Monday, November 29, 2010

Birthday of Pong

The guy on the TV tells me that Pong appeared on the market today in 1972. My fond memory of Pong. A professor at the college I attended was exemplary in asking students to his home. He had a Pong game on his TV. Most of us didn't play it: we just watched it, fascinated that we could control something on the TV screen.

Pong was unblievably simple by today's standards: literally just a ball bouncing back and forth against two moving "paddles." Compared to what goes into video games today, it's laughable, of course. But in 1976, we sat mystified.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Just Want to Say

Had a nice time with our son at home. I shouldn't say this, but I'm very proud of him. No, I take that back. I should say it. All parents should tell their kids daily that they love the children and are proud of them. It would probably clear out a lot of jails.

Free speech, Responsibility, the Internet, and Anonymity

That title just about says it all, I guess.

There is a place in the Smoky Mountains National Park, above Gatlinburg, where Tennessee meets North Carolina. There's a sign there, even, just so you know. Nearby there is a another sign that says, "Free Speech Zone" where visitors are encouraged to use their First Amendment rights. I have a picture of myself standing in front of it posted on my bulletin board outside my office.

I like to think I am pretty much an absolutist when it comes to the interpretation of the First Amendment, although I believe it was meant as a protection from the government for political, philosophical, legal, educational, and religious speech, not just an excuse for people to be ugly and profane. Unfortunately, we have to take the good with the bad on it. I don't think those five categories of non-obscene speech are a problem, usually. They aren't for me, but they are for some.

However, nothing in the First Amendment absolves the users of free speech of responsibility for their speech (somebody else can punch you in the nose if you insult the somebody); the First Amendment is about what the government can do to you. So we still have to have libel and slander laws. We still have the rights of a capitalistic enterprise (a publisher or record company) to decide what it wants to produce for its market (and reputation).

As technology expands, the First Amendment issues get murkier. It's not just a matter of someone standing by the sign in the Smokey Mountains. There, only the people who can hear me might have a problem. With radio and television, a lot more people become involved. On top of that, you have to have money, or access to someone with money, to get on the air to state your opinions. So the government had to come up with more regulations (the FCC) because of the power of the media and those who run it. I don't happen to think they've done a great job on that, but that opinion is neither here nor there.

This bring us to the Internet. Now you don't have to have any great sum of money to spread your expression (speech) over the world. You need only go to a public library and get some passwords. You can now have a website, a blog, or just go to other blogs and forums and put up anything you want, in perfect anonymity. As the old cartoon says, "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog."

So if, say, you go to Fox News, or MSNBC, or the Daily Kos, or Yahoo, or YouTube, or any other sites with comments or forum page, you can see some of the most hateful, insulting, racist, profane, degrading comments posted without fear of censure or litigation by anonymous writers. Truly, no one knows you are a dog.

My point: I really don't think it's a true, mature exercise of free speech if you don't take responsibility for it. When I started this blog, I was fooling around just to see what the technology was like, so I used a fake name, Glenda Boone. It didn't take me long to see how childish that was, so I changed it to my real name so everyone would know who writes this stuff, whether it's crap or not. But it's my crap, and I'm not going to apologize for my right to put up my opinion.

That being said, I sometimes have to apologize for the way I said something, or if someone was hurt by something I wrote. It is never my intention to be hurtful; I don't even understand intentional hurtfulness, but I do have a snarky streak that comes out when I am not letting the Holy Spirit control my mind, my mouth, or my typing fingers. Usually the snarkiness is addressed at myself or life in general.

Thousands of young men and women are fighting for my right to do this blog and your right to read it. I hope that in the future we will all keep in mind their sacrifices and exercise freedom of expression, religion, assembly, press, etc. in a mature and responsible fashion, and take ownership of what we say, not hiding behind screennames so no one can hold us accountable for our expression.

Old Movies Redux

Any reader of this blog knows I like old movies (and I'm not talking about the '90s). I'm talking '30s, '40s, '50s, even '20s, preferably black and white. Color movies of those periods are way too technicolor and almost make me nauseous with the intensity of the color, although I will watch some of them.

Why do I like them? They were a lot more subtle, for one thing. A couple having sex is implied with a small gesture, not a lot of nudity and bumping and groaning. Since the point of the sex is simply that they had it, we don't have to be privy to the technicalities. They usually told a story more simply, without a lot of side issues and scenery and unnecessary characters. The women were incredibly beautiful, and they wore great clothes (reason enough for me, as I think I am a fashion designer at heart). The lines are great. Who can do better than "Round up the usual suspects?" in Casablanca. Or Bette Davis in All About Eve, "Fashion your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night." And black and white allows amazing things with light and shadow and helps the viewer focus on the story and actors.

By the way, I was telling my husband the other day that a few years back I had to get black and white photographs of myself and some other people. I was told then that it was more expensive to get black and white than color. Odd, isn't it?

However, there are things that bother me about the old movies. Black people are talked to rudely, and women get slapped around sometimes (although a few I would slap myself). In fact, Black people are relegated almost entirely to servitude roles, until maybe the '50s, or to humorous roles. Even so, they often put the white people in their places. Eddie Rochester is a good example. He is quite funny, and he knows how to deal with Jack Benny, but he still is portrayed as a stereotypical Black person. Reference You Can't Take it With You, where his only concern is whether he can get "relief" (welfare).

And of course, everyone drinks and smokes constantly. I think that was obviously a form of product placement, a way to get the movie watchers to do the same, perhaps paid for by the tobacco and liquor industries. Nobody could drink and smoke that much and look so good.

I am usually more enthralled by the beautiful women in these old movies than the men. As for men, I really like Joel McCrea. He's about it; of yes, and Jimmy Stewart. Gary Cooper was just a stick, Clark Gable says all his lines the same, Cary Grant is funny but shallow, John Wayne was an icon but not an actor, and a lot of the men were creeps toward women anyway. As for the women--Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck (Bette Davis just slightly better as an actress) and Grace Kelley, Ingrid Bergman, Olivia DeHavilland, Vivien Leigh, Greer Garson, Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth, Heddy Lamar (not sure who is the more beautiful, but I think Ava is winning right now). And of course many more. Rosalind Russell is fun to watch, as are Patricia Neal, Donna Reed, Angela Lansbury, Irene Dunn, and Teresa Wright. Joan Newman, too. (Can't think of her stage name) One I can't abide is Joan Crawford. She gives me the creeps, except for in Mildred Pierce.

As I said, I'm on an Ava Gardner kick now. Not only was she stunningly beautiful, but she was a marvelous actress. And she was someone who had to be an actress just to be an actress, since she came from such a downtrodden existence and brought turmoil into her own life by her choices in men (I mean, who could have a normal relationship with Frank Sinatra or Howard Hughes?) My favorite performances of hers are in The Night of the Iguana, where she gets to be what she is, a trashy Southern girl, and Showboat, where she has to pass as a part-Black woman. Although I like the '30s version of Showboat, the '50s version with Ava Gardner makes me cry at the end. Ava embodies all that minorities went through in building what came to be the American dream--for whites. You just have to watch it to get it.

She also has a great line in The Barefoot Contessa. "I have never met an American whose idea of the American dream is not his own dream." But Mankeiwicz wrote that screenplay, and he wrote some great lines.

But actors are just that, actors. Many, if not most, have "issues." We project ourselves onto them, just as the image is projected onto the screen.

Movie Review #27 (Not Really)

My son introduced me to Hulu a while back. There are actually a few good movies on there to watch, if you can put up with the commercials (which are oddly placed). Most of them are horror movies, B flicks, cheesy stuff, documentaries, and indie films. But a few good finds have come to my attention.

One that I watched the other night was Pieces of April. The set-up sounds like a Lifetime movie, but it's much better. April is the estranged daughter of an ostensibly middle class, happy family. She has a brother and sister near her in age. Her dad is patient and long-suffering. Her mother, we learn, is a difficult woman, who may be so difficult just because she always has been or maybe because she is dying of cancer--probably both. April is estranged because, well, she had a drug problem, she had boyfriend problems, she had .... problems. It's not entirely clear (and this is what makes the movie intriguing for me) whether she is the problem or the mom, or the dad.

But April is trying to do better. She has an apartment in New York (not the best address though) and an African American boyfriend who seems like a decent guy. And she wants to cook Thanksgiving dinner for her family because it might be her mother's last Thanksgiving. So the family leaves their home three hours away from New York to join April for dinner. And the drama ensues.

I never thought much about Katie Holmes as an actor, but she does a wonderful job. She meets her menu of neighbors in the building as she tries to complete a menu for the dinner. Her stove breaks down, meaning she has to find a replacement, a task that involves a lot of running up and down stairs and pleading. Meanwhile her boyfriend is going on some kind of errand--we fear it's a drug score--and her parents are driving. Her mother's cruelty--or is it just bitterness--toward everyone, not just April, becomes very real (Patricia Clarkson is one of those actresses who does the job of acting, not being a star, and I like to watch her).

I loved this (80-minute) movie. Very human and real, but with a satisfying ending. I am already sick of the Christmas season and all the nonsensical "magic of Christmas" Hallmark Channel blah-blah. And it's four weeks away! I would nominate Pieces of April for a new holiday classic (although be warned, there are some raw moments in it).

Friday, November 26, 2010

Facebook Revisited

I have become a victim of Facebook's changes in privacy settings. Alas, I took them for granted. I have since gone in and changed mine so that I am not accessible to everyone on the planet, and I am going to defriend some people--in fact, a lot of them. I have 350 friends and I don't even know who some of them are. That's not good. They will probably be offended, but I should get the number down to fewer than 200. I got that many so I could advertise the book. I also took down personal information.

Monday, November 22, 2010


My mother has been in need of a hysterectomy for a while now. Finally, on November 19, we 'got it taken care of.'

Many thanks to the marvelous staff at Memorial Hospital of Chattanooga, TN, and to her surgeon, Dr. Stephen dePasquale. We are waiting for the pathology report, but the surgery part is over and she has survived it despite a heart attack two years ago (albeit mild).

Modern medical technology is a wonder. We can all find things to complain about the health care system in this country, but it's because we have been led to expect such high standards and accessibility.

That being said, having a loved one in the hospital is very time- and emotion-consuming and the experiences has made me rethink my priorities. But this morning I am very thankful, appropriate for this week.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Excerpt from Novel, Traveling Through

Chapter 1

Carlie Geraldson blew air upward out of her mouth, lifting her damp bangs. Why hadn’t she held out for a car with air conditioning? Even if it was only necessary one month out of the year, this was definitely the month. She glanced at the car’s digital clock and noted the minutes since either Emily or Josiah had asked how much more driving there was. They didn’t like riding and were probably hotter than she was.
The last road sign had announced fifty miles to Cincinnati, and their destination was a suburb on its east side. She entertained the fantasy of detouring Cincinnati, and then Brownsville, to keep going to the mountains and then the Atlantic coast, bypassing her assigned goal of arriving at the new parsonage and starting to unpack. She knew as much about the country beyond the Ohio River as she did about the church that Jeff, her husband, would soon be pastoring. She’d been following Jeff, who was driving the rented moving truck, for 300 miles from western Indiana, and had been unable to enjoy the scenery because the back of the truck loomed in front of her, as did the unknown future. But she had agreed to follow instead of lead this time. Perhaps most times she had. It was easier that way.
To their credits, it was now twenty-five minutes since someone in the backseat had made a comment. That was because Emily had nodded off, and Josiah was reading a sports magazine. Suddenly he looked up.
“How close are we, Mom?”
“Less than an hour, I promise.”
He stared out the window. Beads of sweat hung on his forehead, despite the breeze from the open window. She found herself falling into the reverie she always did when she caught furtive looks at her son, as she was doing now in the rear view mirror; but he noticed it and turned back to his magazine.
“What you thinking?”
“Not much.” That attempt failed. She tried again.
“It’s going to be a lot of change for you, I guess?”
Was he already becoming the teenager of one-syllable answers? Well, he’d done everything else early; maybe she had that to look forward to also. He was the unpredictable one of her two children.
The green and white sign on the edge of I-74 informed her they had made progress. Thirty miles to Cincinnati, and then a little beyond that.

Esther Lundy valued her Wednesdays off as much as anything else about her job at St. Michael’s Senior Life Care Center. Five days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and sometimes double shifts when her relief didn’t show up, she fed, medicated, charted, and fussed over the twenty-four residents of Wing 4. On Wednesdays she could forget she had ever seen St. Michael’s, sleep a little late, work in her garden, cook her husband Maurice some greens and black-eyed peas, visit a doctor or beautician, volunteer two times a month at Westgate Pregnancy Helps Center, or do whatever she wanted. On Sundays she could attend church, eat dinner with as much of her family as could get together, be back for choir practice at 6:00, and enjoy the evening in front of the TV seven months out of the year and her front porch the other five months.
This Wednesday afternoon in June, Esther was standing in her garden surveying the tomato plants, which had already flowered and were starting to produce green bee-bee sized fruit, and wondering if she should go back in the shed for some Sevin dust. The heat was oppressive already, and she decided this summer was going to be a hot one, and damp.
“Feels like a July day in Statesboro,” she thought, remembering those summers of her childhood in South Georgia when the hot, heavy air felt like a wool blanket suffocating her. She had left behind more than the stifling heat when she came north to Ohio in the fifties. Cincinnati had jobs, for one, and places to live, for another, and you got a little more respect than what you got from those crackers in South Georgia. She had stayed when she met Maurice Lundy.
“My garden will be all over the place with this rain,” she warned herself, but happy over the prospect. Last summer had been dry. She walked past the tomatoes, lettuce, beans, turnip greens. Yes, a good year for the garden.
She heard the squeal of brakes of a big truck or train and lifted her head. “Well. Somebody is moving into the preacher’s house for that church down the road.” In their more than twenty years of living in this house on Stanley Road, she had seen three—now four—families living in the brick rancher that sat across the street. From her accounting, the preachers stayed about six or seven years a piece. Not too long but not too short, she figured. Preachers who stayed too long in churches started acting like they owned the place, in her experience.
She left her garden to walk out front and take a peek at what the new crew looked like. They’d be white, of course. The last preacher had been an older man; their kids were grown. His wife was nice enough, but he had been the most standoffish person she’d ever known, and that probably explained what happened later.
The truck turned out to be a Ryder, the second to the biggest one you could rent. The tags were from—she turned her head and squinted—what was that? Indiana. The preacher had climbed down out of the truck. Well, she guessed he was the preacher, but he looked pretty young and skinny, and wore glasses. Pulling up behind the truck was a car that looked to be four or five years old, one of those Japanese models. A woman was driving, and there were two other heads, in the back seat. The woman got out and went to talk to the man at the back of the Ryder, and then she returned to say something to the two heads.
So, two kids, pretty young, and they look like typical preacher family types. The woman wore one of those ice skater haircuts, and jeans, and a big smocky top as if she was pregnant, but she wasn’t. “I’ll give them a couple of hours before I go visit and take a jar of pickled beets from last year. No, they got kids, I’ll take some jelly.” Something caught Esther’s eye, and she walked a little closer to see the children getting out of the car now. Hmm. The little girl looked to be four. She was bubbly, jumpy, glad to be out of the car and eager to get their mama to open the front door. She had blonde hair pulled up in a fussy ribbon. The boy—now what was this? He was helping his daddy with the locks on the back of the truck, and he looked an awful lot like her son Monroe did at that age.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Marriage and Scriptures

Today the quarterly wanted me to teach my Sunday School class about marriage.

Ok. I have, as far as how many ladies come off and on, about 15 people in my class. Today there were nine. Good crowd. Of those who come, three of us are married, one of which is a second marriage. One lady has never married. One is widowed. The rest are divorced. And I'm going to teach Ephesians 5:22 to them?

I wrote a long, doctrinal lesson. I might post it here soon. I learned a lot about marriage. But on Sunday morning I knew this wasn't going to work (I had inklings all week it wasn't.) So I punted. We had a good discussion, and I hope I didn't offend anyone.

Say marriage to most long-term Christians and the first verse they come up with is "Wives, submit to your husbands." And oh, yes, there's a verse in there about the husbands' loving the wives like Christ does the church. But the section starts with "wives, submit" so that must be the most important part, right? A friend of mine said she would submit to her husband when he loves her like Christ does. Well, that's not the point either.

The point is that teaching about marriage starts in Genesis and goes through Revelation, and one verse is not going to shed much light on the subject in its totality. We need all the passages to light the way through something as thorny as marriage, especially in this culture where marriage is so degraded. Two things are clear:

1. The fall ruined marriage; the Old Testament (and most human history) is about people trying to fix it to make it work; Christ revolutionized it by comparing it to the mystery of his relationship to the church.

2. Marriage is not first for having lots of babies. Marriage is for companionship and fellowship; marriage is to provide boundaries for sex; marriage is to mirror Christ and his bride. Then lots of babies is the natural outcome.

On the way to church the Christian radio announcer read a devotional that said it all. I can't paraphrase it, but the jist was: if I had a close friend who I wanted to spend time with, and enjoy, and be like, but I didn't like his wife, and told him so, I would probably not have much of a relationship with him for long. But supposed Christians do that to Jesus all the time. We want to know Jesus but want nothing to do with the church.

I really think Ephesians 5:22 ff is as much about the church as it is marriage, when you come to think about it.

A word from Nooma

For those who don't know, Nooma DVDs are little programs by Rob Bell. Rob Bell is an interesting character. I don't want to state something about him and his doctrinal position that is not true, so I'll just say that I find him provocative. I previewed a Nooma DVD the other night for use with our BCM group this week.

It was about time management. He pointed out that Jesus did not do everything that people asked him to do. This morning our pastor spoke on Mark 8, and it became very clear in that text how right Rob Bell is on that point. Jesus was not a circus performer, although the Pharisees et al wanted him to be. Show us a sign, they say, on our cue. No, I won't, Jesus says, after he has just miraculously fed 4,000 Gentiles (in contrast to the 5,000 plus Jews in an earlier chapter). For the Pharisees and even his disciples, it's as if whatever Jesus did was never enough. More, more, they say. Our way! No thanks, Jesus responds. I am calling the shots.

I am reminded of C.S. Lewis' Narnia tale, I think it's either Voyage of the Dawntreader or the first one about Caspian, where the two children (not the Peavensies at this point) are trying to get Aslan to let them back into Narnia. One suggests they make a circle and stand in it and say some words. The other says, "I don't think it works this way;" Lewis is implying, I think, that humans view prayer that way, as bending God, as do Satanists--say a few words and cast a spell to get what you want. Of course, it's better in the original. It always in, especially when it comes to Lewis.

But back to the issue: Bell's point is that Jesus has his own agenda, or rather, the Father's agenda, and even in the face of pressing needs, the gospels state "he was moving toward Jerusalem" over and over again. "Jesus could say no because he first said yes." is Bell's epigram to this.

That is sticking with me. We can't say "no"--to sin, to the temptation to be overbusy, to please people and self, to anything bad for us--until we say a solid and permanent "yes" to God. And that is where I am.

I struggle with overcommitment, saying yes because it seems like a good idea at the time, being interested in too many things that just suck the life out of me, being distracted, and trying to please people. All that because I haven't said yes to the one or two main things God wants out of me. So those two main things suffer.

Of course, any comparison of our lives to Jesus' on earth eventually comes short; we just can't measure up. But that doesn't change the principle.

Say yes first. Then no gets really easy.

Time management has usually been a list of methods for getting more done in a day. I'm good at that. I have my Franky planner! But the satisfaction from getting all that done in one day fades really, really fast. It's gone by the next morning when I have another list to get through (and boy, can I make lists! I am a first-class list maker.) Time management also tells us how to relieve stress, handle stress, displace stress, etc. Why don't we just get rid of the reasons for the stress in the first place! Most of what we put on ourselves that stresses us have absolutely no value-added. I would like to think that by now I would know that. It's a long journey.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Another One of those Just Wonderings

I am a big Christianity Today fan, but sometimes....

Their advertising is off-the-wall. Advertised today is a book by Brian McLaren (who may or may not be heretical) called "A New Kind of Christianity."

Am I the only one who sees the oddness in that title? Is he saying we've been doing it wrong for 2000 years? Who died and made him the authority. Oh, please.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

We are all Marxists now

One of the fundamental tenets of Marxism is alive and well in some parts of the Republican/conservative parties.

Marx wrote that "Mankind's consciousness is determined by his economic and social conditions." I am paraphrasing, but as Marx wrote in German anyway and I can't read German, despite two years in high school, it would be a paraphrase anyway, as direct translation is usually unreadable, especially from the German. Anyway, what he is saying is, "It's the economy, stupid."

And that is the same thing the Republicans said this time around. They benefited from many voters' frustration with economic conditions, which are not even remotely addressed in the constitution.

True conservatives live by principles and say, "Our economic and social conditions are determined by our (cultural, spiritual, intellectual) consciousness."

Probably Shouldn't, but this fascinates me

Text of my presentation at Southern States Communication Conference on Open Educational Resources

On April 8 I spoke at SSCA on the subject of Open Educational Resources.  Here is the text of my remarks. The University System of Geo...