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Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Decline of Common Courtesy

As someone who tries to be considerate of others and to exercise kindness in my everyday life, I am probably more tuned in to what I see happening among people which I find very disappointing; people have stopped using common courtesy.

This is not a rant on society as much as my attempt to open people's eyes to what they may be doing, unintentionally or not. In relationships, it's the little things that always matter (mostly to the women) like opening the door for them or putting the toilet seat down. These gestures seem very trivial but it shows a sense of consideration for the other person, so why can't people make small gestures like these all the time? We've all heard the term "random acts of kindness" and most people think that money has to be involved or that by saying hi to a stranger now and then embodies the message of that idea. Remember the words of John Lennon, "you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one" and going on to say "imagine all the people, living life in peace". You can call me what you want to but I believe that if we all infused just a sampling of kindness into our usual routine, this world would start looking a lot more like the one that Lennon imagined, and I know I'm not alone in my quest for a kinder nation.

I remember the days that followed the tragic events of September 11, 2001 when people started treating others a little nicer to help us all get through the unsettling feeling we all had. It lasted a while but things have returned to how they were before. To me, it's like watching a nation that quit smoking and started to enjoy the feeling, only to pick up the habit again and go back to its unhealthy ways without remembering how great it was. I wish I could say that I just woke up today and had some epiphany that told me to start trying to save the world by killing people with kindness. I certainly have inspiration, and most of it comes from seeing the examples of people who are completely inconsiderate going about their usual ways, oblivious to the message they're sending. I can give examples, like the loud motorcycles that surge through our neighborhood streets after 10pm regularly. We also have neighbors behind us with children who sound like they're re-enacting Monday Night RAW in their living room, not just on Mondays, knowing that we have a 13-month old son trying to sleep.

People say that America is the most powerful nation in the world and is the example for all other countries to follow. Based on that, I guess I've had expectations on our people to treat others well thinking that eventually that idea would just work its way across the world. However, I realize that there are people in the world who are so filled with ignorant hatred they'd never just conform to behaving a certain way just because it's the right thing to do. It's so unfortunate that it takes a tragic event or a worldwide athletics competition to bring us all together, like a large family who never gets together until someone dies. Maybe kindness will replace hate, anger and violence someday but I'll consider it a miracle if I ever see it during my lifetime. Until then, all I can do is ask everyone who reads this to take a minute or two every day to think of how you can be more considerate of others through the small gestures that are so easy to make.

For those who feel particularly inspired and really want to do something, CLICK HERE to download a page of ideas that people have come up with from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation or visit the page at http://www.actsofkindness.org/index.asp.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Batman buzz

Oscar buzz is flying high over Hollywood as people predict that Heath Ledger will become the seventh actor nominated posthumously, and only the second to win if that happens. I have not seen "The Dark Knight" yet but I'm sure I'll see it on DVD if I don't make it to the theater. I am not a fan of re-inventing a series, being that this movie and "Batman Begins" are a new chapter in the Batman franchise after Joel Schumaker flushed the original series down the box office toilet. I have seen "Batman Begins" and while I admired the darker tone of the film overall I still prefer Tim Burton's vision from the original two films, "Batman" and "Batman Returns."

If there is anyone more creatively equipped to handle "dark" films, it is Mr. Burton. His haunted visions come to live in vivid style on the screen in films like "Beetlejuice" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas", and the new "Sweeney Todd" which I've yet to see. He cast Micheal Keaton as Batman and Kim Basinger as Vikki Vale in the first of his two movies that started the franchise, and no one can forget Jack Nicholson's Joker. I've always loved Michael Keaton and seeing him as the caped crusader made him that much more impressive to me. He played Bruce Wayne as a man with a haunted past and there was a dark side in him that I haven't seen brought by any other actor who has worn the batsuit since. The second film, "Batman Returns" introduced Catwoman as a pseudo-villain, played with tongue firmly planted in cheek, by Michelle Pheiffer and The Penguin played in hideous brilliance by Danny Devito. For reasons unknown to me, the studio felt that a change in direction was needed and Burton was out of the franchise. Enter Joel Schumaker (Flatliners, The Lost Boys) who took no cues from Burton's success or his own and turned the Batman series into box office trash, filled with campy one-liners and forgettable action.

"Batman Begins" attempted to tell us the same story we already saw, but with a darker tone and with a more insightful look into the evolution of Bruce Wayne as he became Batman. The imagery was great, but the acting was no better than what Burton did with Keaton, and often not as good. As sad as it is, I think the entire crew and cast involved with "The Dark Knight" owe its huge opening and all success to the untimely death of Heath Ledger. When anything happens to the cast of a movie, love affair or death, suddenly it creates an interest in the film that would not have been there otherwise. However, from what I've seen just in previews and in pictures I feel that Heath's performance is what people are most interested about whether he were still with us or not. Director Chris Nolan says that "Heath has created an iconic villain" and I'm betting it's that performance that will shine brighter than all others in this film and just may lead him to Oscar gold. That would sure be a bittersweet moment for his family to see him earn such an honor but not being able to enjoy it with them.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Technology and its adverse effect on today's youth

I got an email today from a friend talking about how easy today's kids have it compared to me and my friends when we were growing up. It made me think back to what growing up was like for me and then looking at kids today. Back when I was a kid, Cable TV had about 15 channels and cartoons were only on Saturdays. That one really struck a chord with me because I'd wait all week and get up early Saturday morning at 5am and watch all the way until 11am when Looney Tunes finished. If you wanted to learn about something, or settle a dispute over who sings that song or who's in that movie, you would have to go to a library and check out a book since there was no Internet. Video games (Atari) consisted of a few dots and squares on the screen and your imagination had to fill in the gaps. If you wanted to talk to someone, you had to be home and use the phone or actually write a letter and wait for days before they could read it.

The main difference that separates me during my childhood from today's kids is technology. I thought Nintendo was pretty ahead of its time when it came out but this is the era of the Playstation, with graphics so real you almost feel like you're there. The use of cell phones, video games and the Internet have created an anti-social generation of spoiled young people. Growing up, I practically lived on my bike. I rode to and from school, over to friends' houses after school, and rode on weekends. I was lucky to have all of my friends in close range from my house, but did go on long rides as well. We all went outside to play (having a pool helped). The funny thing is that I feel that today's kids are spoiled with all of the advantages they have but those before me would say that I was spoiled in the same ways. I had a pool and a huge yard to play in, and I did have a few video game systems (Nintendo, Sega Genesis). However, I still managed to get out and be active and social. I don't think that technology is the enemy but it is something that can quickly turn an outgoing active person into a lazy disrespectful introvert if not monitored.

Today, kids are becoming more and more enslaved by their gadgets. Aside from the social setbacks that are caused from having these tools at their disposal, the kids are suffering even more at their waistline. Everywhere you turn, you hear about childhood obesity more than ever before and most will blame it on the schools and their lack of consistent exercise programs. If you start to observe more closely you'll see that the teens and even pre-teens of today would rather sit in front of the TV, play a video game, or text their friend who lives 50 feet away than get up go somewhere. If I had let my Nintendo own me the way that texting and the Internet owns these kids, I would have been one huge kid. As always, it all comes down to parenting. If limits, even small ones, are enforced upon the use of all of these things, we'll see a healthier and friendlier future for everyone. Remember, these kids will be running the country in 30-40 years from now.

As a parent, more than ever I feel that it's our duty to strike a balance between giving our kids the freedom they deserve and creating limits around that freedom so that they still learn respect. By letting these kids sit on their video games all night and have free use of this technology, they will take advantage and abuse it and it will create laziness. I think it's just easier for all parents to rely on cell phones and the Internet and video games to keep their kids entertained and happy but the technology is just pulling the kids away from their family. Deep down, every kid wants to know that their parents care about what they're doing and wants them to be involved on some level. I just hope that as time goes on, kids will start getting back to social and physical activities and the parents will be there, ready to be a part of it. Above all, I hope that parents are making sure that their kids understand the reason for using these things and learn to earn the privilege to use them.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Journey secures a future, while betraying their past

Journey is one of those bands that holds a special place in the heart of millions of people because their music represents the memories of youth. I remember sitting in the back of an IROC-Z and leaning in to the speakers with the "Raised On Radio" album blasting (can you get more 80's than that?) It was the most incredible sound I had ever heard. Steve Perry's vocals soared over the band's anthemic sounds in a way that no other vocalist of the time was doing. I've followed Journey from the "Escape" until Steve Perry left the band, and again recently.

Following the tour for "Raised on Radio", Steve Perry left Journey but returned in 1995, only long enough to record a new album titled "Trial By Fire". That album was a welcome reunion which most fans would agree was long overdue. Unfortunately, it was short-lived and Perry left Journey permanently after being pressured to have hip surgery so he could tour. Perry denied having the operation, which forced them to move on with a new singer. The band went through two "Perry-clones" in Steve Augeri and Jeff Scott Soto before finding Arnel Pineda, a Filipino singer who was performing Journey covers on YouTube. Pineda was hired by Journey to record a double album, consisting of new material and Journey classics re-recorded with Pineda's vocals.

I have no problem with a band that wants to keep making music despite the loss of a frontman. When David Lee Roth left Van Halen (or was fired depending on whose story to believe), Sammy Hagar stepped in and took the band to new levels of success until he left (or was fired depending on whose story to believe). INXS hired JD Fortune to take the mic after the tragic death of Michael Hutchence and I really think JD is doing a great job.

The attempted replacement of Steve Perry is not what I have a problem with in the case of Journey. What I do have a problem with is Journey's betrayal of the legacy that Steve Perry created with them by re-recording old tracks with their new singer. I listened to the tracks and I have to admit that he does sound very close to Steve Perry but it's still not him. No clone they can dig up will ever match the vocals that we all know and love from Steve and they need to respect that legacy. Eddie Van Halen tried to pull a similar stunt by putting son Wolfgang's face in place of removed bassist Michael Anthony on the album artwork on their website. Due to a huge protest by fans, it was changed back. Had Journey released only the first disc of new material with Pineda, I would have been impressed and wished them the best. Can you imagine what the Roth fans would have done if Van Halen released a CD of his classics sung by Sammy Hagar? They can hardly stand to hear him sing the classics live, and Sammy never liked singing Roth's stuff either (until the 2004 reunion tour). The point is that we all know and love the classic hits from Journey's incredible catalog and the way to impress Journey fans with Pineda's great vocals and scary similarity to Steve Perry was to just let him show us live or on new material.

Journey has been eligible to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 2000 and Steve Perry will be eligible in 2009 to be inducted as a solo artist. We can only hope that, for the fans, Steve will take the stage one more time with Journey when they are inducted. Until then, you can put on the new album, Revelation, and close your eyes when the classics come on and hear the closest thing to Steve Perry that we'll ever hear.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

IDK, OMG LOL

If you don't understand the title, consider yourself saved from the texting language that has become a subculture among teens and pre-teens. It has spread across the wireless world like the wildfires that are filling our air with smoke.

The commercials even make fun of it, and in one of them Grandma is joining the fun of the shorthand language that kids are using. I'll be the first to admit that if I'm sending a text to my wife online or on my phone, I have been known to use a few of these acronyms; they're time savers and there is nothing wrong with that. However, it seems that the use of this acronym-filled world of texting has gone too far. There are now books that are written in the same shorthand language that kids use while texting. Aside from the huge step backwards in the progress of society, I find this to be an insult to the English teachers out there who are trying to help their students grow into intelligent adults who speak properly.

Back when the Internet was still pretty new, I tried out my chatting abilities and was amazed even back then at how much I didn't know. I entered a chat room and introduced myself and saw someone type "LOL" which means laughing out loud. I had no idea and I thought it may have been something like "loser online" and I was pretty discouraged until much later when i figured it out. Now, with the use of texting on phones and two-way pagers and devices like the T-Mobile Sidekick, the use of these acronyms has become an entire language. If you want to get an idea at just how extensive the usage of this shorthand has become, visit Netlingo.com. There are hundreds of acronyms that are used regularly and some that are not so common. Along with the words comes emoticons (icons that show emotions, like a happy face). There are many of those as well, and they are used by those who like to be a bit more visual when they talk.

The biggest problem with instant messaging (IM), either online or via text on a phone, is that you never know if the person on the other end is being serious or sarcastic. Tone of voice is impossible to read when words are all you have as reference. My wife and I use IM's throughout the day when I'm at work and many times we have to remind each other that we don't know what the other person is feeling as they type. Emails have the same problem, but that's not as hard to get around if you actually take the time to check your email before sending it. I have been bitten a few times by that situation at work by reading into something too far when it was not meant as I interpreted it.

Overall, I think that saving time is the only true advantage to using these shortcuts while texting someone. It is the user's responsibility to use proper English when talking to someone directly. I can only imagine what would happen if these teens started ditching words for these acronyms in a job interview or a professional capacity. Just for curiosity, check out the link above to see all of the different acronyms. For now, here are a few of the common ones:

IDK=I don't know
OMG=Oh my God
LOL=Laughing out loud
LMAO=Laughing my ass off
BRB=be right back
BBL=be back later
ROTF=rolling on the floor

watch out for combos!
ROTFLMAO=rolling on the floor, laughing my ass off


Personally, as the author of this blog and a terrific English student, I am quite fond of our language and I prefer to write my words out. While I love finding ways to be more efficient, a practice that my dad has used in his business to achieve great success, I think saving time is only good if it helps productivity. There is nothing productive about kids sitting across from each other and talking in acronyms, or reading books that don't have real words.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Finding Peace at 10,000 Ft


My wife and I took our son Gavin on his first camping trip for this year's 4th of July holiday. I extended the holiday by taking Thursday off, as well as the following Monday, for a total of 5 days up above the congested, smoke-filled air that we've been enduring for weeks. For those of you who don't keep up with the news, several fires are burning in California which has left the air filled with ash and smoke and caused advisory warnings for people to stay indoors.

Kacy's parents are volunteer campground hosts in Tuolumne Meadows which is located around 8500 ft, above the Yosemite Valley. For the last couple of years, we have gone up to see them while they were hosting. With the poor air quality we've been facing this year, the timing could not have been better for us to get away.
**For those of you wondering why the title says 10,000ft, we were actually that high during the drive up but it drops back down when we get to the campground and 10,000 is a better number to use for the title.**

We arrived Thursday afternoon and settled in easily until it was time for bed; Gavin spent his first night in the mountains attached to Kacy and awake several times. Morning came after my night alone in the tent, half frozen but thankful for not becoming dinner for a wandering bear. Yes, there are bears up there and they are becoming more brave as they hunt for food left out by careless campers. A young bear walked along a path not more than 30 feet away from our campground until it was chased away by Kacy's dad and the neighbor host. There is a pretty steep fine for leaving food out, more than 200 dollars from what I heard. That still does not keep people from leaving food out and even leaving their site with food prepared to eat when they return. What happens now is that all food left out when the site is unattended will be confiscated and when the camper goes to reclaim the food, a citation is issued; pretty ingenious, I think, yet not enough to get the message across apparently.

During our time up in the mountains, we went on a few walks and tried out the backpack carrier we got so I can haul around Gavin on my back. Surprisingly, the pack is very well built and designed so his weight is carried easily and he loved being able to see things from my height.

There was no fishing on this trip but I'm pretty sure we'll be up there in another few weeks and hopefully will be joined by my sister and her husband Joe. If you are a regular reader, you'll remember Joe who got 3rd place in the rib cookoff after Michelle sealed his doom with empty promises of victory. Perhaps he'll out-fish me to make up for it, but that's doubtful too.

We headed to Mammoth on our second to last day to have lunch at a great Mexican place called Roberto's cafe. I had the local favorite, a Carne Asada burrito which was stuffed with chopped steak and plenty of heat from the sauce. After that, we wandered through the outlets and a craft fair. I got a new wallet and a backup pair of sunglasses at the Bass outlet as well as a shirt from the Mammoth Bike run. There is a "kamikaze" bike run which basically takes you down a ski slope in the dry season. I figure one day I can do that run to earn the right to wear the kamikaze run t-shirt. We headed back from our afternoon and relaxed for a while as I chopped some wood for Kacy's dad to keep the wood supply in good shape.

Overall, it was a great trip and I think Gavin enjoyed his first time in the mountains. He didn't sleep well at all and I was alone in the tent every night but during the day we could see he was having a good time. Being that he doesn't sleep in his crib at home very well assures me that the altitudes have little to no blame for the problems up there. Maybe if we can get his sleeping under control before our next trip up there, Kacy and I can actually share a bed for the night. For me, it was a chance to catch a glimpse of the future and imagine all of the things that I can teach Gavin and help him to experience as he grows up.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A year in the life of fatherhood


I can't believe Gavin is a year old already! I can vividly remember the trip to the hospital after getting the call that Kacy's water broke. I'd do almost anything to rewind back to that day with the knowledge I have gained during the past year. At the same time, I love seeing him at this age as his personality is coming out more and he's walking more than he's crawling. A year is a long time, until you have a child. I knew it would go fast; I underestimated just how fast it would be. In his first week or two at home, he was already completely different from the hospital. His looks were changing and he was already taking on certain personality traits or habits. He started refusing to sit back in his bouncy chair and always wanted to sit up. The same swift pattern of change has continued until now and is not stopping anytime soon. He can shake his head like he's saying "no" and he knows what it means. He can say "mama" and "dada" and likes to sing and hear himself make sounds. He has a great belly laugh, usually provoked while playing with our dog Lola, when he pulls on her toys as she's trying to get it from him. She will actually bring toys near him to get him to latch on with his Kung Fu grip so they can have a tug battle.

I'm sure this year will bring many new changes and "firsts" and they'll probably come faster now that he's mobile and he can start discovering more things. We started the "babyproofing" process a while back when we ditched the coffee table for a large, soft ottoman for him to run around. Gavin had a habit of crawling under the table and sitting up which meant that his head and the table met on several occasions. That table joined the abundance of items that now rest under our bed. We are now in the process of replacing our TV stand since he has free access to our DVD player, which is now inoperable and only Gavin knows why, and my Playstation which he pulls to the floor repeatedly.

I'm not sure what's next, because he's running out of things to get into. We have the kitchen and bedroom blocked off with a gate, and try to keep the bathroom shut, so he has the living room and his room in which to cause mischief. Our living room has been taken over by his toys, as the toys for his age are becoming larger. What kills me is that parents, me and my wife included, spend hundreds of dollars for toys and books for our kids and Gavin loves playing with a ring of measuring spoons just as much as any of his toys. When we have him at Mimi's house (Kacy's grandparents) they give him a cheap set of measuring spoons and he's perfectly content, while Kacy and I are hauling around half of his toys so he'll be occupied wherever we go. I guess that's just proof that no matter how prepared you are or how much you try to plan with kids, they will always find a way to go outside of those plans and let you know that they run the show.

One thing that I remember from growing up is learning to fish with my dad and his friends. He taught me how to tie on my own hook and how to cast, using a real fishing rod and not just the push button type that most kids use. When I was around 11 years old I caught my first trophy fish, a 3lb 18-inch rainbow trout. It was amazing, and I fought it for what seemed like forever (probably about 4 minutes). I was done for the day after that, and I just kept playing with it in the water on its stringer. Those are the kinds of things that I can't wait to do with Gavin and for the three of us to do together. My dad and I are much alike in that we're tough on the outside but softies inside and I'm sure he'll start becoming nostalgic when we all fish together someday. The only thing missing is my mom, but somehow I think she has seen him, or at least I hope so.