.” Sounds like an introvert to me. Yet even while avoiding public speaking, Father Fitzgerald managed to grow Fairfield University, adding some new fields of study, like a Graduate School of Education, and also constructing several new buildings, where people learning to do good deeds could find a meeting point.

Azteca de Gyves
by Ken Arneson
2013-05-22 23:07

Today, the Random Wikipedier sends us to visit Azteca de Gyves, a Mexican artist who deftly juggles the contrasts between the personal and the universal, and the local and the global.

Ms. de Gyves hails from Juchitán de Zaragoza, a city in the southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Juchitán sounds like it is like the Berkeley of Mexico, a very left-wing, rebellious city. Wikipedia adds, “The region’s progressive politics and strong work ethic have cultivated a tradition of powerful women and an unusual tolerance for alternative gender roles.”

Her work reflects both this political background and her indigenous Zapotec heritage, often melding the local traditional geometric patterns with modern styles. She recently had an exhibit which displayed, among other things, a series of large 3-D eggs painted in these traditional patterns. The significance of the eggs lie in both their local but also universal relevance. Eggs are a key staple in the local diet, but they also represent both the physical origins of life. They symbolize the spiritual rebirth found in the resurrection of Christ, in a heavily Catholic area.

For more, take a look at this video of some of her other artwork:

Bülent Güngör
by Ken Arneson
2013-05-21 21:31

The Random Wikipedier would like to introduce you to Bülent Güngör, a Turkish architect. If you judge by his Wikipedia entry, you would think that he specializes in restoring historical buildings. Maybe he does, but this promotional video from his architectural firm seems to suggest otherwise, as there are lots of modern elements shown here:

Perhaps the most notable thing about Bülent Güngör is that he has been chosen to be the architect on a project to realize a 500-year-old dream of Leonardo da Vinci. In 1502, da Vinci designed a bridge to span the Golden Horn in Istanbul. It was an unusual design consisting of three arches. Sultan Bayezid II rejected the idea, not believing it could be successfully constructed. But in October of last year, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that a group of private Turkish sponsors would build a pedestrian-only version of da Vinci’s bridge.

There are worse fates in the world than to be Leonardo da Vinci’s assistant, even if it’s half a millenium after the man himself.

Bless Its Pointed Little Head
by Ken Arneson
2013-05-20 17:30

(Quoting Wikipedia …) “Jefferson Airplane was formed in San Francisco during the summer of 1965.”

(Doing math: February 1966 – nine months == … ) Ken Arneson was formed in San Francisco during the summer of 1965.

Therefore, Ken Arneson is an airplane.

* * *

Today, Random Wikipedia sends Arneson Airplane to visit the Jefferson Airplane live album Bless Its Pointed Little Head. The album was recorded in San Francisco in the autumn of 1968, and released in 1969. Half the songs on the live album are from their most successful studio album, 1967’s Surrealistic Pillow.

The Summer of Love was about San Francisco, and about psychedelic rock, about concerts at the Fillmore–that is, sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll–and if you combine all those things it ought to all add up to Bless Its Pointed Little Head. But somehow it doesn’t — Surrealistic Pillow is considered a classic album, but Bless Its Pointed Little Head, not so much. Maybe it came too late, after the Summer of Love was over. But if I had to guess why, I’d say it’s because the live album lacks one key Surrealistic Pillow song: White Rabbit.

White Rabbit is perhaps THE canonical psychedelic rock song. Maybe they didn’t realize that back in 1969 when they were assembling this album. But looking back now, it seems pretty clear that a live psychedelic rock album from that era in that city and those venues without the canonical psychedelic rock song is just a missed opportunity.

* * *

Arneson Airplane is not, it must be noted, a particularly big fan of psychedelic rock. I seem to be only be able to tolerate the popular music of my toddlerdom in small doses. I can listen to a song or three and like it, but that’s about it.

I listened to Bless Its Pointed Little Head this morning. I enjoyed first few songs, but after that my mind began to wander and my concentration faded and it all started sounding the same to me. It began to feel like the kind of background music I’d always hear in the record stores in Berkeley during college in the 80s. Atmospherics, little more.

So I’m not sure that, even if I had been old enough to enjoy the music that filled the air in San Francisco in the 60’s that I would have appreciated it very much. I’d probably have missed the opportunity, as well.

* * *

In those days, a lot of concerts had multiple bands playing one after another. For example, during the Summer of Love, Jefferson Airplane performed four concerts in Southern California alongside The Doors on the marquee.

My feelings about The Doors are similar to my feelings about Jefferson Airplane, I liked them in small doses, too. Despite their distinctive, keyboard-first sound, my mind lumps them together with the other rock bands of their era, I guess.

Sadly and coincidentally, The Doors’ keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, passed away this morning, at age 74. Bless his pointed little head. May he rest in peace.

John Cocks
by Ken Arneson
2013-05-17 13:23

John Cocks” (nudge nudge) was a British “marine biologist” (wink wink) and a “botanist” (heh heh), who lived from 1787 to 1861. He “discovered” (if you catch my drift) a kind of red “seaweed” (rrrrrrrowww) called “Stenogramme interrupta“.

Sorry to interrupt, uh, but are you interested in er… (waggles head, leans across) stenogrammes, eh? Know what I mean? Stenogrammes, ‘he asked knowingly’.

Stenogrammes? As in what a secretary writes down?

Oh, ho ho, a secretary, yes! Secretary, could be, could be! Could be writing, yes. Could be drawings. Pictures, or “photographs”. Pho-to-graphs. Snap snap! Eh? Snap snap!

Snap, as in, holiday snaps?

Could be, could be taken on holiday. Random places, could be – yes – swimming costumes. Underwater, Candid photography. Know what I mean, nudge nudge. Eh?

Ah yes, certainly, I understand now. I happen to have a photograph of a stenogramme interrupta right here:


Say no more!

Photo reproduced courtesy of World Register of Marine Species under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.
by Ken Arneson
2013-05-16 18:44

Once upon a time, there was a man named Mario with a world-class mustache. If you read yesterday’s entry in our Random Wikipedia series, you might think I’m talking about a video game character. But nope.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Mario with a world-class mustache who dedicated his life to cataloging all the different kinds of flying insects in the world. He was a pioneer in the scientific study of dipterous insects.

The man with the world-class mustache was named Mario Bezzi. He was a professor of zoology at the University of Turin. He lived from 1868 to 1927. No information could be found on how long his fantastic mustache lived. But it looked like this:


The Italian Wikipedia describes him as “rigid and inflexible of character, stern first with himself and with a deep sense of duty… unable to accept compromises.” Perhaps, those character traits were a necessary part of his greatness. Perhaps, a man cannot attain such a perfect mustache without being a perfectionist. To such a man, to accept compromise, to accept that good enough is good enough, is a kind of failure.

Sadly, his perfectionism proved his undoing. Shortly after promoted to Director of the Turin Museum of Zoology in early 1927, “believing himself unequal to the task entrusted to him,” Professor Bezzi committed suicide by cyanide. A tragic end.

Today, however, we honor his mustache and his work. Specifically we honor what he did in 1924, when Bezzi cataloged a species of fruit fly found in the southern part of the African continent, called Ypsilomena compacta. Today’s Random Wikipedia entry, Ypsilomena, is the genus to which that species belongs.

No information could be found for the genus to which Mario Bezzi’s mustache belonged. Rest in peace.

1973 in video gaming
by Ken Arneson
2013-05-15 19:33

I don’t remember the first time I ever saw a video game. I doubt it was as early as 1973. I know my next-door neighbor had an Atari 2600 in 1978, and I had a Mattel Electronics Football game around the same time. I know I went minigolfing for a couple birthdays in between there, and the minigolf place had an arcade. They probably had Pong, if not a few other video games in the arcade. Probably, then, I first laid eyes on a video game around 1976 or so.

So this Random Wikipedia article, 1973 in video gaming, comes a few years too early for me to have any personal memories. As a historical landmark, it’s one year too late. The big year in video gaming is 1972. In 1972, Atari was founded and they produced Pong. Additionally in 1972, Magnavox introduced the Odyssey, the first home video game console.

So 1973 was a period of infancy for video games–after they were invented, but before they became a major force in popular culture. Did the people working on video games back really believe it would later become a huge deal? Or did they assume they were just part of a temporary fad, just trying to figure something out, maybe eking out a living or something if they’re lucky, but not really suspecting they were incubating a baby entertainment industry that would eventually be as big as movies or TV?

And what’s the 2013 version of video gaming — the rough beast that’s just a baby now, barely even noticed, but one day will grow to be king of the world?

Trochaclis attenuata
by Ken Arneson
2013-05-14 15:53

There is nothing so utterly ordinary in the fossil record of the planet Earth as the shell of a sea snail. They first appeared at the end of the Cambrian era almost 500 million years ago — nearly twice as long ago as the first dinosaur. In terms of number of different species, the Gastropod class to which sea snails belong are the second-most diverse class of animals on the planet behind insects. Unlike insects however, most sea snails make hard, mineralized shells which survive rather well in the fossil record. Therefore, they have left a long, long trail of their long, long existence everywhere around the globe.

Today’s Random Wikipedia Wheel of Fortune sends to examine one of these sea snails, the Trochaclis attenuata. The Trochaclis attenuata lives off the coast of New Zealand.

Here’s a picture of the shell of the Trochaclis attenuata. It looks rather big in this image, but note the scale on the bottom left; if the scale is to be believed, the Trochaclis attenuata isn’t much larger than an ordinary grain of sand.

Trochaclis Attenuata

The species was identified by a New Zealand researcher named Bruce Marshall, who registered the name of this species in 1995.

* * *

Ok, but so what? What is the point of thinking about the Trochaclis Attenuata?

* * *

Try to estimate how many sea snails there are in all the world’s oceans right this very minute. Consider that some of these sea snails are the size of a grain of sand. What’s your guess? 1 million? 10 million? 100 million? 1 billion? 10 billion? 100 billion?

Now imagine that number, whatever it is, multiplied over 500 million years. That’s how many sea snails have lived in the history of the earth.

* * *

Now imagine the latest human scandal that’s buzzing around your news feed right now. Whatever has you all upset and angry, hold that outrage in your mind for just a second.

Now place that outrage right next to your count of sea snails in the history of the earth.

Think about how, of all the sea snails in all the seas in all the history of the world, not one, not a single one, cares about your scandal.

Trilobites dominated the planet for 200 million years or so, then they went extinct. Sea snails lived on.

Then dinosaurs dominated the planet for another 200 million years or so, then they went extinct. Sea snails lived on.

67 million years later, you and your fellow awesome humans and whatever you’re outraged about arrived on the scene. 133 million years from now, who knows what will become of your fellow humans, but your outrage will certainly be extinct.

And the sea snails, the boring, ordinary little sea snails, will live on.

Photo reproduced courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.
2013–14 Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team
by Ken Arneson
2013-05-13 18:44

To be honest, I don’t give a crap about the 2013–14 Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team.

* * *

For a week now, I’ve been writing a blog entry each weekday about a random Wikipedia article. I’m not sure why. Something about it struck me as an interesting idea, so I went with it.

But when the Random Wikipedia Wheel of Fortune brought me to the 2013–14 Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team, I almost quit the idea. It annoyed the hell out of me. I mean, look at this, here’s the entire Wikipedia entry:

The 2013–14 Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team will represent the Clemson University during the 2013–14 NCAA Division I men’s basketball season.

It’s basically a tautology. It’s nonsense. It’s vaporware. It’s nothing.

Pffffft. The 2013–14 Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team doesn’t even exist yet. I didn’t go to Clemson University. Why the heck should I care about it? I don’t think I personally know anybody who went to Clemson. Heck, I barely know anyone who went to any of the schools in Clemson’s athletic conference, the ACC. Why should I bother writing about it?

* * *

The past few weeks, I’ve been taking an online course in Behavioral Economics. One of the issues they talk about is how much we overvalue the present and undervalue the future. We also overvalue things that are near to us, and undervalue things that are far away from us. For example:

Would you give $100 if it would pay for an operation that would, guaranteed to work or your money back, save the life of a 5-year-old child today? Probably, you would.

Would you give $100 if it would pay for an operation that would, guaranteed to work or your money back, save the lives of a hundred 5-year-old children in Belgium in 2043, kids who won’t even be born for another 25 years? Hmm…it’s a tougher question, isn’t it?

Why is it so hard to feel sympathy for people and events far away and in the future?

* * *

Taking that knowledge, I plowed ahead and did some googling about next year’s Clemson basketball team. I found an article on RealGM Basketball which uses some statistical analysis of college basketball players to predict that Clemson will go 6-12 in the ACC during 2013-14. Dan Hanner explains:

Given that they lose their two best players and have zero players who were elite high school recruits on their roster, I think a lot of preseason predictions will have them even lower than this. There really isn’t anyone on the roster who looks like a likely offensive star. (The only good news is that Clemson was young last year and the sophomore leap should help at least a couple of their freshmen become solid players.) But let’s face it, this is going to be an ugly team to watch. The only reason the model doesn’t have Clemson lower is because of Brad Brownell’s ability to teach defense.

Maybe that’s accurate. Or not. A year from now, we’ll know for sure.

But I’m from California, not Carolina. I follow the Pac-12, not the ACC. So again, I really don’t care. Because I am human. I concern myself mostly with the here and now. I am, as my behavioral economic class suggests, biased against the people and things that are separated from me by large gaps of space and time.

* * *

In my last Random Wikipedia entry about Błudowo, Poland, I examined a picture of a bible passage about the Lamb of God. I didn’t examine a matching companion text on the ceiling of that same church, partly because the image is interrupted by an ugly ceiling lamp, but partly because it seems to contradict the first image. The text is a quote from Revelations 1:8:

Alpha and Omega

In English, the Błudowo text quotes God saying, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” The next part of that passage goes: “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is coming. I am the Almighty.”

It’s an interesting pairing. In the first image, God is presented as being meek and humble. Here in the second, God is powerful and eternal. What does it mean to put these passages together?

* * *

Will Leitch had a good article recently about what Christians mean when they thank God after a sporting event. Money quote:

When you live a Christian life, everything you do, from showing up to church on Sunday, to going to the grocery store, to pumping gas, to hitting a home run, to striking out, is done for the glory of Christ. Hamilton isn’t thanking Jesus for helping him hit a homer; he is thanking Jesus for everything.

I think that’s right, but incomplete. Living a Christian life doesn’t just mean understanding or believing Christianity, it means practicing it. And I don’t mean practicing as in “doing”, I mean practicing as in “training.”

We are naturally biased towards the here and near and now. We naturally discount the distant, both in time and space. You can’t just overcome that built-in bias with rational understanding. That bias is our default mode. You have to overcome that bias by actively training yourself to overcome it, otherwise you slip right back into your default mode.

In default mode, you think that three-point shot you just made to win the game is the most important thing in the world. You’re so awesome!

Expressing gratitude toward God, as a practice, removes you from that default mode. It strips away your bias, in two ways:

  1. It affirms that second passage in the Błudowo church. It’s an acknowledgement that there is some thing more awesome than you, and some time more important than now. It is, as Leitch suggests, gratitude towards everything that was, is, and shall be.
  2. It reminds us that our natural biases, a/k/a our sins, are not washed away by conquering the here and now like a tiger. On the contrary, our selfish, competitive biases toward satisfying the desires of ourselves and those nearest to us at the expense of others, is actually a cause of suffering in the world. The practice of thanking God is an act of humility and generosity, of caring about something beyond the immediate. Thanking God makes you more lamb-like than tiger-like.

* * *

Funny though, how in a large Christian nation like America, there aren’t any major sports teams nicknamed “the Lambs”.

* * *

So here I am, a sinner who doesn’t give a crap about the the 2013–14 Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team. If I were more God-like, more Christ-like, I would. I would overcome the bias that makes me care more about my local team and my local league and the current and most recent year than about some team far away and in the future. I’d be more generous, more caring, about everything.

* * *

And this is why I think I am writing these random Wikipedia articles. Like thanking God, it is a kind of practice, designed to train me away from my biases. Away from my compulsive desire to compete, to be great, to win in the here and now. A random Wikipedia article can send me anywhere–past, present, future–and it forces me to contemplate on it, to be generous towards it. Contemplation leads to empathy and compassion, and the world becomes a better place for it. And perhaps I become a better human being, too.

* * *

So Godspeed, 2013–14 Clemson Tigers men’s basketball team.

by Ken Arneson
2013-05-10 13:31

The Random Wikipedia Wheel of Fortune takes us today to Błudowo, a small farming village in northeastern Poland. Błudowo lies in a administrative district called Gmina Młynary along with 27 other villages. Gmina Młynary has a combined population of 4,593. Based on that information, Błudowo probably has a population of about 100 people or so.

This, via Google Maps, appears to be the center of Błudowo:

View Larger Map

Błudowo has, it seems, at the intersection between the main road and the path to the village church, a large crucifix, over 10 feet tall. This very tall crucifix has a eensy-weeny teeny-tiny small little Jesus on it. For all I know, it may be the highest crucifix-to-Jesus size ratio of any crucifix in the world. What does it mean?

Perhaps here’s a clue. Up the path from this crucifix, there is a little brick church, which contains this image on its ceiling:


“Ecce agnus Dei, qui tollit peccata mundi” is Latin for “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” It’s a quote from John 1:29 of the New Testament, uttered by John the Baptist when he first lays eyes on Jesus.

It is interesting to ponder why God’s cleansing of sin is depicted as a lamb in the Bible, and why Błudowo’s church chooses to emphasize this image. God redeems mankind not as a tiger or a lion or a bear or an elephant or some such mighty animal, but as a lamb–a small, humble, meek and utterly ordinary animal.

Błudowo is not Berlin or Moscow or Stockholm or New York or Paris or Tokyo or Washington DC or Silicon Valley, where the inhabitants may feel it is their role in life to change the world. Because of its central geographic location between much larger powers, it has seen the flags of Poland and Prussia and Sweden and Germany and the Soviet Union all come and go through the area. It has seen the suffering that such tall ambitions can cause. Through all that, perhaps Błudowo through all these centuries of conflict around it redeems itself by not trying to be more that what it is meant to be: is a small, humble, meek and utterly ordinary village.

SS Mormacmail
by Ken Arneson
2013-05-09 16:26

Today, the Random Wikipedia Wheel of Fortune sends us to visit the SS Mormacmail. SS Mormacmail actually the name of four different cargo ships built during World War II. The first three of these ships were converted to escort carriers and renamed.

Escort carriers in WWII were typically just normal cargo ships with a flight deck built on top of them. They were slower and had less armor than regular fleet carriers, but they were much less expensive to make. They were used, therefore, mostly as their name suggests, to provide air cover while escorting convoys.

All of which is quite fascinating to me because my father worked on aircraft carriers as an electronic technician when I was growing up. However, he didn’t work on small carriers such as these; he worked on “supercarriers” like the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the kind of ships that were crown jewels of the fleet. But for every glorious USS Enterprise there are a dozen cheap clunky USS Stargazers, doing the more ordinary work that needs to be done.

* * *

As an aside, I was struck by this sentence I read this morning, linked to by Rod Dreher, written by Anthony Bradley:

For too many Millennials their greatest fear in this life is being an ordinary person with a non-glamorous job, living in the suburbs, and having nothing spectacular to boast about.

Which rather fits the theme that the Random Wikipedia Wheel of Fortune seems to be revealing. We live in a culture which tells us the greatest attribute a human being can possess is fame, and with it, glory. I feel like I have absorbed this message too much myself. It’s an unhealthy mindset to have, because the vast majority of humanity will fail to achieve it, and it will leave you unhappy in the end.

In a healthy culture, we ought to dismiss Fame. Honor, on the other hand, is both virtuous and achievable. We ought to be honoring Honor itself.

* * *

The first SS Mormacmail was purchased by the US Navy in 1941, converted to an escort carrier, and renamed the USS Long Island. Here is a picture of it at Pearl Harbor in August 1942, with the sunken USS Utah to the left, and the larger carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) to the right.

USS Long Island

Because so much of the US Pacific fleet was destroyed at the Battle of Pearl Harbor, the USS Long Island was pulled into service in 1942 during the Guadalcanal Campaign. However, once more capable ships had been built, the USS Long Island mostly spent the rest of World War II transporting troops and cargo and operating training missions.

By the way, the Hornet in this picture is not the USS Hornet (CV-12) that currently sits as a museum a few blocks from my home in Alameda, CA where the USS Enterprise and other old nuclear wessels used to dock. The Hornet pictured above was sunk in three months after this photograph was taken in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. The CV-12 was named to honor the CV-8, commissioned a year later in 1943.

* * *

The next two SS Mormacmails were both sold to the British Royal Navy. The first was rechristened the HMS Battler, and the second became the HMS Tracker. The HMS Tracker provided antisubmarine support during the before, during and after the D-Day invasion.

* * *

Finally, a version of the SS Mormacmail was built where the name stuck. It launched in 1946, and served as a cargo vessel until being decommissioned in 1971. It appears to have spent its career shipping cargo between the US, Sweden and South America.


* * *

So it was for all four versions of the SS Mormacmail: not a famous existence, but an honorable one.

2000 Ericsson Open – Women’s Singles
by Ken Arneson
2013-05-08 10:39

Martina Hingis

There are two tiers of professional tennis tournaments: the Grand Slam events, and all the others.

The Ericsson Open, a/k/a the Sony Open, a/k/a the Miami Masters, may be the Grandest of the Ungrand. Most Ungrand events are one week, single gender tournaments. The Miami tournament, like the Grand Slam events, plays over two weeks, hosts both genders, and has a large prize purse. It probably has visions of perhaps one day becoming Grand itself.

But so far, it remains the Biggest Fish in the Small Pond. Is that such a bad deal?

The Random Wikipedia Wheel of Fortune has sent us today back in time to the 2000 Ericsson Open Women’s Singles tournament. It is not a particularly remarkable tournament, other than serving as one affirmation, among many, of the greatness of Martina Hingis. Hingis marched through this tournament basically unchallenged. She never got close to losing a single set. She won 6-3, 6-1 in the quarterfinals against Amanda Coetzer. She destroyed Monica Seles in the semifinals, 6-0, 6-0. Hingis then trounced Lindsay Davenport in the finals, 6-3, 6-2.

In the past two days, the RWWoF sent us to examine the ordinary, unremarkable moments before and after greatness. Today, our eyes are opened to the existence of many other utterly ordinary moments, even in the middle of greatness. Perhaps we are meant to wonder: if greatness is so short and fleeting, what exactly is so great about greatness anyway?

Photo credit: Taís Melillo on Flickr via Creative Commons license.
June 5
by Ken Arneson
2013-05-07 15:56

June 5 is the 156th day of the year (157th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar.

Oh, a few things have happened on June 5. But really, in our minds, June 5 is just the day before June 6.

June 6. D-Day. Not just a day, but a Day That Changed History.


However, our Random Wikipedia Wheel of Fortune did not spin us onto June 6. It spun us onto June 5. Why? What is it trying to tell us?

Perhaps that most of us are not the Ones who Change History. At best, we are the ones prepare history to be changed. There are no movies made about June 5, 1944. We perform no great sacrifices. We get no glory.

The Random Wikipedia Wheel of Fortune, then, is telling us a similar message to yesterday’s. With swash, we examined the small turbulence that follows the breaking of a big wave. And today, we see the mundane preparations that are needed to make a big event happen.

It is as if the Random Wikipedia Wheel of Fortune has a message for us. We are not superstars. We are not heroes, or martyrs. We are supporting characters. We prepare, we clean up, while somebody else takes on the greatest pains, and gets the greatest rewards.

And we should be OK with that.

Photo credit: The US Army on Flickr via Creative Commons license.
by Ken Arneson
2013-05-06 14:31

1. You were surfing the Internet yesterday. You somehow drifted to the Wikipedia home page. You clicked the “Random Article” link. It brought you to Swash:

Swash, in geography, is known as a turbulent layer of water that washes up on the beach after an incoming wave has broken.


2. You don’t intend to drift. You don’t mean to get lost. You worry that the currents will pull you far from land, send you circling aimlessly, repeatedly, without hope of ever reaching a destination.

You intend to get somewhere. You want to make a big splash. You dream of making an impact in the world.


3. In an experiment, people like you were paid $3 to take a test and turn the test in to a examiner. The examiner would do one of three things:

  • Look at the test, say “uh-huh” and put the test in a pile.
  • Put the test in the pile without looking at it or saying anything.
  • Immediately shred the test.

Then you were offered 30 cents less ($2.70, then $2.40, etc.) to retake the test.

If your work was acknowledged, even ever so slightly, you retook the test far more often than if your work was ignored or shredded. In fact, having your work be ignored was almost as bad as having your work be shredded. You are not primarily motivated by money. You get meaning out of your work from the acknowledgement of other people.


4. Swash is the middle ground between meaningful work and Sisyphean uselessness. Swash is where you end up when your dreams are broken.


5. You have edited a few Wikipedia entries in the past. You don’t know if your efforts made Wikipedia better or not. Nobody acknowledged your work. You don’t know if your edits still persist. Most likely, they have all been rewritten or deleted.

Much of your writing — your blogging, your tweeting — is like that. The big waves, the ones that people notice, the ones that persist in people’s minds, break just beyond your reach. Maybe you make a small impact, for a short moment, in a small corner of the world. A couple retweets here, a nice comment there. In the long run, though, all your efforts scroll off the screen and end up ignored and forgotten in a mighty ocean of data.


6. It turns out that you are not a mighty wave. You struggle and travel a great distance to land upon that shore, and all you end up doing is wiggling a pebble or two. In the great scheme of things, you barely matter. You slink back into the sea.


7. Perhaps that random Wikipedia entry was an omen. Perhaps you should click that random link again. And again. And again.

For you are Swash, a small turbulent layer of water along the shoreline, coming and going with the tides, whose meager purpose is simply to expose and acknowledge other forgotten and ignored fossils, just like yourself.




Photo credit: jemasmith on Flickr via Creative Commons license.
This is Ken Arneson's blog about baseball, brains, art, science, technology, philosophy, poetry, politics and whatever else Ken Arneson feels like writing about
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