Sunday, November 29, 2009

White Chocolate Oreos and other Abominations

Now anyone that says "White Chocolate Oreos" would immediately start salivating, and one would think that I would too. White Chocolate, I am convinced, is what God sent down to the Israelites for Mana. So when I had a little extra cash, I went out and bought me a box of White Chocolate covered Oreos and took them home to the apartment I lived in at the time (2000, I think.) One of the essential properties of the Oreo is its dunkability. In fact, the true glorious flavor of the Oreo only appears once it is almost saturated with milk. It is this fact that made me react in dismay and horror when I realized that, because of the White Chocolate covering, the Oreos I had bought couldn't be dunked!!. They were useless to me, and being thus dismayed, I did dispose of the vile food posthaste. It is one of the rules of the Oreo that it must be dunked in Milk, and so if I can't do that, it isn't an Oreo, and therefore, is of no use to me.


Stonecrest Mall, now adorned for Christmas, is ready for the throngs of people that will venture down its hallways, with the walls echoing the screaming children who think that leaving every store must be accompanied by him or her getting a toy or candy or whatever. But this I have ranted about for years. And as they ascend the escalators from the bottom floor, they will see that the rungs are not black, but orange, and there are advertisements of AT&T wireless cell phone plans covering escalators.

They will put advertisements on anything nowadays. The 1st and 10 lines on football shows, they sell commercial space on pregnant women's stomachs, etc... and it's a good thing, I guess, although how you would have commercials constantly bombarding you and have it make any impact whatsoever. But it does, in some cerebral way. So lets put advertisements on everything... star cases, light poles, walls, toilet seats (this toilet was brought to you by Scotts Toilet Paper!!!!), Airbags (by Allstate!), you could even have bullets have the names of local Funeral Homes! Hey, it would be effective, wouldn't it?

I want to lament the recent downfall of Sting's career as a singer. Sting's past albums have been a mix of amazing songwriting and performing (Soul Cages, Brand New Day) and banal albums of pop nothingness (Mercury Falling, Sacred Love). His live performance on 9/11, entitled All this Time, was a brilliant mix of Jazz and pop, and should have been followed with a Jazz album that would have been wonderful. But, alas, this is Sting, who has decided that medeval bard singing is where he wants to go. The latest "Winter" album has a couple of good tracks ("Soul Cake", for one, based on "A'Soulin'" by Paul Stookey of PPM fame), but the rest are performances of old English folk songs droned into a mic for no other audience but himself. And that's okay, I guess, since he has the money and can release albums however he wants to. And he is a performer, and an artist, and can create what he feels he should, but it would be nice to hear the complex lyrics and compositions that made Sting a constant on my Mp3 player.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reviews: Maze Runner, Bill Gaither in a Box.

The Maze Runner, by James Dashner, gave me the impression that I was in the middle of a web, with all these other books and authors, all well known and famous for contributions to literature, surrounding Dashner's work. And this from an author who graduated from Duluth High school here in Georgia and is currently writing this second series. He also has written The Thirteenth Reality, which I will be sure and investigate. The book itself deals with a boy, Thomas, who regains consciousness and finds himself in a box with these other boys, who live, eat, and sleep, all to solve the mystery of the gigantic maze around them. Watching Thomas grow in the story reminded me of Bilbo, in The Hobbit, as he finds the talents and maturity he needs to become an essential part of the tale.

Dashner has a great, staccato writing style that fits in with the teenagers that fill the story. The timing is acceptable, for the most part, except at the very end, where the last chapters are rushed, almost as if there was a page limit for the book. I've always felt that there comes a moment in a book where you have to look around and sigh at a place where the protagonist is content with his world, and so are you. It's a place you don't want to leave, but yet, if you didn't, there wouldn't be a story. It's much like life. If you are in a content place all your life, you don't really have one. And any biography you might write wouldn't sell a copy. I sort of wish that Dashner had prolonged this part of the tale just a bit, so that we might languish in his world.

I kept thinking about Gary Paulsen's The Transall Saga at this point, watching Thomas evolve into a skilled hunter and survivor. And Paulsen does let the reader stay in a place for a little while before moving on. Also, and this is said in other reviews, the fight of a sustained group of boys trying to establish a culture, a system of governance, is much like Golding's Lord of the Flies. Except for these prisioners, the island has a purpose, as Thomas finds out. One of the characters, Chuck, reminds me of Piggy, as well.

But the main novel I thought about as I read it was Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. If you enjoy reading Card, then this is a great read. I'm only giving it 4 stars (of 5) because the ending was rushed, and I didn't agree with some of the plot line. But as it is a series, the next book should resolve some of my issues with it.

Gaither Vocal Band Concert, Augusta, GA.

I put in Augusta, because it's a very large part of the journey. I don't think I ever said how much I hate driving. It's almost an unbearable task, one that is necessary because you can't get anywhere without doing it. And Augusta is 2 hours from Conyers, down a long, straight, boring road, with nothing but trees to look at and Police cars to watch out for. And that was what save me from going to sleep (I can easily go to sleep just driving to the grocery store, especially not without music or talk radio or an audiobook or something. I have to keep that corner of my brain occupied, or, if it becomes bored, it'll find the nearest place to activate itself, namely, in my dreams, which it tries to accomplish by putting me asleep.). Because we hadn't looked at the tickets until after we had left, and it was an hour and a half to the start of the concert. So I concentrated on going as fast as I could while watching for signs of Crown Vics with lights on top. :) And to tell you the truth, going 90 down the interstate feels pretty good. Gets the adrenaline pumping.

The James Brown Arena (formerly the Augusta-Richmond County Civic center) was built in 1974, in a time when domed stadiums and arenas were built to withstand massive hurricanes and were made as boxed-like as possible. Therefore, the arena was one big box with seats almost vertically to the ceiling. Did I mention how much I hate stairs? It reminds me of the Superdome in New Orleans, but shrunk in the wash. At least the Georgia Dome is comfortable.

I've been to many Gaither Concerts in my days with my mom. My job is to drive to/from the place, and be the photographer. I take pictures of my Mom and _____. Then we get the pictures developed and then signed the next time we go to a concert. The music is good, for the most parts, and it's easy to know when to take potty breaks. Some groups are better than others.

The one thing that struck me as interesting this trip were the people around us. Augustians sitting near us had never been to a Gaither Homecoming concert before. They were mainly older folks, with the unmistakable look of being country people for most of their lives, and their parents' lives as well. And that's okay, for the friendliness and devotion to God is very prevalent in the audience. (As a side note, the people at the Arena need to hire better ushers. It certainly helps if they are literate, and not half blind.)

It got me to wondering. Where are the young fans of Southern Gospel music? When the youth of today pass on their musical heritage, will it only be the music of Madonna, U2, and MC Hammer that they remember? Will folk music die out all together, with no one humming "Leavin' on a Jet Plane" some thirty years from now, when Mary Travers is but an entry on Wikipedia? The honest answer is, I'm not sure.

I do know, however, that groups like Ernie Haase & Signature Sound and the Gaither Vocal band are doing their best to promote traditional Southern Gospel music to today's generation. And it's working. Among the people performing on the stage that night was a boy singer named Logan Smith. His Myspace page says he's from Covington, and enjoys Southern Gospel music to the extent that he can sing most any song in the canon. He has traveled with the Gaither group on the Alaskan Cruise, and sings at many churches here in Georgia. His favorite songs are those sung by the late Vestal and Howard Goodman. He sounds just like them, even better than my impressions of them. I was impressed. It also showed that Southern Gospel music has the ability to attract those of the younger generations, and thereby seccuring the genre to a healthy following in years to come. Now if only Folk music could find such saviors.

One of the Gaither Vocal Band's greatest songs is "I Then Shall Live," which was written by Gloria Gaither to the tune of "Finlandia," (done by Jean Sibelius, a Finnish Nationalist). As great as "Amazing Grace" is, it never ceases to amaze me how much Christians define themselves as "wretched." Pride becomes a deadly sin. There's no need for us to whip ourselves with cat-o-nine tails as punishment for sins that we have already been forgiven for. In Gloria Gaither's lyrics, she paints a Christian as one who, having been forgiven, can now live a proud life of one who knows the virtuous ways of living and celebrates that by spreading that joy to other people. It's a remarkable song, and one that the GVB and EH&SS do as an anthem to the positive force that Christians can do for this world, if they are not bogged down in political power grabs, hypocrisy, and bringing about condemnation to the people of this world whom they are supposed to love and support.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Trick or Treating, Purgatory, and the Gates of Hell

"What's it gonna be, Pops. The candy, or your front window?" Paul Stookey spoke those words in the 1960's, and they still ring true today. I've had friends on the social sites complain about the reactions that they had with children going "trick or treating" through their neighborhoods. Complaining about the amount of candy, "only one?!?," or even having the parents do the trick or treating for the children (who probably remain safe and sound in the car, away from the evil grips of all the child molesters that live in every house.) The spirit of Halloween has been completely dispersed from the holiday itself. It's been replaced, much as it has at the Yuletide season, with commercialism, greed, and a sense of "entitlement."

We are playing a CD on the overhead system this week, Sting's If On a Winter's Night, and track 2 is called "Soul Cake." That track, called "A'Soulin," is also on the Peter, Paul, and Mary album. The idea of Trick or Treating, from amongst other cultural traditions, comes from the Great Britain celebration of A'Soulin' on All Soul's Day, November 1st. On that night, the children go around, singing the song the PP&M performed, and ask for fruit, bread, candy, coins...whatever, as homage to ancestors, loved ones, that have passed on and entered Purgatory. Each eaten "Soul Cake," a bread specifically for that day, represents a loved one leaving Purgatory and entering Heaven.

So trick or treating, at least, through this cultural origin, is a religious ritual. The candy represents lost loved ones. Yet in this country, Halloween is just an excuse to get sweets. To feed hyper children and then send them to school the next day to drive the teachers nuts, or to let the blood sugar rise and drop and then they sleep the whole day. Whichever. But the problem is that children now feel that they are "supposed" to get candy on that night. That anyone who doesn't give you candy, or in enough quality, that you have someone insulted them. They have this feeling of "entitlement." And, it's the same feeling of entitlement that kids feel when they go to Walmart and feel they have to get a toy. Or later, when they grow up, the feeling of entitlement that they have to have Health Care. As for me, I would much rather get a job, go the store, and get my own bag of candy.

Book Review: John Connolly's Gates

This is a book that tries to be for young adults what The Book of Lost Things was for adults. But it doesn't quite reach the character development or the lyricism of Connolly's first fantasy work. It reminds me quite a bit of the Lemony Snicket books, in that it sounds as if an adult book writer is trying to write for kids, giving them a wink wink sarcasm while talking down to them.
Overall, the characters are agreeable, the flow works, and it was a decent read.

The plus I will give him is that he went into Quantum and String Theory quite well, and fused science (the multiverse) with religion (the idea that Hell actually exists in a Multiverse dimension.). The combination of the two will enthrall and challenge readers to think of the two in a totally different way, and will wind up being talked about in Sunday School classes, at least, I hope. It is a perfect spring board for someone to begin finding out for themselves about God and Science...etc...

I hope that, in the next book, he does the same for Heaven, since the book leaves that part out. If Connolly personifies Satan in this book, he cannot leave out the personification of his opposite. And there are plenty of characters in that world, Angels, for instance, that can make a Nurd like character, and work very palpably.