Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Insular Worlds and School Shootings

A Facebook post, in which A. got annoyed with the amount of posts that seemed to show that people really just didn't care about the recent school shooting in Newtown, CT.  The postings I have seen have been basically pictures of angels, and of the children themselves, or posts supporting or being against (mostly against) gun control as a method of curbing future shooters from getting guns in the first place.  The feeling is more that if the rest of us have guns, those that want to use them for violence won't get very far.  Sort of a cold war Nuclear race type idea.  But most posts after this have been about life as it has gone for years, past and future, and A. is annoyed because it seems like no one cares.  My thoughts were to figure out if there was any support to this.  A.'s post in italics.

A: Y'know, MOST of my FB friends are thoughtful and considering in posting their comments during a time of seemingly unremitting bad news. And I'm hesitant to even post this, since the majority of those people are, allegedly, adults. There are a few, though, who seem to be living in their own little worlds, oblivious to anything and everything that falls outside of their self-contained insular nests. To those of you who fall into that latter category, here's a word of advice: when there is a mass murder, involving mostly innocent children, a crime so heinous that it throws the entire civilized world into shock and mourning, then no one gives a damn about the movie you just saw, your love of computers, the new color scheme of your bathroom, cutsie cards/posters, or your gaming passion. Not to be too preachy about it, but save that crap for another time. The rest of us will be OK without it.
I agree with you, to some extent. That's a complicated matter, as escapism is a tool people use to deal with circumstances such as this. And has the media made it so where, after the time they deemed necessary to talk about the CT shooting, it goes on to the next item, having trained us, on the evening news, to hear about the everyday shootings and fires and accidents and then move on, unmoved about the loss of human life. Is it that, the news that is reporting how monstrous mankind can be, is also training us to view it as normal, or overlook it as fringe happenings that deserve a ninety second story, and then on to the Weather, sports, and what happened on American Idol? Humans live in their compartmentalized, "insular" worlds and deal with issues even as they watch their football games and download apps. onto their Android phones. 

My mom retold the days following the Kennedy Assassination, where between news reports, the three channels played classical music for the entire weekend. She was shocked when, after the funeral and procession, when an advertisement actually came on. How far have we moved past those days, when commercials will be done no matter what is happening? Where there is always cable channels filled with escapist, entertaining, crap so that we would never have to face reality at all. And I do it too, as the Disney Channel stays on my TV most of the day. I play my Bejeweled Blitz and my Hidden Chronicles, and the world outside goes on unnoticed. It's unfortunate, but I don't believe that the majority of people who are on Facebook could *not* participate in mass escapism to deal with the Sandy Hook massacre, as the addiction of constant information gorging is far too powerful for them to watch one Television station, with no commercials, and classical music in between news of something that should bring us all together. Human beings are too busy being walled in by big screen TVs and tiny cell phones to deal with actual live human beings. We can reach out, and participate in world events just as instantly as they happen, yet that same ability keeps us even more distant from each other. It's the tragic irony of our times. As the politician on the Monkees movie "Head" said, "The tragedy of your times, my friends, is that you may get exactly what you want." How true that is.

It's also the fact that most people have a very limited attention span. No one, it seems, can focus on anything for more than a few moments. Thus the constant demand for digression: to the extent that television "news" rarely runs a story lasting more than thirty seconds. Absurd shows like "Good Morning America" intersperses tragedy with music, celebrity "news", weather, and so-called human interest stories. It's no wonder that the average American is misinformed about, well, everything. 

Yep.  How we communicate is as important as what we communicate (Postman), so we've been trained to communicate in 30 second sound bytes, 140 characters, get it out, make it known, no thinking, just instant response.  Move back and forth, from one subject to another. It's necessary, to some extent, in this world we live in. Compartmentalization allows us to sort out the vast amount of data that gets thrown at us every minute. Now, that doesn't mean that we're able to reflect, absorb, and learn from that information.  It also protects us from that raw data, as, for the longest time, we weren't able to instantly be aware of all the wrongs in this world.  Now, with the 24 hour news, the Internet, the cell phones, we can know everything going on.  And that's not good.  Robert Goolrick, author of The Reliable Wife, documented the many tragedies that happened in the northern states back prior to cars, electricity, medicine, where people went crazy and slaughtered their families, killed themselves...etc..., but no one knew about all of that, as CNN wasn't there to report on it.  Now, we didn't know, so we couldn't solve the problem.  We couldn't throw our money, our technology, our scientific knowledge at it.  But there was also no instant emotional response in rash legislation passed, no blame turned political, and no moving on as the next tragedy hit, and the next, and the next.  And the idea wasn't put into other, maybe mentally unstable, people's heads, so they could carry out the same thing the next time they forgot to take medication.  Copycat acts are the direct result of the communication of unsorted images and acts and emotions, all thrown out of televisions and computers.  We have to learn to think about the consequences of our actions, and in this society, that's not happening.  It all boils down to right and wrong, and in today's world of victims, moral relativity, and shades of gray, it's hard for a normal person to decide right from wrong, much less someone who might have a neurological problem.  Thus the results are ambushed firefighters, slain school children, and all the myriads of violent acts that happen every single day. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book Review: The Isle of Shapeshifters by Otto Coontz

A daunting task lies ahead of me, one comparable to climbing Mount Everest or cleaning my basement... reading the books I have on my bookcases.  It's even more daunting because I'm adding more and more books every week.  Favorite authors, intriguing book covers, sizes and shapes, all of them crying out "Read Me!" like a piece of candy to Alice, before she inevitably shrinks or grows, or a cat meowing at an animal shelter.  So when I finish the last page of one book, I venture toward those bookcases and see which one meows at me the most.  Now, most of my books are stacked horizontally, so top ones get preference (cause I'm usually on the way to wait in a line or go to work.), and they're double stacked, so front also gets first shot.  So I pulled one off my shelves and took it to work.  It's a book called Isle of the Shapeshifters by Otto Coontz.

You certainly can't have a last name like "Coontz" and not be expected to write something akin to Horror.  Turns out, this particular book reminds me of Dean Koontz' writing, especially like his book The Taking.  It also is very typical of  the B-list horror movies that came out in the 70's and 80's.  The setting often becomes as much a character as any of the people.  It rains when bad things happen, wind, fog, earthquakes... a pathetic fallacy where nature becomes sentient, (although, in this book, it's actually controlled by the people living on the island.)  Mix that in with very well created characters, and description of the island that was amazing, and you have a great book.

After I finished the novel, I went to Google Maps and took at satellite tour of Nantucket Island, and it's exactly as Coontz described it in the novel.  Even today, so far removed from 1983, when the book was written, Nantucket is a desolate area with tourists and the local people living on certain parts of the island, but with an astonishing lack of resorts, casinos, and nature-wrecking buildings.  You could easily step back in time (as the book did) and see how the original natives of the island lived, as well as the fisherman that have made the place their home for years.

I certainly understood the ending, I just didn't have to like it. The main character, Theo, is on vacation on the island, as an invitation from the "fan club" of her vein soap opera star stepmother (typical stereotype, but it works). On the island, she meets Kip, who takes care of his elderly grandmother and whose dad works at the Oceanography center on the island. Together Kip and Theo explore the island, becoming interested in the Native American markings found on the rocks in the Moors and also on the strange pendent given to Theo by "the fan club." Little does she know it's an amulet that will draw the power she has inherited from her ancestors. Kip discovers the link, but can he save her before those that wish to use that power carry out their plans? The end doesn't tie all the ends together, as Theo leaves without even telling Kip good-bye. It feels like one of those Law & Order episodes where it ends without a satisfactory last note, like a song ending on something other than DO. It's why, when I put the star rating on this book, it only gets four out of five. Nothing I just said will spoil anything in the book, but you end up thinking, "A great book, if only...." This book is more than likely out of print, but it should be easy to find online or at used bookstores. I do recommend it for young adults, especially those that like things a little scary.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Movie Review: Life of Pi

It is quite impossible, when reviewing this film (and the book), to discuss it without delving into the meat of the story.  Therefore spoilers will be abundant below the asterisks.  Please don't read below there if you plan on seeing the movie or reading the book (both of which are highly recommended.)

The Life of Pi is based on an incredible novel by Yann Martel.  I say this because you probably won't find any other work of his aside it at a bookstore, as they were not commercial successes.  It's like every author has a finite supply of "muse juice," the amount of works that, given a lifetime of creating and writing, that any one book will reach the point where, a century from now, it will still be read.  Harper Lee knew when not to write anymore, she had used up her muse juice, and To Kill a Mockingbird has probably been read (or at least seen) by millions of high school kids all across the world.  And I bring up Lee's novel because the film is highly faithful to the book, making it very possible to watch the film and understand almost everything that Lee intended.

Thus the same goes with the movie Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee.  The story of how this novel became a movie is worth a book in itself, having gone from director to director, from screenwriter to screenwriter, with each succession of groups failing, with each director choosing another project to work on.  M. Night Shyamalan was slated to produce the movie first, but chose instead to film The Lady in the Water.  (I, for one, am SO glad M. Night did not direct this movie.) The current screenplay, written by David MaGee, compresses the emotion, the framework, the illusory ease by which you conclude the 2nd part, the shock of the 3rd part, and boils it all down into a movie which might be better than the book.  And let's face it, while reading the book will always be preferred, if you only have 3 hours to complete the story, it's very okay to watch this movie.  There will be no Indian attacks in The Scarlett Letter movie which was botched from the beginning.  There is no better way to experience this story than to watch the film.

One other note before I talk about the movie itself.  Watching it in 3D is essential to the story, as the visual effects of the ocean, of the animals and their movements, turns it from a critical success film-wise, to an artwork of motion, colors, and sound.   Much like Hugo a year ago, the 3D imagery does so much to accentuate the film, rather than be just a gimmick to draw you into the theatre.  I expect that if Titanic had first been released in 3D, it would still be the #1 movie at the box office.

The story behind the movie (book) is framed into three parts. Pi's life in India, which introduces us to the zoo that his father has created in the park within the French-Indian coastal town of Pondicherry during the 1970's, is written in lyric prose, Thoreauian, philosophical in nature, with words and scenes as lush as the Romance of exotic India which drew so many colonists there throughout the years.  The second part finds Pi stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the prose turns Hemingway-esque, parse, more concerned with survival and the realism of doing so (suffice it to say that it is best, while reading this part, not to be eating your lunch). And then the end, which I will speak of later.

I see I have talked about everything except the plot. A look at the book or movie cover will tell you as much, so it's not necessary.

I will warn, I guess, that those who are avid animal lovers will not like the movie, although I expect that no real animals were harmed during the filming.  For those of you like this, I recommend reading the book instead.

Go see the movie, and do it in the theatres before it goes away, in 3D, because seeing it on a normal TV won't have nearly the effect. 


What made the movie amazing, aside from the 3D imagery, the sheer strength of the characters, the soundtrack which added to the imagery as it swirled around Pi and his surroundings, was the ending.  To me, a movie reaches "great" status when it affects me in some way.  The ending, specifically, the alternate story that Pi gave the Japanese insurance agents who interviewed him in the hospital, was so troublesome, as it was exactly opposite of the story about faith, strength, compassion, that Pi had shown the whole movie.  But given the circumstances, man will do anything to survive.  It provided evidence that man is inherently evil.  In the alternate story, the animals that survived the crash were substituted for people, including Pi's mother.  The problem is, after everything we've experienced with Pi, with the Tiger, with all that was real or illusory, we can't tell, there's no way to know which story was true.

After I got home, I looked on IMDB to see other people's reaction to the film.  Most people loved the movie, but hated the ending.  Its unique, a movie in which the intent was to make you hate the ending.  But I think Ang Lee intended that all along.  And the surprise is that Yann Martel included the same scene in the third part of the novel.  Yet I didn't remember it.  I read the book, and loved it.  I would have remembered a plot twist such as this, but I didn't.  The only conclusion I can make is that my brain rejected the alternate version of the story that it completely blocked it, regarding it as a useless part of the book, something to be totally forgotten, to preserve the Romantic (capital R) version with the Tiger (who in the end could be considered the "Noble Savage.") I was amazed. I had to go back and reread the ending to make sure that it wasn't something Ang Lee just put on there as an addition.  We only remember what we want to.  History is only written, leaving out the things that mankind must do, or does, in the dark recesses of his heart, his mind.  It was a stark addition to the end, to say that not only is Nature indifferent to mankind's sentience, but man is indifferent to each other.  And I couldn't accept it.  To the point where I forgot the scene even happened.


As additional reading, I recommend the following books as ancillary material to understanding the themes that come from Life of Pi.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.  The framework is similar, as is the path of the hero, and the lie at the end of both stories that flaw the "hero" as complete.  Both stories also show the beauty and unrelenting evil of man and the world he lives in.

"The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane.  A short story about men stranded in a lifeboat just off shore.  Shows the indifference of nature, and our need to make heroes out of those on the boat.

Dove by Robin Lee Graham.  A teenager who saled on a ship around the world. From his total loneliness to finding his wife and finding faith, the book is very similar to Life of Pi, and is well worth reading. They made a movie of it as well, although I've never seen it.  In this book, Graham has the instruments to navigate around the tides and currents that Martel and Lee forget to include in the movie and book.  It's a necessary plot hole, as a boat stranded without a sail would follow the tides, and would wind up going north and would end up in California or even Canada, not Mexico as in the ending.  The only explanation is that there was a strong El Nino current in the Pacific at that time, causing the currents to reverse.  That is plausible, at least to alleviate cynicism.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Before the tryptophan, before the football, the green bean casserole (which I make a great spicy green bean dish, but my mom doesn't like it, so I never fix it :{ ) , the pumpkin pie, the Eagle Brand Lemon Pie (which I make every year), I do like to reflect on the year, and find things that made me happy.  Finding things that have enriched my life.  I always feel thankful for my large dangerous space heater that keeps my feet toasty and lessens the pain I feel.  I'd be thankful for my Meloxicam, but my doctor won't prescribe those until my blood pressure goes down.  So I stick with Aleeve. And ironic enough, it's my feet that I'm most thankful for this year.

Well, what I do with my feet, which is walk.  One foot down, in front of the other.  So I take my walking stick, some bottled water, and I go exploring through the trails and the backwoods of Conyers, Georgia.  You never know what beauty lies just beyond your street, especially when most of us are concentrating on screens of computers, cell phones, televisions.  And while I couldn't live without those things, I certainly would be far less happy without the weekly walks I took all summer long.  I'm so thankful that the people of Rockdale County decided to keep parts of the area free of civilization, and also to invest in the trails and parking areas that make these jewels of the south accessible.  The Path Foundation (http://www.pathfoundation.org) as well as Newton County Trails (http://newtontrails.org) are great resources in finding walkways and pathways around the towns and out to the countrysides, where dirt trails and nature trails take you to forests towering, hills overlooking the community, the sounds of deer bounding into the forest upon your arrival to their home (just watch out for the snakes.)  It's so wonderful, to be completely away from mankind's distractions and see the road before you.  We must be determined to walk those roads, to see where they go, how far they take us, to what hidden glade lies just beyond the next hill.  And no pain will keep me from doing this.  It is my world, and I will explore it.

I'm also thankful for my job right now, which is to sell books.  In this economy where luxuries are slipping away, and electronics are slowly killing print communication, there are still some places in this world where the written word is alive and well.  I sell books in the Nancy Guinn Library in Conyers as a part of the Friends of the Library group, and I'm glad that Gwen and the other board members scooped me out of the dying embers of Borders and let me be a part of their group.  Also, I sell Bibles and Books at Lifeway, where I was able to bring my V-cart and Steven, for all last year anyway, to keep me tied to the job I really loved.  I really do need to read more, for myself, as I have so many book now, and for the customers that I might have in the future, who will need recommendations when the computer screen will only show covers and synopses, not emotion and passion toward books that are really worth reading.  I've found Georgia Authors, like Tim Westover (and his book Auraria) and Amber Dermont (and her book The Starboard Sea) whose books will continue the fine tradition of Southern Literature.  Tim shares my love of exploring the trails of the Georgia forests, and I am glad I met him at a book signing.  So go buy their books already!!!

The winter is coming, and the cold weather will keep me indoors, away from my walks, and I will be thankful for the spring.  But in that time, hopefully I will read more, and be able to walk the trails of imaginary lands.  For those are roads that we can all walk down, taking only our own experiences with us, and those, despite what Frost said, are roads we can travel down again and again.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book Review: The Man in the Maze by Robert Silverberg

I pulled this sci-fi novel from the depths of my bookshelves, looking for the magic that existed in the writings of the masters of the genre.  In so many science fiction books of the 50's and 60's, writers like Isaac Asimov, Clifford D. Simak, and Robert Heinlein concentrated on the ideas, the aspects of mankind progressing out of their own microcosm here and out to the universe.  Once in the stars, most sci-fi writers found that the universal themes they thought about were also at the very core of their own minds.  To go outward, you must go inward. Robert Silverberg did a fantastic job in combining Roddenberry with Jung.

Each of the main characters are introverted, brooding, well constructed men who decide the fate of the human race even while examining their own emotions.  Dick Muller, the damaged soldier who lives on the planet of Lemmos and its large, deadly maze constructed by aliens from a long forgotten civilization.  Charles Boardman, the confident manipulator of men, armies, worlds, whose weary nostalgia reveals an old man who tires in his actions even as he moves forward.  And Ned Rawlins, the naive, ideological crew member of Boardman who, as a child, knew Muller.  Boardman and Rawlins' mission is to retrieve Muller from his self-imposed exile in the maze which only he has mastered.

The maze is, of course, a symbol of the inner workings of a man's mind.  The maze is so well described by Silverberg, in direct prose that gives a vagueness of dimension and detail while allowing the imagination to fill in the rest.  (I say this because there are too many authors, like Terry Brooks, for instance, that will describe every tree in the forest. Sometimes it's best to let the reader's mind make some of it up.)  I also think that the 1978 Mass Market version which I have has the best cover, portraying the maze as an ornate, spiraling city of rooms and walkways, of endless deadly traps and machinations.

In chapters spread throughout are the histories of the three men.  What made Muller different, what the aliens he met did to him, and why he was shunned from the rest of humanity afterwards.  What desperate mission do they need him for, even to risking the lives of men who must go into the maze, knowing that one false move will send them into spikes, boulders, or lakes of fire.

In the end, we see mankind's outlook on his world and his future.  The stoic, the cynic, the righteous, even the epicurean.  It made me wish the book was longer, that the days spent in the maze were longer, the delving into the maze that is the human psyche was more complete.  I felt as if there was something Silverberg was looking for, and it was he that could not finish the maze, and so had to leave it undone, damaged somehow.  At the end, when Muller returns to the maze (and by saying that, I'm revealing nothing), he goes to retrieve something he'd lost.  And maybe that was what Silverberg felt as well.

I will say one more thing about the novel, which to me meant absolutely nothing, as I've come to expect this from most sci-fi authors.  The women in the story are simply sexual tools, empty bodies with breasts and long hair.  They are the short skirted crewwomen walking down the halls of the Enterprise. And while this would make the modern reader bristle with politically correct righteousness, I do not think it takes away from the book itself.  When you read sci-fi from the 50's and 60's, you must realize that there are few if any women characters with strong character traits.  You have to look at works by Sherri S. Tepper, Ursula K. LeGuin, even Orson Scott Card, to find them.  In other words, you pick the book up recognizing that the main characters will be men, and you find the underpinnings of the man's mind to be such.  Enjoy the dark, brooding characters, and don't let modern ideas about writing come into play.  It would be same as criticizing writers of times past from putting in strong, liberated African-Americans, or removing the prejudiced feelings of Whites from older books.  You have to read these books about the future as works from the past.  And find, like so many other classic works of literature, that their are lessons even in the oldest of writings.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Something Deep Fried This Way Comes

I do highly recommend, when the chilly wind starts up in the evening, when you put away the summer shorts and pull out the blue jeans, to take a look at Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, a veritable tribute to the month of October.  Bradbury mixed his usual lyrical writing with a chorus of nostalgia, and a verse of horror.  It's what he did best in any short story or novel, bringing alive the price of memory, nostalgia, and sorrow (Counting Crows sung a line: "The price of a memory is the memory of the sorrow it brings.").  You will not find any better book written than Dandelion Wine, a must read for anyone who longs for the more simpler times.  In SWTWC, William waxes nostalgic, and wishes to become younger, while Jim wants to grow older.  In comes Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show, the carnival with a merry-go-round that makes just those dreams come true, but at a cost.

For October is, amongst the chill winds and the Trick or Treating and the falling leaves, saying goodbye to Summer for the dark, dreary Winter months, the time of the local Carnival.  A last celebration, a sudden gasp of joy before it all goes away.  In Georgia, the Georgia State Fair has moved from the central-based town of Perry (near Macon) to the Atlanta Motor Speedway just south of Atlanta (in Hampton).  The hope is to draw people from the metro area to the fair (in my opinion, they probably could get rural folk to Perry easy enough, but high gas prices are hurting attendance.) In Oklahoma, the State Fair is located off Portland Ave. in the middle of Oklahoma City.  Everyone goes to the fair.  The schools have a teacher workday called "Fair Day" so that everyone could go to the fair.  Traditionally, the fair is supposed to be used for farmers bringing stock to a market to be inspected and sold (you remember Charlotte's Web? Wilbur was taken to the "fair" to be entered into a prize, and then sold for bacon).  In the meantime, the family ate, rode rides, watched rodeos, and made a day of it.

My memories of the Oklahoma State Fair begins with my grandmother, Mema, who worked counting tickets sold for the fair.  So we got in free. It's amazing I didn't get totally lost and separated from Mema walking around there, as I was my propensity every time I went anywhere (still do). I was young enough that the rides we went on were small merry-go-rounds in the shapes of cars, spaceships, etc... The goal was to get into a vehicle and have the horn work on it, or the buttons that made the lights work.  Those old machines were probably on their last leg then, but they were magical to us.  It was either that, or gaze high into the air where the grown-up rides were.  The Tilt-a-Whirl Pirate ship that went high into the air one way, then another, or the grand Ferris Wheel that stands above the fairground and can be seen for miles.  The main ride we loved going on was the tower that lifts you high above the Oklahoma soil and lets you see the whole city.  Reminds me of the Glass Elevator on Willy Wonka. You could see the Goodholm Mansion that was moved from Oklahoma City out to the fairground.  It was an old southern style house that the historical society wanted to save from Urban Renewal, and so they moved it to the fairgrounds as an exhibit. My grandmother said she lived in the house for a short while as a child. From atop the Space Tower, you could see all the way into downtown, and it was wonderful.

So, at the end of the month, it would be so worth taking a family out to the Georgia State Fair, to experience all the rides and the food and see the cows and horses and cars (it's on the Raceway), create memories that children will have for a long time.  It's a tunnel back to yesteryear, before electronic gadgets that keep kids walking head down while somehow maneuvering around poles and doors and stuff.  Get the kids to look up for once, to sights they'll never forget.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

White Chocolate Candy Corn; Book Christmas Trees

In 2006, a year after I began working at Borders, M&M's introduced White Chocolate M&M's, to coincide with the Pirates of the Caribbean Sea movie.  If you could have seen me when I heard the news, it would be one of the few times I've "fangirled" over something (the latest being the trailer for The Mysterious Cities of Gold, 2nd season.) Squealing with delight, I went to multiple grocery stores trying to find the elusive pieces of white heaven.  For it's the ironically named "White Chocolate" that is the greatest of candies. Having tasted it first as a white chocolate fudge  at the Cafe in Stone Mountain a long time ago, and letting it melt down my throat in explosions of creamy goodness (yep, I fangirled), it became seared into my memory as the best thing to experience at the big granite rock.

So it was with ginormous displeasure when I realized that White Chocolate M&M's were inferior and not worth getting.  I doubt I finished the sack I bought.  Here's why.  White Chocolate, when properly made, has a much lower melting point than regular chocolate. It doesn't do well in shipping in large trucks, even when refrigerated.  So, most white chocolate foods are made and sold during the winter months.  If you recall the White Chocolate covered Oreos that are always around Christmastime (which, by the way, are equally disappointing for a totally different reason. Oreos are meant to be dunked in milk, and yet the white chocolate covering prevents the cookie from dissolving inside the milk.  Thus, the Oreos are useless.  I actually threw the mostly uneaten container of WCC-Oreos away). The WC
M&M's were sold in July, and Mars company realized the issue.  They put some sort of chemical inside the white chocolate that prevented it from melting.  Wonderful..... except.... it didn't "Melt in your Mouth" either.  It wouldn't dissolve at all, leaving the flavor of the chocolate from covering every millimeter of my taste buds.  It was a major let down.

Now, I'm happy to announce, they've got it right!! White Chocolate Candy Corn M&M's, for the Halloween season, are great!  They added a little honey flavor to the sugar coating, and reconfigured the make up of the white chocolate in the middle. Great job Mars!!!  But good luck finding them!


For the Christmas season, I got creative and made a Book Tree for the Friends of the Library Bookstore at the Nancy Guinn Library here in Conyers, GA.  Got the idea off the Internet, looking for things to do with old Law Books.  Here is the result:


Monday, October 8, 2012

Replacement Refs and President Obama

So the replacement referees for the NFL goofed one up and cost the Green Bay Packers the game.  And so there were many backdoor meetings where things happened, and phone calls were made, and who knows what, and now the regular referees are now there to make games go as they normally would.  Great. But the damage is much more than just one game or a deal made by the NFL.  We have seen how people react with substitute refs., just as much as substitute teachers in high school.  Authority becomes useless when given to people that cannot demand respect.  This goes for sports especially.  If we have learned that replacement refs have no authority, by what means do we give regular refs that same authority?  Would the foundations of sports games be torn down just because we don't want to honor the social contract given to the people that regulate the game?  Football players, and even the spectators, have agreed upon the rules (else we wouldn't watch the game), giving the refs or umpires or the guys in black and white the ability to organize the game and enforce the rules, by however means necessary.  In an ideal world, the players themselves should follow the rules and no officials would be needed.  There are some instances where this happens.  Self-reporting in Golf, for instance.  In those cases, the act of what should be normal is heralded as supreme sportsmanship.  In most cases, it's get away with whatever you can to win the game and hope you don't get caught.

Obviously, we can take this beyond the realm of sports.  We must respect those who are put in positions of authority above us.  I might have thought that some of my former managers were jerks and idiots, but they had the position to run the store, to sign paychecks, and to hire and fire, and so they must be given that ability.  Now, there are different levels of that respect.  I am talking about the most basic adherence to the social contract that we enter into when we are hired into a job.  We have to accept the hierarchy inside the company.  Genuine respect, of which I have had with most of my managers.  The kind that makes me work hard and passionately wish that our store would succeed, that is earned by the leadership of those above me.  This goes for the people running our government.  Like Mitt Romney did in the debate a week ago, he acknowledged the power and position of President Obama, even while he vehemently disagreed with him.  If we don't agree with the social contract, or the people that are put in place because of it (in this case, the Constitution, the rules of our Government), we have the privilege and responsibility to either change the contract (which is hard) or change the people elected (which is much easier).  No matter who is there as Congressman, Senator, or President, you have to respect that position, no matter who is there.

This takes me back to the Replacement Refs and Substitute Teachers.  If you respect the position of the Referee and the Teacher, then those people who are put in place of the regulars should be given the same respect and obedience as those substituting.  But if they aren't given that, it says much about the respect for those in authority in the first place.  We have to be concerned when the even most basic power structure in our country breaks down because no one acknowledges the social contracts that are established.  If teachers, the police, judges, lawmakers, aren't respected, then what makes even more basic contracts secure?  If even parents are no longer respected, then the result is chaos and anarchy, loosed upon the world.  Far more important than complying with a Pass Interference call, but the idea is exactly the same.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Musical Potatoes and Painted Shoes.

Sometimes it's better to see the strings.  Sometimes it's better to have asteroids as potatoes and painted shoes.  If you're making a movie, and all the setting and non-human characters are created by computer, if the star of the film is sitting in front of a monitor someplace manipulating images, it's likely to pull down the film.  When I think of my favorite movies, Where the Wild Things Are, The Neverending Story, and the original Star Wars movies, most things were made of costumes, models, giant sets.  A minimal amounts of green screens.  Actors nowadays will never know how to interact with their settings, as they are all acting in front of a screen made to digitally manipulate images.  I mean, why shoot a film out at the ocean? Just create the scene, put sand on the ground, and get the right sound effect files from the studio  computer.  Jaws would (and is, have you seen the Syfy movies recently?) be so much easier to make.  No need for skinnydipping scenes and blood and the sound of actual orchestras.  Just create the sounds of the cellos on computer.  We don't need the flute players anymore.  They should go get a real job.

Of course, I'm being highly sarcastic.  Star Wars would be nothing without John Williams and his brilliance.  But maybe, just maybe, if Yoda were a puppet, and the city of Naboo had been made in some set in Brazil, maybe the new movies would have been better.  Heck, people might have actually enjoyed Jar Jar Binks, instead of finding ways of killing him.  The same thing goes with the music of any movie.  But usually movies have budgets big enough to have a big name composer create a score for it.  What happens when you are trying to make a video game, and it's the 1980's, and the technology isn't there for orchestral works, and your budget is slim?  Well,  you make your musical scores out of potatoes and painted shoes. Lets go for a musical adventure through some of the video games that I dearly loved as a child, not for the game itself, necessarily (although they were all great games), but for the music that artists do not get enough credit for, even after leaving tunes in people's heads for years.

There is no one who lived during the 1980's, and picked up the Nintendo controller, that can't instantly recall the theme for Super Mario Brothers.  But let's go back farther than that, to the days of the Commodore 64.  I must say, before I start this, that without the people that use Youtube as a place to store the history of mankind, from videos to TV to music to historical events, like Yeats' Graecian Urn, most of these pieces would be forgotten.  Let us hope that Youtube retains its function as a time capsule for future people to experience the amazing things that our generation has created.

Dig Dug  The melody track has basically two notes, with the other tracks going around it.  Dig Dug took the annoying siren noise of Pac-Man and turned it into something worth listening to.  And don't tell me that the modern day games are hard... they're nothing compared with the primitive AI of the Dragons that like nothing more than to breathe fire at you before you can blow them up.

        Another version, played on the piano.

Necromancer, by Synapse Software, was amazing, if you kept an open mind.  Grow trees to crush spiders, so the spiders won't grow and attack you while you fight the evil wizard.  It's the beginning song that makes the whole game, tho.

Or if you want to play the game, click here: C64s.com.

Star Soldier and Gyruss.  Nothing like space shooter games, where the space ships can bomb and blast everything in the air and on the planets below.  Actually, I loved Zaxxon from the C64 days, but when the Nintendo came out, these two were the best space games made, in my opinion.  Power ups, spaceships that are everywhere (think Galaga), but you've got to have the stimulating music to match the weaponry, something to activate my ADOS (Attention Deficit Oooh Shiny!).  These both do it well.....

And speaking of stimulating, you can't go wrong with the Intro Theme of Double Dragon. I was never any good at fighting games, but the music on this one was amazing!


And before I leave Nintendo World (which, honestly, I could go forever about Zelda and SMB...etc...), there is no video game company which was better at combining graphics, music, and, well, everything, than Capcom, especially the Mega Man series.  Mega Man 2 I would play just for the music.  I'll put the Bubble Man stage here, just because it fits so well with my next point about video game music. 

There's something about water levels and video game music. The 3/4 time of Super Mario Bros, level 2-2 is among the first actual "water" levels that I remember. When 16-bit music came out, composers used the water levels in games to let their ideas shine. The water levels were the soothing, ambient levels, where you could take the level, put the music on loop, and chill for an hour or two. Take Donkey Kong Country, for instance. I'm going to include a track on here now that is actually a remix from OCRemix which amplifies the original score. Just listen...

Perhaps the best water level music comes from the Playstation, from Final Fantasy VIII, the Fisherman's Warf level. Also check out OCRemix artist Tepid's version of it, which I have put on loop in my car and listened to it while I drove: You'll have to click here to listen to it.

Final Fantasy has such wonderful themes, so I'll put 2 more here and then leave it at that.  What I'm trying to point out is that, while the Orchestral works of modern day games are beautiful and, in some cases, easy to make, the beauty that these composers made with just the most basic of electronic music technology is well worth listening, too.  Discover the songs from your favorite games, and then see if there's any great Remixes done on OCRemix.  Below is Relm's Theme from FFVI and then the final theme from Final Fantasy Legend from Game Boy. For the Game Boy theme, click on this link: This Link Here.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Death and Mass Production (A Book Review and Remembrance)

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I must admit that when I saw this book in the stores, and picked it up, I realized it was the last thing I would want to read.  I mean, just another "kids dying with cancer story," depressing and melodramatic. My mind immediately leapt (the autocorrect doesn't have "leapt" as the past tense form of "leap.") to Death Be Not Proud, which most children have to read during high school at some point.  It's a matter of Pathos, I believe, to read these books where kids (or their pets) die, so that it says 1) "Quit Whining, it could be a whole lot worse. and 2) it prepares them for later traumatic experiences.  I swear I'm gonna rewrite Old Yeller , and make it actually have a happy ending.  Of course, you could always give it a sardonic twist, like authors are doing lately, and instead of a rabid fox biting the dog, you could have a mad werewolf biting the kid, so that the dog lives, but the boy dies.... anyhoo, I'm rambling now.  Back to the book.

But as I was saying, I didn't want to read another "Cancer" book.  My grandmother had just recently died of pancreatic cancer, and so why would I have to go through all that again in the pages of a book?  We want to escape reality, not live it over again.

Well, I was wrong.  Turns out that John Green actually realizes that, to twist a Bob Dylan line, "He busy dying goes through a lot of living." Because as I found out with my grandmother, dealing with death is best done as an affirmation, a recollection, of life.  There's no better way to surround the not-so-pleasant times of dealing with medical issues than to bring forth the humor that surrounds us daily.  My grandmother, as she was being prepared for her aneurysm surgery, was asked, "How do you feel?" She, in her wry humor, replied, "With my fingers."  It was the best thing she could have said.

So John Green picks up on this humorous thread and weaves it through the whole book.  He deals with the emotions of the teenage characters very honestly, with more depth than most Lifetime tearjerker movies.  Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac, (ironic that he's called Isaac, (eye-sic), since he's about to go blind) just roll their eyes at most of the attitudes of the adults in their lives.  They make fun of the "strong fighter kid who is always positive even while they lose his/her hair, limbs, etc....," even, when the time comes, they have to portray that image themselves.

Green picks up on the progression of cancer quite well, even talking about the "last good day" that seems to happen to terminally ill people.  I had one afternoon shortly before my grandmother died where she picked up her spirits and we sat there and laughed and she poked fun at me, before she went so far downhill we couldn't care for her at home.  He painted that scene so well in the book.  It was, to some extent, very cathartic for me.

That the title is based on a line from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (with all the foreshadowing that it implies), or that the book is filled with references to Eliot's "Prufrock" poem, or Frost's "Nothing Gold Can Stay,"  are added bonuses for those teachers who will inevitably put down the tired Gunther tome and teach this book to their 10th grade English students instead.

One part of the novel I found interesting, because it goes back to one of my other blog posts, was this fascination by Augustus about the Afterlife, be it a Christian based one or those suggested by any of the other religions, or nothing at all.  And it's fascinating because, if we are to believe that the philosophies of the 20th century and the secular material world have phased out the traditional Christian beliefs of Heaven and Hell, then this part of the book, and other references to the Afterlife (see Beetlejuice, or Paul Simon's song "The Afterlife,"  (go to my blog about the Afterlife for these examples.)
) is a desire to fill that void.  When reading this book and reflecting on it, I was pulled to  the band Death Cab for Cutie's song "I'll Follow You Into the Dark."

An amazing song that goes so well with the book, especially the line, "fear is the heart of love," something the singer rejects.  There's so many ways to incorporate songs, poems, TV shows....etc... into this book, it really would be a great teaching tool, if a little controversial.

Since we're dealing with these subjects, I wanted to put here that a good friend I had in high school died this past week. Johnathan Ashley Nix passed away from a massive stroke.  I always loved his wry sense of humor, his unique way of looking at things, his refusal to let all the normal people of Heritage High to get to him all that much, even while I shrank inside myself from bullying.  It was perhaps this that kept me from really making friends with, well, anybody. He signed my yearbook, my senior year, with a long, rambling diatribe about anything, writing it upside-down and right to left.  It took me holding it up to a mirror to read the whole thing.  In the middle is his tune about "Mass Production," a Henry Ford-esque march anthem, much like you would hear in Brave New World.  I still remember the tune he used to sing it.  I only wish I could have been friends with him longer, from when we met in the 6th grade...  He took me to see a truly horrible version of Hamlet at an Atlanta Theatre for school credit (the professor was friends with someone there, I suspect), and so he brought over a ton of Fantasy books that he didn't want.  Among them was The Quest for the Faradawn by Richard Ford, a British author.  Truly a magnificent work, and one of the few I've read where most of the main characters were animals.  Anyway.... I'm just telling the few points in my life where his "thread" touched mine, and so hopefully it will be made fuller and more complete.  Outside of any afterlife or immortality that our souls go into, the memories that we have here are what keep Ashley living on here, inside our own hearts.  I scanned my yearbook page and have it below.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Skywriting and Trail Walking

There are few places in the world where you can truly experience freedom.  Away from technology,  other people, all the social restraints and mental hangups we all have about most everything.  No financial issues, no cars screaming to get gas, your eyes constantly on the arrow pointing dangerously close to "E," hoping that it'll get you home and back to a gas station by the time you get paid again.  There are very few places in this world where all that goes away, leaving us with our own two feet  and our minds.  One thing I know, there's nothing like the grocery store parking lot.

Back a couple decades ago, when Walmarts didn't dot the Conyers countryside, when there was a Richway, and a Big Star, and the building behind Arby's was actually a movie theater, there was a 16 year old boy just beginning work as a Bagger at Bruno's Finer Foods.  I was the fastest bagger there, and second fastest cashier.  But late at night, when the other baggers would rather be in the back pretending to put the fruits and herbs back in the refrigerator, I'd go get buggies out of the parking lot.  And there was total freedom away from most everything.  It was in the early nineties, so the only music available was that in my head.  And I sang those songs while gathering carts.  Only 5 at a time, for safety reasons (I think I was the only one to follow that, it was so "manly" to get 12 carts and push them all in at once).  My favorite song to sing out there was "Skywriter" by Art Garfunkel and Jimmy Webb.  Simply wonderful.  That was freedom.

 I'm reminded of this as I walk through the trails in Rockdale       County.  There are no people around, no financial pressures, just the ticking of time keeping pace with my walking staff.  So a week ago, I parked on the north side of the Rockdale River Trail (you can find it on Google Maps by looking up Daniels Bridge Rd, off Union Church Rd.) and walked to the clearing where the power lines stretched north to the power station.  I started south, trudging up the hill, higher and higher, until just before the top I looked over and saw Stone Mountain over the horizon to the north.  Don't think I've ever seen Stone Mountain from Rockdale.

Over the top of the hill, underneath the giant towers of flowing electricity, and continuing, there's a valley of green flora, weeds and insects.  Grasshoppers flying away from the trail, the cicadas rubbing their legs together in the hot Georgia summer.  To the right, a couple of houses are far off into the adjacent forest, and one has a rooster, so it crows, not knowing the time
of day.  This path would take me into a valley and up another hill to East Fairview Road, but I had already been that way.  This time, I turned east and climbed another steep hill to a grassy area.  On the left, a large granite outcrop grew out of the forest like some ancient ruins.  I climbed to the top of the rocks and looked around at the beauty of the trees, the grass, the sounds of life all around me.  Around the grass, dirt had been mounded together to make ramps for motorcycles, mopeds, and the like.  I wondered, as I listened to everything, why people on motorcycles would so freely roam this area, filling up the valleys with noise and not caring about everything that surrounds them.  I wondered how many people on foot had climbed those hills, reached the top on their own, and saw everything that Rockdale County had to offer.

Then I reached the gazebo overlooking the paved trail far below, next to the South River.  It reminded me of Stonehenge, some structure built long ago to watch over everything.  Turns out, it was an Eagle Scout project made by a neighbor of mine, Keith Asher, and his troop.  The gazebo had been pulled off it's original foundation by those same moped riders, but it was still very secure and well built.  I felt like I had made it to some end goal, standing atop some mountaintop, and it was good.

There are other trails I have followed where each dirt path had imprinted on it the hooves of horses (and honestly, I had to watch where I stepped).  Again, the trails were filled with sights that you just don't see going about your daily chores, a loan tree towering above the rest, plants I had never seen with soft, furry leaves, the cooler breezes going through the forest as the sun began to set.  And while I respect the people who traverse this area on their horses, I still think that these areas would be better enjoyed on foot.   There are similar trails at the Georgia International Horse Park, but according to the map, the trails are divided between bike paths and horse trails.  Would that we be able to walk any square inch of this Earth with our own two feet.  Just to walk, we should be able to go anywhere, but the fences and the signs and the obstacles that our laws put in place keep us in tight quarters.  Walking costs nothing except time, harms nothing, wears nothing out save the soles of our shoes.  It takes no maintenance, no oil changes, no cleaning of waste products.  It is marvelous and wonderful and if we could rid ourselves of the wheels and machines that walk for us, we would be in control of where we went.

A car can only go on streets, the width restricts us, the gas limits us.  But if we could walk to everywhere we needed, we would be totally free to explore and expand indefinitely.  There is nothing to keep our legs from traveling anywhere we wanted.  That is freedom.  You will not find true freedom cruising along the highways of America, although it certainly is tempting.  In my opinion, you will find the open freedom that I seek only on your own two feet, walking up hills and through valleys to places unknown.  May I never run out of trails to travel, nor miles to walk.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Movie Review: The Odd Life of Timothy Green

The reviews I read (that I agree with) said that you have to approach the movie without any cynicism whatsoever, which is extremely hard to do.  It also was obviously cut short, with many good moments left on the cutting room floor.  I keep wondering how it would have worked with a novel, written by someone who could pull it off.  The best part of the movie is the actors.  It could have been atrocious, but the actors pulled off a very barren script and made it worth watching.  The same cannot be said for, say, the latest Star Wars movies,  (and no, I'm not gonna pick on Jake Lloyd here).  C.J. Adams carries the whole movie on his shoulders, and does it with every inflection, every raise of the eyebrow.  He's the Haley Joel Osment of this decade.  Let's hope he doesn't mess it up like HJO did. Joel Edgerton and the other supporting cast did a likewise magnificent job.  Also, the music score was great.  I wish I would have listened to the soundtrack before I went to see the movie.  I did that with Where the Wild Things Are, and it was amazing!

Ahmet Zappa, who wrote the script, obviously is highly intelligent, using references to literature all throughout.  For instance, the story takes place around a pencil factory.  Henry David Thoreau worked at a pencil factory early on, who famously wrote in Walden about "marching to the beat of a different drum."  Timothy Green certainly does that.  He's also very much a naturalist, working with his girl friend (Odeya Rush) to make the leaf palace.  Also, the Pencil theme is famous because of an essay by Leonard Reed, (a prior blog goes into that) who goes into all the people who make a single pencil, all the individual jobs that go into constructing the eraser, the wood, the graphite. It is a magnificent essay of the free-market world, with each worker supporting the other.  And while the movie has a decidedly anti-capitalist tone, the idea that individuals, working together, can support and lift up each other, creating, as it were, a better mouse trap, is a wonderful message for today's world.

The main criticism I have is the framed effect they use with the Adoption Office.  I wonder how it would have changed to leave that part out.  It gives away the ending, right at the start.  You know what will happen all throughout, and it puts a sad tug the whole time (probably intended.)

Speaking of that sad tug, I walked out of the movie feeling much like I did when I saw Pay it Forward. I probably would have cried at some point, but I didn't have time to.  I had to go to work afterwards, and there just wasn't time.  And that got me to thinking, we just don't have the time to experience all the emotions that come with our lives.  We're too busy living at 45 when we should be at 33 and1/3.  Try playing a 33 record at 45 on a turntable.  The singers sound like chipmunks, and you lose so much of the emotional pull of the music involved.  Barry White would become very un-Barry Whitish, if you get my meaning.  Sometimes it's best to be like Thoreau, to watch the ants go back and forth.

In the end, I would put this movie in the same category with Pay it Forward, A.I., Where the Wild Things Are, (all underrated movies that are some of my most favorite) which are movies about kids, but definitely not for kids.  Disney's commercials  for the movie on their own channel are actually misleading in how "supernatural" CJ Adams character actually is. In fact, he's just a normal kid, with leaves growing out of his legs.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Olympic Blahs

Only a few hours left before the start of the NFL preseason starts, and our month long wait for anything football will end.  Being football fans, games, analysis, talking ESPN heads droning on and on about what Tim Tebow has done or how Darth Vaderish Bill Belicheck is, anything like that is better than what's on television currently.  Most shows on now serve only to lower the IQ of most Americans by several points each year.  But that's not what I want to talk about right now.

Currently, you turn on the TV and hit any NBC owned station and you'll find coverage of the 30th Summer Olympiad from London.  I love the Olympics; I really do.  The theme music is yet another work of brilliance by John Williams, and Brian Costas usually does a great job of covering the two-week competition. Watching all the sports, seeing the perfection of the human body, in form, in function (don't I sound like Hamlet?), with what skill they move and bend and perform, as if some orchestra shared with my ears a cacophony of sound exalting the human spirit.  To watch the Olympics is to witness human beings at their physical best.

But this time, I've been consistently bored with the broadcasting of the Games.  It's fantastic that America has performed so well, earned so many medals, but this time I'm just not excited about it.  And there are a ton of reasons why I think this Olympiad is among the most banal games ever broadcast.

When Football season begins again (soon, and very soon), I know for a fact that Touchdowns are worth 6 points (plus the PAT), and Field Goals are worth 3. In baseball, you run around the track and it's worth 1.  Simple scoring procedures.  Even Golf (when they don't decide to mess with it) is easy to follow.  So when I watch the Olympics, I want a simple scoring system that anyone can  understand.  It was like that in 1984, when Mary Lou Retton scored a 10 to win Gold for the Americans.  The diving competitions do it that way.  Jumps are worth a maximum of whatever score, 8.5, 9, 10...etc... and then deducts are done from there.  And while gymnastics is sort-of that way, it changes every single year.  If only the judges would hold up paper signs of their scores like they do in cartoons.  NBC tried to make it easier by using a color code for good, so-so, and bad scores, but it didn't help.

And while we're on the subject of judges.... let's get to know them.  I mean, we all know who Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Sharon Osborne are.  They need to introduce the judges for the Olympic sports.  Let us know why they are judging the competition, why they are qualified. Let's know the nationalities of them, and give a run down of how they score different things.  If not, they should just let computers scan the performances, find irregularities, and spit out a score.  The computers, like the current judges, would be omnipotent and invisible.  It's a human sport.  Let's make everyone human.

Speaking of humans... When we watch our favorite sports, football for instance, we have a clear cut reason for routing for certain teams.  I want the Oklahoma Sooners to win all their games. I love seeing Steve Spurrier lose (because he throws his hat off in disgust).  But why should I care who wins the Men's shotput? Or Women's 1000m relay?  The answer is, of course, the human interest story.  It's what made NBC's coverage of past Olympics so watchable.  We looked into the days and lives of the athletes from all over the world.  What was a common day like for the underdog Romanian gymnast? How did the Ugandan Marathon runner train for his sport, and was he running away from enemies in the country?  The athletes aren't just superbly toned bodies, they are human beings with human stories.  There was none of that this time.  We saw the USA girl gymnasts in modeling poses, and, outside of Gabby Douglas, we saw nothing about where the others come from.  Sports were broadcast with no switch-over, with no warning, and in prime-time, they filled the time slot with as many USA performances as possible, without worrying about who they were or who they were competing against. They might as well have been robots out there.

And let's face it, NBC had the ability to film years of human interest stories and show them on any number of channels.  The biggest mess up that NBC/Comcast did was to not use the NBC Sports Channel in the way that ESPN has.  While the Olympics were going on, the NBC Sports Channel had Poker on.  I never saw Olympic stuff on that channel.  They could have used that station to show recaps, human interest stories, analysis...etc... much like ESPN uses SportsCenter.  I could keep SportsCenter on all day.  I keep up with all the sports, at least in a glancing mode, all year round.  That way I can talk intelligently about baseball or basketball or hock...well, maybe not that, any time I need to.  The Olympics should have had the same thing.  An information source to keep everyone educated about what was going on.

Honestly, I thought the Olympics would be a welcome distraction from everything else that's on TV right now.  Nothing.  Nada. Zip.  Endless "reality" shows, sit-coms that are anything but funny, reruns of game shows, like Wheel of Fortune, where I can guess the puzzles cause I've seen them before, or, if the networks aren't exciting, we can always watch hours of political analysts shouting at one another ad nauseum. But this time, I think the rest of television actually brought down the games.  My expectations of the Olympics were lower because I have no expectations for anything else NBC or any other network shows.  It might have even started with the scandal about the USA uniforms for the Opening Ceremonies not being made in America. It was obvious that the television stations cared only about scandal and division than the unifying celebration the Olympics were supposed to be.  I gave up watching actual television a long time ago.  If it's not on Disney/Nick... I'm probably not going to watch it.  It's all just garbage.

I left out the whole argument about time zones and time-delay programming, because I don't think that really mattered that much.  Even editing was okay (as Golf is edited all the time and is enjoyable), it's what they showed and what they edited that was the problem, along with everything else above.  How social media affected the games, I'm not sure.  I have no problem knowing who won before watching it.  I have a problem not knowing who I'm watching.  It'll be up to those at NBC to know how to use Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Hulu...etc... to their best advantage.  They have 2 years to figure it all out.  Integration of the all medias, as well as a clear, concise way of letting people know the schedule, is imperative before they get to Russia and Rio. The Olympic Games are a global, international event.  I hope that given the global media, NBC can figure out how to make individual athletes matter as much as the medal count for entire nations.  It has nothing to do with USA vs. China.  It has everything to do with the ability of the athletes to perform at the ultimate level of human achievement.  That is what will inspire people to become the best they can be at whatever they're good at.  It gives people a goal to achieve, a common one, a goal that will unite, not divide people and nations. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Weddings; Facebook; Crossing Threads (A Eulogy)

My brother got married this weekend. Lots of Pomp, lots of Circumstance, lots of great food. The caterers made this herb dip to put on crackers, cream cheese and all types of dill, parsley, probably rosemary... amazing stuff. As for the wedding itself... it's like finishing a hand-knitted sweater. You know, the ones that your mother put on you to play out in the snow, the one's that remind you of Christmas, fireplaces, good food, relatives. And there's a reason for that. It's in the threads itself. The metaphor is as old as weaving itself, from the ancient Greeks' Fates to modern day quantum physics, we could each count ourselves as an individual thread, created and tied to our parents, our loved ones, and then split off to join other threads in this grand sweater. Think of each point in time that we live and then join them together in the cosmos of space-time. It becomes a line of moments, beginning and ending in this great jumbled up mess of a universe.

The threads run parallel, at all angles, and intersect, all in different directions. For some, we hope that we never see that thread again, and in others, the thought of a thread being torn away is heartbreaking. There's nothing we can do about some of it, with chance, or the hand of God maneuvering the threads of our lives hither. It's the merging of those threads together to make a stronger fabric, that is what a marriage ceremony is all about. A bed sheet with a high thread count is much more sturdy than a cheaper one, where holes can easily appear with a careless use of scissors. It is best to have a high thread count in our lives, no matter what you might ask of me in person.

So the wedding is a celebration of the merging of two threads. May they never depart from one another. Weddings are a thread attractor, pulling, charging the ions of threads to come together and intersect. It's this point that most weddings are sorely missing together. We have such little time in today's life to travel, to communicate with our friends and family, and so when those chances arise, let us take advantage of them. The days before and after a wedding should be filled with the get-togethers of friends that have not seen each other in years, family chats on front porches or kitchens like in times past. Let us not join threads for an instant, only to go off in our own directions, alone. We should linger, remembering, bringing the experiences of our lives together. It's the only way we'll learn. Let's make a wedding a week long experience, a celebration of our lives to that point, a re-dedication to friendships, loved ones. Let's not put off that phone call, that letter, that drive to the next town to see an old friend. Let's make the fabric of our lives strong, so that can never be ripped asunder.

 How do you find a thread in this busy world? So many people going about their lives without knowing what's going on. I've heard that sites like Facebook and Twitter are simply a waste of time, keeping people apart even while promising more communication. And while it would better to talk to people face to face, sometimes when you only have a few minutes, checking up on people's lives online is easier. It's the magic of Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is declining because people just post silly pictures of cats and messages now, instead of using as an instrument of communication. And when a thread is cut, Facebook (especially with the new Timeline idea, which I love.) becomes a portrait of someone's life. A virtual biography that will last as long as the Internet (or at least Facebook) does. They become those crosses on the side of the road, a plaque next to a statue. May they stay there for many generations.

A customer came up to me in Lifeway a few weeks ago and bought some devotionals, and I instantly recognized her. Many years ago, when my stepdad drove an ice cream truck, I went with him from time to time. On one of the stops, a mother would come out with her young son and buy ice cream, and she and my stepdad would talk about life and such. It made riding in an un-airconditioned truck worth it, to bring happiness to those in the community. The son's name was Eli Simpson. And so Mrs. Simpson would come up with Eli to the grocery store where I worked and buy groceries. I went over to their house one day to invite them to a new year's eve celebration at our church, and when I went into the kitchen, I found that Mrs. Simpson had saved all of the Snapple Elements bottles and put colored water in them. I have those same bottles on the top of a bookshelf in my room. I always remember that we had the same collection going. At the celebration at the skating rink, Eli was skating and fell, hitting his head on the side of the rink. Made a nasty gash on his head, and he had to go to the hospital and get some stitches. Don't think I ever saw them again after that, as I went off to college and then to the bookstores...etc...

So, back to Lifeway, I asked her how Eli was doing. She told me that he had killed himself about a year before. Shocked, I didn't know what to say. She said she wished we could go back to those days of innocence next to the ice cream truck. It saddened me, to think that someone that young and full of life was suddenly gone. So I tried to find what happened, some record of it. There was no obit. in the Rockdale Citizen, only a record of mischief in a police blotter. I finally found a record of his death in the funeral homes records online. I did find his Myspace page, with little activity past about a year ago.

I don't know what happened to him. Why his thread was cut short. I don't know how he grew up or what his life was like past getting ice cream. What is on Myspace is normal teenage banter, so there's nothing to learn from. Further, there is no record on there of his passing. So, as a eulogy for him, I leave this blog post with metatags so that anyone that searches for his name will find it, and they can leave memories of his life. For parents out there, never let your child's "thread" get too far from your own, and hug them and let them know they are loved. I know that Mrs. Simpson loved her son very much, no matter what trouble he got into. All this for a thread that only crossed mine a couple of times, but it is worth it. Those are the memories that make up our lives, that make creation whole. Let us remember them.

I leave this with a linked song from Spotify, since I cannot find it on Youtube. It is Stan Rogers' song "Delivery Delayed," sung by Mary Travers of Peter, Paul, and Mary. It suggests that, even when we are born, our lives have many births, whether religious or otherwise. In this song, we grow up, grow apart, and only are "delivered" when we reach out for the love of our parents, only to find it had always been there. A very powerful song, and fitting for this Eulogy.