Archive for May, 2007

Hurry, Call 911! Or Don’t!

May 29, 2007

One of my “parishioners” gave me a few magazines to read recently, through which I ran across the following article. I’m not promoting the argument, but when I read it, I instantly recognized that it could create some very interesting dialogue on the Houseflies. So… feel free to dialogue!

The bureaucracy of crisis intervention is an obstacle to loving thy neighbor
By Jurriaan Kamp, “Ode” (June, 2007)

If you have a problem in today’s society, you don’t knock on your neighbour’s door; you dial numbers. “Care” and “attention” are found at the other end of a telephone line. Those numbers diminish the universal phenomenon once referred to as mercy, compassion or altruism. Crisis hotlines and 911 numbers increase the distance between people.

Love for your fellow man flourishes when people live in close proximity and have reciprocal relationships. Caring for others – solidarity – is a classic characteristic of “primitive” societies simply because the people are dependent on one another and don’t live in a world of “care facilities.” In modern society, caring for our neighbours is no longer our concern, but that of nameless professionals. When politicians speak of a “safety net,” they are not referring to a circle of mutually supportive citizens, but agreements that are made by the state, a company, an insurer and a pension fund. We can only hope that such institutions will take care of us if we’re in need. The tragic paradox is that all the well-meaning efforts to make society more just and humane – from communism to social services – have undermined a vital element of humanity. People don’t have to take care of each other anymore, and so they don’t. “Mercifulness” has become a word reserved for dictionaries. Many people believe this word intuitively belongs in the Bible or history books. The modern version of mercy is charity. And that describes donors with checkbooks, for Hollywood stars who become ambassadors of good causes and for the percentage of the government budget pledged to development aid.

Society doesn’t benefit if care professionals replace neighbourly relationships. If care becomes a large-scale operation, our sense of community disappears. That doesn’t mean we should nostalgically reminisce about the good old days. The feudal society of previous centuries offers no solutions, nor is there a future for us in tribal cultures. Yet we can use elements from these ways of life to instill moral values in society. The key is a small scale. Our lives must be manageable enough to allow reciprocal relationships to blossom, and to strengthen a mutual exchange of goods and information – but also of sadness and happiness – as well as trust and solidarity.

The moral values of today’s politicians are so quick to invoke would benefit from a smaller state, less government interference, not as much emphasis on policy and a simpler bureaucracy. If we had fewer emergency numbers, people’s mutual dependence would increase. The political “right” is in fact right: The state doesn’t make people “good.” On the contrary, a powerful government corrupts the innate “goodness” of the market – and of people.

Humans are programmed to work together, show respect for their fellow man. But that “natural programming” only works in small-scale environments without a powerful government. Therefore, the challenge lies in giving that much-needed small scale a place in our globalizing society and connecting local communities in a world economy. To do this, we need to recognize that 911 and emergency services alone don’t mean progress.

did you know?: it’s not you, it’s me

May 26, 2007

I hate to write something that’ll knock the title “Live Nude Women” off the top of the page.

But. It’s a nice relaxing afternoon. Reading at the beach for the last few hours. Hate me.

One of the things I had with me to read on the beach was the latest issue of Seed. And inside the magazine was a surprisingly interesting conversation between David Byrne (he of the Talking Heads and who I usually find very annoying because he is just too cool for me) and Daniel Levitin (he who I knew nothing about, but is apparently a “Behavioral Neuroscientist,” whatever that is).

I know we have a couple of scientist-types here, so maybe this isn’t new. But it was to me.

In the interview they are discussing how a stimulus (language, taste, noise, etc.) registers in a “distinct part of the brain.” So when we hear something, this part of our brain distinguishes this sound from smell or taste, and goes even further by distinguishing between types of sounds (if something is music or someone talking or if it’s a just a noise). Now, even though I didn’t know that, it didn’t surprise me to find it out. That’s not the interesting part.

The interesting part is that not everyone’s brain makes these distinctions. Some people suffer from synesthesia. Their brains don’t distinguish stimuli very well — they hear a noise and it will create a taste in their mouths or manifest itself as a color. I had no idea. Sounds very disorienting, although they really don’t discuss the impact on adults who suffer from this (they’re interested in something else), other than saying that in extreme forms, synethesia can keep people from distinguishing between whether they’re hearing something or smelling something or tasting something.

In fact, there is a theory, Levitin explains, that says all infants are synesthesetes, that “sensory differentiation takes a few months after birth to occur…that infants live in this sort of psychodelic world of everything being jumbled together.”

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about science, which is probably why I’m a sucker for little bits of information about this.

And although Byrne and Levitin don’t discuss it, I’m sure there is some typical overlap the senses of most people. So if you see me in the next few days and shortly after you lay eyes upon my dark tan, there’s suddenly the taste and smell of coconut in your mouth and nose — don’t worry. You probably don’t suffer from synesthesia. It’s just me.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend, everyone. Hope it’s a good one. And safe.

Live Nude Women

May 17, 2007

I ran across this item while doing my daily scan of websites this morning. I don’t follow swimming, so I don’t even know who Amanda Beard is. So the fact that she’s decided to get nekkid for the camera doesn’t do much for me. It did start me thinking, though.

Has anybody else noticed that it seems to have become a rite of passage for famous young women to take their clothes off on film?

I realize, of course, that attractive young women have been taking their clothes off for as long as men have been willing to pay to see them, but this seems different. It used to be that the women who got nekkid in the movies (or magazines or wherever) were the ones who couldn’t get a role any other way. Talented actresses had the option of not doing nudity, and generally took it. When I was a younger moviegoer, the talented young actresses were people like Meryl Streep, Holly Hunter, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Debra Winger. Of those, Winger was the only one to do a nude scene (IIRC), and even that was in a good role in a highly regarded film, An Officer and a Gentleman. Generally, the ones who got nekkid were the ones who couldn’t act — the Brooke Shields’s and Phoebe Cates’s — and therefore weren’t in a position to say no and still be movie stars.

Now, however, even talented young actresses seem to get nekkid on film almost as soon as they legally can: Claire Danes (probably the most blindingly talented actress of her generation), Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon, even Thora Birch and Disney princess Anne Hathaway. And that’s just off the top of my head. The only notable exception I can think of is Natalie Portman, who was only a few threads from the full Monty in Closer.

There have always been exceptions, one way or the other — good actresses who did nudity when most didn’t, good actresses who haven’t now that seemingly most do, bad actresses who didn’t or haven’t, etc. But it seems to me the “default setting,” so to speak, has flipped.

Anybody else getting that sense? Any opinions on why it is?

I can’t tell if it’s because there’s more pressure to do nudity now, or because good actresses are simply choosing to do more of it. Maybe it’s an expression of second-wave feminist sexual assertion (see also, “Sex and the City”). Maybe, since many of them were well known child actors, they want to announce they aren’t kids anymore.

Or maybe nudity just isn’t that big a deal anymore.

Reading List

May 17, 2007

I keep meaning to write the reviews I promised last week on Pynchon and Julavitz. I’ve started both of them, but I keep getting sidetracked by reading. If you get a chance next time you’re in the bookstore, thumb through A Disorder Peculiar to the Coutnry, by Ken Kalfus. One of the best books I’ve read in a while. Also, I’m re-reading The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss. I read it a couple of years ago when it came out and for whatever reason decided to read it again. It’s worth thumbing through as well, even though it probably has one of those ugly “Today Show” stickers on it.

Reviews soon, though.

For no other reason than that I’m listening to this song right now, I’ll leave you with the lyrics from a great song by Counting Crows, called “Anna Begins.” One of my favorite songs ever. Lots of lyrics, so I’ll summarize a bit for you very briefly: the two people in the relationship are discussing whether or not they are “ready for this sort of thing.” The guy seems a bit of a jerk for the first half of the story. But toward the end, he’s not so much of a jerk. Anyway, I know I’m the only one on here interested in Counting Crows, BUT, if you skip to the end of the song, I love the lines about her sneezing and talking in her sleep. Those are great lines.

My friend assures me “it’s all or nothing”
I am not worried- I am not overly concerned
My friend implores me ” for one time only, make an exception.”
I am not not worried
Wrap her up in a package of lies
Send her off to a coconut island
I am not worried – I am not overly concerned
with the status of my emotions
“oh”, She says, “you’re changing.”
But we’re always changing
It does not bother me to say this isn’t love
Because if you don’t want to talk about it then it isn’t love
And I guess I’m going to have to live with that
But, I’m sure there’s something in a shade of gray
Or something in between
And I can always change my name if that’s what you mean
My friend assures me “it’s all or nothing”
But I am not really worried, I am not overly concerned
You try to tell yourself the things you try tell yourself to make
yourself forget, to make yourself forget, I am not worried
“If it’s love” she said, “then we’re gonna have to think about the consequences”
Cause she can’t stop shaking and I can’t stop touching her and…..
This time when kindness falls like rain It washes her away and Anna begins to change her mind
“These seconds when I’m shaking leave me shuddering for days” she says.
And I’m not ready for this sort of thing
But I’m not gonna break
And I’m not going to worry about it anymore
I’m not gonna bend. And I’m not gonna break andI’m not gonna worry about it anymore
It seems like I should say “as long as this is love…”But it’s not all that easy so maybe I should just
snap her up in a butterfly net-Pin her down on a photograph album
I am not worried I’ve done this sort of thing before
But then I start to think about the consequences
Because I don’t get no sleep in a quiet room and…This time when kindness falls like rain
it washes me away and Anna begins change my mind
And every time she sneezes I believe it’s loveand oh lord…. I’m not ready for this sort of thing
She’s talking in her sleep-it’s keeping me awake
And Anna begins to toss and turn
And every word is nonsense but I understand and oh lord. I m not ready for this sort of thing
Her kindness bangs a gong
It’s moving me along and Anna begins to fade away
It’s chasing me away. She dissappears, and oh lord I’m not ready for this sort of thing.

Jerry Falwell

May 16, 2007

If you haven’t heard by now, Jerry Falwell died today. I’m sure there’ll be reams said about him in the next few days, but I wanted to quote some observations from One doesn’t expect to be a big fan of Jerry Falwell, and they aren’t. But their writer does make some points worth pondering.

To the religious life of the United States [Falwell] made no significant contribution. But to the political life of the country, he made one: He founded the Moral Majority. In so doing, Falwell managed to take something holy — one does not have to be a Christian to admire the life and teachings of Jesus Christ — and turned it into something partisan and divisive.
Evangelicalism grew in the exurban megachurches, and the megachurches, implicitly and occasionally explicitly, rejected Falwell’s approach to the faith. Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Bill Hybels — these inclusive preachers inherited the mantle of Billy Graham, not Falwell and his great rival Pat Robertson.Falwell’s theology, such as it was, never made clear how America could be both the promised land and Gomorrah at the same time.

And This Seemed Like a Good Idea Because…?

May 14, 2007

I first heard about this one on my local news, last night. When they reported it, they said it was a prank by the teachers. But even going on AP’s version of events (i.e., that it was a teaching tool), you’re left kinda blinking your eyes and tilting your head to one side in Scooby-Doo fashion. It still sounds to me like these teachers were acting out some serious resentment against their students.

Edited to add: Other reports around the web continue to say it was a prank, even quoting school officials to that effect.

Welcome, Welcome…

May 10, 2007

Just thought I’d introduce C-Love (aka Candice) to the team of Houseflies. She’s been lurking around here for a while, and I lured her out of the darkness into the brilliant light of housefly-dom. Candice is a professional artist and musician (Arkansas translation: she draws real purty and sings good, too!). Most importantly, everything she knows about world history she learned in tenth grade (you can read more by clicking on her profile).

And way back at my “In His Steps” post, my good friend, Jackie, added a comment (in case you missed it). Jackie’s awesome, and I’m glad she knows her way here now. Hopefully she’ll drop by a lot, but with a new baby and all, she may have her hands full!

Just thought I’d introduce a couple of new lovely and talented ladies to the team. Just trying to add some more beauty and class around here. 🙂

Random Thoughts. Seriously. Completely Random

May 10, 2007

For those of you who know my dad — or at least, for those of you who knew him back when he was a Math teacher — know that he is fascinated by space travel. He, a grown man, used to have a poster — first in his room at school and then on a wall in our basement — of the Space Shuttle lifting off. It was a cool poster and had some sort of “feel good” message on it. But he just liked it because it was a cool new rocket.

One of the first movies we rented when we got our VCR was The Right Stuff.

Only sharing that because I grew up learning a lot about rockets and NASA. But then somewhere along the line I kind of fell out of love with NASA. It started to disgust me that we spend billions upon billions of dollars sending sattelites into space when there are people starving in the world.

I still haven’t settled that problem in my mind.

But, I’ve started to appreciate the work of NASA and NASA-like scientists a bit more in the last couple of years — maybe just hoping that all that money will result in some sort of breakthrough for humanity. Or maybe just because I’ve become more fascinated with the stories they are now telling us about our universe, which I find very interesting. Plus, these stories always come with really cool pictures. Like a volcano on one of the moons of Jupiter. Who knew?

This sattelite, New Horizons, is on its way to Pluto. I have no idea why. But it is taking some great pictures. Hopefully the scientist will learn something useful for us.

Coming Soon

May 9, 2007

I finally finished Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day this past weekend. I’m trying to digest it, still. But hopefully in the next couple of weeks I’ll post a review of it. Also, this past weekend, I read Heidi Julavits’s latest book, The Uses of Enchantment. I’ll try to do a review of it soon, as it is well worth reading.

Currently reading a new biography of Augustus called, creatively, Augustus: The Life of Rome’s First Emperor. It’s by Anthony Everitt. Until I started reading this book, I didn’t even know I cared about Rome or it’s first emperor. Turns out I do. And it’s made me want to read Virgil’s The Aeneid. If anyone wants to read that with me, we could do a little book club deal, maybe. Discuss it and whatnot. Just let me know.

Joshy the Jedi

May 7, 2007

I’m not sure I’d ever make it as a dad. I’d walk around worried about something all the time.

For instance.

The picture above makes me sad. Joshy’s the kid in the green shirt. We woke him up about 5:45 to take him to Disneyland. This picture is taken about 12 hours later. He’s exhausted. He’d seen this show earlier in the day where they “train Jedi.” It’s a fancy little show where some guy from Star Wars does a little light-saber routine and then calls up some kids from the crowd to go through Jedi training. And then at the end of the show they get to fight Darth Vader.Joshy decided he wanted to do this and so his dad and I got him there early enough to sit on the front row. Which he did so very patiently for about half an hour. Did I mention he’d been awake for almost 12 hours at this point? Walking around in the hot sun? The kid was pooped.

He’s kind of a quiet kid. So Jack and I were worried he wouldn’t get noticed in the mob of, oh, I’m guessing 200 or 300 kids. He was one of the first ones there, but he didn’t get noticed. Mostly because he wasn’t loud enough for the guy picking the kids — who based his decision on who was most easily seen: so it was mostly tall kids or kids whose parents pushed their ways to the front holding their kids high in the air (no lie — the jerks).

So Joshy didn’t get chosen even though he’d been there for a long time. After the show started, he finally walked back to his dad and said he was too tired to stay there. He was trying not to cry. I wanted to punch the Jedi.

I’d probably punch a lot of Jedi if I were a dad. Or eat a lot of ice cream, which is what I think we did to cheer Joshy up. Actually, I think it was to cheer us up — Joshy seemed to have forgotten about it in about 30 seconds. And he seems to be living a normal life. Me, on the other hand — I’m still hoping Darth Vader beats up the “Jedi Master” at the end of the show one day soon.