Friday, November 28, 2008

Pushing Daisies Thanatopsis

I cannot let the passing of Pushing Daisies go without comment. This is one of the most original shows to come to television in a long time, by which I mean that they reached all the way into the first half of the last century for their ideas instead of just recycling old shows that we all remember, and that weren't that good the first time. Not only were the story lines and dialog complex, original and entertaining, but the show had tremendous visual appeal.

What is it about us as a society that leads us to turn our backs on original, intelligent work in favor of predictable humor or a seemingly endless series of second-rate crime/medical dramas? It is much harder for me to bemoan the way that television executives treat us as if we are mindless sheep when we continue to act like mindless sheep. I mean, how many CSI's do we need?

Of course, we the viewers are not alone in our culpability. I don't see a huge push from any of the networks to promote any of the more original work until after it becomes a phenomenon like Lost. I don't recall seeing the Good Morning America team discussing the plot of Pushing Daisies or Eli Stone on the morning after, like they do with Dancing with the People Whose Names You May Have Heard or American Star Machine. Then again, Diane, Robin and the rest are just giving us what will get them ratings.

I know, it's just a television show. But in addition to the fact that I get 70% of my information and 85% of my imagined human interaction from TV, television is what passes for culture in our country today, and we spend our breaks and lunch hours talking about Meredith and McDreamy or what's up with the Desperate Housewives. TV has real impact on our lives, at least until you kids take over with your Interwebs and your iPods and such.

In the end, I suppose the forces at work are much like those that helped disappear everyone's 401k in these last few months. Everyone is so interested in short term gain that long term goals are forgotten or ignored. I'm afraid we are in for a crisis of culture someday soon, if we are not already in its depths. And I don't see the government coming up with a trillion dollars to bail out PBS. They haven't even done anything to get the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans reopened.

If you think art and music are unimportant, and you're not worried about disappearing art, music and drama programs in schools, then the passing of higher culture is no need for concern. But if you believe, as I do, that our appreciation of art and music build our capacity to understand and appreciate mathematics, science and the more mundane aspects of life, then you should be afraid.

Oh, and Sarah is right about another thing: Grey's Anatomy has gone seriously off the rails. I don't know if they are chasing the ratings like everyone else or what, but I may have watched my last episode.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Please Don't Shoot Me

In the aftermath of the election, online discussion has turned in some cases from which of the two candidates or parties are better, to an analysis of whether either of the two major political parties represent Joe Glass of Red Wine with Dinner, or whoever happens to be writing/reading a particular blog. Many of these discussions end in the land of Objectivism, the Libertarian Party, or both.

A surprising number of the computer people I know profess Objectivist and Libertarian leanings, and despite the irony of having a group of people banded together to be left alone, I understand their motivation. After all, I'm originally from Arkansas. Hillbilly blood runs in my veins, and I occasionally have to fight the urge to chase someone from my property with a shotgun. Usually it's my neighbor down the street who is clandestinely (he thinks) encouraging his little yippy dog to poop in my yard.

I professed to be a Libertarian myself back in the day, and I may even have voted for their candidate for president back in the 70's. (That whole decade is a bit of blur for me.) But the Libertarians have the same problem that afflicts the two major parties -- their "base".

Every party has what we call a "base", which means "fringe element without which they cannot win elections", as far as I can tell. The Republican base is known as "The Evangelicals", who seem to be people that spend all day in church and are hanging around waiting for God to finally destroy the world so they can go to Heaven (also known as the 1950's). The Democratic base is "The Left". These seem to be people who smoke their clothes and have abortions at every opportunity, and are waiting around for the Republicans to destroy the world so that they can be reincarnated in a world of love and harmony (the 1960's).

The Libertarian base seems to be the KKK, NORML, religious groups who believe the evangelicals are poseurs who are phoning it in, gun nuts, and anyone else who thinks they should not have to pay taxes. While I would be comfortable being associated with at least one of those groups, I can't hang with most of the rest.

The other inconvenient truth that keeps me from being a Libertarian is that it is not the 1830's. Except for a good part of the population of Alaska and a few others, we are not self-reliant pioneers, living off the land and defending ourselves from bears. The world is a complicated and highly interconnected place. Modern life requires an enormous amount of infrastructure, which in turn requires significant government involvement and organization.

So what is a reasonable person to do? There are millions of people who don't believe that Government and Society are the same thing, that individuality is an important component of the Land of the Free, and that our democracy should not be for sale. I don't have the answer, though I think proportional representation may be part of the answer. Whatever it is, it's going to have to start on the local level. We will never have a Libertarian President (or Green Party or Workers Party Animal Rights Party or whatever) until we have congressional representation from those parties. So get out there and organize your friends and try to get elected to something.

One final thought. In the end, we ask for the government we get. When Hurricanes Gustav and Ike blew through our region a couple of months ago, the small government Republicans and Libertarians were lined up with everyone else demanding water, ice and the legendary blue tarps. Congressional earmarks are only evil when they are not going to our State. It's up to each of us to change what we don't like.

I will take up Objectivism another day.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Honor Thy Father

On April 18th, 2007, Eddie took his small fishing boat out to a local lake for a day of fishing. He had landed one the largest fish he had ever taken from the lake two days before, and was out to catch another whopper. It was a perfect spring day with temperatures in the low 80's and a light breeze. He anchored in a small cove near the shore and put two lines in the water.

We will never know much else about what happened that day. When Eddie failed to return home for supper, his wife got worried and called family to begin a search. The search quickly escalated to include the local sheriff's office and the owner of the marina where Eddie's boat was docked. At about 11:30 pm the owner of the marina found him floating face down next to his boat. He was wearing a life jacket and had a fish on one of the lines.

Eddie was 80 years old. He was Past Master of his local Trinity Lodge, a member of the Scottish Rite, active in the United Methodist Church, a member of AARP and an emeritus member of the American Institute of Architects. He was a Scorpio and a lifelong Razorback fan. And he was my father.

My father was born in 1926 to an extended family of construction people. At the age of 13 he went to work for his Uncle Mutt, a general contractor. After a short stint in the Air Force at the end of WWII, and a short stint in college on the G.I. Bill, he gravitated back into the construction business. He married my mother Betsy on Christmas Day of 1949. They had four children between 1951 and 1959. He became a General Contractor and operated a successful construction company for ten years or so, building small commercial buildings, schools and churches. When construction lagged he took the architect's licensing exam. Despite not having finished college, he passed the test and became a licensed architect. Eddie and Betsy divorced after 28 years. Not long after the divorce he married Mary Frances, a widow and childhood friend. After about 20 years as an architect, he "retired" and began a career as a ready responder for FEMA that lasted almost another 20 years.

After health problems forced him into retirement yet again he continued to look for ways to contribute. He volunteered to supervise construction of a sanctuary of the First Methodist Church in a small, mostly poor community near his home town. There he continued to do two things he loved: build and teach. In recognition of his contribution the church named the sanctuary after him. It was his last big project, and perhaps the one of which he was most proud.

My father believed in the value of work and the need to leave the world a better place then he found it. In addition to the dozens of stores, pizza parlors, banks, schools, churches and hospitals he designed or constructed, he built several houses and countless tree houses, forts, playhouses, dollhouses, decks, gazebos and one swimming pool.
When he was here he was always my father. Sometimes grumpy, often bossy, he always had an opinion. Now he's gone and all I see is what a good man he was, how much good he brought into the world, and how much poorer we all are for his passing.

My father was born 82 years ago today. Happy Birthday, Old Man. I miss you every day.