Thirst for knowledge

Leah has always commented that for a peaceful person, I sure know a lot about military history, hardware, tactics, and effects of weapons. An example of this happened during one episode of CSI:NY when a cop was killed in Central Park by a sniper. When Gary Sinise’s character, Mac, finally obtained a model of the bullet and before the kind of weapon used was revealed in the show, I had already told Leah that it was a 5.56mm NATO round from an assault rifle such as M-16 or AR-15. And to be able to penetrate body armor as shown in that episode, the round must be a armor piercing round with tungsten tip. Turned out that I was complete on the mark and Leah was incredulous as to how did I know all these.

Of course it is not just military information that I have a fair amount of knowledge, I’ve more or less stopped reading fictions about 6 years ago and have since read non-fictions only. I read what I’ll called ‘geek’ subjects such as history in military, medicine, space, and other technical areas. And I choose my books very carefully so that they are not just tightly focused topics concern with a specific subject. Rather, I pick books that put the significant historic events in the context of that era. I want to learn about how the social, political, economic, etc. contributed to a particular event.

For example, I am currently reading Comm Check… The Final Flight of Shuttle Columbia and despites the title it was not a technical description on how and why the shuttle Columbia broke up during reentry in January 2002. It describes the events leading to the event and afterward with the objective of showing the reader a bigger picture than just the form strikes damaging the leading edge of the port wing during ascent. It shows how the CAIB (Columbia Accident Investigation Board) found that the form shedding from the External Tank was not the only cause of the accident. Intense schedule pressure to complete construction of the International Space Station, pressure to keep cost down, the continual and gradual acceptance of form shedding as non flight safety critical events, as well as the lapse of safety culture in NASA as a constitution all contribute to the Columbia accident.

Finding the hardware responsible (the External Tank bipod form) or the person(s) responsible (the External Tank project team or the project management) and fixing them will not fix the root problem. It merely fixes the symptom and setup a repeat for the future. Discovering the cause in the wider context in which the accident occurs, hopefully a similar accident can be prevented in the future. But then, that was also the aim of the Roger Commission after the Challenger accident and see what had happened 17 years later with Columbia.

Back to the topic of learning about historical events, what I gained is the understanding of how present geographical, political, economical, just to name a few, situations were largely determined by what happened in the past. During the 18th century of empire building by the British, French, and the Dutch, etc., the subsequent collapse of their empires and oftentimes arbitrary division of country borders in Africa and Middle-East brought about the volatile political climate we have today.

For example, after reading The Opium Wars: The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another I’ve started cracking jokes about “Tea is the root of all evil”. This is because the British government was nearly bankrupt by the trade deficit with China’s tea during the 18th century. The British solution was to sell the opium they had in India to the Chinese to offset the trade deficit. This led to the infamous Opium Wars and the annexation of Hong Kong island and Kowloon peninsula as well as other territories to the British. So tea is not as benign as every one think it is! But the, without the British administration, Hong Kong will never be the vibrant city it is and I won’t be able to emigrate to the U.K. first and then the U.S. and be where I am now.

So my point is that literacy is important in education but knowing history is also very important as to understand how we get to where we are now and why we do things the way we do.

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