Monday, April 28, 2008

Psycho (analysis)

Bare with me here.

One particular night during sleep, I, at some point, went into a coughing fit and then resumed sleeping. Or at least I think I did.

During the cough, I thought it might've been the first of many symptoms of a brand-new cold (I had that substance in my throat that I couldn't get rid of, no matter how much I coughed). But when I woke up next morning, there no was evidence of sickness. I then figured I just swallowed saliva the wrong way. I also remembered sounds, like my mother calling me, but failed to remember waking up at any point at all. So...what happened?

I read an article in some nature/science magazine that started with the question "Have you ever with certainty remembered something that never happened?" I immediately thought of "The Matrix".

Anyway, the article talked about some neuroscientists who were conducting tests to thicken the line between real recollections and made up ones.

They tested two cranial lobes: the medial-temporal, which takes in details, and the fronto-parietal, which gathers the gist of things.

They gave two test subjects one sheet of paper with a list of words they were obligated to remember. They then took that away and gave them a second sheet with a slightly altered list (some words were replaced). They were to point out the words they remembered seeing from the first list.

When trying to recall words they did not see to begin with (and affirming that they remember them), the frontal-parietal lobe registered the most seismic activity.

My hypothesis would be that the brain, when trying to recall a perception, mostly looks for the things that fit in with the general picture of it, and will settle for those things even when they're incorrect. Memories are questionable, even when they're expressed by a person who first starts with "I remember like it was yesterday....."

The human brain: the first and last frontiers in historical truth-altering process.

Did my brain generally recall the sleep and randomly put in the vision of myself coughing and my mother calling? If so, then we are entering Carl Jung's territory, and can only come to an answer by knowing the unique language of the sub-conscious.

Perhaps a great memory has the frontal part sharpened a little and the medial part dulled a little, to perceive things optimally. But however fine tuned the mind is, it is still finite, and the objective truth, thus, is still lost.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Inner Grace = Substance

"Adela de Otero closed her fan and raised it slowly, until it touched the scar on her mouth. 'You must be a very lonely man, Don Jaime.'

He looked at her hard. There was no amusement in his gray eyes now; his eyes had become opaque. 'I am' His voice sounded tired. 'But I am the only one to blame for that. Actually loneliness has a kind of fascination; it's a state of egotistical, inner grace that you can achieve only by standing guard on old, forgotten roads that no one travels anymore. Do I seem like an absurd old man to you?'"

~~"The Fencing Master" by Arturo Perez-Reverte

I often feel like this. Not egotistical, but with the inner grace of an old man still disappointed in teenagers and young adults that don't have some sort of educational habit in addition to the rest of their life. I continue to stand on this old, forgotten road because 1) I'm a nerd 2) this decline in reading is a major part of our societal downfall, not technology like others may suggest. Kids and adults alike may surround and isolate themselves in the latest technological gadgets (which ironically propose to form more social connections for them)*note below, but this is not technology's fault, but rather the users who use these things as ends, and not means to further the mental and spiritual culturing process that all humans should under go in some way.

The character in this novel, Don Jaime Astarloa, is a strict traditionalist and has made himself the complete embodiment of fencing, a dying art at a time when pistols and blunderbusses are replacing foils. On the bad side, I literally mean that he's made himself the complete embodiment. He's interested in nothing else, not politics, romance, sensual indulgences, nothing. Actually, he reads, but that's about it. He makes his living in 19th century Madrid, teaching thrusts, parries, counterparries, tierces and quartes (fencing) to the last few people of his world who want to learn it. He stands for fencing because it has order, it is the meaning of honor and the only thing a great teacher and friend of his taught him before dying.

Now, I don't agree that people should ideologically isolate themselves completely like this, but instead learn about the new and evolving world and find their place there. If they are to come across despair by finding (thus far) that he has no meaning in the new world (an emotion which pokes at Astarloa every now and then), they should reexamine their own existence and remember that everyone has meaning, i.e. everyone has something to offer to this world. I and W.E.B. DuBois (Yes, I say that like he's my best friend or something) believe that formal and informal education is how one would go about finding their true self, and learn how to offer it rationally and effectively to the world. But however one goes about it, the point still stands. The form of that offerance is something only certain people can perceive, but no one can deny that the offerance exists.

*note: I say isolate because people usually depend on one or two mediums (their T-Mobile Sidekick, or AIM or MySpace) to communicate to each other with, but these things alone cannot convey properly what people try to say to each other. No one or two mediums can. So, on top of today's people not even attempting to understand cultures other than their own, a person trying to speak their mind, put themselves out there and be understood never truly happens, and they are in the despairing position I spoke of in my first post. Furthermore, the English language is being slaughtered and imperialized by slang, which hampers the understanding process and generation gap further.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Context For Your Consideration

Picture: You're a customer who has just entered my furniture and bedding store for a leisurely look around. You enter the towels area of the bed linens section, pick up a nice colored washcloth and examine it with curiosity. A strong, maniacal voice booms out behind you "Do you need help with something, [ma'am/sir]?". You turn around to me, who, with my hands locked behind my back, wide-eyed, seems quite intent on being part of your shopping experience. You say "No, it's OK, I'm just looking." and move on. "Alright, my name is Jason if you need anything." I call out behind you.

You move on and start to look at the comforters.....and feel....yourself.....being watched. You turn and I'm a couple of feet off in the distance.....watching. I turn as soon as you noticed me and act like you were just a random direction my head wavered in as I wonder around.

You walk on, a bit annoyed and spooked, and you see a nice terracotta floral-pattered pair of Europeans shams. Upon picking them up, you are immediately assaulted with "Those are made out of 100% Egyptian Cotton and imported from Italy. Pretty good, 330 thread count." This keeps up until I see that you're on verge of knocking my nose to the back of my skull, or you leave the store entirely.

Yes, it's annoying and a bit creepy. I don't want to do it, but it's not without reason. A context for your consideration:

A tall, meaty woman named Cynthia [Laura], who came from the textile industry, entered our linens department for salesperson work. She said she left the textiles business because it was too competitive and cutthroat. Often, designs that she's worked on has been stolen by others or her boss and put in their name. Plenty of times in the one conversation, she's pointed to a duvet cover or flat sheet nearby and said "this design doesn't just come from nowhere, people make this and sell it." Ah, I see. At any rate, she might've left the textile business behind, but she's carried the competitive attitude right over.

She always puts her money first. Yes, in a capitalist system, this is endorsed, and there's nothing wrong with it. But you must care for your environment if you expect it to care for you. If there is packages and boxes of new merchandise that needs to be marked down to the proper price and put on the selling floor, she is nowhere to be found. However, she makes sure she's on top of each and every customer that comes in.

As salespeople, we get commission [money] everytime we get customers to buy stuff from our store, but at the same time, we're also paid to take care of and maintain the floor we work on. Occasionally, she'll come over while me and the only other person in our department, a 20-year-old college student, are laboring arduously over dusty boxes of mispriced and sometimes damaged merchandise to be put out. She'll pick up something and say "Oh, they sent us these? They're beautiful." then walk away. This conflict of interest has stirred arguments with me, the other employee, as well as plenty of employees who don't even work with us. In effect, she has drawn quite a bit of distance from the people she works with, and is mainly kept company by her own loneliness [irony: check].

There's also a hypothesis being shared and built among me and my co-workers that a mental defect may be present. It's evident in her display of communication skills with others:

Talk with a customer
Customer: I like the music you guys got here. *points up to a speaker blaring Frank Sinatra* Very classy.
[Laura]: *glassy-eyed with a face of confusion*

Argument with me
Me: Just leave, man. You're terribly lazy!
[Laura]: Oh, I'm terrible and lazy? Please.

This defect is also suspected to be the basis of a damaged memory.

[Laura]: So Jason, is there ever a time when there's a lot of customers?
Me: Yes, usually on the weekends. No one ever comes in here on weekdays.

Monday evening
[Laura]: So Jason, is there ever a time when there's a lot of customers?
Me: I was saying before, the weekends, they'll come.

[Laura]: So Jason, is there ever a time when there's a lot of customers?
Me: The weekends.

A week later
[Laura]: So Jason, is there ever a time when there's a lot of customers?
Me: *sigh*

The thing about this is, I don't know if her repeating things 8 million times is evidence of anterograde amnesia, or her trying to break through the loneliness she's built for herself.

Either way, as I've mentioned earlier, one thing that's she brought from her previous work experience is her competitiveness. It being the only thing she really knows, she makes sure she's on every customer that walks through our small linens section. Even when they say they don't need her help, she'll walk around and keep a sharp eye on them, running up and commenting on every thing she sees they have the slightest interest in.

Here's the thing: when I ask a customer if they need help and they say they're just looking around, I leave them to their own matters, letting them come to me when they need something. But as soon as [Laura] sees that a customer isn't physically near me, she assumes their hers for the taking. She's toned this terrible habit down after once seeing in my eyes the forthcoming of a terrible violence upon her face, but still does it every once in a while.

So, when you see me stalk you as I've described in the first paragraph, it isn't an expression of my own neuroticism, it's economic defense to steer her neuroticism away. Just a context for your consideration.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Uplift the Soul

"The mass of those to whom slavery was a dim recollection of childhood found the world a puzzling thing: it asked little of them, and they answered with little, and yet it ridiculed their offering. Such a paradox they could not understand, and therefore sank into listless indifference, or shiftlessness, or reckless bravado."

~~Of The Meaning of Progress, W.E.B. DuBois

Upon reading this, I pictured someone standing in some grassy, river-filled vale in between faded blue-gray mountains in the countryside, trying to figure out what he has to offer this world; what his real/true purpose is.

I would not say that he should forget about finding a purpose and just live for himself; there is a way out of this spiritual roadblock. In this book of essays, the one after the essay from which I quoted is all about how men forsake themselves to a breathing death by just making the primary incentive of their motives to appease their sensuous impulses (money, pleasure, etc.). He should not try to completely shun his sensuous impulses, but instead direct them to work in harmony with the rest.....the whole of his being.

It is through culturing the mind by formal and informal education that a person finds their self and their spiritual strength rises. Man should be working towards his ideal self, and helping others in their personal paths so that there is a national global progression towards better life and society.

Of course, there's much more to be said upon this ideology, but basically, when the man in the countryside takes the time to learn about the vale, the rivers, forests and wildlife, the mountains, the world outside of this area and his relation to all of this, he'll find that he has a lot more to offer than he thought he did.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Now I can wage war properly in the sandbox!


Before reserving a copy of the one video game title that may top Halo 3 in sales, I read up a little on some of the innovations that Grand Theft Auto 4 will bring to the series. There were three key aspects of gameplay in the series prior that were royal thorns in my side but are now addressed.

1) In a given Grand Theft Auto, when you've disobeyed the law in front of a police vehicle (beat up a pedestrian, run one over or shoot and rob them), the police would then try to apprehend you. The more crimes you did while the police chased you, the more aggresive their pursuit would become, which meant more cop cars would chase you, as well as a helicopter and maybe some reinforced F.B.I. vans if you were bad enough. The thing is, no matter what kind of twists and turns you did on a highway or in a residential area in your stolen car, you didn't have the ability to lose them. I always thought this an unrealistic aspect that took the fun out of the game a bit.

In GTA 4, a new radius system has implemented, so that the police's efforts can only be focused on you if you're in a certain proximity to them, thereby allowing a chance to get away.

2) The incentive to do missions was killed by the constant traveling between failed attempts and mission reception. I.e.: Say, I have to go to the city of San Fierro to talk to some corrupt lawyer who will pay me to take out a mafia member that's turned state evidence. I'd have to steal a car and travel all the way to the countryside, where he's hiding, to kill him (in addition to obtaining firearms somehow), which is (digital) miles and time away. When I get there and fail the mission (because he's killed me first or while driving I've fallen off a cliff or something), I have to once again obtain a vehicle and drive all the way back to San Fierro, so the lawyer can send me all the way back to the countryside, reobtaining weapons and losing money in the process.

In GTA 4, when you fail a mission, you can go to your cell phone (which will be an important staple in the game), option to restart the mission, and simply be replaced in San Fierro to start the mission again. Additionally, if I die, I'll wake up in the hospital $100 poorer, but with my weapons still intact. If I get arrested, the weapons will be confiscated.

3) The shooting controls and gameplay were awful. First, the target locking system might have been accurate for the most part, but it would constantly be stuck between targets that were far away while I tried to lock-on to someone that's standing right next to me, killing me. And life drained out of you pretty fast while being attacked, which you couldn't really stop by hiding because you were a sitting target no matter where you were.

In GTA 4, a new shoot-and-targeting system similar to Gears of War has been placed, giving you the ability to get into substantial cover and direct yourself properly towards certain targets.

I really look forward to this new installation, but see for yourself.

Monday, April 7, 2008

The Importance of Longhand

An article I read in Good Magazine, by English teacher Anne Trubek, is her argument to stop the teaching of handwriting to kids in schools, due to it being an old medium that has been replaced and will continue to be replaced by new technologies as time passes. Besides being shocked that a person in her profession would advocate such a thing (she as a journalist only handwrites to sign checks), I think that this narrow-minded approach promotes ignorance amongst children/future adults.

She writes of how her son, who is in the third grade, struggles to write certain letters and has had several interventions after just as many teacher complaints. He is now at the point where he's afraid to pick up a pen or pencil because he "can't write". I'm sure this could be a motor skill issue, as she says, but it still isn't anything that can't be solved with practice. Not everyone's handwriting is going to be florid and graceful. Additionally, his teachers' administration methods should be addressed, as the focus should be on whether his writing is legible, not beautiful or perfect.

She says that this scholastic move would be hard for people to grasp because of the romanticized connections we have to handwriting. Accordingly, the religious monastic orders of centuries ago apprehensively began using the printing press instead of the scriptorium to print their doctrines and writings into books, and it was shortly after this that people began to romanticize handwriting as an old-fashioned way to express themselves. This is a historical example of how the writing medium began to be replaced by newer, temporally-economic ones. But this is the narrow-mindedness I spoke of earlier. The printing press was 1) a publishing tool, not one built for expression and, 2) if considered a way to express, it is in addition to handwriting, not something to replace it.

A quote she used from novelist Richard Powers says: "Writing is the act of accepting the huge shortfall between the story in the mind and what hits the page. ...For that, no interface will ever be clean or invisible enough for us to get the passage right,".

Handwriting may have a sort of charm in being considered the more artistic or ancient medium, but that isn't it's only charm. Most writers do not choose their mediums necessarily expecting it to be perfectly clean or invisible enough to get the passage right, but they do stick with the ones that come the closest. People use what is the more natural medium; the one that's most comfortable.

The article speaks of Henry James, who dictated his novels to his personal secretary in the 1880's, as well as the above-quoted Powers, who uses voice-recognition software to speak his novels into type. This is all fine and well, but it doesn't speak for J.K. Rowling, who started Harry Potter's fictional life in longhand on napkins in a cafe. Neither does it cover George Lucas, who handwrote Star Wars. I didn't specify which Star Wars film because he handwrote all of them. Not just beginning main ideas, but full-fledged scripts including character and location bios, as well as research, notes and script changes on the set of his films.

So what then if we do stop teaching children how to handwrite? Does Trubek suppose we install computers in classrooms nationwide? Typewriters? Does she suppose they takes notes by constantly chatting into recorders all day? Yes, let's dig the American deficit deeper by supporting these notions, especially in areas where the latest, if any, writing technologies cannot be afforded. Her son may not have to use handwriting to get his ideas out, but it can only help him to know that that medium exists.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

"I push my fingers into my eyes"

A lyric from Slipknot's "Duality"

A. Stageman has wrote a post asking what some of your favorite books are. I was thinking that, of course, it is a joy to re-swim in the fictional world of some of your favorite works of all time, but what about those books you were glad to put down? Bloggers often ask what are some of your favorite books, but what about the despised? Or boring? Or maybe even offensive?

I will not ask what are some books you regret reading, because I don't think you should regret anything that expands your mind (for the most part). It is equally important to get to know what you don't like as well as what you do like. So what books sucked?

For me, "War of the Worlds" is the first time I've preferred the film way over the book. Quite boring (although I did like "The Time Machine").

"A Scarlet Letter" also dragged on forever and anon, but I think this is because I expected the book to have some sort of plot movement, of which there was virtually none. Actually there was none.

I also once picked up a novel that was part of the "Terminator" series, and, figuring that I could read some intriguing side story or after story to the main plot, began reading. I put it back down after 20 pages or so and vowed never to do such a thing ever again.

I started reading "The Picture of Dorian Gray" after seeing the title character appear in "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen", and the interaction between Lord Henry Wotton and Dorian Gray struck a sharp note in me because of something I was going through at the time. And while I enjoyed the book, I could not get myself to pick it up again, although I'm sure I could now.

Oh, an ex co-worker once suggested and lent to me the book "Roses Are Red" by James Patterson. I started reading it and was turned away by terrible, bland language, empty dialogue and cardboard cut-out characters. For the sake of finishing the book, I continued to read it anyway, but after giving it back, I made sure to stay away from the name (along with Ted Bell) in the bookstores.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Deconstruct the Stereotype or Perspective is not fact 2

Racism; it comes in all kinds of forms from all kinds of people. Here is someone who wasn't aware that she was one of them.

Disclaimer: I admit that I've expressed some pretty graphic opinions about my race (and eventually some others, and then anything that was human), and, in jovial moments, have said some light-hearted racist jokes amongst friends. But, I don't (consciously) possess any kind of stereotypes or narrow-minded views toward any race at all. The people I speak of in these posts seriously hold these convictions.

First, let me show some aspects about her.

[Laura] was a mannerful, genial 27-year-old receptionist hired by the secretary of the president of our store. A receptionist, of course, sits and directs customer calls to the correct departments (linens, furniture, etc.). She had come from Honduras a little more than a couple of years prior to getting this job, and her English communication skills were still very basic. So, she often forwarded calls to me, who worked in bed linens, from customers who were asking for a salesperson in the carpet department. This still happened a handful of times after I told her where I worked, but she eventually got better at things.

[Laura] was also a devout Christian. Now, there are many kinds of Christians and I don't know which kind she belonged to, if she belonged to any one or some at all, but she has expressed some of her religious views to me.

Many times during our lunch hour, she's expressed, through frenetic Spanish, occasional English and gesticulations, stories of people she's seen get possessed by the Devil and exorcised by a priestly figure of some sort. I told her once that I listen to heavy metal, and she told me that it was bad for me in all sorts of ways, and then asked me with a scowling face if I listen to Ozzy Osbourne (which I don't). Finally, she once pointed at one of the antique paintings the store sells and told me that it creeped her out because it was either painted by devil worshippers or was a picture of devil worshippers. I forget which one. What I didn't forget was that it was simply a painting of two Asian men in Old Century wardrobe, sitting and having tea. These strike me as stemming from "A Scarlet Letter" a more conservative point of view.

At any rate, one day, we (me, a friend Gwendy, [Laura] and another friend) all sat in an office, socializing after lunch. Laura then asked Gwendy, in Spanish, if I was African or American, which in itself was a bit offensive since I was sitting right next to her and she could've just asked me. Gwendy told her I was American, but I butted in and explained to her that I'm not from Africa, but do have ancestors from different parts of the continent. Because of this, she then asked me if I had diamonds.

As we all went back to work, I, at first, laughed it off after telling her no with a bit of an offended face and said to myself that she simply didn't know better. But it occurred to me that if she said this sort of thing to someone else, they may act out in anger or even violence towards her. So, I went over to her at the receptionist desk and tried to explain me having African ancestors does not mean I bring diamonds from Africa, but gestures and 2nd grade English could not convey the message properly to her. Additionally, every time I pointed to the back of my hand to indicate my skin color while talking to her, she would nod her head yes and say "I like diamonds". So I had to search for Wendy to translate.

I went into Wendy's office, went on the selling floor (the back and front of it), but could not find her. Meanwhile, every time I passed by the desk, [Laura] would repeat "I like diamonds" and smile. So, finally, out of frustration, I said to her "Dios sabe tu mala!" which was the incorrect version of "God thinks you're bad!" I'm sure He really didn't, but it was the only way to communicate to her that she did something wrong. Eventually, I found Wendy and got her to explain in Spanish the meaning of what she said and why I said the God comment. The matter was resolved, with her conclusively saying "No, no, I love black people!".

I wasn't sure at the time whether I should be offended or not. She did stereotype me, but the stereotype seemed to be borne of ignorance. Is it her fault her mind is narrow? Sometimes, that is a self-awareness that only someone else can apply. Perhaps this situation can be a seedling which will spread into other perspectives she possesses.