Monday, Apr 21, 2014
Columns

On learning from the Internet


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It was recently suggested that, if I am really interested in facts about a specified subject, then I should check out a list of links to Internet sites. I was curious enough to follow a few of those links, until it became clear that they were nothing more than just another bunch of typically "academic" dissertations, from which spaced-out, professional students from liberal arts colleges share their hallucinatory flashes of brilliant insight with the ignorant, general population.

Among some of the things I learned, while following those links, was that Sen. John McCain had recently joined al-Qaida, during a secret ceremony, somewhere in Syria. Now, I honor the senator for his heroic posture while in a North Vietnamese prison, but other than that, I am singularly unimpressed by the man, or by his undistinguished military record prior to capture. That said, I find it defies rational, informed imagination to believe that he's now a card-carrying member of al-Qaida.

My brief research on those recommended Internet sites also turned up a report about how the United States government created the current, alleged, worldwide, terrorism threat out of thin air, so as to keep its citizens frightened and therefore increasingly dependent on government for security.

While thus "surfing the Internet," I also came across other classic examples of Internet "news" reporting. Surely you remember the powerful suggestion that President Kennedy was not shot by Lee Oswald, but rather by a deep-cover secret agent of the government itself. And then, if you believe what you read on the Internet, it was some of those same shadowy characters who planted explosives in the Trade Towers on Sept. 11, and then staged the diversionary, aerial attack show, so as to blame those evil-looking, bearded, Islamic terrorists.

Now, no one is more thankful for, nor impressed with, our mind-blowing advances in electronic communications than am I. Beginning in 1953, I was deeply involved in providing military commanders with better ways to communicate with their forces. In those early times, it was possible to have aircraft, armed with nuclear bombs, ready to take off but out of contact with responsible command headquarters, or for a radar station, detecting an approaching flight of unauthorized aircraft, to be unable to report that vital fact. The sudden arrival of computers, communications satellites, packet switching and the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Net) was therefore the answer to a military communicator's prayers.

I was part of the Defense Communications Agency's research center in 1975, when DCA took control of the ARPANET (from which came today's Internet). I worked with some of the earliest computers and obtained one of the first available personal computers (a Kaypro). As soon as possible, I connected that to the fledgling Internet and have made good and profitable use of the Internet for more than 35 years. I am now sadly disappointed to see how that major technological innovation has become used as much, or more, for social garbage - such as gossip, rumors, propaganda, personal promotion and pornography - than for constructive purposes.

I would never consider what I read on the Internet to be necessarily accurate or truthful; thanks also to digital imaging technology advances, pictures put up on the net are, all too often, intentionally deceptive and misleading. Print media are still our best source of reliable information: they do not, in general, publish far-out writings of persons, such as those who seem to really believe that NASA, and the hundreds of thousands of persons involved in the moon landing, all worked secretly to deceive the public by creating that monumental event on a sound stage, here on Earth. Publishers and editors of leading periodicals (with or without digital editions) work hard to protect their reputations for honesty and accuracy. Sure, politics, religion and other human biases are often evident in even the best of those, but by and large, they don't run stories based on inexperienced, academic opinion, or other hallucinations.

No, in spite of having, once again, sampled what's out there on the Internet, I'll stick with time-tested, proven, reliable, sensible and dependable publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, Time, Smithsonian, National Geographic, Foreign Affairs, Christian Science Monitor, National Review and The Week. But thanks for the suggestion.

Of Cabbages and Kings is a syndicated feature by J.G. Nash. Relevant comment may be sent to him at jgn@jgnash.com.

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