Sunday, March 30, 2008

Receipe for Eagle Brand Pie, and Road Rants.

Here at Borders, we are preparing a dinner for two employees who are leaving us, and while I was making my Eagle Brand Pie:

1 can Eagle Brand Milk
1 box Philadelphia Cream Cheese (regular, not diet)
1/3 cup of Real Lemon from Concentrate
1 tsp of Vanilla Extract

Beat Cream Cheese, add the rest, mix... put in graham cracker crust. Refrigerate for a day.

my grandmother, who didn’t get it, asked why I didn’t just go to the store and buy something. Because there’s nothing in this world that annoys me more than to go to a pot luck dinner and see a pie or cake or whatever on the table complete with Publix label and container. At least have the decency to put it in another container to make it look like you made it.

I passed by the new day care center they are constructing next to a lower socio-economic, crime ridden neighborhood in Conyers. My brother had once spent the night guarding the equipment up there, being paid a considerable amount to do so. Finally, since they realized they couldn’t afford off-duty police officers, they erected a giant fence with barbed wire around it from a rent-a-fence company. Now what I want to know is, if they have to do all that just to keep people from robbing the construction site, why would they want to build a place where children can play and learn in relative safety there? It makes no sense to me... but of course material goods are worth much more melted down or sold at pawn shops for drug habits than children are.

I recently saw a motley crew of government individuals repainting the lines on the Parker Road Bridge in Conyers. A noble activity, to be sure, although most people ignore the lines anyway (including, sometimes, me). It got me thinking about the various times when I’ve run over those cement triangles they put in the road to put turn lights on, or to provide a lane for people to make right hand turns in. If it’s dark and rainy, there is no way you’re going to see those things, and you will test your shocks on those cement barriers, and hopefully not ram into one of those signs. Unfortunately, quite a few signs in Rockdale County have been bent over by people, probably inebriated, that have missed the edge of the street and gone careening into the signs. The solution for this is simple, and it would save money in the long run. Iridescent paint, yellow, to be painted on the edges of the curbs so that the street edges would be clearly defined. It would save a few signs, anyway.

Off to work...wish it would warm up and stay that way. Winter has overstayed its welcome for far too long.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Book Review: Pendragon 7

Two words: Scary Good!

For those who haven’t read the Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale, you simply must. Plot twists I don’t see coming, well developed characters and a developed plot that keeps everything moving. MacHale is amazing! Every book takes place on a different world, territories that exist in the same universe, tied together by "flumes," which people like Bobby Pendragon can travel. Bobby, the main character, is a Traveler, who has the responsibility to keep the universe safe from a bad guy, Saint Dane. Each book is incredible, riveting, but the interesting thing is how each world has characteristics that make it close to our own. Overpopulation, or pollution, or too many video games... each world has a problem that will cause it’s downfall, and it’s not consequential that our own world has to deal with all of them.

Book 7’s world, Quillian, is a world where games reign supreme. People stake their meager incomes, even their children or their own lives, on the games, in a winner take all bet that would insure that families and children would eat well, or doom them into servitude or worse. The parallels to gambling in this world, or even more striking, the need to waste millions of dollars on the lottery (which is state run), are very obvious. But that’s not all. The games are run not by the government, but by one company, a company called BLOK that was, at one time, no more than one of many businesses trying to compete in a free market economy. But by undermining the other companies on prices, buying out manufacturing processes, and slowly creating a monopoly on everything from clothing to food to automobiles to whatever, BLOK became the only company on the planet, and therefore, had all the power, even more than the governments. When Saint Dane was telling all this to Bobby, all I could think of was that this was Walmart taken to the nth degree. This was the free market system, without regulation or anti-trust policies in place, and then progressed to the point where Walmart was the sole governing system in the world.

The economy that MacHale describes is one where communism has been reached by the control of capitalism. It makes sense, that if Walmart were to control everything, they could regulate it so you had no money, and while you might be somewhat provided for, they in turn would have all the money, and so it would be the equivalent of communism, but with a dangerous and lethal twist. Robots could take care of all the dangerous and lethal problems in the world, but humans are cheaper to make and if there’s an endless supply of them (Consumerism), then it makes economic sense to use humans to do things that would kill them otherwise. But since they wouldn't want to do that, you make it a punishment for losing in a profit winning game that would provide entertainment to the down-trodden, as well as give them an incentive to bet what money they had, or even their lives, for a chance of living better, if even for a short time.

This book ranks up there with Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s 1984. This series is a must for any middle or high school student, and every teacher should read them and maybe even use them in school.

I’m reading a book right now, 100 Cupboards which is also very good, and I’ll review it later.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Home is Where the Heart is

[This was in my birthday card to Holly (Cambeie). I thought it was related to my ideas of home I've been writing about.]

Yeah, I picked this card cause it reminded me of M.ville, and that of home. There are so few places in this world where I could actually call it home, but Milledgeville would be one of them. Specifically, my one-bedroom apartment I had for about 6 months. I remember taking Lee and Amber to see the fireworks from your apartments when I was there. Amber cried when the finale came, cause it was loud, and she was scared and stuff, but she thought it was so cool about 5 minutes later. But now they've mostly grown up. Lee's decided that he wants to go Emo, and he's got the depressing childhood history to back that up, but that's okay. He's still the kid I've seen grow up all these years. I just wish that they still had their home on Jefferson St., but that's all gone by the wayside the past few months, and hopefully now they have a trailer down betwixt there and Gordon.

But it feels like home whenever I go down there. It's a peaceful, warm, loving feeling I get, that I don't get anywhere else. And once you've experienced that feeling, I don't think it matters what else comes along. You're home, and loved, and that's the best thing. And it's so cool to watch Lee and Stephen grow up, and know that somehow you've been a part of that. I've said many times in my blog that I'm content with where I've been. Most people have this urge to raise a family, plop out some kids and put them through school. And that's okay, cause it's what they're supposed to do, it's in their genes, but there's enough families around that need the love anyway from being run out on by fathers or whatever. I'm glad I've been a part of two families that were loving and warm. There is too much coldness in this world. I've seen it in my Milledgeville family's relatives, and seen the wind blow around their houses, and even just Lee himself, but they've always been able to battle it back with the warmth they have within them. It's a strength that is unlike anything I've ever seen. And you can cue in tons of anime references, or Harry Potter, or whatever, but it's amazing what things happen if you love and are loved back. Christians would call it the work of God (who is love), but whatever it is, it sure is wonderful. How many people look in all the wrong places for love, and find nothing but the cold wind and a craving hunger? When all the time it's right there, in the people around you. And it transcends distance, and silence, age, looks, shines through the ugly as well as the beautiful.

As Mary Travers said, Home is where the Heart is. Love is home. And if you feel at home, and you're loved, then that's all that matters.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Urban Planning, Oil, and Terrorism

FDR, in his fireside chats, buzzing statically on the radio, promised each person a car for every garage and a chicken in every yard (well, maybe not). And Henry Ford turned the automobile from a luxury item to a mass produced necessity. Cars have become an agent of change in the twentieth century, and perhaps it was a catalyst for the mental change in people that brought about suburban sprawl, the rise in gas prices, the housing boom and resulting bust, the war on terrorism, and many other things. Now I'm not blaming the woes of the world on the car, but I am saying that the interests of car makers, and the businesses that support the automobile, namely, the oil companies, have promoted the lifestyle of suburban sprawl that only the car could provide.

Glenn Beck was talking about the recent real estate bust on his radio show a couple of days ago. One of the main points that real estate investors have to get people to sign their lives away on mortgages that will eventually run them bankrupt was that everyone had the "right" to own a house. And Locke would have agreed. The words that the Declaration of Independence copied went something like this, "life, liberty, and... Locke said "property," while our founding fathers said, "the pursuit of happiness." Both statements say something about the attitudes that came out of the United Kingdom. Locke thought that it was everyone's right to own property. A house. A place away from the bustle of London where they could escape the disease and crime that so often hit the city in his day. On the other hand, Hamilton, Payne, and the others changed it to "the pursuit of happiness" because they saw that everyone had to have an opportunity to achieve their goals, if they worked hard. They didn't see owning a house as a part of those goals. But in the 20th century, when material goods have outweighed the need for spiritual and mental growth (although Thoreau would have countered that the need for material goods started back before his time), it has become a "right" for everyone to have a house. As if the house was a part of the "American Dream." Further, FDR put in place governmental policies that started the idea of the Government as a caretaker for all those who live in poverty. It was a form of socialism, but created in a roundabout way so that it was not clearly seen as such (and still isn't) until people became dependent on the government for housing, food, welfare.

Skipping forward to the 1990's, when the economy was good and the real estate market and the feds made it so that real estate interest rates were low, people were talked into getting mortgages on houses that were more expensive than what they probably could afford. They did this by graduating the payments with adjustable rates. But once the introductory rate expired, and people didn't have more money then than they did at the beginning, the house payments doubled, and people couldn't afford the houses. Coupled with the push of credit cards (see my "Consumerism" blog posts earlier) and the changes in the bankruptcy laws which made it harder to declare bankruptcy, people were forced to either declare bankruptcy or lose their houses to foreclosure. (I sped all that up a bit, from the 1990's to present day.)

But back in the 1990's and early 2000's, people were talked into getting houses. They were informed that they had a "right" to own a house. Everyone should own a house, and it should be far away from the noise and pollution of the big city, nestled in some small neighborhood in the middle of nowhere. This is why Newton and Henry Counties exploded in population in the 2000's (counties near Atlanta.) And people were forced to drive 2 hours to work each day, and 2 hours back. People were happy to do so, for it meant that they owned their house and it was their right to do so. It was their right to sit in traffic and waste gas and wear and tear on the car, because they owned a house.

Who, then, profited from the so called "right" to own a house? The companies that sell the houses must not be the only ones that expect to profit off of this financial arrangement. Let's look at the different people that would gain an advantage in this society by promoting the idea of the suburban house as an escape...

The government has always been in favor of adding new jobs to the job base here in America. With the construction of the Interstate system in the 1950's, a continuance of the programs the FDR put together in the 30's, people had jobs, were able to make a profit, and were then able to afford the houses that were built in a constantly expanding system of suburban neighborhoods. When my parents bought the house I was born in, there was nothing out where Westbury was created (near the then rural town of Mustang, Oklahoma). But now, the neighborhood is indistinguishable from the rest of OKC that has grown up around it. And now there are other neighborhoods still farther out that are now taking its place. All these places needed roads built, utilities, cable, phone service, and once the people moved into the houses, they became revenue building places for the cities or counties around them.

Of course, the automobile industry loved the idea of people driving long distances to work. Even a trip to the grocery store might take a half hour. And all that traveling required cars, multiple cars, cars that broke down and had to be repaired or replaced. And all those cars required gasoline, which, at the time, was available and cheap. The depression was not felt quite as hard in the oil rich areas around Oklahoma City, because wealth was to be had drilling for the oil to make the asphalt and to put gas into the cars. This lasted until the 1970's, when, as we became more reliant on the oceans of gas in Saudi Arabia and other countries (and it was cheap, and we were rich, so we bought tons of it), OPEC decided to limit drilling of oil, causing an embargo which made us quickly realize how the dream of an escape home would turn into a nightmare if we had no gas to get our cars from one place to another.

As usual, during the 80's and 90's, we fell back asleep, ignoring the problems of the urban planning systems that made the embargo so much worse. If we had realised the seriousness of that problem, and made greater strides toward working and shopping at places much nearer to where we live, the demand for gasoline would have dropped, and therefore, the high prices of it would not be a problem for us now. But with oil prices rising, and car companies still profiting and the housing boom going, people didn't seem to see these things at all during the 1990's. People could afford it, so they kept moving further and further out into the country away from the cities. What made it worse was that the new technologies that made tele-working possible were, and still are, mostly ignored. Companies don't see the value in letting their employees work from home. Of course, there is also the problem of self-discipline, but that is another post.

It is the oil rich countries of the Middle East that have benefited most from our need to escape to our own little worlds. One could argue that the funding of terrorist groups have in some part been provided by the cars that we drive, since we are so dependent on that oil that we are willing to work with states that have actively supported terrorism in order to obtain the gas we need, at the low prices we are accustomed to.

[All this is a basic run through of what I see based on my general knowledge of the subjects. It would take a much deeper look into the facts, researching studies and history, to make this a work that would stand up in Academia. But for now, this will have to do.]

I do want to look at one more thing, before I wrap this up. Are there places built now that would serve as a model for future cities that would see the problems built around our current model and try to fix it? I think I have found some, and will talk about them in the next post

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Medium of Architecture: Le Corbusier

In the 1920's, architect Le Corbusier, with the Great War behind him and visions of the rebuilding of Europe like a playground in his mind, set about plans that would remake the greatest cities of his homeland into Utopian paradises. He tended not to side with the rebuilders as simply fixing the cities as they were, but a whole scale redoing of cities. His plans were grandiose, and, since people don't like change, they never got off the ground. They remained controversial plans that only saw the light of day in international cities in continents that were just beginning to build cities to Western design. Le Corbusier planned cities in South America, such as Buenos Aries and Montevideo, along with Algiers in Africa. In Marselles, in southern France, he constructed an apartment building that most compares with the large scale living structures he had planned for Paris. It would best be described as a cruise ship, but on land. The small, two floor apartments were decorated in the modern style, which would remind one of Audrey Hepburn's dwelling in The Apartment. In between floors were main walkways where shops were constructed, and recreational facilities such as gyms and the like. His idea was to provide luxuries to the masses that lived there, to take away the need for transportation, and to harmonize the balance between life and modern technology. His plans, therefore, were highly admired by Communist Russia, and many of his ideas were used in the Eastern bloc.

His main idea was to tear down the center of Paris and erect a massive series of apartment buildings, along with shops and parks, constructed in such a way that thousands of people could live in a small area. They would be provided with the best luxuries, and the resulting space that they saved could be turned into park land and recreational areas to support the education and growth of Parisians. It would be environmental, economical, and aesthetically pleasing. Le Corbusier took the ideas of architecture and solved the worlds problems with them....except none of his grandiose plans ever got off the ground. He failed to take into consideration human nature, and because of this, what would have been a utopian city stayed tucked away in his drawings and plans, and would never see the light of day.
Dystopian literature is a favorite of mine. I've read many books attempting to make life perfect for all mankind. Arthur C. Clarke's The City and the Stars, for instance, or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, or films like Logan's Run, which show mankind in a Utopian setting, but with a lethal twist to it. So when it comes to developing a system of living that would solve a lot of the world's problems, I have no problem figuring out how things might work. Take, for instance, 100 acres, and build below ground a commercial center with rapid transit system that connects this unit to the other units. Above ground, going some twenty stories up, are luxurious apartments with plenty of windows, amenities, everything they could want. There would be gymnasiums, pools, recreational centers, etc... Outside of that unit, which could hold hundreds of families, would be park land, with, of course, educational and religious centers where children could learn and people could go to worship. The industrial sector would be some miles away, and office buildings and the like would be underground in either the residential or industrial centers. All this makes sense to me. And you can't watch an episode of Star Trek: TNG or DS9 without thinking that if everyone had an apartment like that, it would be wonderful. Of course, the government system would be similar to the Federation, or if nothing else, a Socialist type government, where the basic needs of the families would be seen to. Everything would be wonderful.

But of course it wouldn't be. Because human nature says that not everyone can be equal. Not everyone can get along with their neighbors, nor can they accept the life of living amongst everyone else. The need to have a house or mansion far away from the masses is too strong. And crime takes place, and accidents, and all the other things that would make this type of living impossible.

It doesn't mean, though, that we can't strive for the days when we can live like this. As I said before, self-regulation is key to surviving with our fellow human beings. That and the need for improving one self should be more important that the need for competing with others to gain more wealth, power,...etc. The problem with this is that material goods are too important here for this to happen. The only reason that the Federation worked was because matter and energy could be converted one to another, and material wealth was negated. We don't have that yet. And working, as in Sisko's father's restaurant, was done for the joy of working and making people happy, not earning wages. People haven't yet embraced the idea of working for personal satisfaction. We complain when someone goes over their lunch break by 5 minutes, and it kills us to work past when we are supposed to.

So while Le Corbusier's ideas never came to pass, and the Utopian ideas he maintained would never work in his, or our, society, we should keep striving toward it. We must achieve harmony with the world around us, in both the earth and the stone structures we erect to go about our lives in.
But as I have come to this conclusion, I still want to look at why we live in the houses that we do, what people have to gain from this arrangement, and what modern day neighborhoods have taken a step toward making an economical, environmental, and social living structure possible.