Thursday, March 15, 2012


I think I've mentioned before that I was a very curious and very science-oriented child.  Yeah, I taught myself to read and write by the time I was three years old, although I was reading "whole word" style... I couldn't actually spell.

As far as I was concerned, I was writing in glyphs.  I mean, I knew what whole words were, and I could replicate those words in print, but I had no idea of how the words broke down into individual letters or what the individual letters meant.

In other words, I had skipped over grade school literacy and went straight for college-level literacy.  Adults read whole words, you see, but only after slogging through 12 years of mandatory public education, during which time their literacy is more stunted than expanded, in my opinion.

My first book was titled "Skiing Is Not Fun"... I wrote and illustrated it one Saturday morning in 1963 after watching this terrible ski-jump accident on sports television.  The book was only four pages long, heavy on illustration — enough so to dissuade any reasonable person from ever contemplating a go at the slopes.

I was a curiosity to my parents, I think, because my older brothers and sisters weren't nearly so sharp.  They would bring me out to entertain guests, like a 3-year-old ventriloquist's dummy on my father's knee.

"Who shot President Lincoln?" my dad would prompt, and I would take off with a full narrative of the assassination at Ford's Theatre, the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth, the unjust incarceration of Doctor Mudd, Booth's murder at the hand of Boston Corbett in Port Royal, Virginia, and the hanging of Confederate conspirators thereafter.

Our guests, usually relatives, would be awestruck.  Intimidated.  From whence does this font of knowledge proceed? Who taught him all this?

"He reads books," my mom would explain.

True, I read whatever books I could find.  There were encyclopedias in our home, as well as these great tomes of world history, and Revolutionary War book collections, and WWII history books.  I read the newspapers, also.

My mother knew that I was peculiar.

She nurtured that peculiarity in me, I think she was experimenting with my intelligence.  We started making trips to the public Library from time to time — it was a long way to the Library, out into the very heart of the Mexican East Side of Houston, into Denver Harbor.

Denver Harbor is a subdivision of Houston on the near East Side of Downtown, just off the Houston Ship Channel.

The building was a typical 1960s public library: brick, wood, sort've a Frank Lloyd Wright knockoff with plenty of ambient light oozing through the thick, green-tinted vertical windows from floor to ceiling, and skylights with their green-bronze cranking hardware.  It was a very nice reading environment and I liked it.  But it was the LIBRARY that exposed me to Science, and I can tell you which book.

Wow, they really modernized the old library, looks nice and boxy.  Hope they're using it.  The book in question was...  Hold on, I'm looking for an image of it.... Here we go: Observer's Book of Astronomy

The Observer series of books in the early 60s sparked my imagination and my curiosity.  I loved that turquoise skull, right?  Who wouldn't?  

Science was just so totally awesome to me that I wanted to do EVERYTHING, I wanted to become a geologist and a chemist and physicist and a cosmologist and an artist and a herpetologist and a paleontologist.  And an archaeologist.  And a marine biologist.  

And I eventually did.  

Well, not officially, not with academic credentials to back me up; but I studied chemistry and microscopy and geology and biology — and I was doing all that by the time I was 8 years old.  I became a self-taught herpetologist at that age with LOTS of hands-on experience; in fact, when I called the Herman Park Zoo Reptile House in Houston and told them that I was successfully breeding wild turtles in captivity, they admitted that I had accomplished something rare.

Hey, I understand something about reptiles that many scientists don't understand.  

Reptiles are not simple-minded creatures.  I'd say that reptiles are as aware as some highly-evolved mammals, such as cats and dogs.  I'm telling you that I captured a North American freshwater Alligator Snapping Turtle, which is the closest thing to a living dinosaur you're ever going to encounter, and within a year that turtle was following me around the yard like a puppy.

Well... A puppy that could snap a boat oar in-two with one bite.

That animal allowed me to stroke it between the eyes and under the chin, and it would snuggle up to me when I sat down.  No exaggeration.  I hand-fed this voracious carnivore a diet of live crayfish that I captured down in the bayou.  It was an extraordinary relationship, one that lasted several years, until I finally released her back into her natural habitat.

Odd to think that she may still be alive, and may outlive me. 

All told, as a child, I was a foster parent for 38 turtles, terrapins and tortoises of diverse species.  I provided them as natural a habitat as I could, plenty of water and direct sunshine, I allowed the scavengers to scavenge and the predators to predate, and I met their every need.  

But I recognized that those creatures DO have emotions — they're not ruthless.  In fact, I don't hesitate to tell you that those reptiles loved and respected me.  You just have to demonstrate to them that you're not afraid of their sharp beaks and claws, you remove fear from their environment.  Animals understand control.  Animals also sense fear, they smell it, it triggers primal reactions.  

You should never fear animals; but you have to respect them or they'll tear you apart.

Such was their sense of security, my turtles bred in captivity and laid eggs, which I incubated to full term.  The herps at Herman Park Zoo were intrigued.  

As I researched my childhood interests in the Library, I noticed footnotes directing me to certain magazines and journals — magazines and journals that the Library didn't necessarily own.

So I started subscribing.

You may wonder how a little kid could subscribe to anything; and I'll respond that it was easy as hell.  I knew how to make money, mowing yards and cashing in returnable glass bottles, and I knew how to purchase a money order at the pharmacy and drop an envelope in a mailbox.

An income and a permanent mailing address is all you needed to subscribe to Nature and the New England Journal of Medicine and Science News.  I was all over it.  I was Mister Trial Subscription to several scientific journals and laboratory supply catalogues before I was 10 years old.

My parents acknowledged that I was "different," and the Christmas presents in our home starkly reflected that fact — year after year, while the other kids received games and toys and bicycles and various apparel, I was receiving robots and microscopes and chemistry sets and dissecting kits and blackboards.

I knew that this was a stretch for my parents, because we were NOT rich.  They had to save up all year for Christmas gifts; and, even with the advent of these new-fangled "shopping malls" in the late 1960s, it wasn't EASY to find the exact gift you wanted.  Back then, they couldn't begin to imagine the amazing diversity of selection that we enjoy today through the Internet.

But, hey, as a kid I was basically doing what I'm still doing to this day: Buying stuff by mail-order.

I was a damned good consumer in-training.  I bought laboratory equipment from the Edmund Scientific Catalogue, I bought Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia, and I bought Sea Monkeys.

Yeah, Sea Monkeys.  Sea Monkeys probably inspired me to go into marketing, because when I realized  that these were just Artemia shrimp in a chemical soup, that they weren't actually "pets" so much as they were an elaborate (and eccentric, and successful) marketing campaign, it was a real awakening for me.

But my primary source of education was definitely NOT the public school system.  I had the same opinion of mandatory education back then that I still have today — that it's a monumental waste of time, more an exercise in political and social indoctrination than in education, designed to blunt our natural curiosity and close the doors to our imaginations.

My primary source of information and education was the Library, as well as the science journals and magazines I received regularly by mail.  When I wanted to learn something, I learned it on my own, immediately, rather than waiting for the public school system to "get around" to teaching it.

I knew things about science and technology in the 1970s that even the science instructors in school didn't know.  When I described a laser tank under development by the Department of Defense, my physical science teacher laughed in my face, told me to stop reading comic books and do my homework.

In point of fact, I almost never did my homework, but I read Science News magazine with a passion, and Science News carried stories (with photos) of the DOD's latest projects.

Fact is, the DOD developed a laser tank back in the early 1970s, a big heavy duty armored vehicle with a turret-mounted laser cannon that could punch a hole in a titanium target at a distance of 10 miles.

So why hasn't the public ever heard about it?  Simple.  It was a failure.  

Yes, the tank was developed.  Yes, the chemically-powered burning laser was entirely functional and accurate and effective.  So why did it fail?

Not enough bang for the bucks.  

In order to power the extraordinary laser cannon, the tank had to tow a chemical power plant the size of a small bus.  The power plant had to be heavily armored, and all of this scientific gear was astronomically expensive.

If this thing was ever deployed in a combat zone, with a 20-year-old kid driving it, it would be a visible and very, VERY sensitive target.  I mean, you can't just ABANDON a rig like this if it takes an RPG hit; the laser tank would have to contain some sort of self-destruct mechanism that would vaporize all the high-tech components, right?

Can't let the enemy get their hands on that tech, right?

Understandably, the laser tank was getting more and more costly as its development progressed.  When a project's budget starts escalating out of control, as developers try to cover all the contingencies, there's a point at which  the Budget Office kills the project, relegating it to the scrap heap.

That's what happened to the laser tank.

It wasn't a complete loss, however.  The chemically-powered laser cannon was adapted to a high-altitude aerial platform — an airplane rather than a tank —which is a lot harder target for enemy fire, and it doesn't require a ton of armor to shield the power plant.

No, the laser plane can't target anything on the ground; instead, it's designed to pick off incoming missiles at extremely high altitude, where the thin atmosphere doesn't scatter the laser beam.  I think the plane can target satellites, as well.

Anyway, while the kids in school were worrying about their pimples and who was dating who and were pumping up for the next football game, I was studying the science and technology that was going to shape their future.  

Remember the 1989 James Cameron movie The Abyss (which should've been a LOT better script, btw)?  I wasn't impressed much by the storyline or the silly computer-generated Sea Monkeys, but the scene with Ed Harris climbing into a breathable liquid suit caught my attention.

I thought, does James Cameron think that's futuristic? 

Because I was reading in science journals about breathable liquids back in the mid-1970s, and I saw photos of test animals actually breathing silicone-based fluids that had been aerated with Oxygen.  Of course, the ultimate objective of breathing liquids is getting that shit OUT of your lungs so that you can continue breathing normally later on, right?

The test subjects never rotated back to breathing air.  Are we clear on this?  None of the test animals survived.  Well, DUH.  You don't fill up an air-breathing creature's lungs with silicone-based fluids and just expect the creature to cough it up and go on its way.  

The damage to the delicate bronchial structures was massive and irreparable.

Problem is that you need a very light fluid that contains enough Oxygen to keep a Human being alive, and that does not inhibit the function of the lungs or unduly stress the diaphragm.  No such fluid exists. Yet.

You know why they want this stuff, right, this breathable liquid stuff?  

It's for suspended animation.  You put people in space for 50 years, you want them asleep most of the time, but you want them MORE than asleep.  You want them comatose.  You want to suspend all their biologic processes without killing them.  

Okay.  You fill their lungs and gastrointestinal tracts with a genetically-engineered amniotic fluid.  I mean, that's where Nature has already gone, right?  Nature knows its shit.

That's what we'll end up doing with deep space travelers in the future.  We won't fill them up with silicone-based Oxygenated fluids that are so toxic that we shouldn't have used them in the first place; rather, we'll sample the space traveler's own DNA, we'll synthesize a genetically compatible amniotic fluid that is entirely breathable, and pump THAT stuff into him.

In this way we can deliver Oxygen to his tissues and carry away the CO2, certainly; but also we can replenish calcium that is lost in microgravity, and provide other nutrition as needed, and whatever else we decide to squirt into him.

Now this is all going to happen, surely, because I know the Scientific Establishment is working on it.  Hell, they were working on it back in the 1970s, so I KNOW that some laboratory, somewhere, out in the rolling hills of Virginia or tucked away in the vastness of Wyoming, has refined the technology.

You see, I've kept abreast of the most astonishing and unlikely scientific oddities all throughout my life, and I know that the Scientific Establishment will pander and suck-up to whatever this fucking Socialist government dictates.

If reality, for you, is defined by Science, I pity you.  Science, as a community, is very CLOSED-MINDED and belligerently dogmatic, and particularly in regard to ANYTHING involving the government — such as the anthropogenic global warming/carbon tax shakedown.

Look here, I love Science.  I love it the way I do it.

As I see it, Science is nothing more than a method of thinking, it's a method of rationalizing this miraculous Universe.  But I also think of Science as a very cruel and zealous religion, with representative clergy and a fucking pope and pea-brained evangelists and all the other ecclesiastic trappings.

Religion and Science have been twisted and transformed into nothing more than tools for The Powers That Be (down there) who gladly whip the hooting and pooting human masses into a frenzy at their whim and for their own unimaginable ends.

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