This is the first of a multi-part series in which I state my ever-evolving position on what I do, why I do it the way I do, and the merits or lack thereof in the endeavor.
The family was sitting around allowing our collective brain cells to die the other night, watching IndependenceDay. I don't mind watching brain candy like this, although having lived through an era where our elected officials have acted as if the violence others have visited upon us is as mindless as that of the aliens in that movie, I found myself enjoying it far less than I used to. There are far too many Americans who would enthusiastically support the words of the fake President, "Let's nuke the bastards," for me to consider any such invocation "entertaining". During the scene where that "nuking" takes place, I expressed umbrage at the way our military technology was presented. Nuclear-armed cruise missiles are depicted being launched from Stealth bombers, while a military observation vehicle sits close by to check and see if the target - a flying saucer hovering over the remnants of Houston, TX - is destroyed. The film portrays the planes being quite close, the missiles fired at almost point blank range. The vehicle, sitting on an empty stretch of Texas highway is buffeted by the blast wave, as debris flies past, but is otherwise undamaged.
The missiles in question could have been fired quite safely from as far away as either coast. Even had they been fired from, say, the Chicago area or even as close as St. Louis, their travel time would have been minutes only. Firing a nuclear missile from the range depicted would have eliminated the plane quite handily. The observation vehicle may have survived the blast wave traveling faster than the speed of sound; the heat, however, would have, at the very least, cooked those inside.
Don't even get me started on the aerial "dogfights" between the F-16s and the little alien spacecraft.
My older daughter looked at me and asked me, "How do you know all that stuff?" The answer was quite simple. I read about it. It isn't secret. It isn't some weird arcane knowledge available to specialists. Any reasonably intelligent human being who can muddle through some technical jargon can come away with a general grasp of military technology. It just isn't all that hard to figure this stuff out.
A couple weeks back, my wife was expressing her dismay that I seemed to have a grasp of current events that surpassed hers. I told her that was because I was interested in what was going on in the world, and tried to keep up the best I could given limited time and resources. She demurred, insisting I had a greater intellectual grasp of these events than the average person. To which I responded with embarrassed thanks, insisting, however, that I was really no different than the average American confronted by the huge amount of information on all sorts of things that happen each and every day. I am just trying to figure this stuff out, as best as I can. I have said it many times before, and will say it many times again, but I really doubt most of my reflections have any real merit beyond my own sense of gathering my ideas at any particular moment in time.
A friend of Winston Churchill once remarked with wry amusement that the Great Man was really one of simple tastes. He far preferred the best things in life. I have long identified with that description and sentiment. Now, about Churchill, it referred to his preference for vacations in the south of France, for expensive wine and other drink; for fine foods; for great conversation partners who would enlighten him on various topics (as well as sit through a Churchillian monologue without fidgeting too much).
I take the same approach to how I go about figuring out the world, what's going on, and what I actually think is happening at any given moment. Why read The Weekly World News, or even The Washington Post, when there are abundant resources out there that are far more intelligent, far more clear? For example, when it was clear that events in Egypt were quickly moving toward the kind of political and social ultimatum that could end either in tragedy or triumph, I turned first to Twitter for various sources of information; reading a retweet by Reuters from Al Jazeera English, I made the quick decision, on my own, to do what thousands of Americans did in the ensuing weeks. I started streaming Al Jazeera English reports, reading commentary, sidebars, analysis. Knowing that I did not know much of anything concerning the situation; knowing that American sources like CNN, the Times, and the Post were probably as well-informed as I was, I decided that, being there in the midst of that part of the world, with reporters on the ground who knew the language and the politics, AJE would be a far more reliable source of information. I was rewarded by watching the Egyptian revolution unfold in real time, including that moment when former Pres. Mubarak's resignation was announced, sitting and listening as the roar of the masses in Tahrir Square rose.
Now, I never pretended that sitting and watching these events unfold, learning all I could about the particulars of Egypt's history and politics, meant even vicarious participation. My sympathies were always with the people, as they continue to be in regards to on-going protests in Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain, emerging protests in Oman, and the civil war in Libya. Sympathy, however, is not identification. I continue to maintain that I am just observing and learning; I get information from tweeters on the ground in Yemen and Algeria, and from a Libyan ex-pat living in Manchester in the UK who has sources on the ground.
The same is true for the rest of my life. Being a Christian and an American, I'm trying to figure out how to be those things with a certain amount of integrity from people who are far more intelligent, insightful, knowledgeable, and capable of far better expression that I ever will be. Why settle for just anyone when there are the best resources out there, people who are really engaged with living these same questions I have, and at the very least express the questions more clearly than I ever have or will.
As the title of this post suggests, I do not nor have I ever considered myself either special or insightful. As I told my wife a week or so ago, I'm just some guy trying to figure it out as I go, with the single advantage of being able to discern who is a far better resource for help in figuring it out than a whole lot of other folks. At the very least, that makes the search for understanding a lot less cluttered with fluff and nonsense. Life is far too short to waste one's time listening to ninnies.