Thursday, December 25, 2008

Response: Christmas as a Pagan Roman Holiday, or as a Reaffirmation of Beliefs.

Okay, I'll bite. In a previous blog, I was criticizing the workplace tradition of Secret Santa by relating the idea of gift-giving as a way of emulating the gift of Jesus that God gave us with Mary and Joseph and the traditional Christmas tale that is told yearly to millions. An acquaintance of mine remarked thusly:

... I have problems with the Christmas story anyway. I choose to celebrate it only because it's a happy time of year, and it's nice to be thankful for what you have. Jesus was NOT born in the winter, he was born sometime in the summer, in fact, Christmas is a pagan holiday from Ancient Rome. It started out as men in rome giving each other gifts...having sex, and drinking, it was like a four day party. [...] So..... Christmas is really just a way to get people to consume... Merry Gay Ancient Rome Pagan Holiday!!!!

And for the most part, he's right. Christmas was celebrated on December 25th to fall on the Winter Solstice, along with the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, where the Romans honored Saturn, father of Jupiter. In this festival, gifts were given, fancy meals were prepared, and the slaves were, to some extent, given the same rights as most other Romans. I can assume that, in the society of men, gifts were given, and since homosexual intimacy was not as frowned upon then as it was in later years, that it was common for parties to end up as such. (I have not been able to find your resource for this fact. If you could provide it, it would be appreciated.)

Jesus was not born on December 25th as most modern day Christians would believe, for the simple fact that before the reign of Caesar, the year only had 10 months. Leave it to Julius Augustus Caesar to drop his name into all of time. (and if you have read my previous blog, it is a further example of monument building by egotistical individuals). Therefore, by the old calendar, Jesus was born sometime in October, which, by their climate, would have been late summer.

There are a thousand other traditions and reasons why Christmas is a sham, borrowing ideas from cultures as it passed from culture to culture. And now that we are living in a free market system, the whole idea of Christmas has become a massive consumeristic idea where people charge their credit cards ad infinitum trying to get everything on their lists. It's become nothing but one big sale after another.

Except, when we remove all the traditions and the borrowed customs, the commercialization and the consumerism, we wind up with the simple Christmas story told by the Christian faith for generations. About the birth of Jesus in a manager in the time of Herod, of Mary and Joseph and the wise men and shepherds and angels and the star (which has been theorized that it was a supernova that happened around that time). We've whittled down to one simple fact.

Christmas is all about Belief. We can either believe that Christ was born in a manger, that he was born of a virgin, Mary, and that he was the Son of God, or we believe that it is all a lie, that it's all a figment of some authors imagination to create a new religion. There is so much skepticism in this world, so many false heroes and deception, that it's almost necessary to believe in some truth.
So I would go further than what my friend did. It's not just a day to be thankful for things, rather, it's a day to reaffirm what you believe in. And it makes little difference if it's Christmas or any of the other religious celebrations that go on, the idea is basically the same.

For Christians, the belief in Jesus, in the Christmas story, is crucial to what the religion is all about. For God extended a gift of grace (His son) to a troubled world. A reminder in the way we must act towards a troubled world today. And Jesus was born in a stall, a barn, with a feeding trough for a bed. He could have arrived with Seraphim a singin' and Cherubim a swingin', but Jesus arrived here in a manager, teaching us humility. The roots of Christianity are embedded into the story of Jesus' birth.

I could go further with this argument, but that would set off an ideological or religious discussion that would be better in another blog. All I'm saying is that, if you look at all the Christmas traditions and long held assumptions about the chronological details of Christ's birth (in other words, the unimportant stuff... does it matter when Jesus was born, as long as he was?), then you become bogged down in superficiality. The gift giving isn't really that important, and neither is the tree, the commercialization, all the material observations that make Christmas what it is. Christmas is an internal affirmation, a yearly time to stop and say, "I believe."

For other religions, I would say the same. Ramadan (Islam), or Festivus (Nature-based beliefs), or Hanukkah (Judaism), or even religions that have no special holiday around this time. There should be a day when you take a look at what you believe in and reaffirm that dedication. So that it's just not mush in your head, something to fall back on when things aren't so good. Whatever your beliefs are, it should be a building block for everything else. Christmas (or thereabouts) is a time for beginnings (as is the New Year celebrations), for starting again, strong and fresh, just as a birth would symbolize.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ozymandias, George Steinbrenner, and King Tut

So what happens after you die? No, I don't mean that. God can work that one out. What I mean is what happens physically and mentally after you die? To other people. You're dead, it doesn't matter about your toenails growing. I mean memories and memorials and whatnot. (There's a point to this, just go with it).

Most people have one of those grave thingees, with a marker, and a copper vase that'll get stolen and sold for drug money, and birth and death dates. (As for mine, I want a big gravestone that says, "He died as he lived with his mouth wide open." JK) Some people are famous enough to have bigger markers, or statues even. (Some people are even famous enough to have statues made of them while they are still alive...go fig.)

What I want to look at are the truly great monuments to former living people. The Indian royalty that so missed his wife that he built a palace to honor her. Most people know it as the Taj Mahal. Or the Pharoahs of Egypt, who for most of their incest-ridden lives, had slaves build giant pyramids to house their divine bodies after their souls had gone off with Osirus. So too were the temples in Palenque and Tikal in the Mayan civilization. And there are others. These kings had the wealth of the country or empire to do with whatever they wanted, and so they built giant tombs for themselves, as a monument that would stand forever after they were gone. A sign of immortality, especially during the days when life was so short.

What about modern times, though. Surely the need to be immortal didn't die out just because Christianity came along and now the saved will go to Heaven? We're just too materialistic for that. What makes us immortal here in the United States? Some timeless piece of entertainment, a song ("Imagine" by John Lennon comes to mind), a book, a movie. In a sense, those things that outlast the sands of time make those who were involved immortal in the minds of the people that live afterwards. Now, I'm not saying that people hundreds of years from now are going to be playing "Imagine," but you get the idea.

It's much like the conversation that Data had with Dr. Noonian Sung (sp?) in his lab. People cherish the past, the antiquity of their surroundings, because those people that are represented in those buildings, in those works of art and literature, have since become immortal, in a sense. This is a comfort to those of us that live today, in the thought that something of our lives would be kept to pass on to those who come after us. A book published, or a named highway, or an airport (ask kids today why it's called O'hare Airport in Chicago, or Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta. Bet you they don't know.)

I'm bringing this up because my mom was talking about how she was upset that they were tearing down Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys since the early 1970's, and building a new facility in nearby Arlington, TX. She didn't understand why, if the building was still useable and popular, why people still didn't use it. After all, Wrigley field has been used for decades. It comes down, I think, to perception. When people look at Texas Stadium, they think of the Cowboys under Tom Landry. So enter Jerry Jones, present manager of the 'Boys and TO and Romo and all the others, and while the glory of the Cowboys under Aikman and Smith and Sanders was great, it's sorta lost its luster now. And Jerry's gettin' old (although he's lost weight, and looks better now than he did a couple years ago), so now it's come down to building a new stadium to attract the Super Bowl in a year or two. It worked, and Jones has said himself that when people look at the new stadium, he wants them to think of Jerry Jones. It's a monument to himself that will stand long after he's gone (or at least until another owner comes along that wants to outdo him.)

There's something about sports stadiums that makes them the Pyramids of America. George Steinbrenner just built a new "Yankee Stadium," at the time when the Yankees are losing their luster, and the once grand empire has now dwindled to jokes on late night talk shows. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if, far below the new Yankee stadium, there's a place where the coffin of George Steinbrenner will be laid to rest, someplace under the pitcher's mound, with all his trophies and awards. Just like King Tut.

I wonder, is it just the massively rich that can create monuments for themselves? At Georgia College in Milledgeville, after the new President got settled in (I don't remember her name, o the irony), she redid Saga (the lunchroom) with a new clock tower, and also made a tower with reflecting pool outside the dorms (getting rid of a parking lot to do it). Could these be but vain attempts to build something of herself on the campus? And what of the vanity of creating something, only to have been forgotten so little time afterward. A person truly worth remembering needs no monument, it is built within, in the hearts and minds of those who knew him or her.

Shelly's poem "Ozymandias" comes to mind, finally. That after generations have gone by, the monuments will fall to dust, and the people forgotten. They will say, "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings, Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" and yet the name will be as foreign and forgettable. So let us not build monuments to ourselves, but strive to build memories and love within the people that are around us, so that we will be remembered for the love that we gave, and not the stuff that we made.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mindless Matters (follow up to previous post)

In response to my last blog, Luke wrote some ideas down that need further looking into. Specifically, why do people sleep with the TV or radio on at night. For my own history, I never had anything on until I moved here to Georgia when I was 10. I remember going to bed at my house and turning on Fox 97 (by this time I would have been 12), and listening to oldies every night. I made these tapes of songs I liked, and I recorded them straight from the radio, which meant that usually the first couple seconds of music or the first word or two were always cut off. I even used a ruler taped to the record button so that, if I woke up in the middle of the night and heard a song I liked, I could use the ruler to hit record instead of climbing down off of my bed (it was the top part of a bunk set.)

Luke was talking about how often people have the TV or radio on as a defense mechanism, to keep the monsters at bay. And that's probably true, except I think that as time progresses, the monsters that are on the outside turn into the demons that are on the inside. People keep audio stimuli on to keep away the meandering thoughts that are stressful or disturbing. Money issues, personal quibbles with loved ones, the insecurities of life. It's what people watch that are interesting. The Tonight Show, which is on late, is filled with mindless comedy, interviews that are anything but illuminating, and a host that is bland and egotistical, and hardly funny. The best that can be hoped for is to stay awake until Conan O'brien comes on. Then there's more intellectual humor, if you can stay awake past Leno's banality. My mom has on HSN, which is filled with positive and sometimes instructive information on how to buy their latest X, Y, or Z. I usually have on Sportscenter on ESPN, or I might turn it over to FoxNews or Headline News, so that I can recieve a proper brainwashing. The reason I turn on the TV now is to keep my thought processes on more mindless matters. So, he's right. The stuff people leave on at night is pointless. It's supposed to be. (Although, I've learned not to leave X-files on at night, cause 1) I wind up watching too much of it and not going to sleep, and 2) screaming from the TV tends to wake someone up. On a related note, I used to never leave it on NBC cause they would have this show, Starting Over on at 3am which was all about women starting their lives over, and it would be a bunch of sobbing and crying, and it always woke me up, too. )

To think about it now, reality is what everyone is trying to escape from. There's more comfort in not knowing, in escaping reality, than knowing, and being afraid. And I can totally understand it, because I would rather drink Lysol than to have to go through my checkbook. It's genetic, I think. My dad couldn't balance a checkbook either. I think it's because of the same reason. Reality is too harsh, too uncaring, and it's better if I don't know, that it won't hurt me. Of course, that's not true, as the numerous $35.00 overdraft charges can attest to.

Sometimes people just can't accept quiet. They have to have some external audio stimuli to keep their minds off the other noises they hear in their minds. As if the conscious and sub-conscious are not to be thought of. And it's gotten worse now that portable sound devices are everywhere. Dozens of people walk by me everyday either listening to their i-pods (and sometimes singing out loud, which is another blog all together), or talking about nothing on their cell phones. It's all mindless matters, and they seem to fill their days with it. My mom wonders why I can't go to the store without taking a CD along in the car. Well, that's why. Aside from the fact that without the music, I will fall asleep driving very far, it also keep my mind "mindless" while I do the menial task of going from point A to point B.

So to answer the questions. Yes, I do keep the TV on as a defense mechanism, to keep the meaningful thoughts down and the mindless matters rising to the surface. Perhaps that is why most of my dreams take place in a mall (or because I work at one). There is time, in the shower, or sitting here, writing on my blogs, to think the deep thoughts, to understand the experiences and memories in my head. But there is also time for thinking nothing, letting stimuli enter your brain and leave it unfiltered, undigested (that people have a tendency to do this to important information, like listening to parents, is another blog altogether as well). That's why shallow summer blockbuster movies are so popular, or why rock n' roll songs of the Brittany Spears variety are so necessary now, because people don't want to think about the real problems in their lives, they'd rather think about or create false issues and problems in other people, or read, or watch TV (soap operas, for instance). It is the way today's world works. So while Victor and company fight out their problems on The Young and the Restless, we can sit for a time and ignore ours.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cathode Cacophonous Stimuli

Woke up this morning, and since it was Saturday, and it was 10am (I slept in), I turned on College Gameday on ESPN, who were at Atlanta for the SEC Championship game (which Florida won, like I thought they would.) So I had to go to the restroom (follow me on this), and while I was sitting there, I noticed that I had stereo voices going on all around me. My mom was asleep and had HSN on (as she usually does at night), coupled with ESPN in my room, and it was a cacophony of sounds all around me.

I thought to myself, there's never a time in our house when a TV is not on, or something is filling the house with information (audio stimuli). Are we really to the point where our bodies need a constant feed of audio stimuli to be satisfied? My brother always has the TV on, and my grandmother listens to her can opener in bed at night (it's a radio as well). There's no point in the entire day when something isn't talking about the news or sports or some entertainment. And it's not like I watch it all the time. I could have Sportscenter on and have it repeating itself for the 4th time, and I just keep it on. Cause there's nothing else on, and I guess I need background noise.

I wonder why we have the TV on all the time? Why is it that we have to have the light blinking and the sound droning on, even in the dead of night, when we're all asleep. It reminds me so much of Ray Bradbury's "The Pedestrian," where the main character walks along the empty futuristic streets and sees all the windows with their blinds drawn, but with the flickering lights of TV screens easily seen. As if there's no reality but that reality. Outside means nothing to people anymore, only what they see through the electronic windows that pipe fantasy dreamlands and paradises into our homes and our minds.

I think it also goes along with the need that our brains have for constant audio stimuli. During a concert, when the music stops, or when there's even a break in sound, the audience starts screaming, or whatever, as if there had to be something to fill that void. People might actually be afraid of silence. (I think I did that blog earlier. I can't remember.) I think it even comes down to, for instance, during church or at a funeral, someone will start coughing. It might be someone having to clear their sinuses, but I also think it just might be that there's this need to hear something, to make sure you're alive, that this whole thing is real. You can never have a time of complete silence, especially with more than one person around.

I think everyone needs a little quiet time every once in a while. I'm not talking about meditation or prayer or the like, although that's a perfectly wonderful thing to do with quietness. Sometimes, though, just existing is enough. Practice "being" with nothing but yourself. Let your mind wander and see where it goes, but make sure there's no audio stimuli to distract it. There might be something amazing in that silence. Like an old friend...maybe yourself.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Fickle Finger of Farve

Last year, the NFL was in the throws of a Brett Farve Love-fest. He could do no wrong, he could play as long as he wanted to, his semi-god status had been well confirmed (and mostly deserved... he's done more than any other Football Quarterback has done, including Marino (who never won a Super Bowl) and most everyone else because he's never missed a game. NEVER. Think about it, he's been in the league for years and years, and it would be like going to school from K-12 and never missing a day. Absolutely amazing!)

So he retired, then un-retired, tried to force his way back on the Packers line-up, was rejected, then ultimately traded to the New York Jets where he is now doing his best Dan Marino impression...namely, playing like Farve of old for a game, then throwing three interceptions a game. What drives me nuts is the sportscasters who originally worshiped Farve now are saying he should have retired, and stayed there, because he's no good. But let's face it, Farve is as good as 90% of the quarterbacks in the league that are healthy, and injured quarterbacks like Tom Brady are now out. It's a perfect atmoshpere for Farve to do what Montana did in Kansas City, namely, to get the Jets back to the playoffs. Will he win a Superbowl again... probably not, but at least he achieves the most important thing in football, more important than winning...he entertains. I wouldn't watch the Jets for anything before, but now I'd rather watch the Jets than the Patriots or, I hate to say it, the Colts (since Payton Manning is injured and not doing as well). All because of the amazing plays (and possible blunders) that Farve does each and every game.

Because Football is all about the entertainment value of the game. Does it capture your attention enough to keep you from flipping channels through endless beer and commercials. Farve keeps the game going. And the Titans, and the Falcons (with rookie of the year Matt Ryan from BC). But none of the other teams will make me say, I'll watch this whole game without playing Bejeweled 2 the whole time. Make me regret I have to miss most NFL games cause I have to work, but alas, most teams are humdrum and banal. Farve adds a Spark, and that's cool.

And don't defend him one week and dismiss him the next. Joe Paterno and Farve are on the same road, with the media flip-flopping more than Kerry did in the 2004 elections. Make up your mind. And realize that what Farve does is make football worth watching. He makes every game feel like a backyard rumble-tumble where everyone has a good time.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Music; Music Review: Sufjan Stevens, _Songs for Christmas_

Music Review: _Songs for Christmas_ by Sufjan Stevens;

Working retail gives me a unique experience when it comes to Christmas. Most people go about shopping, going to church, and hear Christmas Carols occasionally, just enough to make them dear to their heart. Full of happy memories (or not), listening to the parents 33(1/3) record albums on an old turnstyle, decorating a tree. Or hearing them while shopping at the malls or at Kroger's for the ham and green bean casserole. But working in retail, you get to hear Christmas Carols on a whole other level. That is, incessantly.

It's interesting to see how it effects people working with you. Some can't stand it, react violently to anyone whistling a song outside of when the music is actually on. Others transition from enjoying it, to merely tolerating it, to downright hating it. Still others have a sense of humor about it, and knowing the songs as well as we do, turn to parodies to make the yuletide gay. I don't think I've ever hated listening to Christmas music, and while I've been known to do a parody or two, it's cool to play around with the music from a Christmas carol, moving the chords to minor or trying out a different note. Passes the time. And yes, I do get Christmas songs stuck in my head, especially from some of the old crooners, for they had no problem in singing it in a different arrangement, one that would be memorable. My least favorite music are the contemporary stuff made by today's "artists." I'd rather stick with the traditional stuff... with a few important exceptions.

Because that's what keeps Christmas Carols fresh and alive in my mind. Finding those songs that are different, but still drive home the meanings of Christmas, that accentuate the emotions that go along with it, be they happy, sad, nostalgiac, or even painful. There is no more complicated time of year for anyone's emotions than the holidays, when the sun is dim and low, and the cold weather chills you through your coats, and it always feels like snow, with clouds hanging, as if it were to tease you into thinking you might actually get some of the time stopping white stuff that turns us all magically into children again.

Each year I find new albums made from some of today's artists that endears the Christmas Carol all over again. Gives me shelter from all the negativity from my co-workers who would just assume never hear "O Holy Night" for as long as they live. A short list of must have Christmas Albums:

Robin and Linda Williams** - The First Christmas Gift

Barenakedladies - BareNaked for the Holidays

Billy Gilman - Christmas Classics

Sufjan Stevens* - Songs for Christmas

Hanson - Snowed In

*Sufjan Stevens is mostly known for his folk music style albums. He plays many different instruments, many on a single track. One of his main projects, and what helps him focus on a theme, is to release albums about states that he has lived in (ergo, Michigan and Illinois). He uses the locations, people, events of those states as an introspection into his own beliefs, spiritual and otherwise.

I had a friend who came into Borders and had to have Stevens' Christmas album. As did all his friends. So I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

In a style that could be considered "Alternative-Folk," Sufjan mixes traditional Christmas music, sung with as much deference and solemnity as possible, with his own unique compositions. They mix nostalgia and the depression that goes along with the holidays, with memories past and friends and family long passed, with the spiritual hopefulness of the meaning of Christmas, along with the silly and off-the-cuff lines that a contemporary 20 something would like.

I picture the band as a group of Christmas Carolers, standing on the street corner, with instruments entirely of their own making, and each a little off key. The modality of the songs is striking, and non-traditional, but very cool. The album is actually 5 cds, each a mini-album made each year between 2001 and 2006. The last album or so is a little weak, but the rest is amazing work. My favorite track is their take on "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing", which is done in a slow 6/8 time. With a banjo, nonetheless. Awesome work!

** I've talked about this album before, as it was my album of choice two years ago. Robin and Linda Williams' album is one that definitely grows on you. There are no songs on here that could be considered traditional Christmas Carols, but all of the songs should be. It gives me hope that folk is not dead, and neither is the actual meaning of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Book Review: _Anathem_ by Neal Stephenson

A tome of a novel that took me forever to read, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Born of the same ideas that made science-fiction the highly profitable, and (some would say) the inheritor of classical literature, Neal Stephenson has kept up the genre in a time when crime dramas and fantasy worlds of dragons and vampires have far outshone the metal of machines and spaceships.

It is so much more than a sci-fi novel, however. Plato would have felt right at home amongst the concents and the fras who teach inside them. It is the Academy and the Lyceum in a future time, when matter and genetic structure can be changed, not for the profitability of it, but because by looking into the structures of a thing, the "form" in which it came from can be identified and theorized. While reading this book, one can draw from it the philosophical musings of Plato, Kant, Emerson, and others, undoubtedly.

The amazing part of the book are the Dialogues, where metaphysical arguements are completely thought out and argued in the Ancient Greek style. They talk about the conscious and soul of a person, alternate realities, advanced mathematics, language, communication, culture, music, aesthetics...very cool stuff. It's the meat of the book, not the plot line, which is definitely there, but wasn't actually necessary. I would have been content with 890 pages of the daily life of a Fra in the Concent in which they studied.

Tying Anathem in with the science fiction classics, Cifford D. Simak's Ring Around the Sun immediately comes to mind. In both these books, Earth (or Abre in Stephenson's world) exists with an infinite number of alternate realities, those made by the decisions of those civilizations. Each reality co-exists parallel to each other, and in both books, the ability to travel across those realities has been discovered and used. Whether for good or ill, it is yet to be determined.

I felt at home listening to Fra Erasamus' dialogues with other teachers, and didn't mind at all the slowness of the plot. There were some points when I had to skim past some parts, as the conversation became too tedious or the actions (especially in space) became too drawn out (of course, that's a problem I have with reading about space activities or caves or whatever, it's a literary claustrophobia, as it were.)

A wonderful book, but as I have found out, it is nearly impossible to sell to other customers, for the book is too unconventional for me to describe to people in any type of concrete terms. I describe it as reading Plato's The Republic, but in a science-fiction setting, and I get this glazed over look. But that's okay. I liked it.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Being Thankful for the "Mute" Button.

This Thanksgiving, having labored hard in the Honeybaked Ham line to get dinner, and making my Eagle Brand Pie, and licking the bowl (good stuff. :) ), I resorted to what the traditional Thanksgiving activities are for most people who have no propensity for excercising... watching TV. Namely, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the myriads of football games that are on following (for I'd rather watch other people get hurt, than to do so myself.) And since I was doubled up on Prozac (for staying at home is such a wonderfully uplifting thing to do), and sleep kept bobbing in and out (for that's what too much turkey will do), I became witness to the total breakdown of media and entertainment. It all bugged me, and I became immensely thankful for the "Mute" button on my TV remote (or at least, thankful for the House Marathon on USA so I could get away from the cacophony of sounds on the other channels.)

But first things first...the parade. Much better this year than last, mainly because NBC decided it wasn't necessary to feature every Broadway play currently on and off, but of course that didn't matter, because I watched CBS, which would rather have showed interviews with this CBS show and that, with the cameras on the floats, which is what is most important anyway. Thanksgiving just ins't Thanksgiving without seeing Tom the Turkey wheeling down the middle of NYC. The main thing that made me switch to CBS was the pre-written drivel made for Katie Couric and Matt Lauer, who seemingly couldn't narrate the parade without cute sayings and cheesy segways. It reduced the broadcasters to clowns, and insulted the intelligence of the audience by assuming we needed to be pandered to.

Afterwards, I watched while warming up dinner, what would pass for football games at some Pop Warner league. The games were pathetic, hardly worth watching, except in March I'm sure any game would be preferable. And on top of the attempts at playing football, I had to listen to people attempting to sing. First off, both games featured singers (whose names I don't recall) mangling as best they could the Star Spangled Banner. There was no semblance of melody, of chord progression, of breath control. They were shouting into the microphones. It was amazing that they ended on the right note, or that they even sung the right words. The patriotism was lost on these supposedly Grammy award winning singers belting out the Anthem in a way that makes you grab for the remote to find something else on, and insults those that the song is sung for.

Next up, the brilliance of the campaign surrounding half-time. The United Way and the NFL Play 60 programs, each brought the biggest of youth pop stars out to sing away in hopes that ratings would improve and people might donate time and money to the worthwhile projects (which they are, by the way.) So the first game had Jesse McCartney singing from his latest album, which was nothing but cheesy ballads and dance tunes that are so far from what he is capable of. His days with Dream Street being long gone, and his singing career in decline, he really needs to focus on the acting career, since he might have decent longevity with, as long as the CW network can stay afloat.

Finally, the second game brought on the Jonas Brothers. A pop sensation much more than what Hanson ever was, and fueled by the machine that is Disney, they got up on stage and rasped out what passed for songs. Cuteness means nothing when actually using talent (which they have little of.) But tell that to the screaming teenage girls around the stage. Awful...simply awful...

I wonder what has made music these days seem so bad. Probably the same thing that created "Music Appreciation" classes in College. As if people don't know how to appreciate music. Well, it might be that they can't. I was listening to a Christmas album, Sufjan Stevens' Songs for Christmas in the car on the way to work today, and the song that came on was a classic hymn, "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," and what made me really like it was that it was played in a slow 6/8 time signature. Counting the beats to six was cool, since most songs nowadays are in 4/4. And it's obvious that diaphragm control, tonality, chord progression...etc... are all foreign when it comes to singing and dancing and simulating sex on stage. Art has been swept away, leaving only lust in its place.

So for this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for my Mute Button, and for all the music teachers out there that really try to make a difference in reducing noise pollution that radiates from every speaker and headphone that exists. I don't know if Don McClean could pinpoint the day the music died, but I'm sure it's already happened.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dreams Deferred: Ranting about Education.

"What happens to a dream deferred?" Langston Hughes had it right so many years ago, that dreams and goals might languish and die, or explode, if not given the chance to be fulfilled. I was thinking about my friends, about Lee and his sister in Milledgeville, and about how such potential, such intelligence, might be left like the belongings in the homes they leave behind. When does it become too much? When does the strength give in because breaking is so much easier to do? When do the dreams die because there is no use in wishing for them, as someone will knock them down?

And I would say to them, "But if you don't make good grades, you won't be able to go to college!" And then I would think about the people in their lives that have gone to college, and I think, "What's the point?" I could have done so much more than working at a bookstore, and some of their other acquaintances have multiple degrees, but are still living off the government's roles, and caring little about the dreams that they once had. What difference does going to college make in their lives, other than the opportunity to live out the lives of college students, complete with the socializing, fraternizing, and other joys that are experienced and left way too soon for the cold world of reality.

If the school systems would care about the individual, and teach and mold each of the minds of the students into works of art. If they would hown them into sharp minds, sharp blades that would be as skilled as any tool, then there would be something to contribute to the world. But unfortunately, the role of the public school system looks more like the cowboy, driving herds of cattle toward some unknown destination. Would that it looked more like Plato and Aristotle's classes in the days of the Academy in Athens, or the schooling that Henry David Thoreau did as a teacher in the town of Concord, Mass.

I don't blame them for low grades, for dropping out, for giving up. Society lays out for children paths that are easy to follow, but are ultimately useless. They don't allow for the specialization of education and the different needs of the students. I've said over and over again, that I had students in my teaching days that didn't do any of their homework, or care about the lessons they were forced to learn, but they could take apart and put together auto parts and lawn mowers expertly. I found myself agreeing with them. Why should you learn how to conjugate verbs and the meter of poems and how a plant creates photosynthesis? If, instead, they could have learned how to put together automobiles expertly, they would contribute a valuable service to society. Or better yet, teach them how to construct computers, and work their way up to the space shuttle...etc... Or even better, I was listening to Clark Howard, who was talking about conversion kits that would allow a standard gasoline engine to run on electricity, with no dependence on oil coming from the Middle East. What would have happened if all these students that were tacitly proficient, could have been taught to assimilate cars into environmentally and fiscally conservative ones? It would help solve the dependence on foreign oil issue in a matter of months or years, instead of decades. But now where are these students? They have quit school, and although some are working in Automobile shops, others took the negative paths and have gotten in trouble (drugs, crime...etc...) and are now languishing in prison.

This all comes from a certain basic assumption that has gone back to the founding of the country. Namely, that all the citizens of the US have a right to a free, basic education, and that if all men are created equal, the education they receive must be made as such. This was compounded upon in the 1950's by the civil rights movement, which, while their achievements were necessary and critical for the social healing of our nation, the idea of everyone receiving an equal education is certainly flawed. For people are not created equal. Some people have intelligences that go toward math, or science, or technology, or art, ...etc.... And these intelligences go untrained in an education program that only emphasizes core learning. Frankly, it's time for the 19th century idea of public education to wake up, get into the 21st century, and specialize teaching to individual students. They're not training current students to solve the world's problems, but rather herding children towards menial jobs that will do nothing but pay credit card bills from the results of a consumerist society (see previous blogs).

I realize that the previous statements are generalized and definitely do not apply to everyone. There are wonderful teachers out there, and students that will one day change everything. I get discouraged, however, by witnessing the teenagers that come through the mall everyday, languishing as they do (my word for the day), and doing nothing to further themselves. And I've seen friends, who, because of life circumstances, and the coldness of reality, and people who care nothing but greed and power and self-serving interests, are beaten down to the point where a thorough education means little. If a child is struggling for the basics in Maslow's pyramid, how can they hope to achieve self-actualization, to care about learning when they are needing shelter, food, love, happiness?

I guess these are two separate issues, but they blend together easily enough. There is such a magic about what teaching could be, if in an ideal society, where the individual needs of the students, all needs, are met, then they can grow and flourish. But, alas, this does not happen here.

One last thought. It seems to me that the program started by the Bush administration, "No Child Left Behind," is aptly named, but not for what was intended. Looking at the education system as a whole, the program has worked, because no child has been left behind...they curtailed the front-runners so that everyone is in the same place. This is done by reducing expectations, teaching to tests that are created to manipulate numbers to insure passage (and therefore continued funding of programs). And I've experienced this first hand. When I was student teaching at NW High in Macon, the principal at the time gathered all the teachers together for a pre-first day pep talk. And the most important goal was....and of course, I thought there would be some lofty ideal of education and help students achieve their dreams... But no, it was... to teach to the test. So they would continue getting funding and the teachers would get good reviews. The fate of those students were sealed before the year began. The NAACP has a saying, "A good mind is a terrible thing to waste." How true that is.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Three Needles: A parable

A man is led into a room. Inside the room, is a table with three needles on it. He must choose one of the needles and inject himself with it:

Needle 1 contains Testosterone. It will make him feel strong, happy, and probably horny as well. Only positive things will happen with this needle.

Needle 2 contains a nasty form of the Stomach Virus. It'll be two days of agony, muscle pain, and general yuckiness. But afterwards, it'll be okay.

Needle 3 contains a nasty form of TB, or Ebola, or whatever illness you want to put here. The illness is hard to cure, and is usually fatal.

Now, the rules are thus. If he picks needles 2 or 3, he'll have to inject those into himself, and live (or not) with the consequences. If he picks needle 1, someone will bring in a wheel. The wheel contains 100 spaces (sortof like Wheel of Fortune), with 3 spaces being Needle 1, 47 being needle 2, and 50 being needle 3.) You spin the wheel, and it chooses for you.

Which Needle do you choose?


One of my friends on Facebook posted that he refused to vote for either party because he believed that a vote for either Mccain or Obama would be endorsing the wrong or evil things that they stood for (as he believed). And the sentiment is a sound one. There are times when standing up for what you believe in, even in these situations, would be the right thing to do. McCain, in my opinion, should have voted "no" on the bailout, as the other Republicans did. Socrates, instead of taking the easy way out, accepted the sentence of the corrupt trial, and drunk his hemlock.

But there also are times when choosing the lesser of two evils is the best thing to do (notice I did not say "right," for at this point, we're not talking about ideals, but about reality. If I was to vote according to my beliefs, I would have voted for Barr (or some other third party candidate that had similar views, for not even Barr shares all of my views) If I had done that, I would have achieved nothing, for the chances of Barr winning would have been about the same as hitting one of those three spaces.) (too many parantheses here). This is the paradox the Libertarians face every election time, because no candidate is going to fully embrace the ideal views of Libertarianism. And if they do, the media and the public will gravitate immediately to legalizing drugs, prostitution...etc..., stances which are not always the most popular, and shows the Lib. candidate to be slightly off their rocker . So we have to decide whether to vote for someone that is closer to what we believe in, but has no chance of winning, or someone that believes part of it, but has a greater chance. The lesser of available evils.

It comes down, then, to choosing the needle that would do the least amount of harm to the body. Sure, it's not ideal. It might not even be right, but in the world of reality, it's necessary. I think that sometimes, Libertarians (and other strong-minded people) are so willing to stand up for their beliefs, no matter what, that a solution that would bring about a portion of what they want goes unfounded, and the opposite becomes reality. In other words, by voting Republican, I at least increased the chance that a government that is not as invasive and regulatory might come into power. That would achieve some of what I believe in. It would have done the least harm. That this didn't happen, is another story all together.

However, because those who are reading this might having differing views, I will leave it up to you to decide who Needles 2 and 3 represent. I have my opinions, and you have yours.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


As I was creating Christmas displays at Borders, a song popped into my head, and it's stayed with me, cause it's message is so very fitting to what happened on Wednesday.

Billy Joel's "Souvenir"

A picture postcard, A folded stub
A program of the play.
File away your photographs
Of your holiday.

And your mementos will turn to dust
But that's the price you pay
For every year's a souvenir
That slowly fades away.

Every call I got on Wednesday was someone eagerly wanting a NYTimes or an AJC or the new edition of Time or Newsweek, all special election editions with Obama on the front cover. Anything with a picture. If Obama was on Tiger Beat, they would have bought it. Basking in the afterglow of the election victory, the Democrats turned to find something to remember it by. And, as our free market system works, we are only to happy to oblige. It makes sense, from selling pieces of Yankee Stadium, to parts of the Berlin Wall, papers and magazines of various events. My grandfather kept editions of the Daily Oklahoman where JFK was shot, Eisenhower into office, and we have them down in our basement, rotting away.

And that's just the point. The need to have a piece of history, to hold something tangible of a memory, fades as the thought does. New events come up, new layers of geologic time that stacks up in our brains, pressing it into layers soon forgotten. Yes, a momento will bring up that memory, digging it up as some precious fossil. But even those decay. Photographs fade and yellow, as do newspapers. What once was thought to be an important milestone in the history of mankind turns out to be little more than a speedbump. What happened to all the '96 Olympic pins and accessories, that were once displayed proudly in every store window? They are now in drawers, shelves, in cabinets and boxes, filed away with the rest of the souvenirs we pick up in life. What makes anyone think that the election of Obama would not be the same thing.

I would say the same thing if McCain were elected or for any other major event. Sure, I've bought mementos in my life. The death of Reagan, the last episode of Johnny Carson, the release of Star Wars, Episode 1. But I couldn't tell you where any of those things are. Even the photographs I have, as I look back at them, were just of places, and not of people. The few of people I have I've shared with them.

Perhaps that's the answer to this. The memories that we have of events in our lives will fade, and the souvenirs that we have collected, weighing us down as if a house stood on a turtle's back, will be forgotten. It's the people we love that are important. The relationships of the people that are around us that is more important than the stuff we have. And I think, to some extent, we have forgotten that. The birthday present is not as important as the love that was put into it from the person that gave it. The letter written, the photo taken, the video captured. They are important only in the sense that behind them was (or is) a person that we cared about. Everything else is just souvenirs, that will slowly fade away.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Like Pigeons on a Statue (Falcons, Raiders game 11/02)

I had to work on Sunday, and so I probably missed the most unusual, most abyssmal NFL game ever played. The numbers for the game boggle my mind, as they reflect how truly awful the team is. The game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Oakland Raiders will probably go down as the lowest point in Raiders history, where the players finally decided not to play anymore (at least, the offensive players), and where the absurdity of firing the latest head coach is made plain. It wasn't the coach that was bad, it was the players.

At half-time, the score was Atlanta 24, Raiders 0. To give the Raiders credit, Atlanta didn't score the last half of the game, so the defense played well. Keep in mind that I'm not saying that Atlanta is the best team either (although much better than what the media believed in the pre-season, where it was predicted they would only win one game.) Atlanta's QB, Matt Ryan, has quickly become a leader in the lineup, and will probably be rookie of the year, for the simple reason that no really good rookie went to a team that has won many games (Lions, Raiders...etc.).

But back to Half-time. As of that point, the Raiders had racked up -2 total yards. Negative 2!! The same result could be achieved by snapping the ball, spiking it, and doing the same thing throughout the half. They basically stayed in one place and let the Falcons run around them. They got 3 first downs the whole game! All in the second half. The time of possession, for the whole game, was Atlanta 45 min, Raiders 15 min. Which is unheard of in most professional sports games. Maybe a high school game would be that lop-sided.

I dare say that Al Davis could go out, find 50 people working in the Oakland area, assemble a team, and in a short time, play a game with better results than that. And we're talking about a team with Darius McFadden (RB from Arkansas) on it, as well as the top pick in last years draft as well. It is a shame that one of the best teams in past years could have fallen this low. I think the NFL needs to consider a bailout for a team in jeopardy for humililating the game more than Pacman Jones or Mike Vick ever did.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Spore Revisited: Why Can’t we all just Get Along?

In the beginning (what a way to start a review about being God), Spore was supposed to be the next big thing in video gaming, hyped to no end as it was the creation of the Sims creator. For what he was trying to create, would have been completely wonderful. The problem is, that as of this review, with the updates that I had, the game is flawed by certain necessary and predictable assumptions that the designers made about the people that would be playing it.

When I left off last time, I had just finished the Animal stage. The feeling of truly being a part of this species of animal, as if they had somehow come from some part of my subconscious, held through the Tribal stage as well. In this part, I had the ability to sing and dance my way through negotiating peace with the other tribes. I tried, at all times, to be friendly to those around me, killing only those who wouldn't listen to my songs or be impressed by the rain showers or fireworks I had. Oh, and the epic monster I killed at the end because I wanted to. :)

Once I got to the Civilization mode (which is basically exactly like Civilization IV), I loved the idea of creating my own buildings, making them as I would want them, from some vague architectural design known only to the beings I had created. But then, as I started interacting with the other cities (which were of the same civilization as me), I found that there was no way of interacting with them except to take them over. As a peaceful tribe with the ability to make it rain, the computer gave me, as my only recourse, the role of a religious authoritarian society. I had gone from peaceful negotiator to Iranian dictatorship, and I didn't like it.

The assumption that they made was that the people playing the game would feel more satisfied by destroying people or taking them over than they would co-existing in a mutual world. Trade, conversations, etc... all were impossible to do with the programming that the designers had made. Sure, there are ways you could become that, if you had done certain things earlier in the game, but living a peaceful existence, and knowing certain acts of magic or faith, does not necessarily make the desire to take over other places with that faith. Well, and this brings up a certain irony, that most Christian faiths throughout history have thought exactly that, that religion only is justified when it is spread to as many people as possible. This goes to my Libertarian ideas of religion, where my beliefs, my relationship with God is my own, and it is not my responsibility to spread those beliefs to other people. We each travel our own roads.

But I digress... So the designers made what would be a remarkable game into a clone of Civilization or Warcraft 3, both of which I've played and become bored with because it makes it so that the only way you can survive is by killing and taking over your enemies. There's no story involved. And I can't create my own story (or History, as it were.) On Spore, it was almost that way, but the designers of the game took that away from me when they closed the openness of the game at the Civilization level. Perhaps one day I will return to play it, to see what the Space level is like, but for right now, I want to play something else where I can determine my fate without the guidance of trigger-happy programmers. I've got my eye on Fable, which has been out for a while, but I now have a computer that will run it. I think I'll be playing that next, as well as Ricochet and Bejeweled 2 Deluxe just for mind-numbing repetitiveness and visual stimulation. :)

Friday, October 31, 2008

Fat Guys are Always so Animated

"Are you struggling with body fat?" I hear this all the time on commercials, with miracle cures and potent pills that might lose me some weight, but it'll be because I'm spending all my time in the restrooms, not the restaurants. So I got to thinking. What are the reasons one diets and exercises to lose weight.

Valid Reason: The immediate health of the person. Sure, my ankles hurt, especially when I go up stairs and climb a bunch of ladders...etc... And I don't expect to be running miles, or trying to outrun a bear (and lets face it, in olden times, one reason why being fit was important was so if you did meet up with said bear, you might live). So if immediate discomfort was enough to make me lose weight, I'd do it.

Invalid reasons:

You'll look better, you'll be able to date, you'll be able to get a better job...etc... cosmetically, for some reason, the more muscle and the leaner you are, the more attractive you seem to be. This is a biological trait, probably going back to pre-historic times, that the ones that were strongest, could outrun said bears, and could run miles, would be the ones that ended up copulating with the women. But if you look at it now, being successful doesn't mean running miles or lifting hundreds of pounds every day (although it might help.) The saying "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," certainly applies to this. There are cultures that have existed where fat was considered a label of royalty and luxury, where people who could get fat were admired as people with money (thus to get food) and happiness (quoth Julius Caesar, "I would have about me men that are fat, for they are happy. Lean men have a dangerous look" (paraphrased from my memory)). And certainly, if those cultures existed today, they would look upon the USA as a land of luxury and royalty, because we are all* chubby.

And the aliens that pick up our broadcasts will see that the fat, lazy father is truly head of the household. Especially when it comes to animated TV shows. Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, and in real TV, Rosanne's husband, each were very lovable characters, loved by their wives, and able to be drawn naked (well, except for on Rosanne) because their stomachs hid certain private parts. :) So the aliens will interpret that those who are overweight are masters of their universes. And so they should be. It is the attitude taken up by my cat (who is female), who is big in stature, smug in outlook, and master of her domain.

"But you want to live a long time, right?" Well, it depends on how long you think a long time is. How old is old? 60? 70? 50? Is living half a century enough time to do what you need to do? Would it be better, living a long time, being disciplined about diet and constantly worrying about health, and generally unhappy, or is it better to live an Epicurean life, shorter, but happier? To taste the cheese, the chocolate, and the wine (except I don't drink). As Mark Lowry said, "There are two ways to go, cholesterol and worry, and cholesterol's so much more fun." I agree with him. So, for me, it's not a matter how long I live, but how much enjoyment I get out of the years I do live.

I've seen old people, living with no heat or air conditioning, drinking powdered milk and crusts of bread. And not because they can't afford the food, but for some reason they insist on living that way. I can't do that. Give me the heater (which will one day catch my house on fire, but it makes my feet nice and toasty), and my air conditioner (which is why I have the heater on), and my Hot Pockets, and I shall spend my money to make me comfortable, cause I'm not going to take it with me, and I don't think there will be anyone to leave it to.

It's not a depressing or pessimistic attitude, it's just looking realistically about life. And if you look at TV shows, it's very obvious that fat guys are happy. I would much rather be fat and happy than lean and miserable. Give me the cheesecake, and the ice cream, and the pizza, and I will laugh at the people running in the park when it's 20 degrees outside. And they, with all their muscles, can lift my coffin. They're going to need them.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Grocery Store Tabula Rasa. (or, "History is Bunk.")

So I go to Ingles to get groceries (cause we're out of cookies and chips, and no snack food is analogous to chimps not having bananas, or most teenagers not having their ipods glued to their thighs. Anyway...) so I get up to the check-out counter, and it all rings up as $14.92. To which I reply... "that was a good year."

I get a blank look, as if she didn't understand why I would say such a thing. "What?"

"1492, that was a good year."

Blank look...

"If you were Columbus."

"Oh, didn't he discover the world, or something that year?"


Makes me wonder if its all worth worrying about. Why should I, like Bernard, worry about beauty and justice and what's write in this world when the masses are craving entertainment and their latest dosage of Soma, in whatever form. If the public school system's true aim is to produce mindless, credit card carrying zombies that are fit for consumation and pleasure, then no child will be left behind. As for me, Iceland sounds like a great place to live. (See Huxley's Brave New World for references.)

I was thinking about this post this morning (I had put this on Facebook just as a small note yesterday), and thought about what the critics would say. "Well, he's just an intellectual elitist. The public school system is doing the best they can." And to some extent, they'd be somewhat right. But, see, it's a frame of mind, when children are allowed to float through the first 18 years of their lives and not learn the very basics of history, grammar, literature, math, science...etc... Everyone should be smarter than a 5th grader. The date 1492, or 1776, should mean something. You should be able to say 'Romeo" and have people think about Shakespeare, and not a hip/hop artist.

And to indict the public school system for not doing enough to raise the basic intelligence level of American children, to say teachers aren't doing enough, it's partly true. Teachers should be battling against the frame of mind that creates the difficulties they face everyday, from discipline to apathy. Why should students care about even the very basics of education when it's not necessary to know these things in the real world? All it is necessary to do is to work, spend money, enhance the consumer base that keeps the American economy working. American culture dictates that pleasure is the inevitable by-product of our times. (Monkees, from Head.) All else is bunk, as the great Ford would say (Huxley).

(As an aside, the more I think about the Monkees movie, it ceases to be a box office failure and the end of a phenomenon, and more a biting commentary on the very culture that created it in the first place, which is why it failed. With all the ambiguity and drug-induced scenes of nonsense, there was a highly relevant message that reverberates even today. A masterpiece that has wasted away as part of what people simply think of as a 60's pop band.)

The problem is, even as i say the teachers must fight to keep the American mind from closing (Bloom), I know it's a battle that cannot be won, at least, not in this day in time. Because the desire for knowledge, to know and to perceive the world as something more than a fish bowl to be happy and entertain ourselves in, is rapidly becoming a dying cry, lost in the sounds of reality TV shows, blocked from ears sporting ipod buds, drowning in useless news and manipulated surveys, until only something like Jeopardy! is there to remind us that there might be something more out there.

It strikes me as ironic that Bradbury was wrong in his novel Fahrenheit 451, that books would be burned as thought of as illegal. Instead, he was absolutely correct in his short story "The Pedestrian," that the pursuit of knowledge would be seen as aberrant behavior and worthy of mental restructuring. Books aren't simply to be burned, they are to suffer a fate 10 times worse. They are to be ignored.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Insane things heard on the Boob Toob

Sportcenter, during the playoffs, when the Tampa Bay Rays had won a game by hitting a home run.

"What went through your mind as you were about to hit that home run?"

I love how the media comes up with all these questions, that don't really mean anything, but are designed to take up time. As we all know, the 24 hours news reel must be filled up with "un-news," made up news, repeats of news, or just gossip that people might think important or attractive. It wasn't so made before Turner revolutionized the cable industry and brought about the information age (one might even argue that he is the single most important person to media and print since Gutenberg and his printing press, much as Ford was to the Industrial Revolution. anyway...) Back in the 1970's and earlier, before cable, journalists didn't have all day to spurt out information and opinions, they only had an hour or so each night. It was much easier to contain biases and maintain journalistic integrity. Btu now, anyone can go on the air and say pretty much whatever they want, in the name of journalism and free speech, and get away with it. And the citizens of this country, who have thought for years that the news, with Kronkite and Brinkley and Hunt being masters of their trade, was the absolute truth, now take whatever the media (and that includes the AP, Internet, Radio...etc...) tells them as truth.

And while this makes the media powerful and dangerous, it also allows them much room for mistakes and hilarity to show the absolute stupidity that they sometimes demonstrate. Which brings me back to the question above. What would he be thinking about? Sports people have been taught to answer the media with vague nothingness, with answers that would satisfy the tongues and the ears and bring about some sort of nobility, as if they were a part of the gladiators of old, having honor and courage before their deaths. Or they exhibit some sort of modesty that makes them seem meager servants to the great game of whatever, or the commissioners that reign over them (and are taking more and more leeway to control their minions). But shouldn't the obvious answer to the question be:

"To hit the ball."

It struck me as so funny that someone would ask that question, but it also struck me as odd that the answer (which probably thanked God and praised the other team and considered their teammates ....etc...) was everything but the obvious.

2. A news program was giving the nightly body count (which has become almost preferred over politics or the economic forecast of doom.), and they described a 70 year old man, who, after going to the grocery store, had been shot several times by someone else who fled in another car. Upon hearing this, two women in an adjoining business rushed out, and, upon seeing the man barely conscious and bleeding from several gunshot wounds, asked, "Are you all right??" It's like, "Hello!! I'm bleeding!!! Of course I'm okay!!!" Don't know if he lived or not, but he was able to tell police who it was that done shot him.

3. Heard this on a stand-up comedian routine on Comedy Central. And it was odd cause I had thought the same thing myself. Recently a commercial from Direct TV has been airing a modified version of Poltergeist, where the girl looks back at the father from the staticy TV screen and says, "They're Here!!" You've seen the scene, but the dad says, No, we just forgot to switch it to Direct TV from Cable. The creepy thing about this is that they're using a scene in which the kid (the girl) is dead (she died during the making of Poltergeist II). Just odd, which is what I thought when I saw it.

Just some of the oddities I've heard on TV recently. Thought I'd share.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Woodwork Employee

If you've ever filled out a job application created by Unicru, you know that at the end there are a bunch of questions that you must answer. One of those questions I have always found interesting.

"Is it your belief that business are supposed to take advantage of their employees?"

When I first came across it, many years ago, it took me by surprise. I answered, and will always answer, "Yes." This may not be the right answer for the application, but it's the only answer that makes sense according to the free market system.

Businesses must compete to be successful in the free market. In order to do this, they must cut costs, attract customers, make a profit...etc... One way that they do this is by balancing quality of workers with the pay that they give them. You can see this most readily in the sports world, where experienced and talented players are often traded for more, less qualified players that may one day develop into championship-caliber people. Similarly, in the business world, companies must balance having talented, well paid workers and green workers that are less paid, but have the potential to grow.

In fact, the overall goal is to get as much work out of your employees while paying them as little as possible. This sounds cruel, but it's the only way to attain a profit over the long term. Of course, you have to balance the pay scale with the quality of workers that you expect to have. It's a delicate game, but one that must be played in order not to go out of business. Winn-Dixie, who my brother and I worked for, paid their employees very well. They are now gone.

The best way of doing this is, of course, to evaluate each of the employees, see what work they are capable and willing to do at what pay scale. This scale goes with the amount of responsibility that any one worker is willing to accept.

This goes into what I call "The Woodwork Principle." Frankly, the ideal worker is someone who cares very much for the company, is loyal to a fault, will take on a ton of responsibility, but is willing to be paid very little for it.

A hiring manager is taught to locate these people, because they are essential for the success of the company, even if they are never promoted or given the status that the amount of work that they do would suggest that they have. Again, this seems to be a cruel way of handling business. For after all, why would you promote someone that accepts responsibility and works very hard for the company that they are hired for? But this is a good business practice, and every manager should be on the lookout for such "Woodwork" employees.

And frankly, I come from a line of "woodwork" employees. My dad was one of the top sprinkler engineers in the Southeast, especially on working with the CAD system on the computer, but he was never promoted to a supervisory role. My mom and grandmother were excellent secretaries that did most of their bosses' work, but were never promoted above their stations. They were all paid very well, but never achieved the status that should have come with the work that they did.

And I think it should be easy just not to care. But that wouldn't be me. If I were to do just what was required of me, and not expand beyond my horizons, to stretch as far as I could go, it would go against every fiber of my being. I have to be more than what I have been expected of. And maybe I don't get the credit for it now, but I will....someday.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Government and a Brave New World

Well.... I think there's one thing for it then, as the saying goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The government seems bound and determined to dig its way into socialism, nationalizing the banks and playing doctor with our ailing economic systems. It won't let the free market system fix itself (which, admittedly, it did a wonderful job at messing itself up, no thanks to large amounts of greed and corruption stemming from large amounts of unsecured money, loans, and whatnot left over from the bubble bursting in the 1990's. They had to have someplace to put the dough, so they put it in mortgages, bad and otherwise, and now that bubble has burst. It's taking a bigger and bigger government fix to keep everything under control, and soon it won't be fixable.)

As I see it, there is only one way to adapt the government's current path, which is down the slippery slope of socialism, into the current market. And this goes double if Obama gets elected. But for the answer, we have to turn ourselves to Literature for models. I think the best model the government for socialism where a free market system is still able to exist lies in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

I've been saying for years that the world we live in now is much more like the dystopia of BNW than it is the Communistic approach that Orwell did in 1984. The government is much more successful in ruling through pleasure and happiness than it is through fear. Get someone addicted, and they'll depend on you forever, but if they're afraid of you, they'll eventually rebel.

And if you think about it, the government has been providing addictive programs for years now. To be dependent on food stamps and welfare is much easier to work hard and be successful in earning the money yourself. And with the regulations about how much money you can make on the side, it's easier to not be married, not work, and let the government carry you through, with all the computer gliches and red tape and whatnot, than it is simply to make the money needed to do it yourself. And with the economy and available jobs the way they are, it's necessary to do it this way. Jobs are being pulled overseas where they are cheaper to invest in (based on corporate taxes and quality of life, and the absence of unions), and so there just isn't any way to make money here. The interesting thing about this is, that the most valuable asset that we have in this country is our ability to spend way beyond our means. So the companies that are pulling jobs away from the US citizens are actually hurting themselves by keeping us from having the money to pay off our credit cards. (Course, that goes into the idea of "consumerism", where people are renewable resources, and very expendable, which I have outlined in past blogs).

Anyway, so the government is in a position to provide for it's citizens. Food, Shelter, Health Care, and the Democrats and their Media pundits have been preaching that it's our "right" to have all these things, and that the government is obligated to provide us with all the things we need to be Happy They forgot about the whole "pursuit" word. It's "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." There is no guarantee that we will be happy, only that we should be given the freedom to be given the chance to find happiness. But now the government has taken that word away, and now they will have to provide for our happiness.

So if we're going to go the socialist way, which seems certain if Obama gets elected, or probable if McCain does, then we must give every government official a copy of Huxley's Brave New World to show them how it's done.

First, reform the education system, so that people are taught based on their skills, and are not taught equally (this is a good thing, and should be done anyway). Then, place them in jobs based on their skills (sounds good). Whether they make a ton of money or not is not important, as the government will be taking care of housing, food, transportation, health care, and most importantly, entertainment. The extra money that people do wind up with can be used to buy differing methods of enjoyment, through gambling (lottery tickets, which they already do), state run casinos and sports betting, drugs and sex (might as well legalize both, cause prostitutes can benefit the government as well), or other methods of distraction. And money can be given as salary based on the needs of the government to give x y or z to the people. And this falls in line with what is already going on. Sports and entertainment people will make the most. Other things could be decided upon based on what is needed. Law enforcement, teachers, industrial workers, etc....

Also, this falls in line exactly with the type of housing I talked about 6 months ago with Le Corbiseur's architectural plans (see previous blogs) as well as the development of mass transit systems and environmentally friendly methods of transportation. See, it's not all bad. Things could get better, with it all government controlled.

But it has to be everything, or nothing at all. Because happiness cannot be provided for part way. So the officials in Washington are going to have to be prepared to switch to a Huxley model, and convince the other world governments to do the same, or it's not going to work. Because corruption and greed and human nature sets in and destroys it all. And while Huxley banished the thinkers and revolutionaries to Iceland, it's gonna take a much bigger place to banish them if the government screws it up.

So it all comes down to this. If Obama and McCain and the other people in the government want to provide for our happiness, that's fine. We can go socialist. BUT, it must be all the way, or the state of our economical system and our country in general will go downhill fast. And that opens up a power vacuum that our enemies will be only too glad to fill. We will have done ourselves in.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Shorts, 80’s Style: OJ, Tiger, Lego Star Wars, Soaking Rains

Some little things that have been bouncing around in my head for the past few days, snowballs that haven't rolled downhill far enough to become blogs in themselves.


So O.J. Simpson finally goes to jail. Ironically enough, this is one of our generation's "do you remember when" moments. When OJ was declared innocent from (allegedly) murdering his Ex-wife and her boyfriend. The Sports Reporters on ESPN made an amazing statement, that OJ's celebrity status carried him through the trial of the century, a trial that made the careers of a ton of people, and like many stars in LA, was given a pass (for murder, no less, but tons of money will do that). And now, he's found guilty of armed robbery, for attempting to get back objects that prove how great a sports star, how big of a celebrity he won. His celeb. status dried up, his 9 lives died, game over. I talk about this mainly because OJ Simpson fits all the requirements for a classic tragedy. Shakespeare could have written it no better. No celebrity or other figure in my lifetime (save one) has fallen so far, from the height of fame and stardom to nothing, solely on his own actions. He is Hamlet or King Lear or Willie Lowman all rolled into one. The only other person I could think of that fits this pattern would be Michael Jackson.


The US Men's golf team won this year's Ryder cup, and did so for the first time since..... wait for it.... since Tiger Woods joined the team. Tiger should have stayed off the Ryder cup team and let someone else go in his place, because, and I firmly believe this, Tiger was too good to compete in a team event like this. With Tiger there, the other players didn't have to play as well, because Tiger would have pulled them all through (and never did). But now with TW injured, the US team had to pull together and play harder, and therefore, they won without Tiger Woods being there. And this is nothing conscious, it's something that sports team members do instinctively. Why play your best when you have someone like Kobe or Adrian Petersen (OU) or Brett Farve to pull you through? Tiger Woods is amazing, but he should stick to competing with himself, in solo contests, and forget team events, because it makes everyone else better because of it. With Tiger injured, he's not being pulled down to the level of everyone's giving everyone else the chance to catch up to greatness.


Lego Star Wars II was a good game. It told the story as best it could, with the financial restrictions they put on it (they couldn't use the voices of the stars that played in the movies, else it would be mula to those people), and it had a magnificent score playing behind it ($$$ to John Williams). I do think they did a better job with the latter movies, with hiding the mini-kits a lot better. I very rarely had to use any walkthrough with this one. An enjoyable game, but not worth a separate blog. :)


Rained yesterday... a nice soaking rain... it was good for the area. Clean out the air, wash away past living for a little while. Nothing like a day long rain to make things better outside. Maybe it will clear people's heads somewhat, too. A fresh look on life is what is needed, especially in today's world. When God needed to start anew, he sent the rain. Perhaps there is a message in the rain as there was in the rainbow. :)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Spore: Jung’s playground.

I love playing God. I think, in some respects, we all do. God made us in our image, and I think, as children, we always try to imitate our parents. Take a look back at the toys we played with as children. In Kindergarten, we coveted the chance to play in the "Kitchen" that Mrs. Ravencraft had set up. Boys or girls, it didn't matter... it was cool to do that... And girls have doll houses and boys have GI Joes (and sometimes the reverse), but all in all, we are imitating life.

Video games have made this even more possible. Sim City has been around forever (well, late 80's), and games like Actraiser for the SNES made creating whole civilizations (I never played Sid Meier's games, so I don't know that much about them.) so much fun. I want to make special reference to Actraiser, because of the unique themes that it carried with it in the Sim part of it. In the end, it said that the goal of a god was to ultimately not be needed, much like a parent would. Of course, much like a parent, it is almost impossible to see a world where nothing bad ever happened, where divine intervention would not be needed. But it was an ending that stuck with me, because the idea of a clock-maker God, one that was popular back in the 1800's, is an interesting one (a god that winds the clock, and lets it run, with minor manipulations to keep everything in check...see the Ancients on Stargate.)

But Spore lets you play God, and then it allows you to truly make something in your own image. And it does it more than Sim-City or Civilization or even Sims would, because you get to create an entire civilization from the cellular level. The choices you make effect the whole path that the civilization takes. The most interesting part of this is that if you let it happen naturally, the creature that is created truly comes from within you. It reflects who you are, and what you believe in.

It starts by asking you if you want to be a Herbivore or Carnivore. This is much like asking you what alignment you wanted to be on most RPG games done by Wizards of the Coast. I was always Chaotic good, in other words, just a little this side of neutral, but with a rebellious streak. For Spore, I immediately picked Herbivore. Don't sit and think, what would be easier in the game, or what would make a kick-butt creature (unless that is your personality, then by all means), but make the creature completely out of the sub-conscious part of your mind.

Jung would have a field day, looking at what people would have created. The interesting thing is to ask, "Why?" you created the species the way you did. Now, some parts of the game are dictated by items, cost of parts, strength of skills associated with those parts, but as long as they're attached in some way, you can hide unwanted items fairly easily.

My Tophian is a negotiator, a socializer, and detests killing. She's (the way I have her made makes her look most assuredly female, which is interesting in itself) a herbivore, and in making the species I adapted it for Speed, Intelligence, and Beauty above weapons and killing. Although I have enough offensive parts to keep myself alive if I need to, if socializing breaks down. I've seen the creatures in the game guides, and I find them repulsive looking. Aesthetics was most important. I wanted something I could care about, not a creature that could mow down others like some Rambo three headed spiked creature.

I've only played the first two parts, and so far I've highly enjoyed it. It's the first game of this type that I've actually found a purpose in, above buying sofas and placing residential blocks around a statue. In my opinion, Actrasier was way beyond its time, and Spore is a full realization of the ideas behind it. And there's room enough for infinite expansion. The universe is a big place.

[I want to put a picture of my species here, but since photobucket is being a pain right now (in other words, I don't remember my password), I'll put it in my pictures here. (shrug)]

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Inflation and Values

At Borders, we recently moved around the shelves in the Children's section to allow for a lot more free space (presumably to put toys and displays in that area for Christmas, but that's another story). As I went into the kid's section last night to clean it up, I noticed that the kids (and their "adult" guardians) had strewn things all over that area. It was as if they didn't want to see the floor, were afraid of it. Open places and quiet spaces always get them down (Carpenters). Chaos seemed to be more familiar to them. Now whether the floor was a comparisons to the homes of the people that made the mess, I don't know. But it did bring about an interesting economics idea.

One of the biggest negatives about the Congress' bailout plan for Wall Street is the idea that flooding the market with that much money would cause inflation. Or to put it simply, adding more of something devalues its worth. To take a Duck Tales episode briefly, Scrooge found a place where bottle caps were prized as money. So when Launchpad dropped a whole plane full of them on the country, the bottlecaps soon became worthless. What would have bought a house would now have bought a stick of bubble gum. A simple and exaggerated definition of inflation.

Now, let's apply this to something other than money. Let's look at stuff. Thoreau, in the first chapter of Walden, ranted about the amount of "stuff" that each person had collected with them throughout their lives. It would be an ideal image to show a person walking through life with everything he owned on top of his back, and eventually, it would be impossible to move at all. The worth of these things is also effected. Would a cup, being the only one that you had to drink coffee out of, be more valuable to you than a cup in which you had 20 just like it. Now break that cup. Do you glue it back together? If that was the only one you had...yes! But if it was one out of 20, you'd just go get another cup.

The same idea is carried over with children. The items they see throughout the stores... those items aren't owned by them, they have no intrinsic value sitting on the shelves. And if this idea is propagated by the parents, who would just as soon sit a book (or a pound of hamburger) on a shelf someplace, or on the floor (which wouldn't matter for a book too much, but it would ruin the beef), then the children have no need to take care of all the items they see around them. The value of these things is less and less, the more they see. In fact, most things that are sold today are quite worthless, in the eyes of people. They are things to be used, manipulated, and tossed away when it no longer interests you (the sad thing is that this can also be applied to looking at other people as well.  If a child, having only a few toys, was told to value these things, because they could not be replaced, they would be much less likely to destroy their toys, and when at the store, would see an increased intrinsic value in the items on the shelves. But if a child had a million toys, what would be the harm in breaking a few, or destroying a few toys in a store, for it wasn't theirs, and they weren't really a big deal anyway, he or she had plenty at home.

And I see it everywhere, from badly folded Yugi-oh cards, to books that, when read, the readers fold the spine all the way back so they can read it with one hand (which drives me absolutely bonkers), to naked Barbie Dolls (their hair won't grow back).

We don't respect or value anything anymore, because it can all be so easily replaced. This includes people, if you want to stretch the idea to the increase of divorces in America, or to the idea of "consumerism" that I've ranted about on previous blogs. There is, in business, a desire to create things that people will buy, that they desire, even if it harms them in the process. Double Cheeseburgers are offered, and so they are bought. And then we get high blood pressure and cholesterol and are sent to the doctor where we pay more money, and bloodwork (more money) and medications (more) and join fitness programs (wasted money) and finally have to buy a large coffin because the regular size won't fit our large bodies. This of course, is an exaggeration, but it's worth looking at. Because, in my opinion, there are some businesses that see customers as a resource, a renewable one, that can easily be replaced by the normal propagation techniques.

Take Credit card companies for example. Why is it that Visa or Mastercard doesn't fight you when you file for bankruptcy because you own them thousands of dollars? Because they know that there are college kids just waiting to fill out those forms and get credit cards. You're old news, bad meat, and they can get fresh meat any time they want it. People are numerous, and inflation states that they are now more worthless than they were in times past, when fewer people shopped and ran the economy of the nation. The list of examples is endless on this.

It's more than just simple supply and demand that drives this idea of inflation. People must also have a value for items, people, ideas...etc... There is a value to books, even though there may be a hundred or a million like it, because of the information contained therein. One could get damaged in the rain, and while you would have to buy another one, it would still contain the same valuable information. My assertion is that there is a value for everything that can be measure in such fashion.

I can only remember seeing a couple luna moths in my life. Gorgeous insects that glow in any light. Suffice it to say they are more rare than the common gray moths that fly around the porch lights at night. Now, what if that thing of beauty was as common as a sparrow, say. Would they be any less beautiful? Would you become blind to their beauty because of their commonality?

Take people for instance. A person should be valued as an individual, not for the money that he or she makes, or the items that he or she consumes, but rather for the thoughts and emotions that are inside of them. This is where the Borg got it all wrong. That an individual is more important as an individual, with memories and lessons and thoughts and feelings, not just someone who can by a cheeseburger. Is a person not considered valuable, even though there are millions of them upon this Earth?

If I were to teach children about value and inflation, I would teach them how to look at the value of an object indifferent to the number of them that are around. The toy to you is commonplace, banal, but to someone that has very few toys or treasures in this life, that toy would be just as valuable as a piece of fine jewelry. Separating the value of an object from the object is the best way to learn this lesson. Therefore, the books would be cleaned up, the meat put back in the freezer so someone could buy it, the person cared for, the college student warned of the problems of credit cards...etc... It is probably the most valuable lesson we could teach our children, because it impacts the way we look at the world. It brings things back into focus, and the important things of life become important again.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tending Our Gardens

I woke up this morning with (little Prozac left in me, and realizing we were out of eggs....etc...) this realization that the economy is going down the toobs (sic), and that soon places like bookstores and luxury items will become very much luxury items. At least, that is what the media would have us believe. The doomsayers and the democrats would have us believe that everything is going to hell in a handbasket (I love using cliches), and the government is the only thing that can save us all from ourselves. Meanwhile, Atlanta is suffering from unexplainable gas shortages (Conyers seems okay), and people are out blaming every politician they can find.

But before we all start jumping out windows, let us focus on what really matters. At the end of the day, all that matters is the family we go home to, putting food on the table (not going out to Applebee's or having organically made food with no preservatives), and being with the people that we love. Maybe it's time for the people that have become so dependent on fast food, fast internet, instant communications via cell phones, to come home, fix a PB&J, read a book, or play a board game, or something like that.

And if I may suggest, everyone should pick up a copy of Voltaire's Candide, which is a magnificent work of satire and a hilarious work of literature, as well as very fitting for today's world. The main characters go all around the world, having adventures, meeting all these people, just to find out what true happiness is. And in the end, they come home with their friends and maintain that true, pure happiness does not exist. Rather, hard work and being close with the loved ones in your life is what keeps us going. It has to. They do this by tending their gardens. They grow food to eat and to sell, and that is how they live the remainder of their days.

The image of the garden is so poignant, for it is used everywhere as a symbol of the sustenance of life, be it religious, or in history, or in literature. It's what makes this whole civilization we have possible. If not for food grown from the ground, we would still be hunting animals and gathering wild berries. With a garden, Thoreau was able to observe the very essence of life. Emerson called it "Self-Reliance," and that's what I say we need to do. Be self-reliant in what we do, from actually growing a garden, to doing our jobs and earning money and spending it wisely on the people that we hold dear. We must tend our gardens, as Voltaire says, and only then will we survive whatever the economy or life throws at us.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Good bye to Summer

Well, I went outside today and felt this unusual chill in the air, the kind of chill that sends the lake water to coolin' down, and the people rushing out to buy firewood (they could use the stocks they just lost, that would work too.) So good bye to summer. I wish I could have done more with it. Gotten a tan, lost some weight, made a friend or two. But it's okay... there will be other summers.


And with the end of summer comes football season, and last week's Monday Night Football game was the first game I'd seen of any major importance. Dallas Cowboys against the Philadelphia Eagles. Later, I heard the game was seen by more people than any other cable show had ever been. So naturally with a game that big, they had to pick some upstart pseudo-pop singer to sing the National Anthem. It was horrible, terrible, an offense to the American Flag and the citizens of the US. And after she was done, you could distinctly hear boos in the crowd. Here they are, in Texas Stadium, in the middle of the country, the heart of conservatism and patriotism, and they pick someone who mangled and tortured the national anthem. It would have been much better to have picked someone with a few years singing experience. A country group, perhaps. Everyone should stop trying to outdo Whitney Houston and just sing the song with pride in their heart.


I subjected myself to Star Trek Nemesis recently. A horrible plot with enough holes to drive starships through. The characters are hollow, the lines forced, and it looked like Data was hemorrhaging through each scene. Perfectly awful. I only watched it so that if any of the books that take place after it reference happenings inside of it, I'll know about them. Hopefully JJ Abrams can breathe some life into that wonderful universe.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Book Review: _Islands in the Sky_ by Arthur C. Clarke

When George Lucas was filming the first Star Wars film, and the government authorities had to take a look at the plans for the X-Wing fighter to determine whether government secrets had been leaked out, they missed the boat by about 30 years. Science fiction writers had been guessing the state of things for ages, and it's truly a remarkable experience to see just how right they were. I just read the late Arthur C. Clarke's Islands in the Sky, and was fascinated with the intricate descriptions of the Space Shuttle, weather satellites, communication devices, ideas of orbiting solar energy panels, space stations..etc... all written in 1952! Simply amazing. How one man could think of the entire world so far ahead, and then live long enough to see it come to fruition. And we did go to Venus (although not a manned outfit) by 1985, but found it incredibly hot and uninviting. So the time frame was off a little, but the ideas were sound.

Another aspect was how similar this book is to Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. I know this comparison has been made before, some even suggesting that OSC copied it from Clarke (which is not true at all, but instead points to how amazingly accurate Clarke was when developing the science behind the novel). It is a homage to Clarke for Card to be so directly compared with him. The orbiting space "hotel", with it's rotating gravity wells, is almost identical to the military training station in Ender's Game. Also the ideas about where "down" was in space. There is room enough in this world for both novels.

One day, when the fascination for things of fantasy fade, when dragons are asleep on their hoards, and vampires are safely stored in their coffins, and wizards study the stars rather than alchemy, the jewels of science fiction will come back to enchant children once again. Islands in the Sky is currently out of print, and I only hope that one day that return to join the classics of the age, never to go out of print again. In fact, there are quite a few novels now that teenagers and kids can read from the masters of science fiction. They are valuable resources for teachers who want to incorporate science and math into reading. I'm gonna list some of them here, and will work on it more as a resource for teachers that come to Borders.

Have Space Suit, Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein

Red Planet also by Heinlein

Dolphin Island by Clarke

And every student should be exposed to the short story "Cold Equations," by Tom Godwin. Not to mention stories by Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov.