Monday, January 28, 2008

Audio Book Review: Glenn Beck’s Inconvenient Book

It's fitting that Glenn Beck's television program should end up on Headline News, CNN's cut and paste station that, ironically enough, is on channel 35 here, between CNN and Fox News. I've always wondered why Beck didn't end up on Fox, as he is a conservative talk radio analyst and a fresh voice in what has become an argumentative, almost Springeresque, atmosphere. The show flows with easy humor, intelligent wit and commentary about society that is filled with common sense and optimism for the human spirit. It also bounces with the spark and drive that only someone with ADHD could have. There's nothing else on television, anyway, and I'd much rather listen to his outlook on the world than CNN's "woe to the world" view, or the hundredth rerun of Sportscenter on ESPN (which at this point is beating the Superbowl into a over-analyzed dead horse).

So it should come as no surprise that getting the audio book provided me with many hours of laughing and thought provoking ideas as I drove back and forth to work. Actually, Beck only reads 2/3 of the actual book, and the book includes many graphics that don't make it into the audiobook, so getting the book itself is much more satisfying than listening to it, but it was good nonetheless.

The one thing that I wanted to focus on was on Beck's optimism and faith in the free market system. I have stated my own political views in a previous blog, that briefly, every person and business has the responsibility to self-regulate themselves based on what's right and wrong. This is the basis for the Libertarian ideal. What Beck focuses on in the chapter on Poverty is the prevailing view that increasing the minimum wage, handing out food stamps, and providing for the poor is the best way of improving the lives of its citizens. And while certainly that is needed for some people (and I know some personally, even one of my friends right now that is homeless), there are multitudes of people for whom the support by the government lessens their drive to improve themselves. It is up to the citizens of this country to achieve their own dreams. As Beck says, the Declaration of Independence talks about the "pursuit" of happiness. There is no guarantee that citizens should have happiness, or that the government should provide that for its people. People should have the drive and ability to work toward their dreams, whatever those may be. Further, the current system of capitalism provides the best road to achieving those dreams. From the garage origins of Apple to the CEO's that started off their lives working in the lowest levels of that business, people have been using the system of commerce we have to become successful. For example, my grandmother worked with a stocker at Orbach's Department store named Gene Knippers. He rose through that department store, and achieved enough success he was able to move to Florida and invest in many restaurants and other businesses. He is now a millionaire and had been given a lifetime achievement award by the association of restaurants there in Florida (I forget the name).

Glenn Beck goes on to describe the millions of dollars invested by private enterprise to the gulf coast states after Katrina. The example he gives is two bridges that were destroyed outside New Orleans. The privately owned train line bridge was repaired and operational within 6 months of the hurricane. The public bridge he talks about (which I can only assume is the shorter of the two bridges that crosses Lake Ponchatrane) is only partially fixed, and will take much longer to repair. It is up to the private sector to invest in its citizens. From education, to emergency assistance, to providing the citizens of the United States with jobs and the opportunity to become successful, business have the ability to make this country much better than anything the government can do. So while I often complain about the negative parts of capitalism, what I call "Consumerism," or consuming the customer to gain profit, I have the utmost faith in the current system to do what's right for the people that it serves. This is where the self-regulation comes in. I am an idealist in this regard, because there will be many people that say, "But you know they're not going to do that, so it's up to the government to step in and provide where businesses won't." Well, that may be true, but if the government does this, there won't be any pressure on the private sector to provide the help that only they can give. It is up to us to lift each other up, to improve the lives of the people around us.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Cloverfield: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Spoilers, although it won't make any difference.)

I will give Abrams the credit he deserves for taking the whole idea of the Blair Witch Project and turning into a movie actually worth watching. I also hope that he takes such progressive film-making and revitalizes the new Star Trek prequel, for nothing less than something spectacular will bring that series back alive again. But first, to the movie at hand.

Talk about realism. There is nothing as traumatic as the point of view of people who are living through any particular disaster. I guess Abrams had to wait some seven years after 9/11 to pull this one off. The simple plot line is monster destroys New York City. Why does it always have to be NYC? Cause destroying Omaha isn't as romantic or as grand a movie. Anyway... and he puts just enough PTSD moments into the movie to make you parallel the monster destroying skyscrapers with the terrorists (M..terrorists...) anyway. The other amazing thing is that the camera work, done through a amateur video camera does shake and vibrate throughout the whole thing. The most endearing point of the movie is listening to Hud, the carrier of the movie, and seeing how ADHD he is. He is, to compare this to a Greek tragedy, the Chorus, the conscious of the movie, whose mind wanders and ponders the events even as they are happening. He is the only one who is apart from the events enough to continue filming even as terrible things are happening all around him. And with that aloofness, we sympathize with him because we too are aloof with the movie. Yes there is a monster destroying NYC. We've seen that before, and the characters, we know, are probably going to get offed because at the beginning they talk about finding the camera in Central Park. So we don't care about the characters, except for Hud, because the rest is cliched and banal. Having us there as part of the action, in the 1st person view of Hud, tho, makes him stand out in the film. It makes the video game version of this movie all the more easy to make.

Because essentially, the main thing that Abrams gave the world was a credible, watchable version of the PC game Half-Life, even before producers film and probably bauch that movie. There is nothing they can do to make a Half Life movie that will appease the players of that game. So, this is Godzilla for the 21st century. For the ADHD, game addicted, bored-out-of-their-skull audience that has come to recognize that there is nothing new in the world of film making. And Abrams acknowledges that, and takes us along for the ride anyway.

The Ugly part about my experience with the film was my fellow audience members, who hated the ending and stomped out disgusted that they didn't get to see the monster killed...if indeed it was ever killed. And while it's true that there are enough plot holes to drive tanks through, including the fact that monsters should be killed by bombs dropped by the Stealth Bomber, you sometimes have to overlook those holes. Oh, and the helicopter was flying way too low and should have been miles over the city instead of below the skyscraper tops. Okay, so you can't overlook every plot hole.

The most remarkable thing, however, and what I leave this review with, was my walking out of the movie theatre into a world that was at once familiar and totally alien. I had been running down the streets of NYC trying to get away from bloodsuckers and a giant lizard thing, and witnessing the destruction of one of the greatest cities on Earth, and then I come out and I'm outside a desolate mall (cause it had closed), and went back to Borders to write this review. A strange blend of the apocolyptic and the familiar, which is exactly what Abrams was trying to do. So overall, I give it a B. And go see it in the theatres, just because the DVD version will be too easy to skip past parts and ruin the experience.

[Addendum: I read more reviews from other critics, and the one thing that struck me as significant is when one of them called the 20 year old characters in the movie "self-absorbed." No wonder we don't like them... and yet, they are the actual next generation. Look at the pictures on Myspace, and you'll see scenes of the party all over the place. It is a logical leap, therefore, to see the monster as a symbol of any destructive force that will destroy the fantasy world that the characters live in. Be it terrorists, or a dramatic economical downturn, or AIDS, or whatever. This, I think, is what Abrams was really trying to accomplish with this movie. It was a sociological comment on the Myspace (the critic said "Facebook") Generation. ]

Now if I can just figure out why it was called Cloverfield to begin with.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Treehouses of the World

As a prologue into the ideas of living in houses versus apartments, I thought I'd put a little something about a book I looked through, Treehouses of the World by Pete Nelson. Everyone has, at one time or another, wanted to make or live in a treehouse. This is an extraordinary volume of people here who build treehouses because they want to, and people around the world who build them because they have to. Imagine having to live in a tree to keep away from predators, and not predatory lenders.

In my previous post, I talked about MCOG, and I fell in love with Tao's treehouse on his island. That's how we should all live.

A couple of other links I found on the web that would be of interest...

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Lesson of the Egg

This morning I fixed omelettes, as I normally do. The trick is to know when to flip the eggs. Wait too long, and the eggs burn on one side, making for a crispy omelets. But if you don't wait long enough, you risk having the spatula break up the eggs, scrambling them.

The lesson for people, especially relationships, is to know when to flip. That patience is the most important virtue when dealing with people is obvious. And it's also the virtue that is in short supply these days. Which results in many broken omelets.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

MCOG, Belle & Sebastian, Nickelodeon’s Golden Age.

I've recently been collecting old cartoon series that I enjoyed as a kid. Some of the best television series made during that time came from a company in France, with Japanese collaboration. And dubbed in English. Nickelodeon started showing two of the series during the late 1980's. The Mysterious Cities of Gold and Belle & Sebastian were both amazing series that, unfortunately, have never been made into DVD's (well, that's not technically true, MCOG was made into a DVD series in France, but there's no English dubbing on it, and it's in PAL format.)

The Mysterious Cities of Gold was a romanticized and sci-fi conglomeration of the Spanish conquest of the South and Central American civilizations. It takes portions of the Incan, Mayan, and Olmec civilizations and mushes it together. Most of the scenes and the people in the cartoon were actually real, although mostly not in the same time frame. Estaban actually did exist, and looked for the Seven Cities of Gold, but that legend came from the Zuni Indian tribes in New Mexico. Pizzaro and Mendoza also existed, of course, as Spanish conquistadors. The series is also loosely based on Scott O'dell's book The King's Fifth.

The idea is that the MesoAmerican civilization actually was settled by the descendents of a civilization called the Heva people. They were a highly advanced (read post-nuclear) civilization that lived on a continent in the middle of the Atlantic. They were at war with the continent of Atlantis, and eventually they both destroyed themselves. As outposts of the Heva Empire, they created seven cities made of gold, and the idea of these cities (which in real life came from the legend of El Dorado), were passed on to the Europeans that explored the mainland. In a series of discoveries, Estaban, Tao, and Zia find ruins that have intricate machines in them, ones that could only have been made by a highly technologically advanced people. A perfect blend of the past and the future, especially when dealing with the enigmatic Olmec civilization, of which little is known. Therefore the writers were able to put the Olmecs in a position of being sci-fi type creatures.

A great set of books to follow up on this series is a now out of print set by Samuel Eliot Morrison, entitled: The European Discovery of America The best place to find this is at

Update: It looks like it will come out in DVD after all:

Belle and Sebastian originally came from a live action series made in France, but was expanded to a whole animated series with the help of Japanese animators. Set in France, or maybe in Andorra, Sebastian befriends a large Pyrenees dog who has been falsely accused of being dangerous simply because of its size. Sebastian, Belle, and Poochie escape from the armies trying to kill Belle and run into Spain, where, it is hoped, Sebastian can find his mother, a gypsy who left him in the mountains because she, as a gypsy, could not have children while on the road. An amazing series of comedy and tragedy, and much like a soap opera for kids. I couldn't wait to get home after school to see the latest episode that my mom had recorded it for me on our BetaMax machine.

It is not available on DVD except for through old TV recordings much like mine. You can find one such recording here:

You can also find copies of both shows on the torrent sites throughout the Internet.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Faust, Picard, and the Pursuit of Knowledge

What a paradoxical world we live in today. And I say this because the airways above us are filled with whizzing streams of wireless information. Aside the highways are lined cables where voices and rivers of data are flowing endlessly from one corner of the world to another. Our bookstores are filled with novels and volumes of endless trivia enough to fill our minds many times over. The books contradict themselves and each other, but yet we still have the time and patience to peruse through them. The internet and the media tell us what we want to hear, and what they want us to hear, although it is largely one and the same. We have become a society that is saturated with knowledge. One could even come close to say that we are drowning in an ocean of information.

Yet with all the news, sports, media coverage of X baby missing or Y being pregnant and Z bombing A because they don't like how they worship...etc..., I find myself wondering... are we really drowning, or are we simply searching for the information that we need... are we simply parched, adrift on some ocean where there is enough information to fill up the ocean, and yet none to satisfy us.

We spend the first 18 years of our lives going to school (and some of us considerably longer, in college), and learning from teachers and reading books made by the world's most renown thinkers, and then we graduate and go to our workplaces and learn very little more. The information that we receive outside of the academic world is little more than commercial nonsense, or information we need to carry on our jobs, forwarding the causes of society, earning our monies and paying our bills. But there should be something more to it than that. Recently there have been quite a few books come out dealing with general knowledge, and they have been big sellers. Perhaps it is because the publishers realize that common citizens see the few people that continue their educations, and still retain the knowledge in their heads, and then are shown in public on shows like Jeopardy!, and they yearn for that same knowledge. Perhaps they see people much like themselves on shows like Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader? and they find themselves ashamed, deep down, and try to regain that learning that has sunken into their unconscious filing cabinets.

Perhaps this is a nostalgic yearning back to the times when academic learning was the primary goal of my life, back to the college days when the philosopher kings gave of their knowledge and I soaked it up like a sponge. I start to feel this way whenever I listen to college lectures that I've downloaded onto my computer and burned them onto CDs. Philosophy, history, literature... and the connections that link thought and reason and emotions together, like neurons firing in the brain... I guess the river metaphor is still applicable here, because neurons form river like systems in the brain that transfer electric currents that contain information, and with continuing education, those neurons form new connections, fire signals from one end of the pathways to another, ceaselessly learning and processing and connecting... it's all quite amazing, and absolutely satisfying.

So how do we get that education throughout our lives? Certainly, in this society, it is impossible to go to college the whole time. Because in this capitalist world, education costs money. Everything costs money. Lots of it. It would be more pleasing to the people who yearn for academic growth to have the philosophers and thinkers be able to give us their knowledge without the hassle of renumeration. Shouldn't the world endevor to give every man, woman, and child on Earth the education that they need to benefit the world, forward the progress of the human race, and make it a better place to live? What would happen if that ability to have a free education, all our lives, were to become a reality? What diseases would be cured? What marvelous works of literature and poetry would come out of the minds of the now uneducated? But maybe this illusion is more meant for the world of Star Trek than real life, for the reality is that an advantage like this is given only to those who can afford it. That the repressed are uneducated and poor because they have nothing to offer the free and rich in the way of recompense when it comes to getting an education.

But is it possible to get a free college education anyway? Certainly there must be a way to learn the knowledge of all humanity without spending lots of money to listen to professors that may or may not know what they are talking about. Thoreau's answer to this was to spend many hours at the public library, providing himself with the education he desired. There was no need to go to Harvard just to get an education, and for those that did, the rows of books at the library housed more knowledge than in the professors tiny brains. So indeed, it is possible to get a college education, through the public and college libraries, without the time and money of going directly to college.

There is, however, one problem. Often the time that it takes to go to the library (especially if it's a college one, the closest good college library is close to an hour away), and actually read the books and do the research is much more than what we have, living in the hectic world that we live in. If you looked at the life that Thoreau lived, he didn't have that problem. Sure there was work to be done, but there wasn't the hectic break-neck speed lifestyle that is so often experienced today. Don't get me wrong, I would do the full educational process with any subject given the resources and the time, but often I have neither. The one point in my daily activities in which I have time to devote to learning something is in my car driving to and from work. This only works with people who are audio learners, and only for people who don't take notes (which is very few people, actually.), but it is the best way I have found to process educational material in my daily routine. And this is done through the miracles of modern technology.

Plato's heirarchy in The Republic gives the highest position to philosopher-kings, whose job it was to rule and to teach, to not own property or marry, but rather to devote their time to both ruling and learning. Now while I'm not saying that is the best way for teachers to be, I do think that now, with the miracles of technology of the 21st century, it is time for college professors and teachers to begin making the plethora of knowledge that they have so painstakingly amassed available to the masses. The Internet is the most democratic device to have ever existed. Not since the days of the Academy in ancient Greece have professors been able to freely discuss ideas with students, educating the masses, and giving the individual the ability to learn and explore his or her own world. The current education system in America, where everyone is supposed to receive the same education, is obsolete and must be redone. Through the technology of today, professors can provide material on any subject at all to anyone in the world that is willing to take the time to understand it. Online assignments, quizzes, and tests, make the grading processes easy, at least as far as the understanding of the knowledge. And when it comes to applying that knowledge by writing essays or contributing to forums or chat rooms, this is when the Internet truly shines. I was fortunate enough to get into the developing stages of the WebCT program at GC&SU, and I can see such potential in the future development of this.

Also at GC&SU, Dr. Viau is among the first professors to use ipods and iTunes to provide material to his interdisciplinary courses. The use of MP3 technology to provide lectures instantly to anyone in the world is the main component of what I think would be a grand university that would rival Wikipedia in scope and stature. An "Open Source University" where professors and teachers would provide lessons and courses on every subject imaginable. It could be done while having normal classes, provided it was prepared well enough. The lectures could then be stored on University servers and linked to the Web. Modern broadband technology makes this possible.

As amazing as this sounds, I have serious doubts about it's implementation. There are already some colleges and programs that have started some of this. I can provide links at a later time, as I explore them. But the old regimes of universities, textbook companies, and state based schools would balk at the loss of revenue from tuition and the total annihilation of the educational system as we know it. Professors would at first resist, wanting to know where their paychecks would come from. But universities would still exist, and be just as wonderful a place as they always have been. They could still charge tuition and have brick and mortar buildings. But the main source of pay for professors would come from the state, whose job it would be to insure the intellectual property of the professors be upheld, as well as see that the needs of those professors be tended to. They should be some of the highest paid employees, much like that of entertainers. Because the results of free education for all citizens world wide would outweigh all investments that were put into revamping and maintaining such an amazing program. There is no reason, given the technology that we now have, why Moon landings should not have already happened. There is no reason why diseases should still linger when the potential knowledge of all the human beings on Earth could be used toward solving the problems that exist currently. And this is done by giving each and every person on this globe the chance to have a free education, to strengthen the natural talents and abilities that every person has, and to become the best individual that any one person could be. You see how idealistic this sounds. And yet how wonderful the rewards would be if it could actually happen.

What it would take now, for starters, is just a few professors starting a web site, much like Wikipedia, to store lectures and courses online for free. It could start in Milledgeville, with the wonderful professors that I miss hearing and talking to on a daily basis. GC&SU has the forward thinking and the ability to start something like this, and has the professors with the knowledge to give every person on this Earth a drink of knowledge. And once people have tasted that, it will become a need for people to expand their horizons.

I can already hear the people exclaiming that I have either proclaimed knowledge much as Faust would have done before making a deal with Mephistopheles, or Manfred, who was warned that the Tree of Knowledge is not the Tree of Life. Some would even warn that I should be careful, that knowledge is a sin that Eve partook of, and that is should be some religious undertaking I should be writing about. And it's true that moderation and balance is key to living any person's life. If we are all parched for knowledge, and our brains have grown weak from disuse, shouldn't we exercise our brains daily by giving it knowledge to process. And what better way to exercise our minds than to use that small portion of dormant time while driving to enhance and better our lives? Our body is our temple, so should not be our minds a temple as well? We cannot focus on exercise and diet and bettering ourselves physically without the exercise of our minds. And if personal growth is the core of living life, bettering one self, one's community, one's world, than isn't what I'm suggesting the best way to start this?

So until the time of Starfleet arrives, until the main goal of life is to better your own life and that of the world around you, rather than just making money, it is enough just to learn a little each day. To use time as wisely as possible to better you own self, mentally, physically...whatever. I'm not the best person to say this, but at least, if my physical life isn't the best in the world, I will still be able to learn and to process information. I hope I am not too egotistic to believe that, in the end, my writings, such as this blog, will allow me to pass on whatever I have learned and thought of to the people out there, so that they might benefit from my learning, from my thoughts and feelings. If that is all I can do, then that is enough.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Obligatory New Year’s Post.

I guess on these days, with a new year staring you in the face, you have to figure out whether the next year would be better than the last. How do you improve your life, and why does the first of the year make any difference, when you can improve your life on any given day. But perhaps January 1, the first day of the Roman goddess of Doorways, of beginnings, would be as good as any. And aside from losing weight and being more financially responsible, which everyone seems to plan on but nobody achieves, maybe the simplest resolution is just to be a little friendlier, To say "hello" when a person's IM pops up, or when the little "online" thingee pops up on Myspace, to send a message. That's the easiest thing to do.

And expectations and goals are good, from promotions to cars to money... but as I've learned, counting chickens is the fastest way to get them to lay eggs. Perhaps just looking at things day to day and being patient is the way to go here. Because planning and craving just leads to unhappiness. It's something I've come to realize, that while having goals is a good thing, expecting them to be achieved is certainly not.

So Happy New Year, may all your goals and dreams come true, but don't worry about it if they don't. The best thing is just to say hello, be friendly, and love the people around you. That overcomes all obstacles, and makes every year, no matter how miserable, seem just a little better.