Friday, March 27, 2009

Top 10 Beautiful Things

Beauty. It has been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This could not be more true. If beauty were absolute, then only 5% of people would actually get together and beer sales would be surprisingly stagnant.

Beauty is defined as the following:
a characteristic of a person, place, object, or idea that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure, meaning, or satisfaction.

That definition is so broad that you could make beauty out to be nearly anything. Anything BUT an insult. Nothing described as beautiful in earnest ever took offense. On the other hand Beautiful can be used at the height of Irony. Take my last weekend playing tennis for example. I hit such a bad shot that I yelled 'Beautiful!'. All knew my meaning for what it was. So I started thinking about beauty because it appears to be something worth looking for and having attributed to yourself. So I will attempt to list my 10 beautiful things. Be forewarned, this list will not include my wife, my kids, my mom, or anyone else that I think is beautiful because I am limiting this list and therefore my liability to places, objects and ideas that I think are beautiful.

1. photographs - There is something about really old pictures that has a haunting beauty. These are people that are long dead and buried, but the photograph was such a novelty and such a great way of preserving that moment in time that it is amazingly beautiful. I see pictures of my mom as a new mom in the early 70's and when I see the style of dress and hair etc, I used to just laugh, but now I look at them and it simply captures the essence of that time. Then I look at pictures of great grandparents and distant relatives that have no idea that I would spring forth from their lineage. These pictures were not cheap and they were not instant. Cameras now are everywhere and recordings of our every coming and going are available on demand, but the beauty of the simple photograph still remains even though it has become much more pedestrian. To say a picture is worth a thousand words is really underselling a picture.

2. Communism - What? Mark is a pinko commie? No of course not, not at all. But the concept of communism is really beautiful. The idea that all people would communally and willingly give up all of their possessions to make all of society a greater good. The concept that we would all willingly care for the poor and indigent and provide our talents with no more thought than to simply have our needs met. beautiful. The idea that everyone would work as hard as they could and never avoid labor to commit their substance to the good of all is simple and beautiful. Of course humans are not built in this fashion. In fact, we can only be counted on for one thing and that is to take what we can when we can. Sure there are some exceptions, but where the idea of Communism is beautiful, the practice of communism is simply corrupt and abhorrent. No matter where it is tried, the laborer is reduced to a group of people dedicated to working as little as possible because they know that their needs will be met. Those in overseeing positions are reduced to greedy money grubbing power hungry jerks that are only looked at with ire. Beautiful in concept because it embodies what the best traits of humanity are. But horrid in practice because it forgets to take into account our failings and our drive. I think if there were no shortage of anything and everyone lived forever, communism would work out pretty well. Then again, if you can live forever and you don't need anything, what wouldn't work?

3. Children - Kids are truly beautiful. Before we, and society, have trained them to become the neurotic scheming false adults that we all are, children are pure and without guile. They assume that everything is done for their best interests and whenever small children see that they can help or laugh or smile, they do. A child's laugh is as genuine a noise as exists. It comes out because something is genuinely funny to them without a care as to weather or not it is funny to anyone else. They haven't learned to build a laugh that is socially acceptable yet. They haven't learned that some things shouldn't be funny even if they are. Exceptionally beautiful.

4. Lies - No, Mark, Lies are ugly dark things that are the exact opposite of beauty. I suppose it depends on your definition. A lie is anything that creates a perception in the observer that is contrary to the reality of that thing or event. It is designed to deceive. In many many many cases we really do want to be deceived. The simplest of things would be fine artwork. We are given a picture on a canvass that looks to be in 3 dimensions even though it is clearly only in 2. This is a lie, and one we all appreciate more the better it is executed. Of course other lies are less clear, but lets look at Disneyland. The whole park is built on the most successful telling of a series of lies, and yet we pay very real money to be lied to for a day. The better the lie, the more we like it. I'm sorry, in many instances, the lie in the correct sphere, is beautiful.

5. Certain songs - When you turn on the radio and hear a song that you haven't heard in ages and it immediately takes you to a time and place that is anchored forever to that song. It is a thing of beauty. Floods of memories return that you never thought you would ever recall. The only thing more powerful than music when magically recalling events would be the smells of those same events. To digress to Disney once again, whenever I hear the Disney theme song of the 70's 'When you wish upon a Star' I am immediately whisked back to the living room of my house in Arkansas. Where most Sunday Evenings we would watch the Wonderful World of Disney. What a great memory. Sometimes the music is much more memorable the then accompanying smell. And still, I believe this is why there are very few memories that involve music and chili cook offs.

6. The middle of a perfect vacation - My dearest hope and wish for all of my friends is that some day they have the best vacation of their lives. I think by definition they all will eventually have it. The best thing that happens on the perfect vacation is that you stop for just a moment and realize that you are perfectly at ease and perfectly happy with your surroundings. You have few if any cares and you are appreciating the moment for what it is. You take a picture, you write a line or two in a vacation journal and then the moment has vanished. But that single moment will carry you for many many years as you look back on a great time with family and friends.

7. You or your team wins - If you ever have had the chance to compete in anything you are of course familiar with the concept of winning and losing. One is always good and the other is always bad. There is no gray area. it is perfectly black and white. There is a winner and a looser. Many times the events that decide the winner or the loser are somewhat cloudy. But if you ever have the opportunity to practice hard and dedicate yourself to a particular sporting event and you come to the end and by your skill and just the right amount of luck you find yourself on the top of that event. I'd rather be lucky than good? That's crap, you might need a little luck to win, but if you aren't good, all luck will get you is a free small fry at MickyDees. Winners aren't made with luck, they take advantage of it. For that brief moment, you or your team are in fact the best at that event. My wife would say 'who cares, why does it matter in the least?' The winners care, and the losers care and they wouldn't work so hard to win an event if it weren't a beautiful feeling. This isn't to say that there isn't virtue in losing and there can't be shame in winning. Of course that's possible. Just as anything that is beautiful can be perverted into something that is ugly.

8. Culmination of hard work and planning - This is an analog to winning in team sports. But with this beauty, it is self contained. The beauty of a job well done. If you work really hard to create something and you plan and work and eventually come up with a masterpiece that only you can appreciate in its intricacy and difficulty. That is a beautiful moment. This master work can be in any field of endeavor and you will know it when you have done it. It will usually take more work than anyone would normally put into such an event, and it will probably go largely unappreciated but by the very few. While I hack away at these top 10 lists every 2 weeks or so I still think of the book that I have stopped writing. Perhaps one day I will work on it again.

9. A great coincidence - It's nearing the end of my top 10 list and we haven't seen anything about babies being born or marriage or any of that. Well here it is. The beauty of the great coincidence. Well THATS not very romantic. Of course it is. What is more romantic than the chance meeting that will eventually create the most amazing highs and lows in your life? No matter how your relationship ends it will create a series of events that will effect you forever. The chance meeting because you forgot you needed to return a book. The friend of a friend that introduced you even though the friend had a crush on you. The off handed remark that you never thought meant anything but instead meant everything. All of these great coincidences have created a meeting story for a couple and much more. The events of nearly every birth have a great coincidence story attached to them. If you take those two events out of your life, you can still point to great coincidences and say 'wow, if I had left 2 minutes sooner, that accident would have been me' and they are beautiful in their own way. They seem to crystallize something that has very little chance of ever happening again, but for some reason always will.

10. Chaos - What is beautiful about chaos? the same thing that is beautiful about order just the opposite. There is beauty in balance and harmony. There is also beauty in discord and chaos. sometimes we look at our lives that we try every day to add balance and order to and it never quite measures up. You go out into nature and for some reason everything is exactly as it should be and is completely chaotic. There is a lot of theories to this beauty in chaos (I think it's called chaos theory, duh). But my theory is that we appreciate balance and harmony because it is obvious that we create it. there is very little in the way of balance in nature but rather a balancing act. Plants and animals ebb and flow in a grand dance that could not be more beautiful. If you have the opportunity to see the Planet earth series by the BBC you will probably get a better understanding of what I mean, because I'm really not doing it justice.

I'm sure you have many other things that you think of as beautiful. These were mine. I suppose my point is that it's pretty enjoyable to appreciate those elements in your life because if you don't, you're really missing out on a lot.

Thanks for coming by!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Top 10 Gods

Most people form some kind of belief system about their surroundings. This of course is because we can't possibly know everything about those surroundings. We hunger for rhyme and reason in a seemingly random and chaotic world. Yes,we have science but for now I am going to ignore my atheist readers and assume that there is in fact at least 1 God. What you say? You believe in several? Why not. Well the truth is, the God you believe in is very likely the one that your parents brought you up with. Not too many of you will convert to other faiths, and some of you will lose your faith all together.

The funny thing about deity is there really can only be one RIGHT way that things are. I can't for the life of me figure out how everyone could be right. On the other hand it's pretty easy to come up with a model where everyone is wrong (there are you atheists happy now?). So I'm going to list my top 10 Gods. This is of course based on my personal experience and not their relative merits or powers. So the actual GOD may be a little miffed about my estimations. If God would like to correct me, then He/She/They is more than welcome. This will mark my first top 10 list that will not have numbers because I don't want to put anyone's false God up against any one else's true God.

Also, I will not be paying any deference to mono-theistic Gods over poly-thestic. The truth is, there are a lot more multiple God belief systems. Granted most of these were available in antiquity and currently have lost ground to the mono-theistic Gods.

Heavenly Father - AKA God the Father, The Great I am. This is the God of Christianity. There are a lot of names for him. No matter what your Judeo/Christian stripe, The Father is consistent and unchanging. Now there are the other 2 in what's known as the Godhead. Namely Jesus and the Holy Ghost. This triumvirate combine to make the all powerful purpose of Christianity. There is no Origin story for God the Father, but quite an interesting one about his son. Also, there is no real mention of who the Holy Ghost is, or what he does. As the more enigmatic of the three, the Holy Ghost is the part of the Godhead that remains somewhat aloof when it comes to mankind. We can feel his effects, but other than that there have been no real public appearances as opposed to the other 2 members, and no mention as to his ultimate whereabouts. Chronicled in oral as well as scriptural narritave this God has many different religions devoted to him among the worlds major ones Catholicism and Judaism. This was the God I was brought up with and by virtue of that the one I most identify with. I hope I don't get him mad with this discussion, but he seems to get mad a lot, so I won't blame him.

Brahma - Brahma is the creator of the Hindu belief. He is also many times mentioned as a part of a trio but for a different purpose. The other two are Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the Destroyer. The Hindu belief system is rife with interesting Gods and Goddesses as well as evil personages that approximate many of our own human frailties. At times the tables are turned on the forces of good and Vishnu will take on a human form to battle evil to restore Balance. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva each have parts to play and are not without conflict among themselves. Brahma originally had 5 heads but at one point lost one of them because he lied to Vishnu causing Shiva to become angry. These 3 major gods represent the cycle of the earth as Brahma will create, Vishnu will preserve and Shiva will destroy. There are more interesting stories and traditions connected with Hinduism than I could count. I list this God because I had a friend that I worked with that was Hindu and told me many of them. I found them absolutely fascinating and would always bug him for another Hindu story.

Cthulhu - I mention this guy because he's not actually a God at all. But when I first saw his name, I thought he was associated with some cult religion and not just a made up deity in a fictional work. Cthulhu has a lot of different spellings and is sprung from the mind of H.P. Lovecraft. I seriously doubt that's his real name. Apparently He's a squid like creature with a mean outlook on life and his followers are pretty cult like. Sure he's not a REAL deity, but neither are all the others except one unless it's more of a club kind of thing. I've never read about Cthulhu, but It appears to be an inside joke that I should become more aware of.

Quetzalcoatl - Pre Columbian feathered snake God. Creator of all things on earth and in the air he was pretty cool. I don't know that there are any cultures that still worship him, but I'm sure he was worth a sacrifice or two. Seems like the legend of KETZ-ul-KWA-tul for those of you without a pronunciation guide talks of the serpent God transforming himself into a white man with a beard. Cortez heard of this legend and proclaimed himself the great snake God made man and ransacked the South American tribes. I hope Quetzalcoatl exists and is still kicking Cortez's butt in the afterlife. My first personal exposure to this God came about as an affirmation of my own religion's voracity. The claim that there was a God that bore the visage of a bearded white man on the American continent dovetailed nicely with my religions theology as I was growing up.

Odin - Father of Thor, God of thunder and son of Borr and Grandson of Buri. Odin is the recognized God of Norse paganism. My exposure to Odin and Norse mythology came in the form of comic books and Thor of the Avengers. I understand that Odin was and may still be very real to some people, but to have a God whose strong points appear to be spears and horses is pretty cool. Also a God of poetry, death and prophecy, Odin seems to be a guy you wouldn't want to cross. Odin is the first God I had heard of that had a wife. I know now that many Hindu Gods had wives and so did other faiths, but Odin was the first that I had heard of. If you are good, you can meet Odin in Valhalla. If you are a fan of Wagnerian opera, you can follow a Valkyrie there but you MUST promise not to sing 'kill da wabbit' as Odin tires of that one.

Zeus - Greek God of Gods. Father of Aries and a whole host of other Greek gods, Zeus is the King of Gods. According to his mythology, Zeus was the youngest of the children of Chronus and Rhea. Greek gods were the first exposure I had to polytheism as well as God stories that played out more like soap operas than divine tales of origin. Apparently Zeus was quite a playa. Of course anyone that carried a thunderbolt around and was willing to use it was probably going to catch the ladies eye. I guess it worked for Hera among others. My most full understanding of the Greek God system didn't come from school however, it came from a great movie by Ray Harryhausen called Clash of the Titans. Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad and the eye of the tiger where others of the same style. mmmmmmm stop motiony goodness.

Ogdoad - Egyptian spring of Gods. We are all exposed to Egyptian gods when we are in grade school. Any culture that creates giant stone cats with human faces and giant pyramids will have some pretty interesting cultural aspects. I wasn't actually exposed to this God-group but rather it's offspring. Ogdoad is the name of 4 pairs of male and female Gods that are said to be the wellspring of Egyptian deity. I only knew Egyptian mythology through Isis. Or more specifically the Shazam! Isis hour that was on TV just before I had to mow the lawn on Saturday back when all TV was free (and I had to mow lawns). This hot chick that was a librarian would utter the words 'Oh Mighty Isis' and immediately turn into Isis. She could fly and control the weather. Very, very nice. I didn't mind Shazam! either, but I definitely tuned in for Isis.

Allah - I will attempt to be very careful when describing Allah. I know that there are a great many people that follow the Islamic tradition and I really don't wish to offend, so I will treat Allah with the same care that I treat any of the current Gods. The interesting thing about Allah is that it is actually a generic term used for deity, much like our word God refers more to an office than to a person. I had heard of Allah when my parents came back from a trip to the Middle East and told me about how everyone talks about the will of Allah. I later found out that Allah's relationship to the God of Christianity is very much like two families fighting over the estate of a dead father. Both sides of a family will have many claims to an older passed patriarch and their stories will be many and very convincing. Both Deities have been used as an excuse for a lot of violence in the world as well as for the authorship of peace. I will stop there because it is very disrespectful to describe any of the characteristics of Allah so I will not. But I will say that he seems an awful lot like the God of David. Maybe they are brothers.

Jupiter - Roman God of Gods. Obviously my exposure to the Roman gods was through the names of the planets. Jupiter = Zeus, Mars = Aries, It was really handy. Of course at the time I had no idea that the planets got their names from Roman Gods, but when I found out I wondered why the Greeks were given the short shrift when it came to planet names. Greek Gods seemed to corner the market in every other venue, why not the naming of heavenly bodies? Who knows. He was known as Jupiter or Jove (as in By Jove he's got it!). Jupiter's kids Remus and Romulus were supposed to have created Rome which is a fair distinction to other Gods since they don't usually go around creating cities for us to live in. Since they never saw fit to make any others, maybe they decided that we didn't appreciate the one they made enough.

Baal - Bad Guy God of the Bible and actually named Hadad and was a God for the other Team when it came to the Hebrews. Baal was the God of the Carthage region and would easily have been the God of Hannibal who lumbered over to Rome with his elephants to cause a lot of trouble. Like God, Baal was more of a generic term for deity. Because I was raised in the Christian tradition I would of course become acquainted with Baal through stories in the Bible. Baal was the God that was proven wrong time and time again in the Old Testament. Baal in Christianity is seen often as a demon God and not as someone elses genuine belief. Baal is also derivative in the name Beelzebub which is also noted in the Bible to be the Devil himself. Well, you can't have the good without the bad, after all, who is Flash Gordon without Ming the Merciless?

This one appeared to be kind of weak, but at least it got here. It was particularly hard to put together because I really don't like to offend people and yet I felt compelled to write it. Another shout out to my regular readers that I forgot in the last post. Namely Sassy, my distant cousin Joseph, and Cami who is my only actual official follower. Thanks all and I'll see you in a fortnight.