11 Minutes of Football

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I remember game days in college very well – it was a “day.”  The getting up, the smooching of tailgate food provided by a friend’s parents, the pre-game festivities, sweating in the sun for hours, the after game shower, and Chanelo’s Pizza.

After I graduated, I became jaded.  Air-conditioning might do that, and certainly high-definition TV has squashed sacrificial game watching.  But, I really miss walking to a game from the dorm instead of driving for hours.   It made a full game day experience too long, not to mention less convenient.  As it seems every game is now aired on TV somewhere, the games also take longer due to the TV timeouts.

Fast forward to the modern era.  I watch football, but with my iPhone handy or while on the computer.  I multitask – reading the news, playing Sudoku, whatever.  But I’ve found that I can figuratively amuse myself to death while watching a game.  Per the name of the blog, if amusements aren’t the point of my life (and they’re not), they’re a frequent byproduct of what I choose to do, read, think about, or similar.  So, compressing more entertainment into an expected 3.5 hour football is a good thing, right?

Well, it seems like games don’t take as long as they used to.  They do, and I’ve assigned that notion to the general inflationary rate of time as I get older.   But at the end of the game, and in view of whatever else has distracted me, the game just doesn’t seem as rich as it used to be.  Well,  11 minutes of football is really quite a revelation.  Click it and see.

If it were technologically possible to instantly fast forward to the next action sequence (defined as when the football is in play), I wonder if I would enjoy the game.  There would be no time to emotionally process the stress of failures or contemplate the odds of overcoming the next obstacle, just as there would be no time to savor the incremental victories.  

And, I think that’s why i multi-task.  I still feel the emotional tug during a game, but other activity moderates whatever anxiety I have for a particular game. 

In full disclosure, I only feel anxiety when Clemson is playing.   I love them, but they have a knack of disappointing me.  Undefeated seasons are not too much to ask.  At times... other teams may play a factor as well, such as for whoever should be beating South Carolina.  And Georgia.  And Alabama.   And if I’m not pulling for or against, there’s a sympathetic factor in play for poor, long suffering teams that my kids might have an interest in (GA Tech).  How does such a smart school employ such a lousy coach?  I digress. 

Maybe 11 minute recaps would suffice for all the rest.  Rather than watch a 3.5 hour game, I could watch 19 games in the same span.  That would make for a pretty awesome Sunday afternoon.  But, without the multitasking, I’d probably have to break for a nap. 

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I Grok Art

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Final thoughts about Stranger in a Strange Land.  If every book had this much “thought content” in it, I wouldn’t have time to read more books.

The character of Jubal Hershaw is a lover of certain types of art, and he has a replica of Rodin’s “Fallen Caryatid Carrying Her Stone.” 

Okay, so what’s a caryatid?  It’s a sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or pillar, supporting a entablature on her head (thank you Wiki).

There’s no picture in the book, so I went out and found it for better context of the way he described it.  That order is probably best, so here’s the description.

“For three thousand years architects designed buildings with columns shaped as female figures. At last, Rodin pointed out that this work was too heavy for a girl. He didn’t say, ‘Look, you jerks, if you must do this, make it a brawny male figure.’ No, he showed it.  This poor little caryatid has fallen under the load.  She’s a good girl – look at her face.  Serious, unhappy at her failure, not blaming anyone, not even the gods... and she’s still trying to shoulder her load, after she’s crumpled under it.”

I don’t know if this was Heinlein’s personal observation, something he read, or something he learned in school.  But the description reads “a lot” into something unseen.  So read it again, scroll down for the picture, and return here.


Welcome back.

I don’t know if I fully agree with his assessment, especially the notion that she’s not blaming the gods as there’s no context for that, but this type of insightfulness might make me more appreciative of the arts... if I didn’t have to stare and figure it out myself absent a solid reference point (i.e., what’s a caryatid?) or suffer a stern lecture about it.

But all art is not that meaningful.  Heinlein sees that too, taking a shot at abstract art and others:

“It's up to the artist to use language that can be understood, not hide it in some private code. Most of these jokers don't even want to use language you and I know or can learn . . . they would rather sneer at us and be smug, because we 'fail' to see what they are driving at. If indeed they are driving at anything--obscurity is usually the refuge of incompetence.”

Well, often, I’d think that’s true.  My wife, herself an artist, and I frequently recall a lady commenting on her splish splash of whatever as representing “a period of change in my life.”

Like, gag me with a spoon.  

And, I remember a high school friend’s father, an architect, upon rejecting an applicant’s portfolio at page one.  It was introduced as “I’ve been aware of space ever since I was in the womb.”   Clever, eh?

Another favorite quote (author unknown):  “Silence is a beautiful thing.  Make sure that when you speak, you improve upon it.”  Or my version, “Non-Art is a beautiful thing.  Make sure that when you create, you improve upon it.”

But I like (some) abstract art – assembled colors may not mean anything, but they can elevate the color of a room and help form a mood in the space.  That doesn’t make it bad.

Bad art is without purpose and/or benefit.  Like a stick people I might draw, it’s just there.   

“Support for the arts -- merde! A government-supported artist is an incompetent whore!”

And that was before 1/7th of the populace became whores, but I digress.

There’s the notion that (good) art becomes valuable after the artist dies.  Sometimes that’s true.  It’s also true that good artists can make money while they’re alive.  It’s not easy, and in a world where financially successful people are believed to have achieved their wealth unfairly (at the cost of others), then it’s a fairly easy fallback position to say, “You know, these starving artists are creative people.  They can’t make it in the real world because they’re not cheating bastards like those rich people who hoard all the cash.  They need help.  And giving them government other people’s money is just the fix.”  It doesn’t cost anyone, right?

Obviously, I like Heinlein’s notion here.  Privately funded sources should be used to pay for public/civil displays, and they often are.

I don’t know whether these are publicly or privately funded, but here’s some fun ones.

(scroll for picture)












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I Grok God

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Much about Stranger in a Strange Land revolves around a human (Smith) returned to Earth with no god concept other than a vague notion of “Old Ones,” and Jubal Hershaw, an earthling who finds more than a little satisfaction needling the earthly options.  The leading candidate within the story is the Fosterites, a praise and worship congregation – depicted far ahead of its time based on the year of the book’s release (1961).  Despite frequent admissions to their seeming sincerity, Heinlein undercuts the Fosterites with frequent nods to raking in the cash from slot machines and sanctioned consumer products.

Towards the end, the Man from Mars has borrowed some of the trappings of the Fosterites as a means to teach what may, or may not, look like a version of Scientology.   Not only is there a progression through the ranks of understanding, but the properly trained mind can do amazing things, including body transformation, levitation and causing people and things to un-exist.   To be fair, Smith’s “Church of All Worlds” doesn’t charge for membership.

On with the quotes!

If God existed (concerning which Jubal maintained neutrality) and if He wanted to be worshipped (a proposition which Jubal found improbable but nevertheless possible in the light of his own ignorance), then it seemed wildly unlikely that a God potent to shape galaxies would be titillated and swayed by the whoop-te-do nonsense the Fosterites offered as “worship.”

This caught my interest because Heinlein, presumably expressing his own ideas in the viewpoint of Jubal Hershaw, is honest with his uncertainty.  He’s agnostic - not persuaded, but not discounting the god concept.

The other is the “whoop-te-do nonsense.”  Christian worship is offered and embraced in many forms today, but traditionalists still question the worthiness of praise and worship styles that are not respectful, in considering one entering the presence of the Creator of all that is.   I love the words of many hymns, but... the music bores me.  I’ll move on.

But with bleak honesty Jubal admitted that the Fosterites might own the Truth, the exact Truth, and nothing but the Truth.  The Universe was a silly place at best... but the least likely explanation for it was the no-explanation of random chance, the conceit that abstract somethings “just happened” to be atoms that “just happened” to get together in ways which “just happened” to look like consistent laws and some configurations “just happened” to possess self-awareness and that two “just happened” to be the Man from Mars and a bald-headed old coot with Jubal inside.

Amen.  And thus begins, at minimum, a nod to the necessity of God, which should or could (but often does not) lead to an individual to consider what effect, if not obligation, that might have on their own perspective of life, more specifically our origin, the shifting sands of morality, the meaning we might find here, and our eventual destiny.  And that’s a fairly bitter debate.  But I love the way he put it.  I might have used it in some earlier blog posts...

No, he could not swallow the “just happened” theory, popular as it was with men who called themselves scientists.  Random chance was not a sufficient explanation of the Universe – random chance was not sufficient to explain random chance; the pot could not hold itself.

Personally, I like the dig at “scientists.”  I did not have formal religious training in an academic sense, but I wonder how much different my logic and processing of life would be affected had I gone to a university in the days when Theology was the Queen of the sciences.  The various studies/majors found their place within the overall Theology that united all types of learning in purpose – unity from diversity.  That role has been usurped by NCAA football. (Go Clemson Tigers!)

All names (Gods) belong in the hat, Ben.  Man is so built that he cannot imagine his own death.  This leads to endless inventions of religions.  While this conviction by no means proves immortality to be a fact, questions generated by it are overwhelmingly important.  The nature of life, how ego hooks into the body, the problem of ego itself and why each ego seems to be the center of the universe, the purpose of life, the purpose of the universe – these are paramount questions, Ben, they can never be trivial.  Science hasn’t solved them – and who am I to sneer at religions for trying, no matter how unconvincingly to me?  Old Mumbo Jumbo may eat me yet; I can’t rule him out because he owns no fancy cathedrals.  Nor can I rule out one godstruck boy leading a sex cult in an upholstered attic.  He may be the Messiah.  The only religious opinion I feel sure of is this: self awareness is not just a bunch of amino acids bumping together!"

The book pre-dated the sexual revolution, but the Heinlein’s “free love” depiction of sexuality is a main theme throughout.   That said, religion is where he spends his most time, as the former takes instruction from the latter.  Sin.  Taboo.  Shalt nots, etc.  He has some fun with it.  As would hippies in the 60’s and since.

Heinlein sees how the god concept shapes life similarly to what I noted after the last paragraph (origin, morality, meaning and destiny).  He’s hungry for that understanding, because he understands the significance of a creator.  He knows there is a theist answer but can’t come to a specific agreement about it.  But at least he recognizes not only the cause (scientific impossibility) of his belief in something, but also his need for it... that God shaped hole I mentioned recently.


(and don’t forget to hover your pointer over each picture for more fun).

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I Grok Pithy Quotes

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Aside from general entertainment, writers, like other artists, can make known ideas that reflect the times, societal shifts, succinct or extrapolated truths, etc.  Or, they can completely overreach and spew nonsense.  In the case of Stranger in a Strange Land, perhaps Heinlein tried to insert too much of his observations about life, politics, religion, and humanity into a fictional piece, but I have to give credit that, if he intended to so, he certainly provided a premise that allowed a wide latitude.

He also provided a very memorable character, Jubal Hershaw, to give voice to the humanity that Heinlein seeks to express.   He’s an philosophizing and crafty aged fiction writer comfortable enough to say what he thinks because he’s smarter than the next guy and too old to fear the the consequences.  Don’t ask him something if you don’t want an opinion.  And the Man from Mars is his receptive audience.

Anyway, here are some short quotes for contemplation.


“A desire not to butt into other people's business is at least eighty percent of all human wisdom.”

Sounds... well, wise, but that leaves many areas of wisdom to cram into the remaining 20%.  The truth-o-meter says Liar, Liar, pants on fire.


“Thinking doesn't pay. Just makes you discontented with what you see around you.”

This reminds me of a quote from Francis 7 in Logan’s Run, “You know, when you question, it slows you down.”  The quote overreaches, as just as one could wish for a better dishwasher, less poverty, or a complete rewriting and filming of Star Wars I-III, thinking can also result in gratitude, charity and invention.  Maybe he’s just posing as a curmudgeon, but you have to wathc out for any “big idea” that lacks a clear context.


'Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.'

I like this one.  It reverberates with The Five Love Languages, which emphasizes that “love” is most appreciated in a specific way, but we have to understand our partner’s love language and make a decision to express it in that way.  That said, we must recognize that love begins and remains within a decision, not a feeling.  Heinlein’s quote nicely pairs with that.


“Democracy is a poor system of government at best; the only thing that can honestly be said in its favor is that it is eight times as good as any other method the human race has ever tried.”

True enough, but we don’t live within a democracy.  We live within a representative democracy.  It may be eight times as good, but perhaps it just takes 8 times as long for Lord Acton’s poison to work, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."  It’s sad, really.


Government!  Three fourths parasitic and the rest stupid fumbling.  Hershaw conceded that man, a social animal, could not avoid government, any more than any man could escape bondage to his bowels.  But simply because an evil was inescapable was no reason to term it “good.”

Well, not to get too political, but power draws money, and the D.C. metro area ranks third in the United States, behind San Francisco and New York City.  It’s not because of the entertainment industry, or the financial sector, or technological innovation, or any semblance of productive value that pushes the nation’s gross domestic product forward.   It’s the drain.  In sum, the median income represents the personal take for those who govern and the sycophants who persuade those in power regarding the disposition of the wealth confiscated from taxpayers (and debt buyers). 

In the Old Testament, god’s chosen people rejected the model of government offered as a theocracy.  Instead, they wanted a king like the pagan neighbors around them.  See 1 Samuel 8: 6-20.   In short, the King will take, and you will be come his slaves.  v. 20 is also interesting that they wanted a king to lead them and go and fight their battles.  In a figurative sense, they want to be dependent, and that’s where we are today.  Different people, different times, but we got what we asked for.

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I Grok

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Some readers might speed read past insertions of ideas or philosophies while reading fiction.  Some might pause to think.  I tend to do the latter, and... it slows me down.  But, some of those reflections, or even quotes, I carry with me.

I don’t remember which book it was, but one of Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford fiction series put forth something close to “The boundaries of a war are determined by the side with the lesser morals.”  Stop.  Consider.  Agree or Disagree.  Make it a point to remember if found worthy.  Move on.  I just wish I could remember more of these things.

So I begin several thoughtful considerations from Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land

Somewhere around DragonCon, I’ve seen people wearing T-Shirts with “I Grok” or “I Grok Spock” or similar, and, like many things at DragonCon, I just let it alone under the hopeful assumption that it belongs in some fan universe of which I am not a part.

The man from mars (in the book, in case I distracted you), Michael Valentine Smith, says “grok” frequently, and it’s not long before his earthly companions start using the word as if they understand it.  So, if a word can be used freely without fully understanding it’s meaning, I grok.  You grok.  We all grok.  Grok isn’t very satisfying, is it?

I’ll skip to dictionary.reference.com, noting that if it’s on a T-shirt, it must be a recognized word:


[grok] Slang.

verb (used with object)
1. to understand thoroughly and intuitively.

verb (used without object)
2. to communicate sympathetically.

Definition one applies to most of occasions of grokking in the book... well, “intuitively” doesn’t.  Number two is a stretch, so...

By the end of the book... I grok in fullness, but I’ll seek help on the interweb for a fuller truthful telling.   Per Wikipedia, “grok” means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man.

That may or may not help, but it’s at least shorter than reading the book.

Fear not!  Moving forward a number of years, we learn of something similar.  “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power.  It’s an energy field created by all living things.  It surrounds us and penetrates us.  It binds the galaxy together.”

These aren’t the same expressions of thought, but they’re similar.  Both seek to set aside a notion of God, while appealing to the idea of another means or higher force that in some way binds life and/or matter.  It speaks to human hope for something eternal beyond “The End.”  It’s something that can be sought or learned, giving us something for which to strive.  And it’s just shiny enough, like a mystical crystal in a kitchen window, that it says “pretty” to those who like sun-catchers and “expanded consciousness” to those want something more from it.

The devil is figuring out what “it” is.  I’d suggest, in context, that “it” is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  In a word, faith.

And I suppose that’s the problem with many things.  People look for what they want to find, at a depth with which they are comfortable, and at a cost which they are willing to pay.  In short, there’s a human desire, at least as a starting point, for psychobabble.  And what’s a more comfy starting point than a metaphysical feel good with no trappings of accountability?  I grok The Force.

People will believe what they want to believe. 

Rather than make something up, I prefer a Truth that I don’t have to make up.  If it’s so true, it’s been observed before.   Giving the law of non-contradiction its due, people can believe widely divergent things and claim they have found Truth, but where they contradict, only one can be true.  I’m too lazy in this space to justify the “why” behind the “what” I believe, but whatever (metaphysical) truth you hold to, it ought to be reinforced in life experience.

In biblical terms, this is called general revelation (Romans 1:18-32):

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

Verse 18 is a turnoff from the get-go for people looking for a soft sell of carbonated ooze, but v. 19-20 speaks to my point.  The notion of a “God-shaped hole in the heart” is a contemporary view of this, but it has a good pedigree.

Searching for God, in whatever terms used, seems to be built into our DNA (figuratively, not literally, for those seeking to argue).  Perhaps the truth is that all of our hopes and faith are only a vain conceit, the last laugh of a cosmic accident.  But we should still be honest enough, if only with ourselves, to recognize that if it’s not God we’re looking to find, we’re working doubly hard to avoid the elephant in the room. 

The last quote in the link above is worth repeating (correctly though), because G.K. Chesteron’s work is replete with awesome sayings.

“When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”

Look around and test whether that statement is true.  Grok?

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Stranger in a Strange Land

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I read a lot of books from about 7th grade through High School.  Many of these were “classics” given to me by my best friend’s mom, who was an English teacher.  I didn’t necessarily want to read a specific title, but I read them anyway because they were around. 

My favorites, though, were science fiction and fantasy books, a category distinctly different from the literary classics within reach.  The method of selection of these were from two sources, recommendations from friends and spiffy paperback covers – usually the latter.

At some point in the last year, I came across NPR’s Top 100 science fiction books, as voted upon by their audience.  Sadly, I must have chosen the losers in the contest.  Considering that watching a movie is not the same as reading the book, I read only 5 of the top 10, 7 of the top 20, and 22 of the entire list.  To be fair, many if not most of the books have been written since those early years, and about half of the ones I’ve read have been within the last 5 years. (The Name of the Wind and Old Man’s War being recent, excellent examples).   It’s also obvious, as with “greatest baseball players” and similar, there’s a bias towards newer and more familiar authors to the current generation, and that is apparent on the list, ie, Neil Gaiman.

But a list is a list, and it’s a place to start.

For whatever reasons, I never actually read any of Robert Heinlein’s books.  Sure, I’ve known he’s a giant in the Sci-fi genre.  I have no excuses.  Fortunately, the used book store came through, namely, Stranger in a Strange Land.

The era of its writing has to be appreciated.  It was released in 1961, but written over the 10 years prior, waiting, by the author’s admission, for societal mores to change enough for it to be acceptable.  He might have waited another 10 years for that.  Though built within a science fiction precept (a human born on Mars without other human influences, raised by Martians, and sent to Earth) is just a vehicle for Heinlein to take some hard (and separate) philosophical shots at world religions and sexual morality... and government, for easy picking.  And it’s all done with great humor, critical for such endeavors.

On rare occasions, I will read and pay attention to the content that causes me to pause and think – that’s Step 1.  Step 2 is a consideration of any blog-worthiness that might come from the content.  And Step 3, usually the failure point, is inserting bookmarks so that I can return to it later.  Otherwise, I’m just too lazy to go find it.  After finishing this book, I had scraps of tissues (formally known as bookmarks) sticking out of the book to a degree that it might be considered a cat toy.  So, for the sake of blog post count and keeping said posts to a reasonable reading length, I’ll tackle those bookmarks separately.

In sum, I highly recommend the book.  It belongs on the list.  (But so does Battlefield Earth, and it isn’t there).  And for what it’s worth, of the 25 that I have read, each has lingered with me in some way, which I can’t say of most of the general fiction I read elsewhere.

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Out with the old, in with the new?

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Hello, 2014.

While I waited for a prescription to be filled at my local grocery store (no, I’m not sick, thank you for asking), I decided to browse the magazine rack.  I’ve enjoyed magazine racks, particularly in the 1990’s when bigger box book stores expanded the offerings - Barnes’ and Noble, Borders’, Books-a-Million, whatever – for someone who doesn’t like sitting around sipping coffee, it was the perfect place to kill a little time, or a lot.

After easily dismissing the 80% of shelf space targeted to women, I arrived at the end of manly materials, consisting of outdoorsman (fishing, hunting, guns, travel), video games, and music/pop culture.  Surprisingly, I don’t think there were any auto or motorcycle magazines.  I’m not complaining.  There wasn’t a whole lot of variety, but it is just a grocery store.  


With no rearrangement of the displayed goods, I snapped a photo of the above.  What have I been missing?  This would be a newsstand circa 1977 if Metallica didn’t shift the time capsule to late 1980’s interest.  That’s still 20+ years gone.

My first thought is that I feel sorry for my kids.  If they go to magazine racks, they can enjoy my childhood, not theirs.  But, of course, they won’t.  They’ll go to the internet.  Printed relics like these are intended for people my age (maybe) or more likely a decade older. 

I used to buy stuff like this back in the late 70’s.  There was no internet.  There were no movie videos or cable channels to feed specific interests.  If you had a fan interest in anything, your need was all but limited to printed information.  In fact, I searched for this type of stuff store to store hoping to find just one thing that I was interested in, and that would make my week (or longer) a good one. Because there were no other options.  In hindsight, today’s information overload makes the 70’s seem an era of information rationing.

But, today, I don’t need any of this crap littering my house. I have no shortage of collectibles from back then, but after all this time, there’s nothing new to be found under the sun at the ol’ magazine rack.  And if there was a “rare, behind the scenes, never published photo of Paul McCartney in disguise at a tea shoppe or Mark Hamill trying to squeeze inside the C3PO kit, I’d just find it online.  For free.

{edit} - Case in Point

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