Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bioshock: Rivets, Rapture, and Ayn Rand.

[As with most of my reviews, I try not to reveal plot lines and key points, but some are necessary. For the most part, the reviews I write are more how I experienced the work, not about the work itself. For the an important part of the work is what we bring into it, almost as much as what the author brings.]

So tonight, at the end of 2013, I finished up Bioshock 2, the second half of the Rapture story.  I've needed an escape for the past few weeks, someplace to go in between hospital visits.  My routine has been interrupted, and sometimes that's good, but there are times that I've come home to an empty house and wanted another world to dip into.  And so I've got my Kobo Mini (see last post) for books, and I installed Bioshock 1 and 2 on my computer.  With my time all messed up, I caught myself playing until 2am (after all that's not late, is it?) and exploring a city constructed at the bottom of the sea. 

You start off surviving a plane crash, and swimming in the Atlantic to a mysterious tower on a island, and from there, you descend into the modern/classic architecture that would come out of Ayn Rand's Fountainhead or the decadence of the 1920's.  Many scenes remind me of the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, or even the posh reception room at the front of Emory's Hospital wing.  But the city, Rapture, is in disrepair, and the people living there not much better.  The most striking part of entering the city is Bobby Darin's "Sailin'" playing on 1940's radio (the story starts in 1959).  Perhaps that's the best part of the game, the music itself.  From Bing Crosby's "Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime," to Patti Page's "How Much is that Doggie in the Window?" the crooning sounds fit perfectly into a place where drugged madmen, monstrosities with giant drills for hands assist young girls in extracting chemicals from dead bodies (in almost a creepy Lolita sorta way.)  There's actually a soundtrack that is available on Spotify or Amazon, and playlists on Spotify where people have taken the music and lined it up as it appears in the game.  One final point about the music, the haunting version of "Jesus Loves Me" sung by a delusional German trapped in a room is one of the strongest usages of music in any video game, or in any modern media.  

Then, as you look at the artwork displayed proudly at the beginning of the game, you realize that the founder, one Andrew Ryan, is very directly created from the philosophies of Ayn Rand. Bioshock 1 takes Objectivism, points out its obvious human flaws, inserts scientific breakthroughs, and then stretches it all to its logical extreme.  In this world, you get to look at John Galt's world without morality, and in a world where the ability to change your DNA in a Laissez-faire system without any regulations, it gets bad fast.  

I've said in the past that Ayn Rand's (and therefore Andrew Ryan) ideas are good, but they don't take into account human nature.  I've also said that Rand's attitude that Christianity and Objectivism cannot mix is wrong, and in this game, Religion is a main theme.  Bibles are smuggled in (indeed, Ryan thought that any communication with the outside world was forbidden), followers of Christ are seen throughout the game crucified, men cry to God, "Why have you forsaken me?" right before they start shooting at you.  But before my Christian friends would decry the game as unplayable, I would argue that this game is an Apologetics dream.  In this game, you are presented with ideological arguments, and the choices you make in the game will determine the verdict.  

I call it "a game," because Bioshock 1 and 2 are essentially two halves of the same story. The sequel intertwines in wondrous ways, so much so that it is impossible to play it without the original first.  I do agree that the first half is better, much like John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Two different pilgrims finding their way to Heaven, and finding temptations all along the way.  But the first half, with Christian, is much better.  Thing is, with Bunyan's work, you can read the first half, and it will be complete.  With Bioshock, you've got to play both halves for a complete story.  

The second story starts with you being one of those monstrosities with drills for hands, and 10 years after the first, you meet Dr. Sofia Lamb, who has instituted a Socialist society after the downfall of the Objectivist one.  It, too, dismisses religion (in fact, Lamb inserts herself as the savior of the people, and is worshiped much like God), and in that, Lamb, like Ryan, does not take into account human nature.  It is an argument used for both ends of an ideological spectrum.  I don't understand that, as ideologically sound both arguments are (and, in truth, pure Communism is a great idea, if you leave human nature out of it, same with Pure Objectivism), both can never work.  They are Thesis and Antithesis. The notion that compromise, a Synthesis, is the only way it would work, and I would have to agree.  

There is a prequel book, that was published in 2011, that I have yet to read, and want to.  Also, there is a third game, Bioshock Infinite that I have yet to play. 

CAUTION The games are best played with the sound on. BUT, the insane inhabitants of Rapture have no problem using vile language and violent acts.  These are not to be played with kids around.  Oh, and one more thing... Bioshock 2... it crashed my computer every time I quit playing it. Nothing major, but I did have to cold reboot it every time. Looking online, it seems it's a widespread problem with no available fix. Had something to do with Windows Live or the Graphic system (and I had a store bought legal copy, not a pirated copy). I even re-downloaded a copy from the Steam system, and it did the same thing. So.... yeah... just to let you know.  

One last thing, to wrap things up.  This is a first-person shooter game. I usually don't like those games, and with the exception of Half-Life, I can't stand them.  They are better fit for those who just like the violence and like large explosions.  I like neither.  But the plot line and the arguments given are superb, and so, to bypass much of the difficulty I have with this genre, I put it on easy.  In truth, the end of both games became too easy that way, but on Medium (and I tried that) I became bogged down in just trying to stay alive. So if you don't like first-person shooters, play the game on Easy, and if you like these games, put it on Medium or Hard, whatever your choice.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Ender Afterwards; E-Readers; and Emory Hospital Food

This December has been stressful, with my mom having an Aortic Aneurysm and needing surgery (which means both my mom and dad will have had the chest scar of open heart surgery), and I can drive from my house to Emory Hospital over on North Decatur road in my sleep (and have, several times). So I have not done blog posts this month as I would normally. The Christmas season is usually full of great observations about society as it maneuvers its way through the Long December.  Working at Lifeway as I do, it does add a unique slant on things, as we are able to say, proudly and defiantly to all the world, "Merry Christmas," and it's wonderful to do.  It becomes natural after a while, as if Christmas was indeed what all of December was about, filled with the celebration of Jesus through all the many different ways, through all the many Christmas carols in 3/4 time that get stuck in my head (but that's a good thing).

Hospital stays are as divergent from real life as about anything possible.  Everything stops.  It becomes a game of "Hurry Up and Wait" with tons of waiting time in between short bursts of emotional fervor and dramatic action.  Fortunately, our family has had the pleasure of working with Emory this time, with all its elegance, warmth, beauty, and class.  Christmas time at Emory is something to see.  The varied Christmas trees are spectacular, along with the architecture of the sudden waiting rooms, both modern and classical, which are quiet pleasing to weary eyes.  The bridges over Clifton St. are lined with pictures of bridges (I wanted to add the Bridge of Sighs in Venice and my brother suggested we put a picture of Lloyd Bridges, see if anyone would get the joke), and the gift shop wall has framed images of the different seasons, suggesting a year round presence, and a calming one at that.

So, with all this waiting, I've been able to read, and so I have a couple of quick reviews and thoughts about this month.

Review: Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card

A direct sequel to all the Ender books that have come before ( namely Ender's Game and the Shadow series), I decided to read this after seeing the movie.  It's amazing how, since I've read Card's Ender books for so long, how what I see as the house Ender and Valentine lived in was so much different from the one they shot in the movie.  However, since Ender (Asa Butterfield) and Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford, and let's face it, you've never seen Han Solo as anyone other than Harrison Ford) were so well played, they can easily be the figures in my head for those characters.  Bean, however, I tend to stick with the images in my head, as Aramis Knight just didn't work for me on that one.

Anyway,  so I picked up Ender in Exile and eased back into the world that I've visited so many times before. It was a pleasant read, experienced much like watching a Star Trek: TNG episode, where everyone interact with each other with the experience of a well oiled machine.  It's typical OSC, and I love it.  Problem with this book was that it read so much like a sequel to the film, with the scrunching of details, characterization, etc... that I thought it was being written to become a film, not a book.  It's a quaint place holder to get Ender from Eros (not, as in the movie, a Formic home base where he finds the Hive Queen) to the new colony of Shakespeare (which, in the book, he actually does find the Hive Queen.)  Science Fiction masterpiece, it's not (go read Speaker for the Dead/Xenocide for true masterpieces of literature, but it was a wonderful distraction at a time when I needed it.


I recently purchased (yet again, for reasons I'll explain) another Kobo, because the Kobo Touch I had, the battery died and it wouldn't recharge at all.  So QVC had the Kobo Mini for $50 on clearance, so I got one.  It's the cutest little e-reader in the whole world, and I like it.  So why, you ask, after I've had two Kobo's go dead on me, do I buy a third?  It's simple, really, it's called principle.  Kobo is a Canadian (via the Japanese) company that bases its e-reader upon open source technology. Namely, the *.epub file, which can be read by any system, and is easy to convert, store, and is not a proprietary file name used by only one online bookstore that is also a South American River.  I looked at Barnes & Noble's Nook, and at Amazon's Kindle, but I found them unsatisfactory for a number of reasons:

  1. The Nook and Kindle are run by specific companies with a specific goal in mind, to make Money.  So since they made the device, they can put programming language that tracks everything you do or read or search for on the device, and then they suggest items based upon your search history.  And while, yes, I know, Google does the exact same thing, I'm just not comfortable with Amazon knowing everything I do.  
  2. I want a device that does one thing.... let me read books.  I don't want the web on there, I don't want games, or music, or video, or anything else.  JUST BOOKS!!!I have ADOS (Attention Deficit Ooohh Shiney!), and the last thing I want on a electronic book reader are things that will make it harder to use the device to read a book.  It's why I can'r watch any of the DVDs I have in my room, because there are so many other distractions to keep me from watching the movie.  Not to mention the alluring convenience of the Fast Forward and Rewind and Skip To buttons.  I have an AlphaSmart 3000 that just types blogs, for when I want to work on this outside of my room, and now I have a Kobo that allows me to read e-books outside of actually taking the book with me.  And yes, I know, just take the book.  But it's easier, sometimes, to take the e-reader with me.  And sometimes (like right now) when I forget the Kobo at work, I'll have a duplicate book at home, so I'll never be able to not have a book with me.  
  3. It's cheaper this way, and honestly, I don't get the need to have a tablet with you to be in constant connection with everything on the Interwebz.  Besides, that's what a cell phone is for, if you have one of those.  
  4. I'm old fashioned, and, despite loving technology... I hate technology, and so the closest I can get to a book with it having e-book qualities, that's what I want, so that's what I have. 
I read recently an article which describes the growing sales of Kindles, Nooks, and Tablets, but the leveling off, and in some cases, the decreasing of sales of e-books for the various devices.  I can't help but wonder if my reasons above are the main cause of the leveling out of e-book sales.  Who wants to read a book on the Kindle if there's so many other distractions on the same machine? I certainly don't. It would be interesting to see sales of e-books for the Kobo compared to the other devices.  The numbers will be much smaller, but I'll be that for Kobo e-readers (or any dedicated e-reader) the sales of e-books have not decreased at all.  And that Kobo cares about and partners with the Independent bookstores throughout the US, Canada, and the World, they understand the balance between the digital book and the one made of harvested tree pulp.    

Hospital Food

"Just a little somethin' for the pain..." I miss Shoney's... or rather... I miss their salad bar.  I'm on a continual trek to find good salad bars (well, and cream cheese Danishes), and so whenever I find one, I have to get me a big heapin' salad with meat and cheese and lettuce and dressing.  So Emory Hospital has, amongst the rest of the Hospital food, a salad bar that is absolutely amazing! And the five to six dollars they charge for it is so worth it.  The Caesar dressing reminds me of the dressing they had a college (and since the companies that serve both are similar, there's probably a reason). So next time I happen to be in the area, I'll probably go over there, find a place to park that's not in the parking deck, and walk over there.  Probably the only time I'll actually want to be in a hospital.  

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Obligatory Thankgiving Blog IV

I actually only do these once every few years, looking back at the others.  I see how my life has changed, how different things (except my heater) that I've been thankful for, different people, different jobs.  I think it's a different button that I'm thankful for this year... the "off" button.  I've realized that there are so many electronic gadgets at my house that I never really get around to doing the things that are really important.  So I looked at what games I was playing online, "Bejeweled Blitz," for instance, and saw that it was serving no real purpose, that the learning curve was gone, so I stopped playing. I turned it off.  True, there are some useless games I still play, like those on the GSN site, but only for a few minutes, like Solitare (which actually has a very useful application if it's 3AM and you're in a dorm room with no AC and sick as a dog...long story).  It's like going to a Chinese Buffet.  You stuff yourself, and you think you've enjoyed it, but you walk out feeling "blah" and 3 hours later, you're hungry again.  Useless, but sometimes you just have a craving for an egg roll.  So in moderation, uselessness is okay.

Or the Disney Channel shows I have watched.  I think that has to do with the shut down of Shake It Up and the continuation of truly sorry shows on the station. So, I turned them off. I might one day download them and watch them, but right now, I'm content not to.  I need to read all the books I have in my house, anyway.  All these books, it's a sign of one's mortality.  I see all the people donating books to the library every day, and I realize that, in doing so, I would be acknowledging my mortality, that I would never possibly get to all the books in my library, so why not get rid of them.  May I live long enough to read all of them.

I'm thankful for the Nancy Guinn Library, and the Friends of the Library organization I belong to.  I'm still in touch with the books that I love to sell, with the authors and titles that I've read over the years, and I feel the challenge of showing the public of Rockdale County how valuable a repository of books and other media is to everyone's lives.  Here, in this building, is the knowledge we seek to grow, outside the meager education system we have currently.  All those words, all those thoughts, and they sit on those shelves and in those computer banks, just waiting to be plucked out and processed in our minds.  Woven like a quilt with all the other experiences and bytes of data jumbled like thread in our brains.  And it's all there!!

I'm also thankful to Gwen for recruiting me for the organization, and for helping me to get a car when I needed one so badly.  It allows me to walk all over this community of ours and see the beauty right beyond my own door.  You can see pictures of all that in any number of blogs prior to this.  I'm so thankful I live in a place with such diversity and beauty as Rockdale County.  I should have been walking years ago.

 I'm thankful for the conversations I've had with friends online, like Jacob, Chris, and Davis, giving me the chance to offer help and support to others.  It's amazing to see people walking down those paths, working on their own dreams and goals. I've always been a helper, it's what I do.  Use words and thoughts to help other people down that road toward whatever destination they have.  I know Davis, in particular, will arrive at those mountain tops, and stand proudly at the culmination of his dreams. I only hope I can help.  

So now I must go to bed, and rise tomorrow to face another Christmas shopping season at a bookstore, with all the hard work and joy that it brings.  Only a month from now, it'll be a new year (well, almost) and time for new challenges, new opportunities, new paths to walk down.  I will be thankful for the sun when it rises, that the warm air will pick up my feet and I shall walk those new roads, wherever they may take me.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Movie Review: Ender's Game

First off, a little background.  Orson Scott Card is my favorite author. All (most) of his books have read like cinematic masterpieces in my head, with scenes brilliantly made, better than George Lucas or Spielberg could ever have made them.  I would walk to the kitchen, take a break, and get something to eat or whatever, and walk back wondering what great TV show I had been watching, only to remember it was one of Card's books I had been reading feverishly all day long.  So let's make it clear that OSC's books don't need movies, they're that good by themselves.  But as Hollywood is consistently running out of original material, it's always going to find a cherished book to make a movie out of.  And this works, but only if the author has some sort of advisory role in the film.  Some examples from recent times: Where the Wild Things Are was filmed with the now late Sendak as an advisor... brilliant film (and you must go rent it and watch it, but get the soundtrack first so that you can howl and sing along with the movie). Life of Pi also had Yann Martel as a distant advisor, but the script was so faithful to the book, it hardly mattered.  While I was at the theatre, I saw the latest trailer for the next Hobbit movie, one which I will probably never see, even with Tolkien's works, and the Hobbit in particular, being of monumental importance to my life. It was done with a stretch of artistic license, and all the movies were not given approval by Tolkien's estate (although I imagine they don't mind the money coming from the book sales, etc...)

As far back as 99, Card had been writing on his blog about the status of the Ender's Game movie.  At the time, he was fighting with the film companies over the script.  Some wanted to give Ender a girl friend, to turn it into a "Kid's Movie," something that would have been totally against the book itself.  Card has never written books for children (and the one time he has, the Young Adult themed book Pathfinder, I found it unreadable.) They are about children surviving and thriving in an adult world, filled with the violence and moral decisions that exist all around us.  His books are ultimately about the transition from Blake's Lamb to the Tyger, from Innocence to Experience, from childhood happiness to ultimately, sorrowful knowledge of the essence of life and death.  Any attempt to change this theme would destroy the spirit of the book, and would ultimately fail in Card's eyes.

So it was back in 99, when a picture came out of Jake Lloyd reading Ender's Game as part of a literacy campaign that there was wide speculation that Jake would be Ender.  But the stubbornness of the film industry to make a movie that reflected the spirit of the book would make it impossible (well, that and the insane amount of jeering from fans at Lloyd's supposed lack of acting as the part of Anakin Skywalker which pushed him from acting all together).

I went, in 2007, to a book signing by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston at the Greenville Barnes & Noble in South Carolina.  I rented a Chevy Cobalt and drove up there.  I wound up sitting next to Card's wife during the amazing signing, and she received a phone call from the producers of the movie at the signing.  She had to step away to take it.  If you ever can go to one of his book signings, it's a wonderful experience.  I've got several of my hardbacks signed.

Now, to the movie.  Orson Scott Card helped produce the movie, so I went in with full confidence that Card approved the script and helped mold it into what he thought was a faithful representation of the entire book.  Sure, there are parts of the novel which aren't in the movie, such as Peter and Valentine's Internet personas and any happenings on Earth.  Ultimately, the movie is about Ender, about what it takes to be a leader and face overwhelming odds and know that the people around you will follow you to the end, even if it means their own deaths.

Now, the critical part.  The movie works as a condensed version of the book.  Faithful in every respect, and wonderful, but condensed.  All the violence, the mental anguish, the moral decisions made by an almost Evil Col. Graff, everything condensed into the lines that were in the script.  And it comes out with that vehemence. Harrison Ford as Col. Graff does an excellent job conveying the soulless military commander with a soul.  Even in the head motions when Ender hugged Valentine had volumes built into it.  But it's all condensed, and you have to understand that.  It plays out like a Cliff's Notes of the book.  Which will make for interesting teaching in the future, as this is a common Summer Reading selection for schools.  So some will say that they are disappointed in the lack of everything else that is in the book.  That each Battle School competition wasn't in there, that the twisted ways they alienated Ender wasn't spelled out in detail.  But all this just wasn't possible to make a 2 hour movie.  Perhaps in the DVD some of the deleted parts will flesh some of this out.

I agree with other online critics who say that, as promotion of the movie, the execs. should have made a trailer with emphasis on the children, to encourage a wider range of demographics to go to the movie. Instead, the trailers (below) show mostly Harrison Ford, who is great, but doesn't have the attention to the teens who are pining for the next Hunger Games movie (I know I said above that OSCs books are not for children, but when it comes to movies and the financial end of it, it must be the younger crowd that are enticed to see the movie.  Heck, they might even learn something, come out better for it. Grow up a little.)  I could also envision the movie being more of a "sports" movie, focusing on the Battle School competitions, but that, again, would take time away from the overall themes which are central to the story, the development of Ender as a leader and as the savior of the world.  You don't know Jesus' every day activities, only the special ones.  Who knows what other miracles he performed each day, but weren't written down.  We only see the "Battles" which are essential to the maturation of Ender.  Read the book for the rest.

There is one point in the movie where a twinge of outrage comes into play, and I put it in the review because it's not warranted as the movie plays out, and I want to put it here in case someone reads this prior to watching the move (and especially if you've read the book already).  Ender is told that he is going, after his "graduation" from Battle School, to a place near the Formic Invaders' homeworld.  This leads the informed viewer to think that the idea of a "game" as the invasion is going to be lost in the ending.  Don't worry, it hasn't been, and my concern about blowing the ending was unfounded.  The movie ends quickly, as the book does, and it opens it up for sequels, movies that are also totally unfilmable, as it was perceived that Ender's Game was.  Speaker for the Dead is a masterpiece of characterization, one that carries over to Xenocide (although not so much to Children of the Mind) and is absolutely brilliant.  Go buy Speaker but make sure you get one with the introduction by Card himself.  The analysis of personalities at the beginning has totally changed the way I look at the relationships between people, and I use the framework every day.  The Shadow series would be equally as impossible to film, with the children on the Battle School ship becoming the military leaders of the entire world.  No one would believe it, and the complexities of the plot could never be filmed (thank goodness).  It is much the same as Timothy Zahn's Star Wars sequels, which are quite unable to be filmed, and amazing reading.  My suggestion would be to try and film Ender in Exile, which I have not read yet, but will shortly.

So go watch the movie, and then, if you haven't, for heaven's sake, go read the books, in whatever order you like (I recommend doing them in the order published), and watch the movies in your head, as they will be infinitely greater than anything Hollywood could ever produce.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

My Blessed Flyswatter

Or, in other words, things that bug me.

Imagine David, as a youth, facing up against Goliath with nothing but a sling and some stones (and a whole lot of faith), or in the secular world, that day when the Neanderthal Man has enough of running from the Smilodon and stands up to him with a blunt object or spear. As men, we have stood up against all the predators of this world with swords and arrows, even guns and such. Modern day Man has conquered all that would prey on him (except himself), so what then, is our weapon of choice to control pests that would invade our property? The answer is simple... the Tupperware light-green Flyswatter. The flyswatter is my gun, my big stick, my automatic rifle. And I'm an expert at it. The six-legged monsters I go after like some scene out of Starship Troopers... Cockroaches. You can't live in Georgia and not be intimately familiar with the pests. The weapons one uses to fight them when seen: a heavy book (unfortunately, my collection of Orson Scott Card short stories is always handy, and cleaned afterward), a can of bug spray or Dow Bathroom Cleaner, and my trusty flyswatter. How is it that man, having been the master of all that is laid out before him, is reduced from hunting the great predators of this world to six-legged nothings. And why should we feel the same surge of testosterone when killing them? Is this what we are reduced to?

 So I'm driving through my neighborhood, trying to get the speed up to reach escape velocity, to enter the real world, and I see, out beside the trash cans of my neighbors, a large, flat box with the unmistakable symbols of a flat screen TV. The box is waiting patiently for the garbage truck to haul it off. It might as well be a giant neon sign above the house, saying "Rob Me!" It's ridiculous to announce to the world what possessions you have and expect, in today's insane world, not to get it taken away from you. I've always joked that if a robber ever came into my house, they would laugh, go break into another house, and bring me an updated television. I know for sure they can't pick up the monster we have sitting in our living room, nor would they want to.

I hate Jeans. They are necessary when the weather gets cold, but I think there should be a rule that says that you can't wear them between Easter and Thanksgiving. I'll go get my sweatpants.

A small Pine tree growing out of the rock on Bradley Mtn. 
I will say that there is nothing more awe-inspiring in my little neck of the woods than the Arabian-Bradley-Panola Mtns. just to the west. Standing atop the rocks, looking out over the countryside, or walking the trails next to rippling streams and waterfalls, listening to the sounds of birds, the rushing of water, volleys of gunfire...


People go to these hills for a peaceful stroll through the woods, to bike the trails and get exercise. Since the parks are in Dekalb County, quite a few visitors come from that county or from Atlanta. The one thing that they don't want is to be subjected to the sounds of gunfire coming from the Dekalb County Police Gun Range. It's located on N. Goddard Road, right in the middle of the peaceful scenery. I swear, the deer in that area must here gunfire and be totally unconcerned. They'll never hear the one with their name on it. I wonder what other sites they considered, and what political games were played to keep it away from every other area in the county. hmmm....


Finally, every time I go on Facebook, I am inundated by stories where someone is outraged about some cause or injustice. Something that Obamacare has done to make our lives more difficult (which it does with increasing frequency), or the latest of insane protests from PETA as they try to uphold the rights of Rats living in Washington DC (the 4-legged variety, not the ones we elected). We have shocking stories thrown at us every day, each one designed to get our ire up. Television, the Internet, conservative Talk Radio... the things to make us angry grow each day. I want a T-shirt that says "I can't find anything to be Outraged about ... I Protest!!!" Let's make a folk-anti-protest anthem dealing with the scratchy surface of walls (no kidding... sometimes I don't even want to feel the walls... I want gloss!!) And in making it so easy to be momentarily outraged about any one thing, you cease to be legitimately angry about things that are important. And then you can be distracted while true injustices go by unnoticed and unpunished. There's no sense in fixing the economy if everyone is up in arms about the latest NFL scandal, or about the latest spying attributed to the NSA. Why don't we be happy for once? Find those things in life that we can be truly proud of, that make us smile and fill our insides with that warm fuzzy feeling, and hold on to those things. There's no reason to be upset when there are joys right under your nose, just waiting to be experienced. We just have to look past trivial things, and notice the importance of the world around us. Billy Joel said it best:

I believe I've passed the age
of Consciousness and Righteous Rage.
I found that just surviving was a noble fight.
I once believed in causes, too.
I had my pointless point of view,
and life went on no matter who was wrong or right.
 ~ "Angry Young Man"


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Climb Ev'ry Large Rock

Denzil Pugh is climbing a mountain. Why is he climbing a mountain? I've been walking trails for a year or so now, through the forests, through spider webs and around snakes and across rivers. The trails have taken me towards granite boulders that sit on the sides of hills, growing moss, collecting leaves. I've climbed hills and looked out over the next horizon and seen Stone Mountain in the distance. And the roads have curved through and exited Rockdale County into Dekalb, until my next walk took me to the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve The experience I had there, at the foot of the monadnocks (large, single rocks, like Stone Mountain), was similar to the beginning of my travels at the South Rockdale Community Park.  Coming out of the forest, following the path, I saw massive power lines stretching to the horizon.  Constructs of steel, electricity, power... how awesome it was, to see what man had built to run every aspects of our lives.  Reaching the end of the forest around Bradley Mountain (I parked at the southern end of the area, near the AWARE wildlife area, and followed the rock cairns), I saw a vast expanse of rock sloping upwards, many feet high, with those cairns like pimples spotting the landscape.  In the same way that man created the power lines, so did God create these monoliths of granite, providing evidence of His power, as well as his generosity.  The rock here, called Tidal Grey, is sought after for building countertops...etc...  It becomes the rock, the clay, as it were, that man creates his own world.  In a sense, he is emulating his Creator.  

So I climbed up Bradley Mountain, following the cairns, stopping frequently to catch my breath, as I'm not in the best of shape, but eventually, I reached the last cairn, and the top of the massive rock.  Having never been on top of a mountain before, it was a totally new experience.  Out across the horizon, I could see the tops of the skyscrapers in Atlanta, and Water Towers as reservoirs for the communities hidden in the trees.  The wind blew, and high above me, hawks or buzzards circled in currents high above the rock, looking for an easy meal.  I felt much like the Traveller in Caspar David Friedrich's  "A Traveller Upon a Sea of Mist." It gave me satisfaction, confidence.  I think climbing this mountain, or one like it, is something everyone should do, just to have the experience.  I will most definitely do it again. 

I tied two references to this blog at the top.  First, Mother Superior singing "Climb Every Mountain" from The Sound of Music, which combines the actual mountains of the Alps with the metaphors of life as a mountain.  And while I could go on for pages looking at this very obvious image, used by most every author that had a mountain in their works, I won't.  Because William Shatner did it so much better.  In his interview for Star Trek V, Shatner describes the second scene of the movie, which has Captain Kirk climbing a mountain in Yosemite National Park. He attempts a rationalization of the scene, using the mountain as metaphor, and does a great job of it, no
matter what the other people commenting on the Youtube video say.  It is man conquering nature, God, if you want to go that far (which, obviously, is the theme of that movie, with Kirk going to a world that housed "God," which turns out to be a malicious alien, which the Enterprise fires upon.)

However, I don't think the idea of climbing Bradley Mountain is analogous to destroying God. Rather, I think seeing nature in its full beauty at the top, in all its fragile wonderment, along with the sharp cuts of quarry work, carving out the stone to make the buildings we live in everyday, is a fitting relationship. We both use the stone and then let it stand.  I find the paradox in what I find beautiful about the mountain.  I've seen many pictures of the area--pictures of wildflowers, of the red moss that is unique to the rocks, of the pine trees growing strong and bold from cracks in the rocks themselves--and yes, that is all wonderful.  What I find aesthetically pleasing is the rock itself and what we have done to it and with it.  The cuts, the creations, the water carving out pools and snakes of black upon
slabs of gray.  Probably what I spent most time looking at was the square slab structure made at the far north side of Bradley Mountain on my latest walk around the trails.  Next to the fence that denotes still private property, there is a square structure of granite, solid, held together by metal bolts. Atop it, people have set smaller granite rocks, and on the back, a metal door, which I did not open.  I don't know what it was for, but it was probably made for quarry storage.  What would people, some tens of thousands of years from now, think of it when they find it in a probably now barren planet?  A shrine, a religious construct, an altar? To thank God for the rocks?  Who knows?

If you want to get more information about Arabian Mountain, especially the wildlife and plants, go to Kay's blog here.   She has walked the trails for much longer than I have, and has more knowledge of the ecology there.

I tried, before I left the top of that mountain, to stand as Friedrich's Traveller did, and feel as Howard Roark did at the beginning of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, seeing the hill he was standing on as both itself, the grand beauty of it, and as potential, what he could make of this beauty with his own hands.  We've been given this world by God to construct to glorify Him, but also to make Him proud, to emulate Him, to become creators ourselves.  Let us use this world in that manner, respectfully, adding beauty while preserving it. With reverence as we cut into the stone, with wonder that we are even here to see it.  Let us climb more mountains.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Sticks and Swords

There is nothing like an "L" shaped stick. Any type of tree will do, with the branch at a right angle to the other, or perhaps two. The idea of a boy playing with a stick-gun would make some people now cringe and report them to the school authorities or worse, to the police, but there was a time when a stick was a boy's trusty companion.  Even just a plain one would make an excellent sword, one that would rival Excalibur, or the Sword of Omens (for those that lived in the 80's.)  The trees became bases, the thickets a shelter which could withstand any storm, be it real or mental.  A well placed chair, or a blanket, and you have a place to think, or read, or to plan attacks on the neighboring base across the yard.  Even better, a couple of well nailed planks of wood became a treehouse, and the adventures were glorious. Would that every child have a favorite stick to play with. I've always had a walking stick that I used as a staff, as something to twirl around like Donatello would do (TMNT reference), and as a trusty companion on my walks.

And after it rains, there's a rainbow, but all of the colors are black
It's not that the colors aren't there, it's just imagination they lack...
~Paul Simon "My Little Town" 
I remember walking around the neighborhood in the early 90's. Rolling Green, our little microcosm of people... such amazing times... but that is for another time. Anyway, we would make up games. One, I remember, was a collection of street hockey, football, and ultimate frisbee. Or something like that. That was fun!! But anyway, I would walk around the neighborhood in the summer, with school out and not a thing to do but watch old reruns of Lost in Space, and I would try to find someone that would want to play something. I'd even settle for watching them play basketball (I didn't play very well. I was a wall. It wasn't fun.), but everyone was out at their respective Soccer camps. Organized sports, in whatever form, is an attempt by adults to bring structure and rules into a child's world. Sure, it is a chance for bonding, lessons to be learned, rules to be followed, the social hierarchy to be introduced. But it doesn't allow children to be what they are... children. It doesn't allow for the growth of the imagination, for the boundaries of creativity to be stretched beyond the goal lines.
Remember when... we were a'chasin' after Wooden Airplanes...
Yes I believe that was, the finest time.
~Art Garfunkel "Wooden Planes"
I believe that this lack of imagination is what will eventually kill the movie industry. The imagination of directors, to use props, fantastic new camera technologies, inventive sound effects mixing the rain forest with factory sounds (or something like that...) I've said before, I would much rather see the potato disguised as an asteroid than realize that everything I'm seeing is a computer generated image. It's what made (among other things) the Star Wars Prequels so bad. It's what makes most of the summer blockbuster movies ones that have a sequel number after them or ones adapted from movies made only a few years prior. I have had it with dozens of superhero movies every summer. I won't go see them... I will barely go see any other summer blockbuster movie. Too many explosions and useless scenes made for sensationalism instead of intelligent thought. I get the feeling that some directors use no imagination, not to mention thought at all. Speaking of science-fiction... I was having a conversation with a friend of mind, Steven, who was lamenting the fact that Legos have developed more into specific lines of toy brands, with mythologies and characters all their own, instead of giving children general blocks and instructions and waiting for them to do something with them. He said this, in Italics: 

"When Lego first started introducing their themed kits, the idea was that a child could be encouraged to use their imagination to build something completely different with the blocks provided, but they don't do that anymore. Pieces are custom designed to fit together in a specific way now to recreate some licensed product. They even have moving parts and "firing" missiles and "mini-figures". There's room for imaginative play, but no room for personal creativity. With the same set of Legos I built spaceships and magical swords and seagoing submersibles and all kinds of wacky things. The Lego sets represent an ongoing trend in "interactive" toys that seem to play with themselves. Nerf guns that work better than real firearms, action figures that talk and practically move on their own, and video games. Know what I had in my toy box when I was a kid, besides a collection of mismatched Legos? Sticks. Sticks that I found in the back yard (pine sticks can make very good "swords"). Sure, I had a huge collection of G.I. Joes at one point, and I had some pretty imaginative campaigns against the less well equipped Cobra forces, but give me a stick and some privacy in the woods behind the house, I was Conan the Space Marine. 

We must return the gift of imagination to our children. I see kids now walking around with their faces buried in tablets of glass and metal, as if worshiping this device, concentrating more on the game at hand and not on the world around them. Course, I sometimes think that the kids are simply afraid of nothingness, of what their brains might say or think or do if they didn't have the soccer camp, the cell phone, the constant stimuli. Might they find themselves growing up into adults, and find out that they had truly never lived? I sometimes think of myself as that Pedestrian in Ray Bradbury's short story of that name. In the world so consumed by technology that no one ever goes outside, a lone person walks, and, upon being stopped by the police, they find him crazy that he is not involved in the addictive stimuli provided at great length by society, and is carted off to some mental institution. (If you want to experience the story in an interesting fashion... with distractions of light, sound, and rhythm, what we would experience in the real world, try this Youtube Video of Ray Bradbury's story.)

I could just as easily used Gene Wilder's singing of "Pure Imagination," or the idea that The Neverending Story is a parallel of people losing their imagination to this world, resulting in the ominous cloud called The Nothing, but I think I'll leave you with a song, one that I bought originally on my High School Graduation night, on Peter, Paul, and Mary's Lifelines album. A song written by Buddy Mondlock, and in this video, sung by him, Art Garfunkel, and Maia Sharp:  "The Kid."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Response to Sarvis' Blog Post

Michael Sarvis, who is a youth pastor at Smyrna Presbyterian Church here in Conyers, started his own blog, and his first blog was really good, so I answered back with a similarly sized post. Verbosity is good.


and my response, which is probably below his, but I'll put it here anyway so I can keep track of my ramblings.  :)

A very good Christian woman once told me that the wisest thing you can learn is when *not* to say anything. I’ve seen this many times online, in the comments of Yahoo news articles and Twitter feeds, in the incessant arguments found on any given Instagram picture. Take any pop icon’s picture of themselves or whatever, scroll down a ways, and the blathering idiot fans will resort to a war of name calling, homophobic slurs, cursing that would make a sailor blush with shame, etc…
Sometimes loving someone is knowing when best *not* to get involved, when to let the people you care about fight it out for themselves, but to be there if needed. There are times in my life when I have stepped “up to the plate” for my friends, a couple of times, I have saved their lives doing it. But I know there are times when getting involved will only make things worse for them, or for me. Sometimes it’s up to God to see them “through” the fires they face . Or rather, sometimes it’s better to let God handle it, and not try to cover up all the bumps and bruises that they will face along the way. A child touches a burner for the experience, and it’s up to the parent to make it feel better afterwards, but it is impossible to keep every harm away from their children. A bee sting, a black eye, a bruise, a cut, a broken heart. Sure, we could bundle up everyone inside of bubble wrap and make everyone safe and secure, keep everyone away from danger, from failure, but then no one would learn anything.
You teach a child in the way they should go, and then hope they never stray from that path. But there’s a time when, in a parent’s life, they can no longer protect the child. The boundaries must be set at that point. If they decide to go out in front of a large crowd at an award show and dry hump a guy like a dog in heat, then there’s really nothing the parent can do. But pray, and make sure that the boundaries are set for the next child that comes along. In this case, sometimes the proper thing to say, is nothing at all. In the case of George W. Bush, when his daughters got caught for underage drinking in Texas, he didn’t use the power of the presidency to get them off the hook, but rather, he let them go through the judicial process just like any other person. Would that the judicial process work on every other celebrity. But sometimes we enjoy watching people fall from the precipice of fame time and again. This is the price for pursuing fame.
As for yourself, the journey you take in life is yours. You can take the paths you want, and the consequences, be they good or bad, will be there. A Christian person, or someone with boundaries , will find their paths with few ticks, robbers waiting in the bushes (although doubtless, they will find some clouds filled with rain… all the better to cleanse you during your walk), and those without boundaries, that take their paths, will be attacked by rabid dogs. All you can do is pray, and have God help you through the rough times. And pray for those without boundaries , that they may find them (and their clothing) again. If those that are your friends want to walk with you, that is wonderful, there will be people to talk to. If not, that’s okay… you know your destination, may you find your way to it.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Workin' and Walkin'

I think I will hire a goat.  Or a llama.  They have some over on Highway 20... love to come out to the fence during rush hour and be seen, watching the cars go by.  And it's my fault really, for letting the plants grow so. Why once, after a particularly long roller coaster of a vacation, we came back to Polk Trees in our backyard, ones that had grown so large their trunks had become wooden... much higher than me (well, me at that time, anyway).  And the briars and the brambles and the bushes (where the rabbits couldn't go), they climb all over the backyard.  Just today I tried the pair of loppers to get rid of the small trees that the weedwhacker couldn't touch, all of which the mower couldn't get to because of the steep inclines everywhere.  Sigh.... my backyard is usually a disaster area, and it takes all summer to wrestle it into submission, and sometimes not even then.  And Georgia does not always guarantee that a cold snap will kill everything.  I've tried bleach, I've tried plant-b-gone.  I'd try lighting the whole place ablaze, except I enjoy living in my house, and I'm sure my neighbors like their houses.

But I've found out over the past couple of years that it's not that bad, really.  In fact, I enjoy going outside and doing some manual labor.  I'm the only one that will climb upon my roof and clean out the gutters (much to the dismay of the many bugs that call those gutters home).  And my wonderfully reliable $20 lawn mower that was bought refurbished from Lowes, I think, runs over anything, and when it hits something, you start it up and go again.  Unlike most of the $200 new ones that break within the first summer.

I think it has something to do with my walking.  I've realized that there's something vital in the doing of menial chores outside.  As if it were part of a primordial gene program, that the methods of survival go well beyond sitting in front of a computer all day.  What function does using our brain 24/7 while our bodies go to waste serve, other than to dramatically shorten our lives, while enhancing our intelligence?  We would be simply giant brains, and nothing else.  I guess that's one of the reasons why I hate Big Bang Theory, for the evolution of mankind should certainly not come to those idiots.  Rather, let us praise those who can use their hands, can plow the fields and strip the metal and take apart a motor and put it back together again, and hear the vibrations come like a B-flat hum of function and beauty.  For what would we be without people who kept the whole of this world running, repairing that which is broken, and creating that which the brains have developed.

Take, for instance, the trails upon which I walk, the power lines that stretch to the unending horizon, beautiful latticework of poles and wires, all pulsing with electricity, to power every bit of our lives. Take the bridges that span the South River, the one they just finished on Lower Alexander Lake, the wood and steel, all to bring natural beauty to the people of Rockdale County. Imagine the sweat and toil and splinters that went into those structures.  I said something similar when I talked about the Gazebo that Keith Asher made at the South Rockdale Comm. Park for his Eagle Scout project.  That's manual labor, and it's the highest accomplishment for a Boy Scout.  Not beating the latest Call Of Duty game, but making something from the resources of this Earth into something beautiful.

I realize I can't do all that... but I have been able to work outside this summer.  I took our ladder and propped it up against the tree in the front yard and used a hand saw to cut off a dead branch.  And then there's walking... purely to walk.  Miles of trail to be covered.  And it's a joy to walk in the summer heat, humid air all around me, sun shining down.  It's actually a good thing to sweat, and to feel the cool breezes coming through the forests.  It such a pleasurable sensation.  It makes me happy. Of course, the physical benefits of walking, the exercise, the Vitamin D production, the regulation of Serotonin and Dopamine levels. One of the best things to do for depression is to exercise, to walk. This makes total sense if you look at studies coming out recently which show that depression has risen dramatically recently.  Aside from all the economic, political, and other bad news, I can't help but think that depression is also caused by people being stuck in their chairs in front of computers and televisions all day.  So what if you don't have a job... don't sleep, don't just sit in front of the computer looking at the useless job searching sites.  Walk around the mall and find one, or, if that's not possible, just walk. Down the street, or if there are parks in the area, walk through the trails.  If you're in the city, and it's too dangerous, take one day a week and drive out to someplace where it's possible to walk safely.  I think even once a week would help so much.  It has for me.  I don't even mind the pain I get the next day in my ankles and feet from walking on them for miles and miles. There's bad pain and good pain.  I'd rather have pain from working than pain from not working.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A New Point of View

How wonderful it is to fly... and I know that sounds strange, for one that won't even get on the cable car that goes to the top of Stone Mountain. I have to keep my feet on the ground, except for when they're not.  I've flown in planes many times, seeing the gridded land, the winding rivers, the fields of whatever it is people put in their fields, wheat or corn, or grass for the cows.  Just looking out that one window of the plane. And dreaming of flying, as I've said many times, is the best dream in the world, especially the flights where I'm zipping over lakes and forests and everything without a care.  As potent as Prozac, that is.

So it is no wonder that I'm quite addicted to Google Earth.  The globe appears and ascends toward you, or you descending toward it, until you are right over wherever you want to start.  If ever I would want to travel, it would be after wasting away an hour flying over some foreign land.  I found once, while flying over the capital of Nuuk, Greenland, a picture of a bookstore, the oldest and largest in Greenland, according to its website. Now that would be a trip, to go up to Greenland and find a bookstore (it's right next to the Cultural center and Library, which is a work of magnificent architecture in itself.

The most fascinating thing is finding places lodged inside my memory, and searching for them from the air.  Merging memory and maps, and seeing what's there now.  Take a cold night in 1986, when my grandmother insisted that we get up at 3am and drive out to the northeast corner of Oklahoma City and, at the ampitheatre across from the zoo, view Halley's Comet as it passed by Earth.  Nevermind that we had seen it quite clearly from our own front yard.  I remembered the place clearly, but had no idea where it was in OKC.  So I took to Google Earth, and rummaged around the Oklahoma City Zoo (which is much smaller from the air than it is to a kid in the 1980's) until I found the green semicircle which was no longer used as such.  It is currently the entrance to the Library owned by the Zoo.

Then there's food... my family always knows that my memories are connected to the food that I've eaten in any one spot.  But instead of showing you the locations of all the Braum's in Oklahoma, I remember this one place in Yukon, OK, called Tim's, that had a Donkey Kong video game machine, the old 1981 original made by Nintendo.  And they served the most wonderful fried cheese sticks (more like balls, they were round).  Not mozzarella, but American cheese, gooey and fall apart the instant you bit into it.  SO GOOD!!!   Anyway, it was a hole in the wall place near the Yukon Flour Plant, but I had no idea where it was, so off to Google Earth, and with my mom's help, we found it.  As soon as I hit Street View and looked at the building, I recognized it. It's now called the Fat Elvis Diner, and next time I'm in Oklahoma City, I'll stop by there.

What I really wanted to talk about was the view of the land from so far up in the heavens.  It's funny how the tallest of houses turn into mere squares and rectangles.  Cars disappear into nothing, pools become simple circles of water.  Look at the subdivisions from higher up, and everything looks like the seeds on a strawberry, just little bumps on a curvy line.  Everything we work so hard for, houses with open floor plans, or an added sun room, and when you fly near the clouds, as in a plane, or from the images of a satellite, it's all the same.  And you can hide your mansion back in the deepest forest, down a long driveway far from the road, and when looking from space, as God would, you can see it plain as day.  I can tell where each driveway goes, each trail back to the most glamorous of houses.  Privacy becomes nothing, as the crow flies.

I include this video at the end, because it's where I got the idea for the blog. Jon Mohr (of the Gaither Vocal Band) wrote the lyrics in the 1980's, prior to the advent of Google Maps.  It takes so little work to have a totally new point of view now.  I wonder how few people now actually see it.  How many kids, riding the plane for the first time, would marvel at the sights they've seen so easily on a computer screen, or if they are even looking in the first place.  Perhaps they are too busy looking at the latest Tweets to see the world becoming smaller and smaller, and the clouds floating around them.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Preacher in a Clown Suit

I've never liked doing returns. There's a part of me that says, if we have to return a book, it means I haven't done enough to sell it. Like I've said before, bookselling is one of the few careers where it's entirely possible to fall in love with your product. For those reading who aren't familiar with the idea of returns, they happen quite frequently in retail. With grocery stores, there is usually a "sell by" date in which, if the can of green beans hasn't sold, they are scanned out of the system and sent back (probably just the scan itself or the wrapper maybe) and credit is given because the item hasn't sold. For books, it's a little harder. Books don't have sell by dates. They don't go bad (well, unless it's a travel book or a calendar...etc), so there has to be a conscious decision to return something.

So I was going down the lists of books to return, and I reached the Bibles going back to one of the vendors. Pulling them and placing them on my v-cart that I purchased from Borders when it closed (best thing I ever bought from the bookstore), I realized that every single Bible I put there was ugly. Orange, a putrid caramel brown, one printed in Giraffe skin print, ones that looked like a Vera Bradley bag. I was very glad to return them, for I knew they would never sell.

Let's try something: I come up to you with a Bible and say, "What an Ugly Bible!!!"

Yes, you're right. The response that probably leapt to your mind was the same I got when I actually said that. Except... let's look at it further.

The Bible is the Word of God. We know that, and traditional Bibles, the ones your parents probably took to church, were made of a bonded or genuine leather, black or navy or burgundy. They were elegant, conservative in style. I have this one Bible made of a premium high grain leather, soft and regal.  Now, take a Bible that has been, for whatever reason, covered in a pink plastic with a candy-like peppermint thing on the top (yes, it actually exists).  It's the same Bible, isn't it? With the same words?  It should be treated with the same respect as the high-quality leather Bible.  And besides, you can't judge a book by its cover.... or can you?

The Bibles we pulled were probably made in an attempt to attract modern-day Christians who want a break from the image of Christianity that our parents and grandparents had.  I can understand this, as I can still remember the preacher from Agnew Pentecostal standing up before the congregation every January 1st and saying "The Lord has blessed us with another year" and at the end of the service, leading us in the Doxology. The dark, sombre hallways, the stained glass that let little light in.  My mom often talked about how, in her Sunday School class, they spent most of the time trying to untangle Christianity from the rules and regulations of the church.  My grandfather, long before I was born, thought it sinful to play with cards, or go to the movies. The lengthy conversations my mom would have talking about how, after she and my dad had gotten married, they were so stressed out on Sundays because they "had" to go to church each week, or else the "friends" my grandmother (dad's mom) had in that church would report that they had not seen my parents there.  And woe to the person who answered the phone at 12:05pm to make sure that we had gone to church.  When church, and the Bible, becomes a chore, a prohibitive force blocking every joy of life without cause or reason (except those were the rules of the church), it negates the simple, positive guidelines of Christianity, sung most elegantly by Guy Penrod from the Gaither Vocal Band:

So, as a break from the sombre tones of yesteryear, Bible publishers have changed some of the covers to make them more appealing to those who are unchurched or more modern.  And there's a certain logic to this.  Take the Skateboard Bible we have in the Kid's section. It's often on sale, and very well made, as the devotionals and images around the Bible text are designed for boys who like sports, the outdoors, skateboarding (obviously), and are very active.  It is usually right next to the Adventure Bible, which is designed as a safari, with African animals, compasses, as if the boys or girls were off on a grand adventure (which, of course, they are.) Similarly, the pink Bibles with sparkles and mentions of Princesses are geared toward girls who love that sort of thing.   All very popular Bibles, that sell very well. In this way the children are drawn toward the Bible and can read it for themselves. The text is the same as the more conservative Bibles, and so, yes, no matter what it looks like, the Bible is still the Word of God.

Now, the flip side, let's say you meet and fall in love with someone who is virtuous, successful, caring, but covered from head to toe in tattoos.  (This, example, of course, reveals my bias against tattooing, because I think it's ugly and stupid) He or She is a Christian and is the love of your life, so why the nervousness when taking them to meet your parents?  Partially because of the reasons given above about the rules of the church, but also, we all do judge a book by its cover.  Would it then be the same as covering the Word of God with pink plastic and candies? Doesn't the way in which you present a Bible effect the perception that the words contained are taken? The person with tattoos might be wonderful, but there will be trepidation felt by strangers who don't know the inside of that person. Would you listen to a preacher who gave the sermon clothed in a clown suit? It is the same words inspired by God. The message is the same, but the cover is different.  That's why preachers don't wear clown suits but rather a suit and tie or a robe of some kind.  It's the perception of the outside image that effects the persuasiveness of the message itself.

So, a balance needs to be struck, between the traditional image with all the respect and regal tones of what a Bible, for an adult, should be, and the modernizing of that image to help draw in those who might not otherwise read the words within.  The twist here, and why these different covered Bibles are made, is that adults, even my age, aren't always grown up yet, and having a Bible that looks like a Vera Bradley purse or made in Tennessee Orange might attract those who haven't read the Bible yet. I can understand this, but it doesn't make it easier when I see a Bible covered in a hideous design. It's a complex issue, one that comes down to personal choice.  For me, let the Bible be covered in the finest of material, but for those who haven't read the Bible or don't know of the meanings inside, that they get the Bible, in whatever form or fashion, is enough.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Road Goes Ever On

There's always something strangely alluring in a road or trail that winds its way over the horizon, or around a corner.  Where does it lead to?  What scenes of beauty lie just over the next hill? And what if the road never stops? If it just keeps going and going forever, where do you stop or turn around? At the moment of turning around, when the sights become something already seen, it loses its luster.  All that work never to return to that spot again, or to keep going. It's what I find intriguing about the trails I walk.  It's impossible to walk a trail and then turn around because you're tired, or because you've been at it too long, and know that there will be a part of that trail left undiscovered. Sure, I could walk it again, and continue down that path, but why put off that journey until tomorrow?

The Arabian Mountain Trails perplex with all those questions, as the trails are long, steep sometimes, and unless you're riding a bike (which I disagree with), it would take far too many steps to walk the entire thing, and it's difficult to know when to stop.  As for the bikes...I like Noel Paul Stookey's quote on his album Reel to Real, that there's two ways to miss things, either it goes by too fast, or we go by too fast.  The signs on the pathway always talk about controlling your speed on a bike, to pass people only on the left, as if you would be going so fast as to hit them.  Well, you're going too fast. I've seen rabbits, chipmunks, roosters, deer, a really large turtle, lizards, and a couple of snakes I didn't want to bother, all on the trails I've walked.  Which animals would the biker have seen? And the scenery, the sun shining down through the trees with an other-worldly glow, the creeks flowing by with water never to be seen again, do they see these things? Sometimes you have to watch the trees grow, watch the rings form to really appreciate all that's around you.

The joy really is in the journey, as I've quoted before.  It's so much fun to see your goal in sight, and in this case, the place where three trails meet, the spot almost equidistant from the three parking lots. But so much more enjoyable is getting there, through the heat and humidity, the rain (which I did today. I found that the main problem was water getting in my eyes, the wetness didn't bother me), the sun beating down on you.  I found that the best walks I've had were with the sun shining overhead, and me going through so many trails and experiencing the freedom of being absolutely alone and "off the grid," as it were.  For the path is a choice, what road you go down is, in the best of circumstances, entirely up to you.  There are no parents to decide what path to take, no societal norms, no pressure from job or religion or politics... just you and the path, and the sun and the grasshoppers flitting about.

One other thing, while I don't usually sing while I'm walking, I did discover that, at the end of the walk, singing actually helps to regulate breathing, provides tempo and rhythm to your walk. I guess that's why there are so many travelling songs out there.  Pick any James Taylor album, there's bound to be one on there.  Probably the most fitting song for this blog is J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Road Goes Ever On," with the lyrics and video below.

The Road Goes Ever On

The Road goes ever on and on             
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Clothing, Nudity, and the Internet

I wanted to look at Nudity. Under our clothes... we're all NAKED!! (Sam Eagle mode off) Before I do that, I have to recommend reading a sci-fi book by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter called The Light of Other Days.  There are books I want to buy and hand out to the public, as they are so essential to the way I think.  This is one of them. Sir Clarke's book, The Light of Other Days is essential in that it enables technology to change the very thought processes of Western Culture. When privacy and modesty go out the window, so too does quite a bit of prejudice and philosophies that surround them. Clarke and Baxter have demonstrated how it is possible to deconstruct whole sections of culture and then to rebuild it using different foundations. So let's do that now concerning nudity. Clothing is perhaps one of the most basic of requirements according to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Because, when all psychological and sociological meanings are removed, clothing is needed for two things: warmth, and safety. To return to prehistoric times, take the naked male caveman. He hunts (and is hunted by) the various wild animals around, who will see any appendage as something to attack (just ask my brother's cats, who love pouncing on my fingers.) A predator, such as a Smilodon, would have very little qualms about biting off a testicle or two. Also, there's the question of warmth, where clothing would provide during colder seasons. Makes sense. 

(*The following blog should not be used for research purposes, as I am not taking time to thoroughly research the topics, but instead relying on knowledge stuck into the filing cabinets of my brain. That said, not all information may be correct. It is simply the flow of ideas from one to the next that is important, at least for a blog. )

Now, where the rest comes in. Clothing cannot be produced by every person, for not all cavemen had that skill. In post-Agricultural revolution times, when specialization had become a phenomenon, there were people who made clothing, others who made pottery...etc... Thus capitalism, in the form of barter, was formed. Clothing was purchased, and those who were successful in life could afford it, and those who couldn't were very cold. Thus clothing became part of the social power structure. Those who were strong had garments, and the weak went without. (I could develop this into some huge research paper with references and whatnot, but I'll leave that to sociology majors). So to remove this power structure, you either have to have free, magically appearing clothing, or you have to have a culture and climate where clothing isn't necessary. Thus we look at cultures that formed near the equator, on Pacific islands, perhaps. Initial reactions to Pacific natives by sailors like Captain Cook were ones of shock, desire (for most women had exposed breasts), and pity. They were looked upon as inferior, barbaric, Unchristian. It would be easy to research those initial observations, or even look at modern day tribes of isolated groups that still have no need for clothing, even with the western influences, the absurd massive conglomeration of clothes that have been mass produced in sweat shops, only to be discarded when a small hole appears in the side of the knee, or under the arms. Even in modern day societies, clothing is easier to get than food. Look at the starving people in Africa, or the isolated tribes in the Amazon river basin. They might be extremely difficult to get to, or withering away to nothingness due to overpopulation, lack of food...etc... (and that's another blog), but they are all dressed in something, with someone's old Nike shoes and Adidas shorts. They are donated by the tons from groups that get leftovers from Goodwill, and then sent to third-world countries, as you can be hungry, but naked?? That's just barbaric. Would that they send the food and not the clothing. But the leftover mountains of food destroyed at coffee shops, or shoveled off plates at IHOP, all that food is wasted, while clothing (which cannot go bad) is shipped off on barges. 

Clothing and Power

Follow the chain of command, up the political pyramid, and those that issue the most rules regarding clothes are the priests and the clergy. If we take clothing to be a symbol of power, going all the way back to specialization and the agricultural revolution, the clergy and the military are the most associated with garbs. For the military, it's obvious. They were armor and protective clothing to keep from being killed. It's safety, right from Maslow's hierarchy. For the clergy, it's about power. If the religious leaders, who are literate and can translate the will of the gods however they choose, want to make a clear, visible mark of their power over the whole of their followers, clothing is the easiest way. Let's take several examples in Christianity. 

Let's go all the way back to Eden. Clothing is only needed after the Fruit of Knowledge is picked. They become ashamed of their nakedness, which before they had no problem with. Their first lie to God is about clothing. In Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, the main speaker (who is a large gorilla, but nevertheless, it's an amazing book.) argues that Genesis came from oral retellings of the original inhabitants of the area around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, those who probably were naked as the warm climates and the abundance of food from the rivers limited the need for clothing. But when the more aggressive people came from the north, from the Caucasian Mountains, they wore clothing to keep themselves warm and as armor against their foes. To the original inhabitants, they would have been ashamed of their nakedness, seeing the garments that their now conquerors had on. They were forced out of Paradise, and they had to live as slaves or as workers. 

Other examples from Christianity. The prophets and followers of God, when found to have disobeyed Him, would rip their clothes asunder and lie prostrate on the ground. Obviously the clothes which Jesus wore before being crucified were of importance, as the Bible tells about the people taking them and parading Jesus about Naked as a sign of humiliation. It is interesting then, how, when Jesus is depicted on the cross, he is usually wearing some form of loincloth or rag to cover genitalia. But that is certainly a detail added by future Christians to either cover up the humiliation he received or to make genitalia a sinful part of the body for future children/followers. For if Jesus had genitalia, then it certainly could not be sinful to have them and to use them as God had intended. But these thoughts would have been unthinkable to Puritans, for instance, or other Christian believers. And I could go into detail about Joshua and his coat, but that would be a total other blog, for another time. 

The Puritans are probably the most obvious of examples when looking at clothing, nudity, and power. Coming from the Protestant groups in mainland Europe, most Christian faiths had strict regulations on style of clothing, dress, hair, jewelry... etc. The Anabaptists and Mennonites in the 1600's had regulations on wearing wigs. It was done, they said, because any article that displayed ego, or pride, was sinful, and all Christians must have humility, modesty, and live without worldliness. 

Even up to the 20th century, different denominations in the US had beliefs as to length that men and/or women should wear their hair, and even friends I have spoken with today have said that wearing tennis shoes into the sanctuary would be looked at most distastefully. I always wore regular shoes to church, as when I was in Milledgeville going to college, I had no car, and had to walk to church. Also, there was just something so uncomfortable about wearing dress shoes. We always sing the song "Come Just As You Are," and I believe that is how God would prefer we come. Dressed plainly, as the people that we are during the week. So if I want to have Tennis shoes on, that is my business. 

But prior belief systems in the Christian church don't operate the way I do. And if you look at from a political and sociological standpoint, it makes sense. The church extended the power that they received from being able to read and interpret the Bible into a cultural and political power. They could require a certain mode of dress or behavior because that's what the Bible said must be done. And anything that can increase humility and loyalty to the church, instead of pride and individualism, that was something the church would have done. 

This can be seen better in other religions, namely Islam, where certain factions believe in covering a woman up from head to toe in fabric. I have never understood this, as the area in which most Muslims live is usually very hot, and wearing all that fabric is bound to make one hot and uncomfortable. I think, in addition, it is a way of practicing conservatism when it comes to clothing and sexual appeal. It also forbids women from having individual styles of clothing, but instead, relegates them to seeing only through narrow eye slits. The men are certainly in control, and no one can see the woman (wife) but them. There is a very interesting (if one sided) conversation of this on NPR.org which talks about this very subject. 

Clothes, Capitalism, and Power

Back to Specialization. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs shows us the very birth of Capitalism. Those that could provide the very basics of living were the first to require some form of payment from those that couldn't. Food, clothing, shelter. And then other objects, such as pottery to store the food in, and weapons to defend the new town and to hunt with. You get the idea. Now fast forward to the Industrial Revolution, where, instead of one person making clothes, its some factory where many people make tons of clothing with dangerous machines, but the availability of goods is amazing, even affordable (almost) for the poorest of people. Now the ebb and flow of fashion, the need of people to have clothing is dictated by capitalism's need for continual profit. What makes Applebottom jeans popular? Why, the carefully marketing job done by the makers, and the obvious outlining of sexually attractive parts that females use to attract a mate. And at the same time, the conservative, uniform clothing is also valued (perhaps one because of the other) as something easy to make and required of people working or going to school. 

It is the same idea that is usually practiced in the school systems today. Baldwin County (Milledgeville) has just recently required all of their students to have school uniforms. This is to promote equality among the students and reduce the distractions caused by the many styles of clothing made nowadays to promote sexual attractiveness. It is also done to give the Administration more power over the students (and teachers) in their buildings. This is done even to the point, as one of my friends had done to him, to be admonished because the shirt he was wearing was not white, but an off-tan color. It is an exercise of power and control. And it provides endless profit for clothing manufacturers that have a captive audience for their product. 

If you've walked through a mall and seen the fashions hanging out the store windows, you've seen the provocative (and expensive) junk that they want women to wear, as well as the multi-layered, cloth-laden (and expensive) clothes for men, most of which hide any sexual attributes. Some of the clothes produced (high-heel shoes, ultra baggy jeans) have no practical use; rather, it is highly uncomfortable and sometimes unhealthy. Yet women wear those shoes proudly, showing off legs in short dresses. As I said in the prior blogs, it's odd how men's clothing is long and hides as much as possible, while girls wear shorts as high as possible. See the clothing that even little girls wear, and it's no wonder they get abducted. It makes little sense to me. When men work as hard as they do on their bodies and developing the muscles that are aesthetically attractive, they hide them under layers of fabric. A layer of control, while at the same time, requiring that women wear as little as possible. With the loss of power by the church, capitalism and masculine-driven sexuality have taken over, with just as ridiculous a set of rules as the church. 


Let's propose, then, a culture where clothing is not needed. Here, in this real world. How would it happen? Because the rules of society, of the Church, of the Dollar, are too strong to overcome. Along with the feelings of modesty, aesthetics, guilt, sexual discomfort, all these things, which are either put upon us by one of the powers listed above, or are derivatives of the way we've thought for generations. The rules have to be blocked or changed. Both happen in today's society. 

There are isolated communities where clothing is not required. Places where like minded inhabitants are able to show off their bodies and feel pride in them, unashamed of how God might view them (as He has seen us naked, so how would we be ashamed??). These are nudist colonies, of course. You might also find historical references to accepted nudity in Utopian societies or communes in the 1960's and the 1860's. Woodstock, of course, was famous for large groups of naked twentysomethings (of course, one way of releasing inhibitions imposed upon us by society is by the use of drugs, but I won't get into that.) Ancient Greece is probably most known for their acceptance of nudity. They lived in isolated peninsulas in a mountainous region where few armies could come by land, and the infertile soil made it so few wanted to. Also, the many islands, such as Crete, also made havens for nude living, especially since the Mediterranean has a warm climate for most of the year. 

The second way of creating nudity as naturally received by society is through changing the rules. This would most easily be done by the technology that Clarke and Baxter talked about in their book. It provides the one item needed to wipe away modesty, humility, and shame. Proof. Empirical proof about everything. The answers to all secrets, all mysteries, from the beginning of time forward. And since anyone could see anything at any time, there is no need to have privacy or modesty. They no longer exist. 

The last way of creating a nudity accepted environment is through the use of the Internet. Of course, this is not actual nudity, But the Internet creates communities of like minded people without actually having to live in the same town. The only small problem with this is, since the Internet and all its taboo subjects are constant hiding places for the hormones in our lives that can go nowhere, nudity and sex are often one and the same. And since they are both natural states, it is understandable that they might be merged together. The social media realms that have popped up (thanks to Myspace and Facebook) are quite a step forward from the outdated chat rooms and MIRC programs of old.  The Internet has certainly made this world a conglomeration of microcosms, each existing outside of normal rules and expectations. It shrinks the world even as it expands our knowledge of it.