Archive | December, 2010

Old but Still Brave

16 Dec
Books may come, and books may go. Most of them are forgotten along with the demise of the short-lived trends that inspired them. (We hope this will be the case for vampire novels.) One book that endures, albeit without the popularity it once enjoyed, is one thought-provoking, science fiction novel –Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. For its time, it was almost shocking. Published in 1932, it describes a strange society that has found resolution to all modern-day problems, and thus, its people live in peace and happiness–but at what price? – Chris

Originally posted by mmcmu787 at Photobucket.com

Not-so-new novel with still-fresh ideas.

“The world’s stable now.  People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get.  They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion… or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they… can’t help behaving as they ought to behave… Which you go and chuck out of the window in the name of liberty, Mr. Savage. Liberty!

This excerpt seems like an impossibility, a feat of science fiction, and rightfully so, it is from the groundbreaking, when published, horrifying science-fiction novel Brave New World.  The book was written at a time in which the idea of cloning, brainwashing, and required promiscuity were rejected whole-heartedly by “normal society.”  In this gripping tale, Aldous Huxley presents to us a strange alternate future in which all of the problems that we face today are resolved but at a tremendous loss, the loss of individualized humanity as we know it.

The book is considered less controversial by today’s standards but can still be credited for its revolutionary concepts.  For example, human euthanasia is regarded as assisted suicide in modern America, but in Huxley’s “paradise” it is the only way people die when they are on their deathbeds.  Rather than keep a terminally ill person in a state of less-than-life, the “world controllers” of Brave New World allow them a restful, calm deliverance from their suffering.  Children regard death as a mere fact of life and do not fear it due to their conditioning.  Can that be so bad?  However, there is still conflict surrounding these new norms, even in the novel.

Huxley’s fantasy realizes, logically, that not everyone will so easily accept these drastic changes.  “Savages” still exist in the book, resisting change, living in remote areas with little or no value to “modern civilization.”  These resilient rebels consist mainly of Native Americans who practice a mish-mash of our present religions, mainly Christianity and traditional tribal religion.  The real story only begins when one of these “savages” is suddenly enveloped by the fast-paced modern setting of Huxley’s story,  The resulting chaos of what is held dear stares deeply into the heart of our current society.  Are we only one step away from being a Brave New World?  —  James

Money Should Go Back to Sleep

16 Dec
This overly-cinematic follow-up to “Wall Street” from the 1980s tried too hard to outdo the original movie. Its unrealistic plot was hard to follow and ruined the enjoyment of what could have been a successful sequel. — Chris

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (PG) Rating: Two and 1/2 Stars out of Five

The title to this review is, perhaps, a bit misleading. I did not hate or even really dislike the sequel to the 1987 blockbuster Wall Street that much. The story was essentially similar: A young stockbroker, Jacob Moore (Shia Labeouf), is quickly and easily seduced by the prospect of easy money, even if the means in which he receives it may be edging on illegality, and Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is just the veteran mentor to show the young naive how to live life to the fullest. In the film, he has recently been released from serving time in prison for doing essentially the exact same thing in the 80’s. The director simply had to transpose his plot onto the recent economic crash and recession. This did not bother me; I had not seen the preceding film, so I did not mind.

The negativity I feel toward the film is due to the resolution–it was much too cinematic. The characters all found some resolution, even if it was small. Resolution is an elemental point of storytelling; in the film it was appropriate that some should be found. However, sacrificing true representation of the facts for a feel-good, happy ending is unacceptable. America is still very much in financial limbo, the economy is not “healed,” and (I hope) most stockbrokers involved in illegal trading are in jail. There is no big, happy ending in real life. WE ARE STILL IN TROUBLE. We are not resolved!

Moore and Gekko should have had to pay for their involvement in “dirty” trading. They should not have gotten off clean. The two, so-called “antiheros” even finished the movie happier then they were at the start; they were almost unfazed by the horrible mess that they caused. This conclusion is neither true nor fair. In my opinion, the movie was too much too soon–the unrealistic, perfect resolution at a time when almost nothing has been resolved was inappropriate, to say the least.

Visually, the movie was of good quality, with realistic, yet average cinematography and a few parlor-trick camera angles, in other words, the usual “movie” experience. The characters walked through the crowded streets and rode on the airless subways on location, giving the movie an almost eerie feeling. The financial terms were never explained well enough for the layperson to comprehend, so one watched the movie with the same glazed unsuspecting look as he did when the actual financial crisis struck.

The movie featured moments of such rapid movement and flashing lighting that one felt as though the world were spinning round him. Other shots sported gaudy decor accented by an overwhelming, deep red. Both of these scenes, in my opinion, were attempts to justify the actions of the brokers involved in the crash. They tried to express a feeling of overwhelming lust for fortune combined with a sense of drunken stupor in which the vibrant lights of Times Square blurred into one massive maze of swirling color, indiscernible to the naked eye, to express the ethereal feelings which these men and women felt, swept up in the moment. They yielded an effect similar to a small child, who has been found standing next to the Mona Lisa, ripped and stained on the floor, crying, “I didn’t do it! Its your own fault for letting me look at it!”

I applaud the director, Oliver Stone, for trying to see both sides of this story, but he might have waited until America’s hatred of stockbrokers died down a bit before he tried diplomacy.

I may be alone in my judgement, for many thought that the movie was “thrilling, riveting, a flashy, free wheelin’ affair,” but mostly they gush over how well Michael Douglas fit back into his role and how appropriate the actors were. Almost none speak of the plot, and if they do, it is in passing, such as, “Shia Lebeouf plays the Charlie Sheen role,” suggesting that the plot is essentially identical for at least the main character.

But, as I said, I did not hate or even really dislike the movie that much, and it is simply my personal opinion that this movie is ahead of its time. I believe I would have loved the film if the resolution in the movie had already happened in the non-Gekkonian stock market. — James

Alien Life Forms

14 Dec

Gliese 581 showing its terminator belt, the stripe between light and dark.

Life adapts. Life changes to cope with its environment. Up until now, only Earth was known to support life. A recent discovery may challenge this assumption. A new planet has been discovered that is neither too hot nor too cold for water to exist. This, along with an atmosphere, makes it a prime location for life. The new planet has been (anticlimactically ) named Gliese (GLEE’ zuh) 581g after the star it orbits, 20 light-years away in the constellation Libra.  What kind of life would exist in such a place? Jaime conjectures about possible life forms. — Chris

Before you can understand life on Gliese 581g you must understand the conditions of this planet. This alien world is like a fraternal twin to earth. It is relatively the same distance from the sun, except it is three to four times the size of earth. But the bizarre thing is that it has a 37-day year; it rotates around its sun every 37 earth days.  Oddly, it never spins on its axis.  Like our moon, one side always stays dark and while the other faces the sun. That would mean it must have other large planets or close-by stars giving it a speed boost. There are perhaps oceans around the planet, but life in these oceans would probably exist along the line between light and dark, the “terminator belt,” where temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold.

There are two possible ways for this planet to rotate.  One way is like our moon, where the sides always stay the same — one light and one dark. There is also the possibility that the light and dark sides would alternate every half-year (about 18 to 19 earth days) as the planet circles its sun. The most likely situation (the one like our moon) would make life easier to exist because the organisms would stay in one spot and never need to move. Also, this moon-like condition would make the light side hospitable for a few weeks in the winter. The life on this planet might be small- to medium-sized, perhaps some bug-eyed aquatic reptile or sea bird.

Perhaps the life is more primitive, but I doubt it, and this is why:  This planet is three to four times larger than Earth, and it is perfectly round, which indicates that it is quite old.  There are two possibilities how this planet could have formed:  In the first scenario, asteroids could have collided together, causing a gigantic lumpy sphere.  Over time, gravity would keep pulling it in, until it was a perfect sphere.  In the second scenario, the sun would have rings around it, much like Saturn, and eventually gravity would pull the lumpy spheres into a perfect ball.  In order for Gliese 581g to be so round, under either condition, it would be old enough for life to have evolved quite far.

But the flip-side scenario would be completely different.  If the planet did alternate which side faced the sun every 18 or 19 days, the life forms would be different.  If the zone between hot and cold moved, the life would have to be constantly moving around the planet.  It would have to be more mobile.  It would help if it were small and fast because, the smaller it was, the less friction it would have between itself and the atmosphere and the water.  Also, if it had to constantly move, it would have less time to eat and grow.  Alien life forms on such a planet might be extremely small and fast in order to keep up with the terminator belt.   They would most likely be small fish or tiny flying creatures.  Any life would benefit from being cold-blooded, so it wouldn’t waste energy trying to keep itself warm. In this scenario life would be under constant strain.

Of course like our planet, on Gliese 581g, it is adapt or die, so on this distant and somewhat inhospitable planet, new species are always ready to bloom.

— Jaime

Unplugged! Two Weeks of Misery

13 Dec

Having a meltdown from lack of technology? You are not alone.

Life without gadgets? Preposterous! Why would anyone want to go outside and expose himself to sunlight? Or visit borrrrring people in real life? Well, for the sake of writing about it, of course. And because it’s good for you (like eating vegetables). So, come on, suck it up, because you know it’s time to unplug yourself from all your electronic gadgets. Tell us what you do with your time after that, and whether it was worth it. Take the pledge:
” I _____do hereby voluntarily renounce my technological activities for a period of not less than one week/month for the purpose of experiencing the sensation of being unplugged and reporting on said condition and the resulting side effects for educational purposes.” Read what happened when our local gaming addict/writer Hunter took the challenge. — Chris

A few weeks ago, the dictator of the TeenWebZine my boss Chris told me I’d be perfect for an article we’d be doing to start off the site. I was excited! Then I realized that it involved “unplugging,” and detaching myself from technology. What am I, Amish?!? Knowing there was no way out, I did what any self-respecting gaming addict would do in this situation: I procrastinated. Then the Vocal Music teacher at my school demanded that the seventh graders all put on a needlessly entertaining music program. (Why do we even need these musicals? We have enough music and entertainment from the Internet!) For about a song-and-a-half, I didn’t sing. But then, I noticed Dad holding a video camera, recording for my mom, who was lucky enough to not be able to make it to the program. Afterwards, I lost technology privileges ‘cause of my “poor decisions.” That’s when I realized my mind had been made up for me. I had to bite the bullet and UNPLUG.

On the first day, I had nothing to do but stare up at the ceiling. I noticed that a certain area in the basement had an odd faded spot near the computer. Then I looked down. I craved to check my email. I yearned to watch a funny Youtube video. Heck, I’d even settle for a round of solitaire, but alas, I was under oath. I knew that these two weeks would be very, very, long. I managed to entertain myself with some books, and I often decided to take a jog around the block. But finally, I discovered that that weekend, my Boy Scout troop was going on a campout.

The weekend expedition was a healthy break from the tantalizing beckoning of electronic devices. In fact, the only electronics that I think we used were our flashlights. The campout tested our survival skills by having us build our own shelters. I built a low- -to-the-ground cocoon-type hovel. It shielded me from the wind, and it kept warmth in pretty well, so I had a good time. Sadly, I had to go back home on Sunday, and be subjected to constant taunting by technology.

The day I returned home, I discovered the one thing more boring than losing technology for two weeks: being dragged along to the mall for an hour. Well at least I got to go to the food court, so I can’t complain. Oh, wait! Yes I can! I got a terrible case of indigestion after the plate of spaghetti from the food court!
The next day, I learned after school that our computer was acting up. Dad took it to his friend, Derek the computer guru, so thankfully, I had one less distraction for the next day-and-a-half. When Derek returned, my dad checked his email while I fought off tears. When he and the computer guru went upstairs, I just stood there for a minute, trying to keep myself from the computer. I even heard it calling my name… “Hunter! Hunter!” Well, it was either the computer or Dad calling me upstairs because Mom was home. I crossed my fingers and ran upstairs, hoping it was the latter. Thankfully, it was. That night, she showed me the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. Finished it in an hour. Not bad, but chuckling at Greg’s ridiculous escapades and morbidly dysfunctional family could not distract me from our repaired computer.

How long could this go on? Only until the weekend. Then it would be two weeks without technology. Of course, being a caveman has its benefits, like how I now have witnessed more beauty in nature, and I have also taken new interests in other sections of the Reader’s Digest, always an interesting read. A truly indescribable experience it is, unplugging. For an interesting sense of reality, try it sometime. You might just like it. If you don’t… you’re probably a lot like me.    — Hunter

Am I In the Mob?

13 Dec
There comes a time when everyone must make a stand. Whether it is in defiance of unfair rules or in defense of the weak, it helps to be bold. Sometimes courage is hard to find, especially if those around us are opting out of the fight. Why risk being punished or ostracized for no reward? Isn’t it easier to go along with the crowd? Yes, but how would that make you feel about yourself?
When there is no public admiration for leadership, the reward resides within. Tapping into that wellspring of bravado can be tricky. Here is an inspiring essay on standing up for what you believe in. — Chris
Originally uploaded by audriearlean at Photobucket.com

Feeling sheepish about not standing out from the crowd?

Countdown: “10, 9, 8…”

Many people waited in anticipation for the arrival of the year 2000; this date was once considered, by some, to be an impossibility because of the widely-held, strange belief that disaster would occur when the clock struck 12 in the year often referred to as Y2K.

“7, 6, 5…”

Y2K spread the rumor that the world would somehow disintegrate in the year 2000. Many people waited in fear of imminent death on midnight December 31, 1999.\

“4, 3, 2…”

People who believed in this strange phenomenon did not, for one moment, consider the fact that there was no explanation as to why the world would spontaneously disintegrate.

“1… Ball drop, moment of truth, and — nothing.” As you know, the world did not spontaneously disappear, combust, implode, or even miss a beat. The computers did not fail, and the human race did not come to an untimely end.

It is this sort of mob mentality that leads to political, social, and religious disagreements. Many people are, mentally, sheep. These people would sit and watch a herd walk into the doors of a slaughter house and (since sheep cannot read) they, themselves, would walk in, never to exit alive. If these “sheep” would stop and consider things before they jumped to conclusions, they would be better off. The real problem is not that they are followers; some people are not leaders and need someone to follow. But, the potent problem in this situation is that there are no leaders. The “herd” is only led by followers; it is sheep mindlessly following sheep, who are mindlessly following sheep, who are only moving forward because there are too many people behind them to turn around. The sheep are committing mental suicide, and they know it. They elect to close their minds to any other thoughts.

These sheep’s only care is to not be “left out.” I have to admit that I have been a sheep before. I have walked into the slaughter, so to speak, so that I would not be “left behind.” This is a disappointing fact that I must admit. I believe that almost all of us, at one time or another, have been sheep. In fact it is one of the hardest things not to do. It is incredibly difficult to fight your way through a crowd running at you, ignorant to the truth, pushing you toward the open doors of the cerebral slaughterhouse. I do not like the odds.

How can we sit by while the world is slowly enveloped by ignorant automaton invaders? We are not such narcisitic egotists that we can watch this happen. We cannot allow our children, our friends, or even our nemeses to succumb to such a fate. While we cannot make choices for them, we can strongly object. We can suggest, inform, explain, and teach them of their fate. We can do our best, prepare for the worst, and hope that we impress our best judgements upon them.

But we must not impose; we must walk a thin line, careful to never stray an inch from it. If we forget this, our important message will be corrupted, vilified, and lost. We must not be overbearing or pushy. And, armed with this knowledge, we must bravely embark upon our journey, prepared to be drawn off of our straight and narrow trail, and we must know the way back. We must never forget the saddening story of our friends who were drawn in by the peer pressure and could not find their way back to the trail, who were corrupted beyond repair.

With these words, I charge you to go forth and do your best to gather the sheep from the herd and turn them around, to shut the beckoning doors of intellectual death, and to return the wayward back onto the straight and narrow. — James

Burning Boy Scout Camp

13 Dec
Originally posted by neo_hippie24 at Photobucket.com

Campfires, not prairie fires, are what you want at Boy Scout camp

A guy who spends all of his time in his living room playing video games is hardly equipped to get back to Nature, in all Her fury. Consider this scenario: Boy Scouts + High Wind + Campfires = Near Disaster. Hunter redeems his reputation as a true warrior, both on and off the video game screen, when he starts, and then stops, a fire–but not before the fire department is called. Perhaps he had better go back to gaming. — Chris

In Greek mythology, when the titan Prometheus created humans, he gave them fire as a gift. Of course, afterwards, he was chained to a boulder and forced to have an eagle eat his regenerating liver every day. Recently, I figured out why. Fire may be helpful, warm, and calming, but it can cause disasters in the blink of an eye.

On my most recent Boy Scout troop campout, I got a firsthand example of this and a healthy dose of pyrophobia. The campout was scheduled on a moderately chilly October weekend, but with the right gear, everyone, even the easily-freezable Teenwebzine writer Jaime, managed to live. It was a survival camp, and that meant we had to build our own shelter, and I managed to stay warm in my pitiful pile of tarps. But on day two, I discovered that too much warmth could be a bad thing.

The next day, around mid-morning, I was the only one at the campfire. Mr. Bogart (Scoutmaster) and Mr. Walker (Asst. Scoutmaster) were gathering firewood, my friends Jaime and Andrew were walking some nearby trails, and everyone else was out playing soccer. All by my lonesome, I decided to grab a granola bar. I got a paper towel while I was at it. After satisfying my case of the munchies, I threw the wrapper and paper towel into the fire. That was around the time when all heck started to break loose.

The paper towel went into the pit, but then it flew out and set fire to a small patch of grass. I quickly stomped it out. While that happened, Mr. Walker’s chair fell into the fire, and a piece of burning nylon blew all over the place. Wind sucks. I started stomping out the rapidly-growing blaze, but it was too much for one knucklehead to handle.

I screamed, “Help! Fire!” repeatedly, and though my vocabulary in crisis situations significantly diminishes, those two words were enough. Bogart and Walker scurried back and poured all the water we had on the inferno. Jaime and Andrew helped me in my stomping spree. The soccer guys ran over as soon as they saw smoke. Even a neighboring troop ran over to help. By this time, Mr. Bogart had called the fire department. A few minutes later, we managed to put out the fire. And then, the firetrucks arrived.

While the firemen doused the torched area with a hose, I realized that the fire: a) nearly burnt down the Lorenzen’s tent, b) had almost gotten to a huge cornfield, c) would have blown up the nearby farmer’s truck, d) would have hit the treeline, and e) if b, d, and possibly c would have happened, half the county would have gone up in flames.

I realized that I was a hero. I’m still waiting for my medal. I’ll take my reward in small, unmarked bills, please. — Hunter

Downfall of the Donkey

10 Dec

After their trouncing in the November 2010 elections, Democrats have no choice but to resort to reconciliation with their pachyderm partners. The elephants have stampeded the donkeys into a corner of the corral. In the House of Representatives, Republicans won 239 seats, compared to 189 seats won by Democrats. In the Senate, Republicans won 23 seats, compared to 13 won by Democrats, according to the AOL news website Politics Daily. This new balance is apt to disable President Obama’s ability to further the Democratic agenda, as though he weren’t already having a hard time. Is the system hopelessly broken? Can two, opposing parties ever accomplish anything good for the country? What are young people to think? — Chris


To be honest, I don’t care much for either party. They are too busy bickering to get anything done. At this point they need to forget their differences to come together to try to fix the economy. In five years, I will be of voting age, and I definitely plan to vote. I don’t think a third party would do anything but increase the likelihood of more fighting. So, as long as we are stuck with two parties, what they ought to do is say, “We stand for this,” but they both need to remember that they are working toward the greater good for America and not just their party.

For example, the Republicans want to preserve tax cuts for the wealthy, and Democrats want to cut them. Both sides think their approaches will benefit the country—but they are really aiming at benefiting the groups that vote for them. Their decisions are largely based on their own concern for staying in office. They both need to think of what would benefit the majority, or middle class, Americans.

Most young people I know think exactly the same way as their parents, so it’s split about 50/50 between Democrats and Republicans. But right now is the age where people start thinking for themselves. I’m not sure what will happen, but we have grown up during wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and that could lead more young people to become Democrats. I don’t want to go to war, and the war has taken a large bite out of our economy, even though it has been small, relative to WWII. On the other hand, the loving souls of America hate to sit by and watch innocent people being killed, and that would justify the Republican support of the wars.

Obama hasn’t changed much of anything. He campaigned and said, “change, change, change,” and so far (from the young person’s view) nothing much has changed, yet. That doesn’t really say much for him, and right now he is a lame duck. I can foresee a lot of legislation being vetoed. I’m afraid that young people won’t vote because they think the government should be left to its own devices, or because they are too lazy to vote.

Maybe the reason people don’t vote is because their vote doesn’t count towards actually electing anybody—it is the electoral votes that do that. I don’t have much confidence in the electoral vote. Popular vote doesn’t seem to matter, and a lot of people are discouraged by that. Of course, I’m still going to vote, but I don’t expect it to have much bearing on the outcome of the election. Popular vote should matter more.

Neither party has gotten election reform done. They say that any qualified American citizen can run for President, but the country seems to be run by the candidates with the most money for their campaigns. The way the system is arranged, it makes it impossible for the average person to have any say in the government except for voting and writing his representatives. If he or she doesn’t have enough funds, then it’s impossible to run for anything except for local office.

I don’t think the system is hopelessly broken. We need to reform a lot of things and make it better. Just like the rules of fighting and combat have changed since hundreds of years ago, the rules of politics need to change.– Ryan

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