Tag Archives: culture

What’s In a Brand Name?

I just bought a new winter coat. I’ve needed one for a while, as I’ve pretty much worn all my others to rags. Hazards of farm living, I think — everything gets worn out for farm work eventually.

The coat I bought doubles as a farm coat and an office coat. When funds are spare, you quickly learn to make your clothes multi-task. Thanks to a lovely Christmas donation from my sister-in-law (and a 15% manager’s sale), what I ended up with is a nice, heavy-weight coat from Tractor Supply.

For those not familiar, TSC typically deals in two brands of winter work gear — Carhartt and Schmidt. Now, I’m a fan of Carhartt. My in-laws gave me a nice set of heavy bib coveralls a couple of years back, and after wearing them for an hour or two of barn work in January, I’m typically drenched in sweat. Saying they keep me warm is a bit of an understatement.

The trouble with Carhartt is that all their stuff is expensive. They are to farm winter wear what Levi or Abercrombie are to blue jeans. This time around, I decided to go with TSC’s other brand, Schmidt. I picked the heaviest weight coat I could find and brought it home.

I’ve been exceptionally happy with it already.

Which begs the question in the title of this post — what’s in a name brand? If this sample is representative, then both Carhartt and Schmidt are effectively equivalent in terms of quality. The only difference I see between the two is the name of the brand — and the price tag. I don’t really think, given my experience so far, that Carhartt merits paying twice as much as for Schmidt products, but then again I also won’t pay twice as much for my blue jeans when a product half the cost will do just as well, especially since all my clothes end ultimately end up in the barnyard anyway.

There are some products in which I am name-brand loyal, but Carhartt is not one of them. I’d much rather make every dollar in my wallet as far as I can. Hopefully, this coat will last for several years — and I suspect my next cost will also be a Schmidt.

The Rise of Advanced Cultures

AtlantisI learned a little something new this morning that got me to thinking on an interesting, tangential rabbit trail.

The origins of the lost city of Atlantis mythos can be traced back to the philosopher Plato. He was teaching a lesson on the topic of the ideal society and concocted a discussion between Timaeus and Critias, two fellows who didn’t even live at the same time. ((A contemporary comparison would be concocting a discussion between Einstein and Galileo.)) Ironically, Plato created Atlantis as an example of an evil empire, with Athens being held up as the shining example of the ideal utopia. Plato described Atlantis as being a naval power out beyond “the pillars of Hercules,”, or what is know today as the Strait of Gibraltar, effectively somewhere out in the Atlantic ocean and beyond the then-known regions of the world.

So, this got me thinking – what made Europe so special that, from a technological standpoint, it advanced so much more quickly than the rest of the world? We know from Columbus’ expeditions to the New World that there were people and large cultures already well established in both North and South America. Most of Asia was, likewise, rich with culture and and great thinkers. So what was it that sparked the Industrial Revolution in Europe, which served, in part, to launch the white man ahead of the pack?

There was certainly no shortage of great minds in the rest of the world. For instance, explosives evolved from the saltpetre and black powder of the Arabs and the flash powder of the Chinese and Mongols, but it was the Europeans who took that technology and truly weaponized it. What made the difference? Were the Europeans simply more aggressive when pursuing knowledge, and if so, why them and not some other culture?

What would have happened had the Industrial Revolution first taken place with the Aztecs, in a land that the Europeans didn’t even know existed? Columbus may have been in for a bit of a surprise had he landed on the shores of the New World to be greeted by people handling machines powered by coal and steam. Orson Scott Card actually touches on this somewhat in his book _Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus_, where he rewrites history and brings the Europeans’ technology to the Aztecs and changes the balance of power in the world.

I’m sure the parameters that defined the rise of European power dominance were numerous and complex, but I find it terribly fascinating to think about the “What if?” questions that could have changed the face of the world if someone _else_ had risen to power and technological advancement first. There’s a story or three in there somewhere, I’m sure.

More Than a Rote Greeting

And one more with a graphical aid.

Am I strange in thinking that if someone asks you how you are doing, the least you can do is give them an honest answer back? Or in thinking that if you ask someone else how they are doing, you anticipate a genuine answer and listen to it with genuine interest? Or have we become so cold and unfeeling that we ask and respond simply out of habit with no expectation that personal lives might actually interact?

People often seem surprised to get a real answer out of me when they ask me how I’m doing. It doesn’t mean I’m going to lay out the book of my life in their laps, but I do feel like the standard, “I’m fine” is a bit too rote and mundane. When I ask how someone is doing, I expect a genuine answer, so I tend to give genuine answers to people who ask the question of me. And it becomes pretty clear pretty quick whether or not they actually meant the question. For those who actually care enough to listen, this can be the start of a good discussion. For those who don’t, well, they get the brush-off in relatively short order.

It’s a strange culture we live in when we can ask how someone is doing and expect a lie – and be ok with that. Seems to me that something needs to change.

“Yay, first post!”

Here’s one I don’t really get. I mean, I ‘get’ it, but I don’t ‘get‘ it.

I keep my ear to the ground for Halo-related videos – machinima, montage, etc. A lot of these videos get posted up on public forums – i.e. a discussion thread with the link to the video download. It’s a pretty streamlined way of doing things, allowing people to post comments and feedback on the video in that same thread.

Here’s my question, though. Just how big of a social loser do you have to be where you consider it something grand and fabulous that yours is the first comment in response to the video? Specifically, when that response consists of “downloading now edit when i’ve watched it.” Has anyone heard of “15 minutes of game?” In this case, though, I doubt the ‘fame’ in question even makes it 15 seconds. I dunno – just seems like if you get your jollies from being the first poster in a video thread, then you _really_ need to get a life.

For what it’s worth…

Change of Political Campaign Tactics

Is it just me or does it get increasingly more difficult to vote each election cycle? I don’t know how it used to be 20, 30, even 100 years ago, but in the last 9 years, since I became eligible to vote, it seems like the political demagoguery has become even more juvenile. Rather than seeing politicians with a plan and positive agenda to make things better in our local, state, and federal governments, what I see are young, immature preschoolers throwing temper tantrums and verbally slapping one another around.

Part of me keeps hoping beyond hope that _someone_ will figure out that the American public is tired of these mudslinging campaigns, that political candidates will, in fact, remember that the best campaign is one that tells what they can actually do and contribute, instead of one that drags their opponents’ names and characters through the mud. The thing that is so hard about voting is that no candidate ever seems qualified for the job anymore. We know all too well why _every_ candidate is wrong for the job – every campaign ad proclaims in large letters and loud voices why political opponents ought to be locked up in a jail cell in the deepest, darkest dungeon somewhere, why every political opponent is somehow personally responsible for high crime rates, high taxes, and poor public services. No candidate seems able to tell, though, why _they_ are best suited for the position for which they are running, let alone what their plan is to improve every service in their care, should they win that seat.

I know it’s too much to hope for, but the idealist in me persists – I’d love to see just one political candidate run on a platform that never once resorts to mudslinging and that focuses solely on telling me that candidates qualifications and plans for bettering his government for the people he (or she) represents. I’d love to see even just one campaign that is built upon a solid foundation of truth rather than one slapped together on lies and misrepresentations. Chances are good that candidate would have _my_ vote in a heartbeat.

Ick Factor

Boing Boing: Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence trike drag (queen) race, SF

I’m linking to this particular article for only one reason. I’ve considered writing about this for a little while now, but this quote was the catalyst:

bq. Scenes like this make me proud to be American.

Popular sentiment, this one. And I suppose that’s ok. America is, after all, a nation known for its freedoms and liberties. It’s the very reason this country was established, so that people could worship there God/gods (or not) however they see fit, so that people could be free to live their lives however they want – within certain limitations, of course.

I’ll be honest, though. This sort of thing does not make me proud. It does, in fact, make me feel physically nauseated. As a Christian, I do have a moral problem with homosexuality. I do think that homosexuals have the right to live their lives how they want, even to marry, if they wish. That’s part of what this nation is about, after all. But I’ve stated my opinions on the moral and legal nature of this issue before, so this is nothing new coming from me. Morally, I object, but legally I think they have the right.

Physically, though, the thought of two men having sex, even just kissing, makes my stomach clench, makes me feel like vomiting. Even were I to come to a place where I believed that homosexuality was an ok thing on a moral level (never gonna happen), I would still have this physical reaction to the idea.

It makes me wonder. All these people who are pro-gay, who say they are so proud to be an American when they see things like this, in particular the ones who are very heterosexual, do they feel any sort of physical reaction when they think about it? Or do they simply not think about it enough to allow such reactions to rise up? Would they look at their _lack_ of reaction and say that it is a good thing, that it is a sign of progress, of… evolution toward a better, more welcoming world for all? I don’t know because I’ve never seen anyone address this side of this topic.

I’m just grossed out by the thought. It’s part of what adds fodder to my belief that homosexuality is _not_, in fact, natural or normal, that is really just a perversion of the human nature, of the way things are supposed to be. And holding it up under even the evolutionary microscope (which I also believe to be complete bunk), it still doesn’t make sense because it threatens the preservation of the species.

But people want their personal freedoms, but more importantly people don’t like to be told they’re wrong, let alone have to fight against their ‘natural’ ((Read: sinful)) urges. Rather, they embrace them and tout them as the next best thing, the next logical step in the evolution of mankind.

Whatever. I just know that I think it’s wrong, and the gay pride movement is one of the last things I would ever hold up to show my pride in being American.

Take it for what it’s worth.

Just the Way You Are

I’d rather laugh than cry: he loves me anyway

It’s a common ideal in American culture that our women must have a certain look in order to be considered attractive. They must all be slim and curvacious and positively dead-sexy. Supermodels are the ideal, the standard by which all women must measure their own beauty.

I think that Christine’s jesting anecdote shows both sides of the issue. Women feel pressure to cover up flaws with makeup, hide blemishes, disguise signs of aging and fatigue – whether or not any of those things actually exist. Mike’s response is, I believe, the embodiment of the mindset of most men – we would much rather see our women “in their natural”, sans makeup. Part of this is simply the desire to see them free of that kind of stress, free of the chains of living up to a shallow cultural ideal. And part of it is simply that we love them just as they are. There’s no need to ‘get all gussied up’ for us, no need to hide behind all that stuff. We appreciate the natural beauty of the women we love, not the kind of fake beauty that comes from a tube. That’s just the way we are.

So, ladies, the pressure you feel to make yourselves more attractive is, by and large, your own. Any man worth his mettle is never going to pressure you to dress up and will, in fact, encourage you in quite the opposite direction. Take strength from that. You may even find that your makeup collection will start to shrink.

He loves you just the way you are.

Update: I just had to do it – I decided to give “Trailfire”:http://trailfire.com a whirl and see if I could find something on other blogs to validate this. “Here’s”:http://trailfire.com/stitzelj/trails/12400 what I’ve found so far.

Update: Christine has a great “follow-up post”:http://ckhnat.blogspot.com/2006/09/why-i-wear-make-up.html on this issue. I’m really not sure I’ve ever heard it explained from this perspective before. I learned something new, and it changes the way I see things. Thanks, Christine!

Self-myth

I found this over at “Mark’s blog”:http://fadingdust.wordpress.com the other day:

bq. p. 118: “Americans will go to almost any lengths to avoid sounding negative, pessimistic, or defeatist, even if it means being somewhat less than honest or candid. They try to stay away from topics they refer to as ‘downers’ and to stay out of conversations that ‘bring you down,’ as in down from the giddy heights of optimism and happiness. These topics include anything to do with evil or the dark side of human nature, which Americans either ignore or try to explain away, anything that suggests failure, defeat, or any kind of setback – especially with death, the ultimate setback – or anything to do with limits or limitations, such as reasons why something cannot be done, should not be tried, or is impossible.”

What does it say about American culture when a statement of this kind needs to be included in a travel guide for those coming to our country? Apparently, America really _is_ the feel-good nation of the world, where everything we do is aimed toward making ourselves feel better about our position in life and about our place in the world.

But then again, we already knew that. We’re the nation that preaches a brand of tolerance that forbids anyone else from introducing viewpoints that might conflict with these little universes we have constructed around ourselves. We’re the nation with the highest quality forms of entertainment so that we can escape the trials and hardships of life and feel better for a little while. We are a people of non-truth because relative truth makes it easier for us to create the kind of world we really want to live in.

People are not evil – they are inherently good, and those who stray to acts of evil are nothing more than products of their abusive environments. We do not fail at anything – it is always someone else’s fault when things go wrong because we absolutely know beyond doubt that we are both deserving of success in everything we do and also skilled enough to achieve success. There are no limits in life because truly if we set our minds to something, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.

All myths. All lies we Americans tell ourselves because the act of facing the truth – that people really are evil at the core, requiring grace to overcome that inherent dark nature; that failure is a fact of life and that we ourselves are very often the cause of our own failures; that life is fraught with limitations and that, in many cases, just because we set our minds to accomplish something, we will never ever accomplish because we simply haven’t the ability; that, yes, we will all one day die and pass from this mortal coil – is too horrifying for us to contemplate. Somehow, the American culture has come to the conclusion that it is our right to be happy all the time and that real life has no right to infringe upon that happiness. Well, the _truth_ is that life is hard, and it is often very painful. No amount of denial or redefinition of truth will ever change that fact, no matter how hard we try to do so.

Time to face up to the facts, folks. It’s apparent that the rest of world realizes our culture lives in a cloud of delusion. Time we did so, as well. And once you’ve done this, go seek out some Christians. I can guarantee you they can tell you about a hope that makes it possible to face the world’s evil and darkness with strength and courage.

More from the Driver’s Seat of a Horse-Drawn Carriage

“GenCon”:http://www.gencon.com/2006/indy/ weekend in Indy is always an amusing and interesting time to drive carriages. The things that you see downtown:

  • Apparently the years have not been good to Darth Vader. He’s both shorter and rounder than his last appearance. Spending too much time in the Los Eisley Cantina, perhaps?
  • This one is _not_ related to GenCon attendees – a grandma leading her three grandkids into the mall? The grandma’s outfit? Shorts, and just a bra beneath a large-weave fishnet top. I think I could have gone all my life without needing to see that.
  • Also not related to GenCon – a group of four adults came up to pet my horse. Afterwards, they all broke out the hand sanitizer and proceeded to ‘bathe’ in it for the next five minutes. Honest, folks – my horse had a bath before coming out to work.
  • I had to do a double-take on this one. I’m used to seeing homeless people with their cardboard signs asking for handouts (“God bless”). So when I first saw the cardboard sign next to the convention center, I almost waved it off. Then I noticed that the text was different – “For sale: Longsword, shield chainmail.” Only at GenCon.
  • Apparently, the night before, there was an epic battle between Jedi along the Canal Walk district. And from what I hear, time has not been especially good to the Jedi, either.
  • R2D2 was captured by Boba Fett and then taken to a nearby parking garage. Not word on what happened after that, but there was quite a bit of squawking, beeping, and squeaking coming from the 2nd level.
  • Fairies, pixies, pirates, and anime characters abounded. Swashbucklers, fire jugglers, and knife throwers also were present.

As I said, good times. It was a very entertaining evening that passed by very quickly. I only wish I could have had the time and money to buy a pass to the convention myself. I can pretty much guarantee I would have been geeked out.

Observations from the Driver’s Seat of a Horse-Drawn Carriage, Redux

For several Saturdays running now, I’ve been back driving carriages in downtown Indy, and as usual you see all kinds of interesting things during the hours spent circling the streets. Here’s a few of the things I saw last night:

  • Inevitably, there are always a handful of bums and homeless people on the streets. And, also inevitably, they tend to exhibit some of the most peculiar behaviors. One gentlemen, early in the evening, began to serenade one of our female drivers, who then looked like she could have crawled under her carriage and died. Another fellow randomly walked up to a couple of mall employees, who were outside on their cigarette break, and without saying a word, began dancing in front of them, glaring all the while. Then he walked away, leaving those of us watching stupefied and moderately amused.
  • There are always people downtown begging for money. Maybe about half of them actually look like they need it – filthy clothing, matted hair, actually look like they’ve been living on the streets for an indeterminate amount of time. Another quarter of these people attempt to earn their income by playing various instruments, the saxophone and guitar being the most common. The rest, however, look like they got out of bed that morning, took their daily shower, put on their nice clean clothes, then grabbed their plastic cup with two or three quarters in the bottom on their way to stand out on the sidewalk to beg. Near as I can tell, most of this latter group of people _should_ be able to get a job.
  • And speaking of the guys who play sax downtown, one last night was really good. He seemed to really know how to play jazz and was jamming it up. The other guy I had to wonder about – has anyone ever told him that what he was playing were the saxophone accompaniments to larger works? Apparently he couldn’t tell that his ‘music’ held very little melodic value, which made sense, considering he _wasn’t_ actually playing any melody. Oh, the amusement level there was high.
  • I stopped at a light at one point in the evening to see a kid of perhaps 10, 12 years of age rolling across the crosswalk. No big deal, right? He was probably roller blades. Actually, he was wearing roller sneakers. I’ve never seen anything like this – he had a wheel in the heel of each of his tennis shoes and would lean back on them whenever the ground tilted downward.
  • Lamborghinis are old hat by now. Same with Ferraris, Porsches, and every sports car of every variety. These vehicles are all too common downtown, especially on the weekends and especially around Formula One. (I don’t even think those cars are all that pretty.)

That’s just a taste of what I usually see in the course of an evening driving carriages, and it generally only gets more exotic and interesting after 11:00, when the night club crowd hits the streets in force. One never lacks for entertainment, that’s for sure.