Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ye Ol’ Swimmin’ Hole

I've already posted, many times, about the feeling of Nostalgia. The warm feeling (with a tinge of regret) of stepping back in time to a world that is basic, more primitive (wait, don't yell about me being elitist, I used the word on purpose). And Porterdale and areas south of there are prime examples of a world that is slightly out of time with the rest of the world. And that's a good thing. It is refreshing to know that just a few miles away there is a place that has remained the quiet Georgia town where life has continued unabated for years.

I say this because today I went down to Lake Jackson, to a well known swimming hole off of Factory Shoals Road. I've been going there for years, ever since my brother's friend showed us how to get there. there's a large rock just in from the road where the river gets really deep, and you can jump off and not hit the bottom of the river. There was once a tree that overlooked the beach area, and the kids climbed up on it and jumped off into the lake part. It's been knocked down by streams and storms since I took the picture of it.

Unfortunately, the lake (river's right on the edge of the lake becoming the Alcovy River) has suffered from the drought, and the rocks on the river are showing above the water. It's good in one since, because manuvering through the river becomes much more of a challenge, trying to keep from getting your feet (and your bag with your wallet, camera, cell phone...etc) from getting wet. A great way to exercise your mind and body at the same time.

I only hope that, with Newton County becoming one of the fastest growing areas in the country, that they will be able to keep Porterdale from exploding into a Conyers type town, filled with restaurants and Walmarts and other things that you have to drive way too far to get to and drive the smaller businesses to bankruptcy, and that they will keep the natural beauty of Lake Jackson and the Alcovy River in tact.

Above, I used the word primitive as a reference to Russeau's idea of the "Noble Savage, " a Romantic idea that makes one revere and appreciate the more un-technological way of living. It's hard for me to describe it, actually, because I almost put "uncivilized" in that last sentence. See, it's hard for our culture, as progressive as it is, as driven toward technology and electronic devices sold at any of the major chains like I described above, to appreciate the simpler life without looking at it as somehow inferior. I say this because I do not wish to itimate that I think that way. I would give up most every technological advance to live much as the people in rural towns do, to live in a small shack next to a lake and call it my own. But then, I would go crazy, and I couldn't do it. The need for Internet and cell phones and cable TV is just too much ingrained into my psyche. It's that dependency on all this commercially developed necessities makes me feel like I'm somehow weaker than my rural neighbors who might not have as much as I, but still lives their lives with comparable happiness.

But I had fun, although I didn't get to swim as much as I'd like (the beach area, in the evening, is filled with fishermen, and it's hard to swim with fishing lines whizzing over your head. And the rock area didn't have any people there, and I don't want to swim alone and get into an accident and do that whole drowning thing.) I only wish my friends could come up (or down) and see the beauty of this area for themselves.

The Rock:

The tree that was at the Beach area:

Friday, June 20, 2008

Van Gogh for your ears: Coldplay’s _Viva La Vida_

Music Review: Coldplay Viva la Vida

This is not a CD that one buys, plops into the car player and expects to enjoy on the first listening. The layers of meaning, the references of literary, cultural, and historical events, the artistic strokes of musical color, everything takes time to soak in to give the album form and substance. I know, this is not something we are used to, in today's world of instant gratification and ipods. This is an album more suited to the likes of T.S. Eliot, while he was writing "The Wasteland," with its endless references to obscure works and mythological symbols long forgotten by the 20th century.

There are many ways to approach this album. First I think it is necessary to understand one of the primary producers: Brian Eno. Most known for his guitar work, Eno is a sound mixer and producer that creates "Soundscape" instrumentals. Imagine taking a Monet painting, or Van Gogh's Starry Night and using brush strokes of sound to create a audio-visual representation of the painting in one's mind. It is much like what most New Age artists do, but Eno takes Pop/Rock elements and turns the soothing sounds of the synthesizers into electric guitars and percussive instruments. For some artists, this type of production doesn't work (see Paul Simon's latest work Surprise, which was a resounding flop.) But for Coldplay, who's Radiohead influences can be easily seen, Eno was a perfect match.

The visual aspects of instrumentation and lyrics on each of the tracks make (almost) each song stand out individually, but also together with the first (and last) track, "Life in Technicolor." The words especially paint scenes that are brought from different historical and cultural references. "Cemeteries in London," with the minor chords and lyrics painting a Gothic London side streets can be seen in the Disney Film Mary Poppins,which, according to online sources , was one of the inspirations for the album. Combine that with the Euro-apathy and cynicism that comes from "Violet Hill", which is a early U2-esque song that combines scenes from late 70's Europe (a time of recession and conflict, where the European currency was down and people mistrusted their leaders, much like today's America.) and sniper ravaged Dublin (probably from the story "The Dubliners" by James Joyce.) makes the gothic part of this album quite vivid, and haunting.

Another brush stroke is that of the single "Viva la Vida," which is arguably about the French Revolution, told from Louis XVI's point of view after Marie-Antoinette lost her head. The painting on the front of the album, along with the scenes from Les Miserables that it invokes, supports this idea. But there are also arguments that it might be about Hitler, or about the current leaders in America (for those who wish to compare Bush and other historical leaders.) More than likely, it's a more general term about Kings and Leaders who have lost their public support.

And then there's "42." Any sci-fi addict will immediately realize that the number 42 is the answer to the meaning of life, as given by the supercomputer in Douglas Adams' work The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This is an ingenious twist by Chris Martin to take the hilarity and ultimate uselessness of having Earth as a supercomputer to figure out the meaning of life, and turn it into an desperate appeal for the Earth, it's glorious mission, and the failure that it apparently has for figuring out "what more" there must be.

I am not, however, saying that this is the most wonderful album I have ever listened to. In fact, the tracks "Yes," and "Strawberry Swing" should have been replaced by stronger tracks. And there are other tracks that would have worked better. Coldplay included bonus tracks on the Japanese Edition of the album which are far stronger tracks, as well as an acoustic version of "Lost!" which is as captivating as Matchbox Twenty's version of "3AM" with Piano only. I do think that X&Y is a better album as a whole, but Viva La Vida is an attempt at a music and literary masterpiece, reminiscent of U2's albums, Sting's Soul Cages or Gorillaz's Demon Dayz.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Book Review: Arthur C. Clarke, _Dolphin Island_

Book Review: Arthur C. Clarke's Dolphin Island

If you read any How to Write a Book book, one of the first comments is that every author must know his/her audience. For certain, science fiction writers of the 1960's knew that if they were to get an audience addicted to science fiction books, they must first write novels that teenagers would read. Heinlein's Red Planet, or Have Space Suit, Will Travel, and Clarke's Dolphin Island, are some examples.

A note about science fiction and fantasy, from one looking back at the 20th century. In the 1960's, during the heat of the space race and the development of nuclear power, television, computers...etc... science and technology were thought to be the savior of the future. There is nothing that science cannot do, no disease they cannot treat, no problem it cannot solve. Shows like Star Trek proved this theory (although with Roddenberry's idea, that happened only with the addition of the human spirit, the will to adapt and expand their learning). And for the next couple of decades, this was basically true. Small Pox was decimated, the telephone and computer made communication and productivity soar. But the naivety that nothing is impossible through science came to a tragic head when the AIDS virus hit in the 1980's. Suddenly, there was a disease that nothing could be done about. Technology had caught up with science fiction, and suddenly, there were no more gadgets that could be thought up that weren't already invented. Thus the rapidly expanding genre of science fiction fizzled out in the 1980's, and fantasy novels became the going theme. This is especially true in Young Adult fiction, with JK Rowling and Christopher Paolini proving that the dragon is much more profitable than the space ship, at least by today's kid's standards. With the exception of Star Wars novels, there are very few children's science fiction books these days. It is up to the reading adults to find and republish those books that will inspire today's teenagers to take up the cross of science (sorry, the metaphor was there) and carry it forward into the future.

Arthur C. Clarke (the late, having lived out his many years in Sri Lanka), wrote Dolphin Island early in his career, presumably after a trip to Austrailia, where most of the book takes place. The book is light, with an episodic feel to it. Each chapter throws a problem up to Johnny, the main character, and it is up to him, and the Dolphins, and the scientists on the island to solve them. The book is a great read for boys who like the out of doors, for readers of Gary Paulsen or Jean Craighead George. The book is out of print, but can be easily found online for a reasonable amount. Definitely worth looking into, if you have children or love science fiction. For adults, check out Clarke's Songs of a Distant Earth, which shares in the same theme and feel.


Next up is Coldplay's Viva la Vida, which I'm listening to now.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Economic Irony; The Future of the Bookstore

Economic Ironies: "An old man, turned 98..."

If nothing else has proven the insane way we live, driving some 2 hours to get to work each day, consider my own gas bill. I have a gas card that basically has me pay for all the gas I buy during the month all at one time. Which works for me because I only have to worry about one bill. But, naturally, that bill has gone up over the past month. My normal bill, prior to now, was about $190 (which is high anyway) Now, it came up to $300. The irony of this is that this, plus my education loan (which I used to get a Masters in Education, that I don't use right now), now approximately equals my second paycheck. So, basically, two weeks out of the month I am paying for the gas I put into the car. So if I went nowhere all month long, I would only have to work half the time. (Course, it's more complicated than that, but you get the picture.) Now, suppose that you lived within walking distance of your job... there would be no need to spend money to get to work only to make money. I'd be earning almost a whole other paycheck.

The Book Vending Machine

Let's take the bookstore to it's most modern, technological extreme, and save on electricity, space, payroll, rent, shrink...etc... I've talked for ages about having a vending machine that would spit out books that might in a traditional setting be more likely to be lifted (e-bay is seeing a plethora of goods sold for 50% off, but the result is 100% profit.). It would save on payroll because there would be no need for cashiers. But to be fair, people go to a book store for a more personal touch by employees that know their wares.

But technology cannot be ignored. The free market system will demand to save money by streamlining the bookstore into a modern day marriage of paper and machine. So imagine. A bookstore the size of a wireless phone store, with a slightly larger storage area, so say double that, or more. The store itself would be run by 2 or three individuals, who would assist customers on state of the art computer devices that would show books on a virtual bookshelf. The customers could scan through all the books, much like they would real books, or conversely, books on Amazon, and could read a synopsis, the first chapter, see video interviews with the authors, get reviews from other readers, etc... much like does now. But it would take the place of having the actual books on the shelf. At the front of the store would be a display of the most popular and new books, and one register would be available for those transactions. Further, the next level of popular books (delivered each week by truck, and constantly monitored by computer and by corporate people, could be modified easily, would be stored in the storage areas, which would look much like the record centers of doctors offices. Very well alphabetized, organized and computer placed where you would know that XYZ by John Grisham would be in Shelf B, Row C... It could be retreived by a single employee in no time at all, and the customer would have had ample time to know if they actually wanted it or not by the information on the computer.

But what of CD's or DVD's, or Audiobooks? The answer is simple... computers would be equipped with devices that could burn CD's or DVD's with the correct music, video, or audiobook, and it could be purchased at the computer itself. You could burn individual tracks, or download the mp3's to an ipod via usb ports. This would reduce manufacturing prices, reduce theft, and reduce payroll. This is currently being tried at the Borders Concept Stores, at Ann Arbor and elsewhere. And it would take up very little more room than a table or two, which would save on space and the money it takes to maintain it.

Sure, this isn't a library, where books sit on shelves willing to be flipped through, and the bibliophiles that love the smell of dusty tomes will balk at the idea, but it is the best answer for all the problems that the current bookstore is facing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Adding Points to the Compass.

Driving by churches up and down the way, I have always admired how creative people can get with modifying cliches and other sayings to bring a religious message across. I've even remarked about how some techniques, such as a fake hundred dollar bill with a message on the bottom side, left on a counter or other such place, is remarkably effective. Recently, however, I have found that outright deception is used, and it's not something I approve of, especially when it comes to my place of work.

Recently, I have found bookmarks inside of our copies of Philip Pullman's Golden Compass, that on the one side says "Golden Compass Collectible," and on the other is a tract decrying the philosophies of the book and providing scriptures that go against the plot. Now, while I know that, in the end, God becomes the bad guy, and certainly, to people of Christian faith, the turning of a children's fantasy to a allegory of atheism one would offend, I do not approve of the deceptive use of a bookmark to spread messages against the book itself. If I allowed this, I would just as well let PETA put animal abuse brochures in copies of Old Yeller or have NAMBLA put messages about pedophilia in copies of The Gift of Fear. Borders, and all places that sell or loan books (like libraries) have a policy of anti-censorship. But this goes the other way as well. It would be against our policy to let other groups come in and include their points of view in books that are already here to be sold.

Let them come and stand outside our door and tell people, this book is evil, (which, btw, they didn't do until the movie came out. I read the books some years ago.), or write their own books and sell them alongside, but deceiving people by using a bookmark is wrong and they were subsequently all thrown away.


A short blog. Not one I had anticipated writing, but that's what blogs are for, to provide a medium for journaling, an instant recording of thoughts and feelings when the time arises.


Oh, and who said that it was time to bake Georgia in an oven at 350 degrees.... it was too hot today... I am looking forward to my next days off, when I can go, maybe, to the lake and swim. Hopefully the water is warm enough, and the cars have enough gas .

Friday, June 6, 2008

Webcams, Hot teens, and Youtube: "WHY?"

Recently I was watching the news, and I caught a story about how teenagers were using webcams and cell phones and taking nude pictures of themselves. These pictures would then be traded around to their friends, and eventually, through ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, or through the exhibitionism of the teen, would wind up on the internet on various and sundering websites, usually reserved for pedophiles and the like. The piece was meant to shock parents and other people about the evils of the internet, about the promiscuity of teenagers today, about how wrong everything in today's world actually is. And the news story stopped there.

The problem that this news story does is that it never digs below the surface, to find out the root of the issue. It never lifts the rock to find the things wiggling under the surface. The piece was constructed to link with the moral principles of the viewing public, to shock the Religious Right into seeing just how bad their kids actually are. But it was never made to seek the answer "Why?"

Why is it that teenagers today are doing things that could only be done with the Polaroid camera many years ago. Now, mind, I'm sure that the Polaroid was used for just such practices, but there was no way for every single person on Earth see it afterward. At the most, they might have been floated around at school, or hid under a bed, but usually the people that saw such pictures were people that knew the person in question. Nowadays, with the Internet and its endless capacity to store videos, pictures, sound bites...etc... and with the technology now cheap enough and available enough for every teenager in America to have access to such a device (digital camera, cell phone, camcorder...etc...), it is just a matter of a few mouse clicks and pictures au natural can be floated on the internet for all to see. The anonymity of such an act can be intoxicating, the wide scope of the internet would make one think that even if a picture was posted, no one would see it, because the odds of meeting someone who actually did see it would be astronomical, based on the number of people who view the internet each day and their distance from the person.

Also, the prevalence of porn on the internet, especially those sites of every day "amateurs," like college students, who are paid many dollars to pose (and do other things) makes it so much more acceptable, in the minds of today's teens, to do the same thing.

I do not think that people should be surprised that sexual photos, or even videos, would show up on the internet. We find it normal that videos of violence, accidental or otherwise, comic or otherwise, would show up on places like Youtube and Myspace. What makes people so shocked that sex would not be there just as much as violence is? Anyone can do it, and with the now easy availability of the technology to actually make such photos/videos, inevitability takes over.

(Before I go on, notice that I am not evaluating the moral or religious consequences of the acts, only why and how it's happening. When looking at any issue, it is often valuable to take a look at it from a perspective of a scientist or anthropologist, who would look at the patterns in human society and determine why something is happening, not evaluate the moral implications of the act.)

So availability of technology is one thing, but there's another reason why self-pornography is becoming more and more prevalent.

Neil Postman (see earlier blogs for a series on his work and the application to today's world (he died in the 1980's, well before the Internet became commonplace. Would that he had lived to expound his theories to today's world.)) theorized in The Disappearance of Childhood that the control of information between adults and children is the most important aspect in determining the growth of the child. (The parent raises the child, makes sense.) But in some societies, both historical and presently, that is exactly what does not happen. We are living in a revolutionary time where the amount of information that is available expounds itself quite frequently. There are millions of Terabytes of information (and when I talk about information, I mean anything that we can see, hear, or process through into our brains.) being created and disseminated every day. Televisions shows, radio, music, web sites updated daily, and all being thrown out into the world unedited and unsupervised. Now, if parents were able to intercept all this stimuli, and feed children only what they could process or should process, then the child would have an incremental growing up, where stage by stage they are exposed to the world and all its wonders and horrors. This is called Childhood. But when all the information is thrown at a young human being, and they process it as best they can, but have learned basically everything that an Adult has, they have had no incremental learning, and therefore never have had a childhood at all.

Thus children see Ultimate fighting on tv, and then adults are shocked to see videos of 8 year olds pummeling each other bloody, with their friends all watching. They see sit-coms on television and then become experts at telling off their parents in disrespectful ways. Every parent becomes Homer Simpson or Peg Bundy. They see pornography on the internet and figure, "Why not, I can do it, too." So it should hardly be surprising what is being done in imitation of the adult world. Yet sweeps month comes around and all these shocking stories of girls video taping violent confrontations, or kids trading nude pictures of each other, are shown with "shock and awe," to prime-time viewers every night.

So I'm saying that all children should be blocked from TV and Internet until their 18 years old, and we should all home school our children...etc... No, of course not. I have no answer to the issue at hand, and as for an ethical conversation, that is for the individual to have with his or her family, with himself, and with God.

One opinion that I will give is that the people who produced the piece should be educated enough to be familiar with Postman's theories, and to realize that a lot of the acts that go on in today's world are simply imitations of the information given out by the media. Perhaps this is left out intentionally, because there is nothing that will attract people to the Internet or to TV more than sex and violence, and the advertising that goes along with it. To influence our shopping habits and to direct our lives is too tempting not to report on all aspects of a story, including the ones that might implicate the media itself. I think it's necessary, nevertheless, to know why an issue is important, to see how it effects my life and the lives of those around me, and to be able to look at all sides of an issue. If we are to simply accept what goes on in the world around us as inevitable, let us at least know why something is happening, so that we can change it if we need to.


[Addendum to this blog, as I don't know where to fit it in. Perhaps one reason why teenagers find no problem in posting pictures of a risque fashion on the internet is because they are self-absorbed enough not to understand the implications of such an act. I found it interesting that a critic for the movie Cloverfield described the twenty-somethings living in New York City as the Myspace Generation (see my blog on that review). It is ironic that the main video camera of that movie was a digital camcorder, much like the ones teens use today to place stuff on Youtube or Myspace. Also, note that for some reason, I found very little sympathy for the deaths of those teens as the monster attacked the city. I find it ironic that with the increase in social networks, in public exposure to everyone's private lives, that it actually is de-personalizing us, making us just one more character in a movie, one more red-shirted ensign to be slaughtered by an alien presence. I think honestly, if we are to have a social network, it should be done in person, away from the computers and the cell phone texting. It amazes me what people say to each other on these networks, calling each other all sorts of names, which, if said in real life, would result in a black eye. But here, on the Internet, all things are anonymous, and fleeting, even if they will stay in electronic databases for as long as the mainframes survive. There are some databases that have recorded Usenet conversations and arguments back some 20 years. I would not be surprised if I could find what I said to people on the Monkees News groups back when I was a freshman in College. So while the internet might be anonymous, and fleeting, it does remember everything, and it takes a little searching by the right people to uncover it. ]


Oh, and on a personal note, I just mowed a third of our backyard, which I do once a year whether it needs it or not. :)