Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Observations on Attending a High School Football Game

It's odd, standing inside your own microcosm, glaring out into the world, onto the football stadium where once stood a collection of pine trees under which the students would sneak away and smoke their cigarettes.  My mom and I decided to attend the Heritage High School vs. Salem High football game on 8/27/10, and out of it came very interesting observations.  It would be a sociologists dream, to look upon the whys and wherefores of this unusual gathering of children, teenagers, adults...etc... to witness a sporting event that, I am convinced, very few people cared little about.  Or maybe that's just my opinion transferred to them.

First off, the paying of tickets.  $7.00 for adults, and probably less for the students (maybe $5?).  The adults pay for their seats (unless they stood), but I wonder, with all the students in the stadium, the ones not sitting in the student section with their shirts off and red white and blue paint slathered all over themselves, did they actually pay to get into the game?  Couldn't they have just hopped a fence, or circled around the baseball field or the like, to slip in and enjoy the general fracas without paying money?  I probably think so.  I don't think that students would have wanted to pay money just to see a football game that, no matter how much pride one takes in winning against a county rivalry (and believe me, that would be a lot), that the actual football game would be worth paying that much for.  Or if they did, was it more for the social aspect of the game as the game itself?

I observed a distinct lack of attention being centered on the football game, and more on the people around them.  It became a social event, with the eyes as much focused backward as forward, toward the bazillions of silly bands on people's wrists, or slyly looking at the short lengths of girls shorts (if you want to call them that), than what play was actually called on the field.  These students see each other in the school all the time, and with lunchtime and between classes (and in classes, in most cases), they should have a ton of time to socialize without having to come back to school on a Friday night to see some game.  Wouldn't it have been just as much fun hanging out outside the McDonald's with the cars and teenagers than going to a sporting event where they know there will be tons of police officers around?  And yet, there they all were, mostly jubilant, laughing, carrying on, and having a good time.  I guess it is my own lack of social skills that made me think that a football game was just that, something to witness and watch, not a social activity around which the noise of the game occasionally filtered.  

The adults were very little different, talking more to their friends and family around them than watching the game.  This, however, I understand.  That $7.00 is a fair price to pay to convene at a certain spot and socialize outside of work and home.  There are very few places in this world for adult men and women to socialize.  I think that is the overall pull of churches and bars, as they are places you can talk to people who are not your co-workers.  The people around you have similar interests, be it religion or wine, and can share opinions about those things.  Usually, even in church, it centers around sports.  The evaluations of the defense or offensive line, the criticism of the coaches and of the team in general.  All of this is routinely discussed while nursing a beer, or a Bible.  But at a High School Football game, aside from roast coach every now and again, the talk seems to center on the children, which college they are going to, what scholarships they have, and nevermind the marching band or the football game going on.  That they see the scoreboard and cheer at the appropriate times is enough. 

And then there was the rain.  The clouds that built ever so slowly as the game went on, during the pleasant warm, but not hot, summer evening.  Until, after the sun had set and the clouds were merely blocking the moon and stars, it started to rain.  Hard.  A brief outburst that had the effect of sending everyone that had not graduated yet into a fit of hysterics.  And not because they were getting wet, as they minded that very little.  It was, I think, because they could.  It was permissible to clog up the pathways out of the stadium, stampeding like so many cattle out to someplace where they would be no less dry, but so much more chaotic.  The push out of the stadium became like some contagious disease, but not met with fear, but with laughter.  They enjoyed trampling over each other to reach some unknown destination.  They yelled and screamed and undoubtedly cursed, but laughed and smiled while doing it.  It was almost as if they paid (or didn't) to ramble around in the stadium until that very moment, when the inevitable rainstorm would vomit them out, with a pressure and a rush that was expected, yet surprising at the same time.  My mom and I stayed in the stadium until it started lightning, and then we made the slow track around the high school back to our car.  Heritage, where I graduated from, won the game, 24-7, but only after a 90 minute lightning delay, and in front of an empty stadium, because everyone had gone home.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Mosque in Manhattan

Try this interview style:

So, you've heard all about this mosque they're trying to build at the site of the 9/11 attack.  Everyone's all divided about it. What's you're opinion?

It's a non-issue. When both sides are right, it loses importance. And before you get all unrighteous about it, let's pretend that it is an issue and examine it.  Often, it's in the why's that the real issue is seen. 

Of course it's important! It's the Muslims versus the Christians! It's about all the people who were effected during the 9/11 attacks! How can you....

Imagine there are two people, Christian, and Islam, and they are playing a gigantic game of Risk, with the world being the board. Rewind time, and it becomes obvious that this game has been going on for centuries, with smaller players being taken over, absorbed, or demolished, until there is only a few main players left.  Christian, Islam, Judaism, India, and China. The State trumps religion every now and then (see the Soviet Union a Century ago), but eventually, it all comes down to the forces of belief in the afterlife.  And that's where the mistake is made.

Humans have always wanted to join the winning side. To be the one with the control, power, money, influence. And there's no greater influence than controlling one's spot in eternity.  That's where "religion" comes in.  We have to take "religion" and deconstruct it, to take it apart to its elements, and then the real issue will be seen.  The problem with "religion" is that it is too often seen as a synonym for "church."  A large gathering of people who believe in basically the same thing when it comes to a supernatural being we call "God" and His ability to conquer death, sending us to an afterlife of pleasure or pain, depending on the moralities involved.  Those rules are spelled out in a conglomeration of writings that is called The Bible (or in other religions, The Quaran, The Torah,....etc..) In interpreting those rules, and in imposing others, the leaders of that gathering formed a "church," with social, political, and economical power.  It's those powers that started playing the game of Risk long ago, with the belief that spreading the view of the afterlife prevalent within that group was the goal of the game. In other words, taking over the world. 

So, in this present turn of the giant game, the Islam character has attacked the Christian character and is about to place a piece in the middle of one of his cities, right next to the place where they struck.  It is a victory for Islam.

So you're saying they're doing it on purpose?

Of course they are.  I don't think it's necessary to hide true intentions in the middle of altruistic reasons.  Let's take the Christian character.  In the 1500's, Spanish conquerors brought armadas of troops to the New World, the Americas, in search of gold, slaves, trade, power...etc... Oh, and the spread of Roman Catholicism to the unsaved masses.  The Aztecs, the Incas, Native Americans.  All of these reasons were important, and the spread of religion was a justifying factor.  So when military generals ordered Roman Catholic churches to be built atop Mesoamerican worship sites, it was to vanquish the other religions and to gain power over that area.  The RC church did the exact same thing that the Muslims did when they took over Jerusalem, or when they decided to build a mosque right next to Ground Zero.  It's all the same thing.  Forces playing a game, fighting for power, while the actual religion takes a back seat to the followers' own ambition. 

So they can't make the Mosque at that location?

I'm not saying that.  Rudy Giuliani said in an interview on Fox News Sunday that the Imam who is trying to build the mosque has every right to do so.  He owns the building, has the proper permits.  There's no reason he can't build it.  

What I am saying, if you'd quit interrupting me, is that when you deconstruct religion, you find that, at the heart of it, is God, and you.  The essence of what we believe in is our relationship with our creator.  Thus, what other people do in the name of their religion means very little.  It's what we do for our own relationship with God that matters.  That's why I say it's a non-issue, this whole mosque building thing. It doesn't matter to me, and it shouldn't for anyone else. If the victims of the 9/11 attack were to look at the Bible, and to their relationship with God, they would "turn the other cheek," as it were.  Then it ceases to mean anything to build a Muslim worship center on Ground Zero, and a compromise could be easily worked out.  Except for the fact that there would be no news, no strife, which is what today's 24/7 news channels need. 

There was a very easy solution to all this, if the powers that be would have done it, so many years ago.  It should have been very easy to purchase the buildings surrounding the attack site following 9/11.  I would have thought that property values would have gone down in the area, what with condemned buildings and all.  I might be wrong.  If they had wanted to create a monument to the people killed, they could have easily done so.  But they didn't.  They squabbled and fought and drug their feet, and so now, some 10 years afterward, nothing has been done.  I think they almost wanted to leave it in ruins to keep the wound open, to keep the anger flowing.  It is a more potent force than homage and peace.  It is the same thing that the Japanese did in Hiroshima, leaving a structure untouched as a reminder of those events.  To me, progress, moving forward, building again and prospering is so much more effective than letting the mind wander in the torturous halls of the past. 

Thus the free market system had a hand in all that transpired, and what is to come.  The Christian organizations could have bought that building long ago, but they didn't.  The site that was the WTC could have already been rebuilt and all this would be bunk.  But it didn't.  And since we're talking about free market, let's make the WTC site profitable.  And balanced.  Build a Christian church (the Protestants and the RC can share), a Synagogue, and then build the WTC reborn in the middle, with restaurants and retail and all the things that makes America what it is today. Everyone can eat, pray, and love, all in the same place. 

Because, in the end, the answer is that everyone is right. Or at least, to us, it should be.  Let the Muslims bow to the east, let the Jews follow their traditions, and let the Christians continue to break bread. And we'll all worship our own God and believe in Him. To me, I could care less what other people believe.  I have my own relationship with God, and if I'm right, then that's great.  If they are, then that's good too.  No one has to be wrong or damned or destroyed because of what they believe in.  Leave that up to God. He's got the power to strike us down, not some silly Terrorist in a plane.  And getting all riled up because a Muslim leader decides that he can press our buttons by building a church on top of where some other Muslims attacked our country, well, it's just not necessary.  In fact, it's just what we shouldn't do.  Do what the Bible says.  Turn the other cheek. By forgiving and making it a non-issue, we've already won. I think God would think so, anyway.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Step Into the Rain....Leave the GPS at Home.

I honestly think that if Darwin saw us today, he would be in shock about how we have reversed natural selection. Through technology. Through science. We've actually made it possible for us all to be weaker and still survive. An example: I was helping a customer at Borders a few days ago. We did not have the book they were looking for, but after checking with the Snellville store, straight north of our location, I told them that they had it. Snellville is absolutely straight north of us, with no turns off of Turner Hill Road (124) until you reach the store. 20 minutes, tops. The customer then asked me for an address so that they could program it into their GPS system. It really made no sense to me why they would need their GPS to go in a straight line. But directions for people seem to be one of the things that we've lost as technology has improved. Many years ago, when sailors guided ships through unknown seas to islands that could have easily (and were, sometimes) missed, they took accurate and dependable navigations using a sextant, the sun, moon, and stars. Or pioneers, who used landmarks, rivers, mountains, etc... to find their way to distant posts. I often do the same thing, when my memorizing of maps (you know, the paper ones, or at the very least, a good look at Google Maps) fails me. I always seem to know the direction to wherever it is I need to go. Atlanta makes it easy that way. As long as you head in any direction, you will eventually hit an interstate, which will take you home...etc... It's easy. But people are scared of the unknown. Scared of what will take them away from someone holding their hands. They should switch off their GPS systems and rely on their brains. Much like Luke Skywalker did in Star Wars. And besides, it will keep your car from being broken into and your GPS stolen.

It's the paradox of technology that interests me, the pull toward timidity, a lack of vision, a lack of drive, even as the advances we have so creatively constructed pull us forward. We are fastly becoming slaves to the mechanical men around us. Take for instance the calculator, and subsequent inventions of doing math electronically. Now, at retail stores, it is quite impossible for cashiers to actually do the math of giving out change in their heads. In some instances, the registers even hand out the change for them. If one were to take the monitors offline and force everyone to give back change by simply adding back to the customer, I doubt that anyone could do it. The reliance on technology has become too great. I once was in a McDonalds in Virginia. It was a band trip to Washington DC, and so the great busses filled with hungry instrumentalists filed into the golden arches after having watched way too many movies on the DVD screens above the heads of each traveler (of which I wanted to take baseball bats to the screens, but that's another rant). We went in and saw that they had just installed monitors on each of the registers, so that the people getting the orders could see what each person ordered. So, instead of using their brains and memorizing the order, getting the fries, drink, and burger all at once, they got the fries....then looked at the monitor... then got the drink....then looked at the monitor...then got the burger.... well... you get the idea. Each order took at least 10 minutes to do. It was the most ill-run restaurant I'd ever been in, and I'm convinced it was due to the new monitors that
made it unnecessary for the workers to actually use their brains.

How many people could even estimate percentage off. Who could figure out the problems with a computer or Air Conditioning, figure out how to troubleshoot it? I'm sure that the service operators at Dell or HP must get the most asinine calls, since the troubleshooting manuals talk about the most simple of problems: Is your Computer not coming on at all? Solution: Have you plugged in the power cord? I loved the AC unit manual, which suggested that if the Air Conditioner wasn't running, that we might not have plugged it in, or turned it on. There is so sense anymore when it comes to dealing with technology or figuring out even the most mundane things about life in one's head. We need some sort of machine to do it for us. I don't doubt the novels of Isaac Asimov, when the world of robots would someday become as smart as us, and, instead of being the servants, would actually be the rulers. It makes the Terminator world seem not so far off, although I seriously doubt if any of us are intelligent enough to create such mechanical marvels.

One of my associates, Jeremy, told me about a time when he went to the grocery store, and when he arrived, it was raining fairly hard. He was greeted with the sight of quite a few customers standing outside the store, groceries already bagged, waiting for the rain to end. They just didn't want to get wet. They seemed frightened, as if they were cats. Jeremy got out of the car and went into the store, resulting in quite a few incredulous stares. With all of life that's going on around them, and they don't want to get wet? We are in Oz, and the people around us are combinations of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion. Most of all, they are too dumb to step out into the rain.

So what am I saying? Well, for one, I've seen too many people paralyzed at the thought of using a piece of technology. I know people who look at an ATM machine and just stare blankly at it, or cringe at using a digital camera. On the flip side, there are the people who are so dependent on their technology that they are enslaved to it. It's time we stopped cowering in fear from the Frankensteins we have created and start being their masters. We have made these wonders of science in order to progress further from them, like steps up some imaginary flight of stairs. We should also master the natural things in this world, and not be afraid of a little rainstorm. Should we get a little wet, well, that's what umbrellas are for, or if nothing else, we should get wet in order to see the sun shine again, or the rainbow filtering through the clouds. We must find our place in this world, in harmony with the natural things as well as the technological. God gave us all this that we might prosper and develop... let us make use of it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Empty Things

I talked about memories in the last blog, the tastes of foods and the smells of the chlorine water wafting up from the indoor pool at the college, filling the air with a warm humid touch (well, I would have had I wanted to). We all have those memories, things we pasted into our brains as children. Places that I visited often as a child, that once seemed magnificent and wonderful, now seem mundane. I remember going to Crossroads Mall in Oklahoma City with my grandmother (my dad's mom, Mema. My other grandmother couldn't stand shopping). It used to be one of the biggest malls in the nation, 9th I think, at one point. The glass ceiling arched overhead, as if some artificial sky, keeping us dry and warm. The small fountains that surrounded the stairs and escalators, moving in a single file line, like ants, toward the magnificent plume of a fountain in the middle of the mall. Where coins would be thrown, and wishes made, and the water would tower up to the second floor before hurtling downwards. The McDonald's food always seemed better there (imagine, a McDonald's! inside a mall!). The long rows of clothing stores and other chain establishments meant nothing, really. It was the size of the place. It was the toy isles at Montgomery Wards or maybe Toys R Us just outside the mall. What a gigantic cathedral to human consumerism, exalted and revered.

And later, in college days at Milledgeville, GA, our friends would go to nearby Macon, where the Macon Mall was the largest in the state. You had to walk through J.C. Penny to get to the other side of the mall. It had a Disney store (much to the glee of Brandy, one of my friends that always drug us along), and a full parking deck which made it easy to go through the Parisian's door, past the green manikins, a sip at the water fountain, and into the mall itself, toward EB or Waldenbooks. How many days when, a year or two after, I would arrive in Macon for my classes, and, depressed from being in those classes, would run to EB and purchase any number of Magic the Gathering cards to take up time in the classes, as purchasing them made me feel better. And then eating at the Applebee's across the street. Always Fajitas. It was a destination, an evenings outing, with maybe a movie at the end. How special those days were. How long ago in times of economic prosperity. And now, both malls stand vacant, as empty shells of human happiness, echoing through the shelves of closed shops.

My family went to the Macon Mall a week or so ago, to meet up with relatives driving to South Carolina from Texas. After our breakfast at Waffle House, we drove around the mall, now filled more with a police precinct and armed forces recruiters than shoppers. There were entire sections of the mall without stores, and it made me sad, that the once vibrant structure was now so still. It reminded me of the day I drove around Dekalb County, handing out fliers for Teacher Appreciation Day at Borders, and finding on my outdated map schools, and then driving to see them boarded up and empty on days when they should be alive with children. What if one of my schools became that way?

Upon returning home, I wondered, what would become of those malls that are now afflicted with the economic downturn? So, upon doing research, I found Deadmalls.com, a site that keeps tabs on empty shopping malls. I looked back at Oklahoma's list, and was shocked to find Crossroads on there as well. It was dying a slow death just like Macon was. What would we do with these now slumbering giants?

For most malls, I would use them as I have seen in my dreams before. Let's turn them into Community-based learning centers, much like the Forums in Ancient times. Take the Macon Mall, for instance. The Macon mall has three colleges nearby (Macon Tech, Macon State, and Mercer). Combined with the Bibb Co. school system and the private schools which are a big part of the county, the Macon mall could be refit to house classrooms, conference rooms, lecture halls, as well as shops and restaurants that would make it financially profitable. The main anchor stores could be gutted and made into athletic centers and gymnasiums, and the outside area could be landscaped to allow for park space and outdoor activities. Now, of course, with the economic state as it is, this probably isn't possible right now, but it might be doable in Oklahoma for some of those malls (there's one in Midwest City that is dying.) They could also be used to house vocational and technical classes that could teach the unemployed to learn new skills to become more competitive in today's market. I've always felt a need to have someplace in a community where people can continue their education, much as the old opera houses and lecture halls were in the 1800's. Some place that Emerson or Thoreau would feel at home in, or even perhaps Plato, debating philosophy inside a comfortably A/C'd building. It's simply a dream of mine, but maybe one day it will happen. There are too few centers of education and culture in the world these days. Perhaps in the world of empty shopping malls and vacant boxes, one can be constructed.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hidden Things

Nostalgia lurks within many things.  The irresistible pull of the past, like some giant electromagnet, it always brings us back to those memories, through smells or tastes or actions, things that we did before so many years ago.  The taste of a Hardees' Hot Ham & Cheese on a winters day after church.  Now that was a memory, and all the more poignant when the empty shells of Hardees restaurants now filled with Pawn shops or Chinese establishments.  We savor the foods of our childhood not because of exquisite tastes, but rather because of the memories of long ago.  It's what makes Braum's, a fast food chain (oh, but so much more than that!) in Oklahoma and Texas, such an amazing place to eat.  It had the best of everything. 

Such was a similar feeling when I sat down at my computer and pulled up a game from PopCap, Escape from Whisper Valley.  It is a Hidden Object game, where a thin story line brings together scenes in which is hidden different things (a hat, a cat, a vase, a comb...etc...) for you to find.  The game could call for finding 3 birds, one of which is flying in the sky, the other drawn into a painting, and one an origami folded swan.  Or it might call a future butterfly, in which you would find a caterpillar.  Some games of this ilk are better than others, and this particular game is one of the best I've played.  It also takes me back to looking through the pages of Highlights magazine and finding the Hidden Pictures page.  Although it's a magazine for children, the Hidden Pictures activity is extremely difficult.  I remember, as a child, looking through the pages, bit by bit, trying to find the hidden toothbrush, the bird...etc... Sometimes I would have my grandmother with me and we'd look together for them. 

Of course, now finding the hidden things, the needle in haystacks, is what I do.  I find the hidden book by Anne Tyler misplaced with Tolstoy.  The top corner of a magazine amongst all the others.  The unwrapped Playboy hidden behind the Kids bibles.  It's what I do.  And the Dopamine levels that a found object projects is what makes it a great job to do.  A researcher who finds a long lost article that proves his thesis is as to be ecstatic over his find as me catching a sought for book out of the corner of my eye.  In fact, it's the same brain chemical response.  It is the natural Prozac that is created just by finding something.  It's what makes the Hidden Object games such as Escape from Whisper River so addicting, because so many people cannot find the things they seek for in life.  Whether it be their keys or their lost birth certificate or true happiness.  It's the hope that, in finding something, we will discover something truly hidden from us. 

I looked over what I just wrote, and realized that I started with one theme and switched to another.  But, as I looked at it, the theme is the same.  Sensory recall, the bringing up to the surface a memory and a feeling from the depths of the subconscious mind, from the great rooms of filing cabinets that store all memories somewhere in the brain.  That, in fact, results in the same Dopamine release as finding that long lost toy under the bed.  And there's nothing like the smell and taste of a Hardees Hot Ham and Cheese to do that.  The warm comfortable foods that we eat, or the smells that remind us of our grandmother's kitchens.  We find something in each sensory touch.  It's an amazing feeling.  It brings us to a place where we were once happy and secure, loved maybe, and we can feel the remnants of it for a short time, before looking for the next needle. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Holes of Glory....

 I read, some time ago, a book by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, called The Light of Other Days, in which scientists learned how to create wormholes in space, ones big enough to send light and sound waves through. And with minuscule cameras, almost any place in the world, and at any time (for wormholes can penetrate any of the four traditional dimensions, including time), there was no place or time that was private. It changed the world, in astounding ways. Modesty and privacy went out the window. So did fraud, deception, lying. In the book, it became normal to see two people, of any sex, to copulate in a park, out in the open. Nudity, drugs, etc... all became normal, because none of it was forbidden any longer. It couldn't be. With the cheapness of a device that could create such a wormhole, children, adults, anyone, could go and see anything. It is surely the end of childhood, as Neil Postman talked about in his book (see my other blog entries). As you can see, this fundamentally would change the entire foundation of society. An amazing work from an amazing author.

So what have we now, in this reality, that is the same as this? Obviously, there are cameras everywhere. From webcams to cell phone cameras, There are holes that allow us to see into the personal lives of everyone around us. Even without cameras, the social websites allow us to see what is going on in people's lives, whether we want them to or not. Because of Facebook, it is easy to keep track of most of my friends, on a daily basis. Not that I want to, of course, but Facebook has changed the way that people look at their daily lives. There is no reason not to let people know that I put too much basil in my tomato soup, or that one of my friends changed the carpet in her house. I can be witness to the everyday lives of the people that subscribe to the social networking site. And it's amazing...  I've always wondered, when the people go inside and shut their doors, what they do. I've always wanted to be a little fly and sit on people's shoulders, follow them throughout their day, participate in their daily lives. I think that's what I'd do if I were invisible (Clay Aiken song title not referenced). I'd see what people do in their own lives.

But the wondrous thing about the internet, about cell phone cameras...etc... is that, in some respects, people allow us to see inside of their own houses, inside their lives, and give us a glimpse of what life could be like, if we were someone else. What if I wasn't me, if I lived by myself, if I wasn't overweight, if I was sexy, if I had lots of money...etc... I could be this, or this, or even this. You see what I mean. And I think it's good, for people, to let others look at the reality of their lives, because it gives you options, if you work hard enough, that it could be your life, too. There are worlds far beyond your front door, and the Internet can, if only for a snapshot, let us see what those worlds are.