THC: Burning Down the Libraries

Good Morning!

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Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum, so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
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Memory — that elusive connection to the past that most animals have in their muscles, their senses, and their emotions, but not as a film stored in their head.

That film in our heads is the blessing and curse of humanity. Our peculiar connection to what we call ‘history’ has been a notable characteristic of our species, often not complete or exact, but in full color, stereophonic sound and smell-o-vision.

Yet it’s been going out of fashion in big ways and small, and that to me is cause for concern. The last few years, my husband was been required to attend ‘team building’ and ‘idea sharing’ workshops at the non-profit where he works. Team building and idea sharing are worthy goals, but the actual workshops use them as buzz words, while they pursue other agendas.

Most of the employees are under 40 something, and the concepts of “context” and “corporate memory” have no relevance to them — all employees over 50ish are regarded as out-of- touch, too old to have anything valuable to contribute.

The irony is that the “cutting edge” ideas the younger generation have are not new at all — they are spending a lot of time re-inventing wheels that have already been rolling, sometimes for more than a generation before their arrival.

This is not isolated — I went through it in my work before retirement, and we hear of it from friends across the country.

Too many people with years of experience, and their employer’s history of successes and failures stored in their memories, are laid off, or fired, with no transition. Suddenly after they’re gone, some staffer realizes that there’s nobody left who knows who to call about equipment repairs, or where items only used seasonally are stored, there’s no one who knows when, where, how or what legal documents must be filed, when the next required tests of safety equipment and elevators are due, or even that the last time the company invested in a mass mailing it was a dismal failure and why.

We are also losing the past as people are aging, victims of alzheimers and dementia, and dying. There are some isolated history projects — recording holocaust survivors, or the wartime experiences of service men and women in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. But is anyone talking to retired teachers or mechanics, to doctors or state- and local- level politicians? To union organizers or migrant workers, to veterans of the civil rights movement, garbage collectors, pioneering scientists or mathematicians? And who knows where interviews that have been collected are stored, or how to access them?



Not to mention that less and less actual history seems to be taught in our schools, and brick-and-mortar libraries and books stores are becoming rare. The Internet is approached with caution by most of my contemporaries — we know how easily inaccuracies can slip in, or things left out, because we’ve witnessed it before. I find it terrifying to talk to people who have blind faith in the accuracy of the Internet and television.

It is doubly dangerous in these perilous times, when lies are called ‘alternate facts’ and billionaire barbarians have taken over the White House and Congress.

When the ancient Library at Alexandria burned, the most concerted effort to gather all of human knowledge to that date turned to ashes. Great works of literature and drama which we know only from tantalizing fragments; medicines and cures that may or may not have worked, but might have opened new avenues of research in the present day, if only we still had them; drawings, maps, eye witness accounts, records of now-extinct languages, all gone up in smoke.

It’s far too late to save any of those, but how many modern Alexandrias are burning down now?

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I realize this is an intense starter for the Monday morning after the time change, but the other topic on my mind is the Kitty Genovese murder, so it could have been worse.

About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 45 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband and a bewildered Border Collie.
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13 Responses to THC: Burning Down the Libraries

  1. Terry Welshans says:

    Good morning!
    Today, the USS Independence, the next to last fossel-fueled aircraft carrier, is leaving Bremerton Naval Yard for a 16,000 mile tow to Brownsville, Texas where it will become scrap metal. Independence was commissioned in 1959 and served off the coast of Vietnam, carried out airstrikes against Syrian forces during the Lebanese Civil War and operated over southern Iraq to enforce a no-fly zone during Operation Southern Watch.
    The ship is too large for the Panama Canal, and will be towed around the Cape of Magellan. The US Navy has announced that International Shipbreaking, Ltd. was selected to dismantle the 60,000-ton ship as part of a $6 million contract. USS Kitty Hawk, also in storage at Bremerton, will be the only remaining inactive carrier, and is held in reserve status until the USS Gerald R. Ford enters service.

    • wordcloud9 says:

      Good Morning Terry –
      There’s something so sad about breaking up any vessel, but especially the ones that carry so much history with them. With well over 12,000. total miles of U.S. coastline, you’d think we could build a few large Maritime Museum parks to save more of them for future generations to experience. A much better use for taxpayer dollars than that barbarian’s stupid wall.

      • Terry Welshans says:

        How true. Many of these mighty ships are lost as they are sooooo expensive to keep. I understand that USS Missouri berthed at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor costs tens of thousands per day in rent paid by NPS to the US Navy just to remain tied up. A volunteer force maintains her in a continual state of repair. A friend of mine is there now chipping paint and wiping grease at his own expense. It takes a crew of thousands to keep a large ship just one step away from sinking.

        • wordcloud9 says:

          That’s why they should be museums – charge a small admission so they’re attractions for families, then charge larger amounts for small conferences and reunions on board – Solicit donations – those plexiglass boxes in museum lobbies collect dollars, and veterans with a sentimental attachment will donate too.

          These ships could pay a lot of the cost of maintaining themselves if given the chance.

        • Terry Welshans says:

          The sole remaining Soviet SST is in a Moscow museum for sale at $12M. It is a huge aircraft and space is too limited to display it properly. It too may go to the breakers as it is not likely to find a new home.

          • wordcloud9 says:

            I looked up the specs – am I reading them right? About like a skinny horizontal 20-story building?!

  2. This old recording is a perfect example of why oral histories are important. It was recorded in the late 1940s. The person being interviewed was Sim Webb, who was Casey Jones’ fireman. The recording was made in Canton, MS where Mr. Webb lived at the time. The famous train wreck occurred at Vaughn, MS, a few miles north of Canton on April 30, 1900.

    I have been to Vaughn several times. Walked north up the track, then turned around and walked back south. I tried to imagine what Sim and Casey would have seen a century ago. That walk helped me understand the wreck as no history book could have. This interview is priceless.

    There should be more like it.

    Incidentally, that old depot still stands. It has been restored and maintained as a museum when I was there.

    • wordcloud9 says:

      He makes it very clear what happened, except there’s no explanation of why the other train had its caboose and other cars on the main track, which are clearly the cause of the disaster.

      • A maneuver called a ‘saw-by’ was taking place at Vaughn. That is so trains could pass each other. A siding, or side-track, is usually long enough to accommodate an entire train. However, if the train to be passed is too long for the siding, they have to do the saw-by. In this case, the freight train had a broken air brake hose, leaving several cars and the caboose sticking out on the main line. Casey and Webb were running about 75 mph and did not expect the rear of the train they were overtaking to be sticking out into the main line. This video has photos and a diagram.

        • wordcloud9 says:

          So the real problem was that nobody followed the warning procedures once they knew they couldn’t move the end of the train with the broken hose in the siding out of the way – wow.

    • I just looked up Vaughn, MS on Google Earth. The old depot is gone. According to my research, it finally closed in 2004. They did not have enough visitors to keep it open. This page, and the photos, about Vaughn is almost too sad to read. Abandoned Vaughn, Mississippi

      The first aerial photo at the link shows the old depot. The actual collision took place almost in front of the depot. The Illinois Central tracks are still in use, but the old siding where the ‘saw-by’ took place is gone.

  3. Terry Welshans says:

    Saw-bys are still used today as so many miles of double track have been reduced to single due to maintenance costs. When I worked for Santa Fe in California I was nearly in a collision between the locomotive I was riding in and the last few cars of an opposing train. We got to the end of a siding and the other train had not yet cleared the turnout. We were going about 35mph with about three hundred feet to go with the other train not yet clear. Just as the other train cleared, the red light turned green as the tower operator aligned the turnout for us. Had the operator not been on the ball, we would have demolished the turnout as it would not have been properly aligned.

  4. More on oral history. The Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh, Wisconsin has been asking volunteers to help with gathering oral histories. Preferably with video. They call their archive Timeless Voices of Aviation.

    There are a number of pilots and aircrew members I have known that I wish I had thought to sit down with them and record their stories. Too late now, they are gone.

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