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"History is just people doing things"

THE ABQ CORRESPONDENT

                 ISSN 1087-2302   Online Edition Number 284......August 2019

Published since 1985 for clients and contacts of 
ABQ Communications Corporation, the fuzzy focus

of The ABQ Correspondent is "the impact of new 
technology on society." If you'd like to receive email 
notification when each monthly issue is posted, please 
let us know.   correspo at swcp dot com
 

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BETTING YOUR LIFE IN A WORLD OF ILLUSION

We look forward to the 2020 election year with the usual feelings of dread and optimism…having to suffer through many months of tiresome embarrassment as rival factions malign one another, while hoping that some good will arise miraculously from the slime and degradation. This time, again, new technology will add to the entertainment. Since the last General Election, the Correspo has commented more than once about our increasingly economical capability to create video that persuasively simulates the appearance, speech, movements and mannerisms of anybody, including, of course political candidates and those who speak for them. Given the stakes and the well financed partisan fanaticism involved in these affairs, we may not be surprised to see and hear people saying things they never said, with expressions and body language indicating ignorance and contemptuous arrogance they never displayed…or may never have displayed…who can tell? A startling aspect of this is how small a kernel of reality is necessary to create the whole fantasy. A single still photo may be enough for a start. See how the Mona Lisa becomes an animated figure…and how different her performance is when guided by the talents of three different “impersonators”…and how young Salvador Dali looks. The upshot is that even a candidate for a city council seat may convincingly be shown doing and saying awful, improper things that destroy the esteem any voters may have held for that person. One waits with high expectation to see what rigors may be imposed on candidates for major office. 

 

BUT…WASN’T THAT LAST WEEK?

As time passes…if that’s what it does…everything begins to seem contemporary. As discoveries of human activity get pushed farther and farther back…hundreds of thousands of years…and people even suggest that there’s evidence of an atomic war on Mars a million or so years ago… time seems a bit less linear and monodirectional than it used to. I don’t know anything, but have grown increasingly comfortable with notions that would have seemed ridiculously improbable earlier in my experience. Decreasing trust in official/traditional accounts of practically everything helps one to cut loose of old impressions.

This stream of consciousness was triggered by the realization that the Ottoman Empire very nearly took Vienna in 1683, and if they had succeeded, might well have swept the rest of the Western World. (“What if?” is a silly game, because we don’t know what all the variables were, but one can imagine the skylines of London and Paris dominated by mosques surrounded by minarets, instead of by St. Paul’s and Notre Dame.)

1683 is practically yesterday, a measly 450 or so years since. Charles II was at the top of the heap in England, Louis XIV was chasing women around Versailles and Peter the Great, early in his reign over Russia, may still have been lopping off heads of rebellious Streltsi after learning the shipbuilding trade as a waterfront laborer in London. The Qing forces in China and the Kangxi Emperor were wrapping up their takeover of the Ming…this was about 250 years after Zheng He led (or did not lead, depending on which story you like) a big Chinese fleet around the world…even to the Americas. These are folks we know a little about.

Among the lesser-known…An ever-so-great grandfather of mine on the paternal side (Joshua Lickorish, 1658-1720) was active in England, and an ever-so-great grandmother on the maternal side (Dorothy Strickland, b. 1669 in Ulster) was a teenager at the time of the Ottoman siege of Vienna. Don’t know a whole lot about her, except that her grandson Robert “Honest Bob” Witherow, 1723-1796 was apparently the first one among them who came to the New World. That begins to feel rather personal.

Further, I once played Young Bellair in a production of The Man of Mode, a Restoration comedy by George Etherege first performed in 1676. I used the language of the time, wore the waistcoat, breeks, stockings, peruke, 3-inch heels, and a sword-hanger and dealt with others who did their best to be from that era. 1676 came to feel kind of homey…Ben Franklin, who has always seemed like a modern man, was born only 30 years later.

The top management of the Ottoman Empire in Constantinople, while generally in favor of conquering everything they encountered, had not planned more than harassing skirmishes at the time, knowing that Vienna was a big chunk to swallow. They had specifically told their field commander Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa not to go for Vienna. However, ambitious and ruthless Kara Mustafa thought he could pull it off, and he besieged the city for a couple of months that summer, almost successfully. It took a long time for the Western Forces to pull themselves together, and only at the last moment did King John Sobieski lead a Polish/Lithuanian army out of the forest to attack the Ottoman forces from the rear, relieving the city. (It wasn’t easy for Sobieski, who was so corpulent that he had to be winched onto his horse.)

It was nip and tuck.

Kara Mustafa got away with his valuables, but was ceremonially strangled (horses pulling ropes around his neck in opposite directions) by order of disapproving Top Management, whose associates have not yet returned to take Vienna, but presumably will, given the opportunity.

That very year William Penn was negotiating a treaty with the Indians in what’s now known as Pennsylvania. New York got its current name in 1664.

…and really, we could easily feel close to the folks who left Egypt in a large group a few hundred years BC, or to the people who buried and abandoned their important structures at Gobekli Tepe around 9000 BC, or to the people who preceded them by however many tens or hundreds of thousands of years. We surely had relatives among them, the Honest Bobs of their times whom we’d be interested to know.

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NELS MUSES 
 

Item:

The hugely entertaining struggle over the names products may be called is picking up steam. Mississipi has now followed Missouri in passing laws intended to prevent the sale of any product that is not derived from slaughtered animals under any name that is even vaguely suggestive of meat. “Burger” is such a name, and the legislation forbids use of the term “veggie burger.” Almond milk is not milk, of course, and cauliflower rice is not rice. We have been seeing egg-cauliflower crepes on Costco’s shelves. One wonders if the gendarmerie will seize them on the grounds that the crêpes are fâkes.

 

Item:

Referring to the piece in last month’s Correspo about finding a possible mass-market use for nitinol, a reader asked the difference between nitinol and datinol. Har har.

 

Item:

The Correspo has recently commented on the “helium shortage” and the insatiable appetite of the Large Hadron Collider for the stuff (they seem to keep 130 tons of it… helium, for goodness’s sake…in its reservoirs).This prompted Paul Honoré to a recollection: “Some fifty years ago, my brother-in-law had to smuggle liquid helium in a thermos bottle to a radio telescope in South America because there was an embargo on exporting any from the United States. I don't remember whether it was because we were the only producers of helium or it was just not economically practical for anyone else to produce any.” Paul didn’t specify, but the thermos bottle probably didn’t hold tons of helium. Just a sidelight.

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ITEM FROM THE PAST

This item from 2006 is brought to mind by announcements of

significantly increasing film production right here in River City.

EVERYBODY’S A DIRECTOR

Some years ago, comic actor Bill Daily, who enjoyed visiting and working in Albuquerque, staying at Robert Hanna’s Casas de Suenos, agreed to represent the city in Hollywood, using his contacts to bring more production here, where great scenery and mud houses are handy. The arrangement soon fell apart. Members of the city establishment took offense when the comic actor surprised them by saying funny things about Albuquerque. In these modern times, our beloved governor is providing state loans and tax breaks to attract production.  A fascinating Letter to the Editor in the Albuquerque Journal recently complained about the name of a production for which the state is putting up some money. Its traditional story is that of La Llorona, a woman whose young children drowned in an irrigation ditch while she was illicitly trysting with a lover. She drowned herself in remorse, and her ghost roams endlessly, searching for the children. The story exists in many variations, and every community in New Mexico seems to be haunted by that ghost. The letter writer felt that calling the movie “The Cry” was inappropriate, and called for action to change the name. Mind you, in this state where people resent the failure of national news broadcasters to pronounce names like Jojola, Gutierrez, or even Garcia and Chavez properly, we have a town called Thoreau, which folks here pronounce “Theroo.” (An admirer of Walden Pond once encouraged us to remember that “Thoreau plowed a thorough furrow.) We have long enjoyed tales of Hollywood executive nitwits who exercise their power foolishly. Just wait til the taxpayers putting up money for production firmly grasp the notion that he who pays the piper may call the tune. Ah, showbiz.

 

Reports are that Netflix has purchased Albuquerque Studios

with it large, excellent, and heretofore underused stages, promising

to bring a billion dollars worth of production here over the next

ten years in return for substantial subsidy from the State of

New Mexico.  More recently, NBCUniversal (for which read

Comcast) has undertaken to develop a major production facility

in an old ABQ neighborhood that can really stand some commercial

upgrade…also with support from the State, presumably chiefly in

the form of tax breaks. That is, the same folks who felt previously,

with some logic, that their financial stake gave them a voice now have

a bigger stake in much more. We shall see.

Bill Daily died just last year in Santa Fe. Aw. He was for six years

the funny and endearing neighbor on the Bob Newhart show, which

recalls a vaguely related observation that Bob Newhart was once

nice to my brother Jeff.

Jeff was a journeyman Hollywood hand…a minor actor (the clerk who

checked Edward G. Robinson into the recycling facility in Soylent Green,

for example), a working voice-over talent in lots of cartoons (he was the

voice of the French Fries in McDonalds Happy Meals commercials for

some years), a writer who reworked a zillion Japanese cartoons for

Saban, turning them into material suitable for American television,

and a composer who created some really nice electronic scores for a

number of productions. He ran a little recording studio (in which even

I recorded some stuff, the recording booth being a closet in a spare

bedroom). Typical Hollywood jack-of-all-trades. One time he was

involved in a parade featuring Hollywood figures big and small who

were participating for some good cause. Jeff was riding with Bob

Newhart in the car from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. At their destination,

a photographer was taking a picture of Newhart, and Jeff stepped aside

to give him a clear shot. Newhart reached out and pulled Jeff back next

to him, saying “No, no, this is what you’re here for.”

Well done, Mr. Newhart.

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http://pages.swcp.com/correspo/correspo_files/image002.jpgAfter some years of working and reworking, this has become a real book, via Lulu Publishing. The blurb on the back (under a picture of the author looking unnaturally cheerful) says:

 “This book is Nels Winkless’s wry look at his half-century-and-more as a “professional outsider” writing, editing, interpreting, presenting new ideas, and serving as a sounding board for interesting people who have influenced some of the major technical developments of the era. While fascinated by the dazzling advance of technology, he’s most intrigued by the savage resistance people have to every sort of change, making technical progress virtually miraculous, and he suggests an explanation for this puzzling conflict.
   His recollections of the work and people are often funny, sometimes painful, and usually surprising.

 

ISBN: 978-0-557-05785-6                        Review(s)               Available at Lulu.com

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