February 27, 2004

The Saturn Roundabout
Melissa left this morning for Los Angeles. I'm sure that she and fellow Hobbit-fancier Rebecca will have a blast this weekend seeing the sights and attending The One Ring.Net's "Return of the One Party". It'll be a "Bachelor Weekend" at Chez Chris, which usually amounts to me eating Ramen Noodles, staying in my Pajamas until 4pm and having a few beers with Justin and Craig.

As I approach my thirtieth birthday, I have started to take stock of my life. Honestly, I have not been dreading this, since I don't place much import on it. All it means is that Melissa and Craig get to rag on me for a while about entering their demographic category. While I was pondering this today, Browsing the Web totally at random, I came across this article on Astrology, which relates to your 29th year of life. It's called "Saturn Return" (which may be the inspiration for the No Doubt album.

Astrologers call the period between ages twenty-eight and thirty "Saturn Return." That's because it's the first time the planet Saturn completes its cycle through your birth chart and returns to the spot it occupied when you were born. Internationally respected astrologer Rob Hand calls Saturn Return "one of the most important times in your life. . . a time of endings and new beginnings."

I read the page and realized that this rings true in my life. Over the past year, I have not been in a process of self-analysis, but I just seem to be at some decision point in my life. My job is at a crossroads, as to whether I continue as a Programmer or go back to being a Business Analyst. We've been in our house for three years and long to move to a more active area. Even our marriage seems to be on the verge, not of a breakdown, but on a transformation into the next phase. A particular line from this article seems especially true for me:

"Even though your Saturn Return may be disturbing, ultimately it reveals what you truly want and sweeps away the clutter that may have been impeding your progress. Your Saturn Return is a personal spring cleaning. No matter how difficult it seems to let go of inappropriate people and things, the first Saturn Return is the time to do it. For if lessons are not learned, the problems will come knocking again during your second Saturn Return at about age fifty-eight, when you are more set in your ways. Once the conflict is confronted, the tension usually subsides. You feel stronger and more capable of moving ahead."

This IS the time in your life when you start pruning away the things that don't matter, whether it's toxic friendships, bric-a-brac around the house, even activities that you don't get much out of anymore. You decide what in your life is true to your core self, and leave everything else behind. It's sometimes painful, but it forces you to make decisions and to take actions, things which people may have been unconsciously avoiding.

February 26, 2004

The Big Problem with America

Blogger Wil Wheaton has written an excellent post on the gay marriage issue. And last week, Bill Maher was interviewing a Republican senator the other night, and when the senator made said that gay marriage would somehow taint the institution of marrige, Bill Maher responded: "I don't get it, so if this happens, how exactly does the republic fall?"

Too much focus is always spent on defending the intangible "institutions" and too little on the actual people that are involved in them. For example, I am personally pro-choice, but I can respect the pro-life position; they want to protect every human life, no matter how marginally defined. So they defend the institution of pregnancy, but what do they do to help the people IN this institution? Nothing. If a single mother of six wants to have an abortion because she is already destitute, the pro-lifers will insist she has the baby. But what happens when the baby is born? Are the pro-lifers there to support this woman and the life that they have spared? Never. But since the institution was defended, they would consider it a success.

It's horrible that this man, or any man for that matter, would consider revising the single most important document for our country to GRANT freedoms, in favor of DENYING freedoms to a minority. It's a bad sign when you have to play to a nation's absolute lowest common denominator, to use peoples' entrenched prejudice instead of their intellect, in order to drum up votes. What about the big issues? What about the war in the middle east? The economy? All the lost Jobs? The Social Security System on the brink of collapse? No, the big threat to America is two people consecrating their love for one another in an official manner and vowing to love each other forever.

*sniff* *sniff* Smell that? It's sarcasm.

February 25, 2004

On Blogging...
This Blog has given me a unique opportunity for communication. I'm a fairly quiet person by nature, not good at making small talk, even with friends or family. I do, however, have some ability to write. I can express my ideas more clearly on the page, and as most writers say of themselves, "sometimes I don't know what I think until I write it." The process of writing down my thoughts and ideas gives them a visual form that I can then dissect and tweak until they say exactly what I am thinking. Whenever I have anything important to say to anyone, I'll write it instead of telling them. It's the only way to get complete ideas across without interruptions or the failings of my speech skills.

I've kept journals in the past, and they have been a good tool to get the everyday stressors out of my head and onto the page. Journals keep your memory organized and force you to espress your feelings into complete sentances and paragraphs. Because of the "Unknown Audience" aspect of journals, writers have to place events and ideas in context. Through this process, simple feelings become narratives and essays, to a certain degree, saying "this is how I feel, and here's why.."

Writing out personal feelings in this manner is therapy of a sort, allowing you to examine your motivations and reasons for whatever you may be thinking or feeling. I know it does wonders for me. Not only do you feel a sense of relief unloading these feelings onto the page, but you feel as if you're sharing these feelings with the world at large, anonymous as it may be. It seems odd that people feel comfortable sharing thoughts they would not openly share with friends in a medium that is theoretically accessible to anyone in the connected world. That's the wonderful thing about anonymous Blogs; since everyone and their dog has one, the chance of anyone you know finding yours and reading it is almost impossible. With Blogging, global accessibility somehow equates to privacy.

That's the Journal aspect of a Blog. The other role of the blog is a test-bed for amateur or otherwise-unpublished authors. You can write essays and articles, even full novels, and publish them in a Blog. Once documents are written there, you can always find them again. You can easliy share your works with others, since clicking a link is less work than thumbing through a bundle of paper. I've had ideas or opinions that have been in my head for years, and thanks to this revolutionary medium, I was able to write them down.

My Blog is the latest thing to change my life. Here, I can organize my thoughts and express then more openly. This is an open channel to my mind, literally "Inside Chris' Cranium," that I can revisit and share. I can even communicate with my wife effectively, sharing my thoughts and feelings about our life together, since she reads it daily. In the middle of a workday, I can eat my lunch and quietly pour out my soul or just write about what's going on, and it refreshes me. After writing in my Blog, I feel like I've just did a brain-dump of everything that may distract me, and I can work more productively for the rest of the day.

A Blog is what you make it; a diary, a book of prose, a confessional, a vent, or a secret line of communication that only your inner circle know about. To paraphrase Mae West, "Keep a Blog, and someday it will keep you."

February 24, 2004

Rollergirl Takes a Spill, (and then some pills)
Melissa decided to get some exercise on Sunday while Matthew was down for his nap. Since the borrowed treadmill now scrapes the tread when it runs (warped plastic from unuse), she decided to head over to Skate Country. Now Melissa is no slouch on wheels, she remembered everything from her younger days and was doing laps in a few minutes. But five minutes after lacing up, some kid came flying out on the carpet and ran into her. He dropped down and Melissa fell over him, landing on her knees. She's been popping ibuprofen like M & M's for the past couple of days, and is likely headed to the doctor today to get the knees looked at.

We're hoping that she can walk normally in short heels for her big oscar party in L.A. on Sunday. And since she will be there Friday night, she got herself tickets for the taping of "Real Time with Bill Maher"! She'll probably be meeting up with my brother, Rob, while she's out there, but since he may be moving between apartments this weekend, he may be unavailable.

In other news, I have possibly found the most addicting substance known to man. The Japanese "Cheese Almond" snack.

It's a small, individually-wrapped cracker, covered with some slightly sweet MSG-enhanced flavoring, topped with a small bit of cheese-like food product and a toasted almond. Sounds pretty weird, I know. Miho brought them from Japan. I consume about four of these things a day now. I found the web site for the company that makes them, under the category "Plug Fence", and it describes the cracker thusly (with the help of Babelfish Translation):

"Cheese Almond 363kcal/ 100 g To burn in one oral size and in the ?÷ rice cake of ‚å ‚¤ ‚ä taste, being mellow, the cheese and the fragrance which have the body it forced and the topping did the almond."


February 23, 2004

Cast Wide Your News Nets...
I have a bit of advice for free-thinkers out there. Add some foreign news sources to your news portal. I added some UK News and "Most E-mailed Stories" to my Yahoo news trackers, and it occasionally turns up pertinent news that would never see the light of day in mainstream American media.

In the past, The UK branch of the Associated Press and Reuters have broken such Unpublished-in-America stories as the BBC documentary finding that the "Jessica Lynch Rescue" was, if not a purely staged publicity stunt, then at least exaggerated to absurdity. (Reported by USA Today, The BBC, and Her own book.)

Point two: Saddam's "Capture" by American troops was likely due to the fact that he was captured earlier, turned in by the father of a woman that his son raped. The article reported that Saddam was captured by a Kurdish Liberation Front and handed over to American troops. Saddam was later drugged and placed in the "spider hole" with an unloaded weapon. (Australian Broadcasting, Fox News) I had my suspicions about Jessica Lynch, and I knew that the Saddam capture was staged, at least to some degree. Frankly, there is better scripting in your average PlayStation 2 game than this dialog from the capture:

"My name is Saddam Hussein. I am the president of Iraq and I want to negotiate," he told the US troops in English, according to Major Bryan Reed, operations officer for the 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division.

"Regards from President Bush," US special forces replied, Major Reed recounted.

Now it is granted that the main sources for this article are The Sunday Express, a British tabloid and al Jazeerah, both not usually respected and unbiased in the realm of reporting in the Middle East. However, under the circumstances, this report seems MUCH more plausible than the flag-waving G.I. Joe cartoon script that we were handed by Bush & Company.

The latest buried news story is a previously unreleased pentagon report that details how the current administration downplayed eminent threats of global warming.

The report, quoted in the paper, concluded: "Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life.... Once again, warfare would define human life."

Its authors -- Peter Schwartz, a CIA (news - web sites) consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of Global Business Network based in California -- said climate change should be considered "immediately" as a top political and military issue.

Some examples given of probable scenarios in the dramatic report include:

  • Britain will have winters similar to those in current-day Siberia as European temperatures drop off radically by 2020.
  • By 2007 violent storms will make large parts of the Netherlands uninhabitable and lead to a breach in the aqueduct system in California that supplies all water to densely populated southern California
  • Europe and the United States become "virtual fortresses" trying to keep out millions of migrants whose homelands have been wiped out by rising sea levels or made unfarmable by drought.
  • "catastrophic" shortages of potable water and energy will lead to widespread war by 2020

Millions of dollars of funding and years of research, dozens of reports from world-renowned scientists, and the official verdict on global warming? "Needs more research." This translates to "Holy crap! Let's sit on this until the Democrats take office again. Then it'll be their problem. We have at least eight years of life on Earth left, don't we?"

February 20, 2004

In Other News:
Wil Wheaton, former Star Trek actor and my favorite blogger, shared a tender, geeky moment with his stepson yesterday. I got a little misty reading it, and hope that Matthew and I can share such moments in the future.

Random-Generated Spam Text of the day:
psychobiology xylem universe swing appropriate podge debbie annex whiff companionway tappa nebraska infect clamorous critique thoroughfare ghent afterlife foursome pliant

February 18, 2004

A New Addiction
Kelly is loaning me Dark Cloud 2 for the PS2. It's one of those games that you can just get lost in the mini-games for days and not even touch the main plot. Mmmmmm... 100+ hours of gameplay. Good night, honey! Be to bed in a few... hours...

I am Ash, from the "Evil Dead" trilogy.
I'm the guy with the...chainsaw.

Which Random Cult Movie Character are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

February 17, 2004

"It Came From VHS..."
Craig, the man who scoffs at anything "analog," found a gem of a movie on VHS last weekend called "Noises Off", and brought it for us to see last night. It was an incredibly funny movie with Michael Caine, John Ritter, Christopher Reeve and Carol Burnett putting on a play. As a general rule the "Movie about making a movie" or "Play about putting on a play" formula does not work, but this film is a notable exception. Other exeptions include "The Player", "Get Shorty" and "The Actor's Nightmare" (save for the Parkview High School cast of 1992, which I single-handedly mucked up.)

On Sunday, we watched the BAFTA's, which are the British equivalent of the Academy Awards, and Return of the King cleaned up. Last night, Melissa confirmed the "No Nookie Ever Again" status after my comments about "Lost in Translation."

February 16, 2004

Lost in Translation
In an attempt no be unbiased about our Oscar picks, we rented Lost in Translation and Seabiscuit. Melissa and I sat down to watch Lost in Translation after we put Matthew to bed, and we were amazed. It is the absolute opposite of Return of the King: There is hardly any action at all, the dialogue is minimalist and ordinary, and the story only affects two people. But the film's subtlety and the brilliant portrayal of quiet emptiness plays out right under the surface.

It reminds me of a review that someone gave a CD that I did with The UGA Accidentals: "I would really like to see these guys live, because I feel like I'm missing a good part of their performance." If you read the actor's lines for Lost in Translation, the script probably would not stand out from a college film class, but that's where this film's brilliance lies. In the words these people choose not to say, in the subtle chemistry between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansonn, in the deliberate pacing and even in the second-unit cinematography, the viewer is really able to get inside the character's heads and feel their emptiness. All the elements that cannot be written into a script are brought to light by director Sofia Coppola.

The scuttlebutt was that Sofia Coppola was only being considered because she was the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, and now that I've seen this film, I can put that rumor to bed. She is every bit the director that Peter Jackson is, though her style is totally different. So now I'm in a quandry about the Oscar for Best Director. Jackson showed us that even small people can affect great change on the world with Lord of the Rings, and Coppola showed us that the world and the small actions of two ordinary people can affect great change on just those two people.

At the risk of getting zero nookie from my wife, I revise my Oscar picks: Peter Jackson for Best Director and Lost in Translation for Best Picture.

February 12, 2004

A Tearful Parting
Miho and Miki returned to Japan today. I can only imagine how hard Matthew will take their absence, and how tearful the goodbye was. Miho speaks English well, and Miki not so well, so we don't have lengthy conversations. Instead, we take them to see the sights in Atlanta, uniquely American eating establishments like Joe's Crab Shack (Miho's favorite). But the universal language of "cute" has been the main form of communication, as the girls played with Matthew. And Matthew, being the ham that he is, was loving the sudden increase in female attention. ("Twins, Basil. TWINS!" as Craig put it.)

Suddenly, the other two women in his life are gone, and he's stuck with just mom and dad now. It's difficult not to feel a little jealous of his feelings for them. Melissa and I worried that he might prefer them to us. He just might, but after some thought, that's okay. Right now, mom and dad are almost his whole world, but he's always making new social connections, and he'll continue to expand his social horizons as he grows up. And like all kids, he will prefer the company of friends to his parents. I know that when I was a kid, I would always pick hanging out with friends than my parents. Can most people honestly say differently?

It's all right. It's natural for kids to prefer the all-positive relationships. Parents tell you "no," they scold you, they make you take naps, and they may even spank you if you get seriously out of line. So kids prefer to spend time with the relationships with none of these down-sides, with people like Miho & Miki, "Uncle Caveman" or "Dude" who do nothing put tickle and play with him.

While this may be an initial blow to the parental ego, there is a comfort: While he may prefer the social company of these people, they will never take the place of parents. In the social society that we teach kids, there is always a place for parents and a kind of love that is unique to them alone. We will always love and care for him, and he knows that. When he falls down, he knows to come to us to make it better. It's the give-and-take relationships that never go away that are truly fulfilling.

In short, parents are the vegetables, friends are the candy. As a kid, you prefer the candy and the vegetables are forced upon you. Vegetables help kids grow up strong, though the kids don't know it at the time. Later in life, when kids are older and they have the choice, they can't stand too much candy, and actually choose to have the vegetables.

After Matthew grows up, I look forward to relating to him as an adult. This change has been very fulfilling for Melissa and I with our parents. I can't wait.

February 11, 2004

Useless Talents
Have I ever mentioned that I'm a Radio Psychic? Not one of those guys on the radio call-in shows that tell you "I see someone with an 'N' in your family who just had an operation..." No, that would be something useful, productive even. My talent is something far, far more useless. I can predict what song will come on the radio.

Now I know that predicting a song being played on top-40 radio can be a simple thing if you have a ClearChannel station, or Star94 in Atlanta, since they play most songs on a 1.5 hour rotation throughout the day. But that's not it. I wouldn't be much of a psychic if I predicted that Outkast's "Hey Ya" would be played within the next hour. Any frustrated listener can tell you that already. My ability lies in more obscure tuneage.

Here's how it usually happens. I wake up one morning and for no reason, I start humming "Black Hole Sun" by Soundgarden. I go through my morning routine as usual, but the second song on the radio after I start it up is, you guessed it, "Black Hole Sun." It works often when I'm away from a radio, like at home or work. I won't be able to get random a song out of my head all day, and then once I turn on the radio, it plays. Or I'll be listening to the radio and start singing a completely different song, and that will be the next song played.

The spirits of the cosmos decided to imbue me with a psychic gift: the power to see into the futute and predict... a radio set list. A totally useless ability. How completely fitting.

Something only slightly less pointless is my ability to predict when I'll get a call on my cell phone. I'll be going about my daily business, then have a sudden urge to take out my phone. Five seconds later, it rings in my hand. Maybe I'm able to pick up wireless frequencies because of the metal plate in my head. No, second thought, I don't have a metal plate in my head. That was the guy in "Airplane."

February 10, 2004

I took Monday off so we could take Miho & Miki to Zoo Atlanta. We arrived to find the parking lot blissfully uncrowded. It was cold, and a Monday, so we didn't expect a crowd. We paid our $17.50 each to get in and walked in the park. The Flamingo exhibit had a trenching machine in the middle of it, and the fence was replaced with yellow caution tape. No worries, we expected to see tropical birds taken inside when the temperature drops. But as we continued on, it did not get better.

We saw two elephants, a rhino and a couple of giraffes, and we only passed two people in the park. We followed the lion roar to the "Simba" paddock and pointed out the "Big Kitty" to Matthew. Yes, there he was, a big lion sitting in the cold, not so much roaring as much as couching up phglem or a king-of-the-jungle-sized hairball. Continuing on, we saw no stands were open. This wasn't a big problem in itself, since we surely did not need an ICEE on a day like this.

But then, there was nothing. No Gorillas, No birds (except for the obligatory two mallard ducks that seem to get into every zoo's rare bird colelction somehow), no Orangutangs, nothing. We thought that the Reptile house would be open, since they could keep it warm for them inside, but it was closed for rennovation. Melissa wanted to talk to someone about this, suggesting we paraphrase the line from "Jurassic Park" ; "Eventually, you do plan to have ANIMALS on your animal tour, right?"

After bothering the in-house McDonald's to fry up lunch for us, we made our way past the rest of the closed exhibits and construction zones to the exit. Melissa went to ask for a refund while we warmed up in the gift shop. Fine, it's cold and an off-season, but if there are going to be no shows, half of the exhibits are closed, and the other half are open construction areas, either inform customers of this up front, or charge half-price admission.

While waiting in the gift shop, I overheard the cashier talking on the phone, attempting to convert the person on the other end to her particular sect: "Well you GOTTA consider the source, and since God talked to these men, and they were imperfect, the words they spoke were imperfect as well, and we gotta get them up outa there." After promising to call the person back later, she counted out her till, repeating lines from her speech to the caller, and agreeing with herself.

We got our money back and had better luck with the Coca-Cola museum at Underground Atlanta.

We rested up at the house, dropped Matthew at Ron & Brenda's, and headed off to The Cheesecake Factory with Craig in tow. Now Miho loves cheesecake, and when she heard that there were different kinds of cheesecake, she was excited. When we took her here last year and she saw around 30 different kinds, her head nearly exploded. Same reaction with Miki. We all finished half of our meals, boxed the rest up and had some gut-busting-good cheesecake. (I didn't eat the crust, so this is Atkins-Friendly, right?)

One for the "It's A Small World" file: Who should wait on us, but Tariq, fellow groomsman for Joey Googe's wedding in November! Miho & Miki had a picture with him before we left, to remember the one who brought the cheesecake.

(aside): Blogger.com is a great blog host for intentionally-separate personal histories, perhaps not wanting to be read by too many people. LiveJournal.com is more a community blog site, where you can have blog-buddies and read the aforementioned blog-buddies' rants daily. Or, you can just go to LiveJournal.com and click for a RANDOM Blog. Could be some tweenie girl from the midwest who has a crush on some boy named Shane. Could be a transplanted lonely starving artist in Maine who hates everybody's accent up there. Some of them are even in Russian. Needless to say, I am addicted to this like Rush Limbaugh on Painkillers. Delving into random strangers' lives. No commitment, no emotional connection, just reading what's going on in people's heads. It's mental voyeurism. God, I love it. For me, there's no better way to spend lunch break.

February 08, 2004

Matthew's 2nd Birthday Party

On Wednesday, our little man will be two. I'll spare you the "Seems like only yesterday" speech, but it's true. This time is so much fun! Sure, he's getting more tantrum-prone and he's relishing the word "no!" a bit more than I like, but it's such an exciting time of discovery for both sides. It's great to hear him talk more, to learn new words. Craig taught him to say "Dude!" the other week, and mow Matthew calls him Dude. Craig seems to love it, and it's easier to say than "Funny Guy," which is what we were calling him before.

We had his birthday party today. Let me tell you, I never fully understood what the term "pandemonium" meant, (aside from a short-lived cartoon series about two pandas who ran into each other to form a big hero panda). The rule of thumb is that you include one child for each year, which suggests two kids. Well, two friends, their parents & siblings, Melissa's parents, Miho & Miki, Justin, Craig and a Ringer friend of Melissa's brought the grand total to 18 people in our living room. And six of them were under 7 years old. Yeah. Matthew didn't have his nap, so there was the occasional fit, but he generally had a great time.

Most of us stuck around for round two: roller skating at Skate Country! I didn't get skates because last time I injured myself carrying Matthew, and good thing, because I spent most of the time following him and his friend Phillip around the carpeted sidelines. I've never seen two 2-year olds so eager to get on skates. Phillip's parents turned around 30 seconds after putting his skates on, only to find him 20 feet away, about to merge into traffic on the main floor! We're tired and we'll all be sore from the skating tomorrow, but Matthew had a great time, and now he has nearly every musical toy that The Wiggles have put out. Almost every (no-volume-controlling) toy. Joy.

February 05, 2004

Last year, they consolidated the people in my section of the building, and took down the cubicles from my row to the windows. It was disturbing, knowing that there used to be people working in those cubes just a year ago, and most of them have moved on or transferred out. Roughly half of the cubes were taken down, leaving the ones from my row to the center of the building, which left me on the edge of what we call "The Frontier." On the plus side, it effectively made my cubicle a corner office with windows.

Since the sell-off of our department last year, they've been slowly taking down the cubicles from more of the building. Alltel, the former company, still owns the building and our department rents the space now. We've been taking up less and less space in the building since the buy-out last March. I assume that this is because we're moving some departments to offices in Buckhead, but it's still disconcerting to walk down the halls and see roughly half of this floor not just empty and quiet, but cubeless as well. It's like looking out over a parking lot that was once a thriving farm. A Cube Farm, granted, but a farm nontheless.

They left the end-pieces of the cubicle rows, perhaps as markers to make setup easier if they came back. Today, maintenance is taking down the end pieces.

February 04, 2004

The "Support" part of my programming job mostly entails waiting for e-mails from the people testing my programs. Since I am still committed to the project, I dont get any other work until this phase is complete. I understand it's necessity, but the time spent at work, unable to do anything useful is very frustrating. The only company-approved down-time activity is taking CBT's, or Computer-Based Training modules.

Just say the word "CBT" to anyone in the I.T. field and watch a shiver of disgust go through their body. It's the bane of our existence. They are slightly more informative than a PowerPoint presentation, and slightly less painful to go through than a Brazilian Wax, but since the Tech bubble burst, they are the only training that we're likely to get. They are somewhat useful for presenting high-level concepts and information, but they are famously ineffective for teaching programming languages, since users are only tested on multiple-choice code fragments.

Today I found out that CBT's, like the spam subject lines I mentioned yesterday, can be unintentionally funny. This is what one of the screens from a Java Database CBT said:

"Consider an example. The management of a multinational corporation decides to increase the salaries of all it's employees. The headquarters of the corporation uses a Java application to calculate the increment in it's salaries and stores the changed salaries in databases maintained at the regional offices of the corporation."

So multi-national corporation decides, in a fit of benevolance and goodwill, to give all of their employees an across-the-board raise. RIGHT. This CBT was either made at the height of the internet boom, or the guy putting it together was having a little fun with his audience.

February 03, 2004

A wave of new spam is appearing in my InBox. Apparently there's a new tactic for spammers, just as ineffective in getting us to read them, but now they have a new tactic in getting around keyword filters. Now, instead of getting subject-line ads for prescription-free Viagra or Paris Hilton videos, with one letter misspelled or punctuated, you get totally random words. I delete them all the same, but now I occasionally get a laugh out of them before I do so. Take this example subject line from today's Bulk Email:

"arsenic eating freeswimmer explore exhalable counterflight"

Last night we spent in, due to hail and ice, and watched another Studio Ghibli Anime classic, "My Neightbor Totoro." Like "Castle in the Sky," it's primarily aimed at children, but there are some mature themes and mass appeal in each of them. "Totoro" was a testament to the originality and talent that Miyazaki has in his head. His ability to craft dramatic elements and intersperse them with fanciful, cute-as-can-be creatures is fantastic.

Anyone who hasn't seen Miyazaki's work should rent "Spirited Away", which won the Oscar for Best Animated Film for 2002. It's a bit more gruesome and a little out-there at times, but still a brilliant film. Even better is "Princess Mononoke" which has recently been released with some top-name actors doing the english voices.

"Princess Mononoke" is a great fable about how early industrialization conflicted with the spirits of nature, and a battle that ensued between them. It's amazing to me how Japanese culture can present the importance of environmental consciousness in the medium of anime like this. Japanese kids see this movie and make a mental note not to disrespect nature, otherwise this huge Gaian Boogeyman will come and get them. THEY get the message, for the most part. The struggle between industrialized humans and the natural world is played out in all it's anime glory, with armies of nature spirits, heroes and conflicted protagonists doing battle on large and small scales.

This is how Japanese kids learn to respect the environment. They have Miyazaki. What did American Kids get? "Captain Planet and the Planeteers." Thanks a lot for that! No, kids in America grew up more with the values of "G.I. Joe" and "Richie Rich", and grew up to think that they all deserved to be insanely wealthy, and that the country should kick the collective ass of any foe that dared oppose the flag. I will never forget Justin's favorite line from a G.I. Joe comic book: In order to stop a man who was about to burn the American flag, a grunt named RoadBlock warns, "Sir, please desist in your actions, or I will be obliged to reduce your head to a fine red mist."

So from American cartoons, American kids learned bravado, blind patriotism and that the world owed them everything. Japanese children, on the other hand, learned from Anime that it's all about harmony with your environment, and although there may be armies and huge battles, in the end it always comes down to your personal strength of character and beliefs. (This theme is widely used in Japanese anime and recently shown in the recent "Lord of the Rings" movies.) No wonder Japan has been quietly growing and eventually passing us as a world-class economic power.

This sounds more like the preface to a lengthy essay, but that's the "my two cents" version.

February 02, 2004

Our Japanese Visitors, Miho and Miki, are settled in and having a good time. We took them and The Aforementioned Friend out to Joe's Crab Shack on friday, because it was Miho's favorite place from last visit. Little Matthew seemed to remember Miho, and he's just thrilled to have so much female attention. He's bonded with our visitors so fast, he ran up and gave them one of his trademark "Running Hugs" at church yesterday. (The Running Hug is where he sees you, runs at you full speed and latches onto your legs on impact. After he grows a few more inches, this manouver will hurt me and other men, so I'm hoping he grows out of it.)

Saturday, before Melissa's TaeKwonDo practice, we stopped by tha mall to get her dress fixed. While the ladies are in a shop, who comes by but Brian and Holly Johnston, with baby Christopher in tow! We hadn't seen them since around September, and the little one was born in mid-December. They looked great and amazingly well-rested for having a 2-month old baby.

After TQD, we drove out to Stone Mountain Park to show them the one NATURAL attraction that we have in Georgia. The park looked fairly empty, but we figured that it was because of the cold weather. Ends up that everything but the Skylift (which takes you to the top of the mountain) and Memorial Hall (a paid-entry museum) were closed for seasonal refurbishment. You think that would be something that you would tell people coming into the park, wouldn't you? Stone Mountain isn't just some park, it has dozens of attractions, from a petting zoo to an antique Railroad, and it has never been closed entirely for a season. Blame their new owners, the Dollywood Company.

That night, we cooked dinner and The Aforementioned Friend joined us again. He's very lonely since The Princess of MeMeMe moved out, and we don't mind having him for company one bit. Sunday night we had a "SuperBowl Commercial" party, where we talked & ate during the game and watched the TV intently when they broke for commercials. It was disapointing this year, with no real gut-busters except for Truth.org's "Shards O' Glass brand popsicles" pseudo-Ad stab at the Tobacco companies. (The Shardsoglass.com web site was immediately innundated with hits; it only halfway loaded om the computer, and I have a Cable connection.) Justin and The Aforementioned Friend ("Uncle Caveman" and "Dude!" to little Matthew), joined us.