Sunday, December 30, 2012

Book Review for the Books Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Perhaps my review of this will be a little biased because I have always been fascinated by books about utopian/dystopian societies. I love Fahrenheit 451, The Giver, The Hunger Games trilogy, and, though I didn't really like them, I still thought 1984 and Brave New World were very interesting.

I guess I will start by saying, I read both of the books (both around 500 pages) in a little over a week, so I obviously enjoyed them. They were exciting and were hard to put down. At the same time, they were definitely not as good as The Giver, Fahrenheit 451, or even the Hunger Games Trilogy. It's hard to describe why, exactly, other than to say they didn't make me feel as deeply and didn't make me pause to think as much. Also, at times, the quality of writing and choice of words wasn't as excellent as the aforementioned books.

I just realized that perhaps one reason I didn't love the books is because I didn't feel the society was entirely believable, I don't feel society can be put into merely 5 factions...but I suppose the fact that it is beginning to fall apart in the books shows the author does not think it can be divided as such either, at least not for long.

One thing which was nice is there was not really a triangle of love, as appears to often happen in recent books written for this age group.

What are the books about? They are about a damaged “faction” (not really a class or caste system, because one is not necessarily above another) based society in which members take an aptitude test at 16 to help them choose which faction they will join. They then must go through an initiation process. Some do not make it through initiation and become one of the “Factionless,” the outcasts and, if they do have a job, it is a job no one else wants. Some die during the initiation process, especially in the faction of Dauntless, which one of the main characters chooses to join.

The books are about discovering who you are, what you are made of, learning to face your fears, the difference between bravery and stupidity, selflessness and a sick sense of atoning for your wrongs by putting yourself at risk and allowing yourself to be hurt. They are about friendship and love, learning to trust and realizing people are more complex than they seem. They are about a perceived threat and how it can motivate people to act in different ways, cause them to betray those they love for what they view as the right course. They are about the question concerning “the greater good” versus the value of a life. They are about truth and information, how some think it best to “protect” people by keeping them in ignorance and some think people should know those secrets which can break apart your life and make the world a scary place.

Are they worth reading? Yes. Are they favorite? No. Am I looking forward to when the third one is coming out and will I re-read the first two before it does (it should be out the end of 2013)? Yes. Also, the fact that the author is only like 23 and wrote most or all of the first novel while in college is pretty amazing.

What would I rate them? PG-13 for violence, disturbing situations, some smooching, and a little language. Though there is a lot of violence, I would still say it's a step down from the Hunger Games books. There's nothing quite as gruesome as the Tracker-Jack scene or the Dogs-with-the-human-eyes (by the way, the movie tamed both of those scences down).

Side-note: In Insurgent there are a couple blatant inconsistencies which, unfortunately made it past the author, the editors, and the beta readers. The author is, of course, now aware of them and I'm sure will change them in future printings, but for can have fun by finding them yourself. So you won't drive yourself crazy through the whole thing, they are near the end.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review for The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

First, some slightly negative things. You wouldn't think this book would be hard to categorize, it being about talking animals and their everyday adventures. Given the content, one would think it is definitely a children's book, right? Well, I view myself as someone who has a fairly extensive vocabulary and there are a few words I do not know the meanings to. Grahame primarily uses simple language but will occasionally inject these words. After having thought about it a little more, I think these unfamiliar words occur because of when the book was written. We simply do not often use some of those words anymore.

I know children's books don't have to make sense, but the world within the Wind in the Willows slightly annoys me. In this world there are humans and talking animals. It is unclear where animals actually “fit.” Mole, Rat, Badger, and others will eat ham and other meat, cows wander in pastures (I assume some being raised for beef), but since the aforementioned characters are intelligent, you wonder “What about the animals they eat?” You could think, perhaps domesticated animals are dumb, but then, the horse which drew Toad's wagon talked. Toad is big enough to drive a full-sized automobile, “human” enough to be put in a prison alongside humans, and yet the gaoler's daughter speaks of Toad almost as if he is a “common” animal, which can be trained and fed out of her hand.

All of the above aside, I have read The Wind in the Willows 4 or 5 times and I have thoroughly enjoy it each time. Though it is a children's book, I think it is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. You often almost feel as if you are reading a poem instead of prose. How Grahame captures the simple beauties of the river, describes the barrenness of a winter landscape, and the call of the elusive Pan are wonderful.

He paints characters which are easy to love and friendships that are splendid in their quiet way. Grahame shows how Ratty and Mole fit together so perfectly and yet also points out the allowances they make for one another; he shares how loyal, kind, and giving a friend Badger can be, despite all of Badger's reclusiveness; and then there's Toad, who is generous, prideful, loving, and ridiculous.

What is The Wind in the Willows about? It is about the River, which is the love of Ratty's life. Friendship, and how even perfect friends must sometimes sacrifice their own comfort or happiness to put their friend's needs and wants ahead of their own. It is about simple joys and longing, silly passions and loyalty. Picnics, lazy days, warm fires, homesickness, and wanting to leave home. It is about animals but also seeing in the characters Grahame has made those things which make us human.

I would rate this “G.” There is very mild violence and a tiny bit of language (such as someone being called an “ass”). Personally, I think this book would be best shared if read aloud, especially because some of the “bigger” words.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book Review for To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

You may be wondering why I am going to do on a review on a book this old, I mean, most of you probably had to read it for school at some point. Well, I am reviewing it because I've read it three or four times and it is one of my favorite books. If you haven't read it for a few years, I encourage you to read it again because it tries to teach some lessons that are best not forgot.

It can't really be called a "coming of age" story since Scout's too young to be coming of age, she's just eight, but it is about growing up. I believe one of the reasons why I love this story so much is because it takes place in the "good ole days" but shows how those days were also filled with darkness in some ways.

You see, in the town of Maycomb, based on the family you were from, you had a precast mold, "No Crawford minds his own business, The truth is not in the Delafields, etc." and certain families were expected to be drunks or poor or unbeholden to no one. The prejudices go deep, deepest when it comes to the color of your skin. So, alongside the story of the sleepy town, where everyone knows everyone and Scout, her brother, Jem, and their friend, Dill, have free reign of their street and try to get their reclusive neighbor to show his face. There runs a deeper, darker story of a black man wrongfully accused. Condemned, despite Scout's father's best efforts, because what it comes down to is a white man's testimony against a black man's, and a black man's testimony isn't enough in a small Southern town in 1935.

I love the characters. Scout and her rambunctious tomboyishness, her innocence, and the frequent attempts to turn her more into a "proper" lady. I love her brother, Jem, and his, at first, grudging loyalty to his father because he is just beginning to understand there are other, nobler ways to be a "real man" other than hunting, playing football, and being young and strong. I love their father, Atticus, and his sense of fairness, duty, and warmth hidden beneath his aloofness. Their friend, Dill, and his mischievousness resourcefulness. Their cook, Calpurnia, and her sense of pride in herself, her people, and in the family she is working for. I also love the neighbors for all their peculiarities.

It teaches lessons of loyalty and duty; of how essential it is for justice to be blind in regards to race, gender, and socioeconomic status; the importance of children feeling they are needed and wanted, as well as abstractly loved; that sometimes the best way to stop an angry mob is to remind them they're human through the voice of a child; and, though the good ole days were wonderful in many ways, some things are even better now and can be even better in the future.

My only regret is that Harper Lee did not write other novels. I am so glad she at least left us with this treasure.

Yet another reason why I love this book is for the closing remarks of Atticus, in the trial of Tom Robinson, which I think is one of the most excellent speeches ever written. I do not think it is short enough that I can write out the whole thing without infringing on copyright laws, so I won't. Also, it means more having the majority of the book before it, so I encourage you again, read this book or reread it. Here's a (rather long) excerpt from the speech:

Atticus paused, then he did something he didn't ordinarily do. He unhitched his watch and chain and placed them on the table, saying, "With the court's permission -"
Judge Taylor nodded, and then Atticus did something I never saw him do before or since, in public or in private: he unbuttoned his vest, unbuttoned his collar, loosened his tie, and took off his coat. He never loosened a scrap of his clothing until he undressed at bedtime, and to Jem and me, this was the equivalent of him standing before us stark naked. We exchanged horrified glances.
Atticus put his hands in his pockets, and as he returned to the jury, I saw his gold collar button and the tips of his pen and pencil winking in the light.
"Gentlemen," he said. Jem and I again looked at each other: Atticus might have said, "Scout." His voice had lost its aridity, its detachment, and he was talking to the jury as if they were folks on the post office corner.
"Gentlemen," he was saying, "I shall be brief, but I would like to use my remaining time with you to remind you that this case is not a difficult one, it requires no minute sifting of complicated facts, but it does require you to be sure beyond all reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant. To begin with, this case should never have come to trial. This is as simple as black and white.
"...And so a quiet, respectable, humble Negro who had the unmitigated temerity to "feel sorry" for a white woman has had to put his word against two white people's. I need not remind you of their appearance and conduct on the stand - you saw them for yourselves. The witnesses for the state, with the exception of the sheriff of Maycomb County, have presented themselves to you gentlemen, to this court, in the cynical confidence that their testimony would not be doubted, confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption - the evil assumption - that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women, an assumption one associates with minds of their caliber.
"Which, gentlemen, we know is in itself a lie as black as Tom Robinson's skin, a lie I do not have to point out to you. You know the truth, the truth is this: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women - black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men. There is not a person in this courtroom who has never told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, and there is no man living who has never looked upon a woman without desire."
Atticus paused and took out his handkerchief. Then he took off his glasses and wiped them, and we saw another "first": we had never seen him sweat - he was one of those men whose faces never perspired, but now it was shining tan.
"One more thing, gentlemen, before I quit. Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal...There is a tendency in this year of grace, 1935, for certain people to use this phrase out of context, to satisfy all conditions. The most ridiculous example I can think of is that the people who run public education promote the stupid and the idle along with the industrious - because all men are created equal, educators will gravely tell you, the children left behind suffer terrible feelings of inferiority. We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe - some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they're born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others - some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men.
"But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal - there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court..."
"I'm no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system - that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty..."

Perhaps the greatest reason to read To Kill a Mockingbird can be learned from a 1966 letter written by Harper Lee to James J. Kilpatrick, the editor of The Richmond News Leader, in response to the attempts of a Richmond, Virginia, area school board to ban To Kill a Mockingbird as "immoral literature":
“Recently I have received echoes down this way of the Hanover County School Board's activities, and what I've heard makes me wonder if any of its members can read.

"Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that “To Kill a Mockingbird” spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners. To hear that the novel is "immoral" has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.

"I feel, however, that the problem is one of illiteracy, not Marxism...."

I would rate this book as PG for brief violence, light language, but mostly for dealing with some pretty "heavy" stuff, in terms of a man being wrongfully accused of rape, and all the situations which arise from this.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Book Review of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The first time I read this I was in college. It was a book that one person owned and then it was just passed among friends, which, for some reason, I think is appropriate for this book. I remember the first time I finished it, I was in the car and near the end, it made me want to throw up, it just made me feel ill. I guess I should say, before moving on, the very final "flavor in your mouth" is more pleasant. Once I got to the end of it, I looked out of the window for a long time, and then proceeded to read the whole thing again.

I just recently checked it out from the library and found the time to read it in two days. It's not an "adventure book," it's not necessarily gripping in its excitement, but it is hard to put down once you get into it.

Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age story about a deeply feeling boy named Charlie. He watches people and understands them, he's a secret keeper for almost everyone and that can be one of the most isolating feelings of all. So Charlie begins to anonymously write letters to a mystery someone "because she said you listen and understand and didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have," so he doesn't have to keep so many secrets bottled up inside. Those letters are what make up the structure of the book and how the story is told. I am a huge fan of letters, maybe that is one reason why I love this book. Another reason is because I can relate to Charlie, though I have not tried some of the things he has and I do not think I am as passive in my relationships as he often is.

We start out the book with Charlie not really having any friends at all and soon find out that the boy he was closest to has "passed on." Which, I guess, is one reason Charlie starts the letters. Once he goes to high school Charlie is soon adopted by Patrick (a enthusiastic, quirky, boy) and Sam (a lovely, crazy girl). Although I don't think the line is said in the book, in the trailer of the film someone in Charlie's new peer group says, "Welcome to the island of misfit toys," which I think suits Charlie and his group of friends perfectly. Sam and Patrick see Charlie for what he is, a Wallflower, and value him for it. Maybe this is another reason so many people love the book, because there is a part in all of us that hopes to have friends which put up with us, understand us, and are as patient with us as Patrick and Sam are with Charlie...even if they are messed up.

Perhaps so many people like it because a part of them hopes Charlie is writing to them, trusts them enough to share his secrets with them. Or maybe it's like one reviewer said, the story reminds many of their own high school days, of old friends or misfits, and has echos of their own stories within it.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is about relationships, trust, understanding who others are and who you are. It's about relating to others, trying to give your loved ones what they need, and learning you sometimes have to ask or guess and realize what you think they need is totally different than what they truly do. It's thinking about what shapes us and what shapes others, what causes us to expect the “love” we do, and, hopefully, makes us self-aware enough to give and receive a truer type of love. It's about kisses, fear, mix tapes, and monsters lurking from the past. It's about finding people with whom you can feel "infinite." It's about growing up.

I would give it a content rating of PG-13, nearing a possible R rating. This is for drugs, language, underage drinking, violence, sex (though it doesn't go into any details), and some disturbing situations. Also, if non-heterosexual relationships bother you, maybe you shouldn't read this book. One of the main characters is gay and part of the book deals with them having to figure out how they can love the person they want to love in a time and place where it is difficult to do that.

P.S. Somehow I missed the movie in the theaters, but I am SO excited to see it. Perhaps I will add-on a review of that once I have seen it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Song of Ice and Fire or, as I think they are more commonly known, A Game of Thrones

I have now read the first 4 books of this series and am waiting to get the next one from the library.

Somewhere I read a book critic who compared these books to The Lord of the Rings and, I have to say, I was a little offended. The LOTR world is black and white, good and bad, the heroes are noble and the villains are evil. That is not to say the characters are one-dimensional, that the heroes do not fail in their courage and the villains are devoid of goodness; but you can tell the heroes and the villains apart, you can fall in love with a character and root for them wholeheartedly. The world within A Song of Ice and Fire is made of black and white and gray, splattered with blood and semen. Forgive my imagery, but I think it is a fairly accurate description.

These books are brutal, filled with pillaging in every sense of the word. There is rape, incest, torture, murder, horrible betrayals, language, greed, lust, and crude humor. One of the characters says something along the lines of, after a while, war makes man forget he is human, that is the only way to explain some of the actions of various characters. That, or George R. R. Martin has a lower view of humanity than I. I suppose that's not fair, everything his characters do are things which are done by people in reality, whether in war or not; it just seems the predonerance of his characters do dispicable things. It is hard to know who the heroes are, it is hard to cheer for them; and it is hard to know who the villains are, it is hard to wish them ill.

Yet another reason not to like these books, and this may only bother me, is that there are so many different “main characters” and each chapter follows one character at a time. Potentially there can be a few hunderd pages between meeting up with a character again. This, combined with Martin's tendency to kill off characters, change their name, and continuly introduce new characters, makes it hard to keep up with everything. There were a few times I had to flip back to find out where I had left a character and a few chapters where I had to read a couple pages in order to remember who the character even was.

After all of that you may justly wonder, why do I read them? Well, first I will say, these are not books I ever plan to own and I will probably never read them again. Then why do I read them? I hint at it at the end of the paragraph above my last, Martin has created some of the most complex characters in literature. There are some so seemingly merciless, silly, and sadistic you almost wish to skip the chapters related to them and look forward to a time when they may be killed off. Then there are others you hated but then they grow as a person and so you come to like them, some you pitied but then begin to loathe because of their blind quest for vengence. I will say Martin is like Tolkien in that they both place great importance on character development. They are also alike in their thouroughness, they manage to create very believable worlds, though both have elements of fantasy (this is also to say, Martin is somewhat long-winded, like Tolkien).

I also read them because the author is a great storyteller, he draws you in, even if the world he draws you into is full of shadows, blood, and tears. Perhaps this is just because “winter is coming,” perhaps the world will change into a brighter place with the coming of the spring.

I would without a question rate these books rated “R” and perhaps even suggest an “NC-17.”

Book Reviews: Coming Soon!

I have decided since one of my greatest passions is books, I am going to do a series of book reviews. My purpose is two-fold, it is not only to review books in the traditional sense (my thoughts and feelings about them), but also to give them a rating (as in G, PG, R, etc.). I just did a brief search to see if anyone else is doing this and there are a few sites, but when I went to them and tried to search for some popular books, they didn't show up.

I wish to give these ratings so people have a better idea of what they are getting into. Books are a little more tricky than movies because how bad, scary, etc. a book is partly depends on the reader's imagination. For instance, I have a very good imagination so, based solely on my imaginings, I would be tempted to give Lord of the Rings an R for terror (those Nazguls are pretty terrifying) and also an R to the Hunger Games trilogy for brutality (my imagination can do a lot with the description of the genetically modified dogs and what they did to the tributes). But my imagination is not everyone's imagination, so I would actually rate each of those as PG-13. Also, as someone recently pointed out to me, in books you can skim/jump over unpleasant and bad sections. Some of us are better at this than others and, if you are good at it, you can act as your own content filter.

I know some people will very much disagree with this, but with movies I sometimes allow them to have “redeeming factors.” As an example, The Royal Tenenbaums has a lot of bad stuff, but is one of my very favorite movies because, in terms of cinematography, it is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. Also, even though Gladiator is a very brutal movie, I still really like it because it is a great story, very well made, and the acting is superb. In the same way, I will try to convey the redeeming factors of books, or share when I do not think they really have any.

In the future I will try and rate books as I read them so as to have individual book reviews and fresh impressions, but some of my first reviews are going to lump a few books from series together.

Oh, I suppose I should share, though I have read and enjoyed many classics (the unabridged Les Mes., Hunchback of Notre Dame, Jane Erye, some Jane Austen books, The Foundation series, most of the Dune Series, etc.), I am unashamed to admit I have read the Twilight series twice and enjoyed it both times. I'm not saying they are quality literature, or that they are not cheesy, and slightly ridiculous, but I thought they were entertaining and good escapism books. Anyway, that's a warning that some types of people should probably read my reviews with a grain of salt.

With all of that said, I will go for now. I hope you all have a wonderful day.

Note: In my "rating" the various books, I will follow similar guidelines to those put forth by the Motion Picture Association of America, to review those guidelines, you can click the link below.
What Each Rating Means

Friday, November 23, 2012

That for which I am thankful

Well, yesterday I had the day off but I was too busy not having Thanksgiving to write a Thanksgiving post, so I shall do it a day late.

At various times during college I spent time with the homeless and noticed an often common thread which ran among them is that they did not have a social network, they did not have a safety net made up of friendly arms to fall into when they had fallen lowest. They did not have any lights left on for them or loving faces who would welcome them in, even if and when their own faces were filled with shame or their pockets were empty. I know I not only have family who would (and has) taken me in when I need a place to stay, but also that I have friends in many places who would (and have) take me in as well. I know I not only have people who would take me in, but also have so many people who love me enough that they would come looking for me, if I began to “fall through the cracks.” So to those who love me, family, camp friends, college friends, AmeriCorps friends, and random friends I have gained along the way, thank you for your love and I am thankful for you.

I am thankful for my parents. Who encourage me and pray for me. Who manage, somehow, to stay supportive of me and what I do, even though I have no idea what I'm doing and have a long way to go before I have it all figured out.

I am thankful I live with my brother and near my sister and brother-in-law. Also, that I have another sister, brother-in-law, and nieces who, I am sure, would like for me to live near them, as well.

I am thankful I have a brother, who, though he is younger than me, is willing to let me “mooch” off of him while I have been looking for a job. I am thankful that he is pretty easy to live with and that, from books and tv to hiking, we have common interests.

I am thankful for my job...even if it is just part-time and not really what I want to do.

I am thankful for hot water; for warming showers; good smelling soap; the ability to feel temperature and so many other things. I am happy I am able to smell Fall, baking banana bread, and Arnold Promise Witch Hazel (and other flowers, too). I am thankful I can see Autumn and its changing colors; hear the wind rustling the leaves outside my apartment and the music playing on the internet. I appreciate the leftovers I will be able to taste tomorrow and that I can sample things while I'm cooking.

I am thankful for books, libraries, the great outdoors, cozy blankets, entertaining movies, and photography.

I am thankful for the possibility to rekindle friendships and for the ability to make new ones. Along this vein, I am most thankful for our ability to make friendships, to form bonds, and to love.

I am thankful for my imagination, for intuition, for dreams, and hopes, and prayers. I am thankful for my potential and that God is not through with me yet. I am thankful for the Grand Love Story we are all caught up in and that the plot is so complex and simple that we have no idea why things happen the way they do. I am thankful I will one Day be able to read the Story in its entirety so I will understand.

Though I am sometimes tired, frustrated, and confused; I am thankful I am alive.

Friday, November 16, 2012

In the same vein as “Zombies Attack America” I bring you: Lights, Camera...Cue the Alien Invasion

I have decided Hollywood and the movie industry is actually a ploy developed by aliens or zombie-creating biological terrorists aimed at causing us to view any spectacular videos we watch with a “Man, those are some good special effects” mentality. Think about it, if you were a see a high quality video or even a few videos claiming to be authentic, which were about an alien invasion going on or a zombie apocalypse happening, wouldn't your first thought be, “What movie is this from?” or “Wow! Those special effects are amazing!” Even if the video was submitted by someone you knew or was on the News, wouldn't your first inclination be skepticism instead of belief?

In this day and age, when even most cell phones have good video quality, you would think some UFO videos and Bigfoot sightings would be clearer and of better video quality. I think why this isn't the case is because we find the grainy footage more intriguing and, perhaps, more believable. If it was an excellent video of either thing, we would think of Bigfoot, “That is a great costume” and of the UFO, “I wonder how much money and CGI it took to make it look that real.”

So when I post a video of the Alien Invasion or the Zombie Apocalypse you better believe it. I have a pretty crappy camera, so maybe you'll be more likely to believe.

On another note, while on the topic of aliens. Around Halloween the thought occurred to me that American Halloween (I'm unsure any other parts of the world dress up as much as we do) was initiated by aliens so one night a year they can add a few cheap additions to their anatomy (to make them not quite so awesome or believable) and have free reign to study us in close proximity in our natural habitats. Aliens, if you are reading this, do not judge us by that one night. When we humans don masked we feel freer to be idiots, jerks, and are more apt to break the law.

Propaganda: Rising to New Heights

Note: this post contains a slight in-direct spoiler having to do with the Hunger Games, for those of you who may care about such things.

I suppose the idea for this post occurred to me the first time while I was reading The Hunger Games over a year ago. You see, the government in the books made a mistake maintaining their tyranny. The time period when the books take place is supposed to be sometime in the future. If this is the case, then instead of showing the same footage year after year of District 13's state of decay after (nuclear?) weapons destroyed it, they should have used CGI and special effects to make “new footage” which showed its continued state of desolation.

Backing up some, if you haven't read The Hunger Games, in that world, there was an uprising of District 13 and the use of weapons left the landscape desolate and, as the government would have the other Districts believe, totally destroyed and without inhabitants. They maintained this lie by showing the same footage year after year taken of the area soon after the conflict took place, when it truly did look desolate.

If I remember correctly, the government in the movie V For Vendetta used false news coverage, painting the rest of the world as a place where there was constant famine, plagues, riots, and other horrors of the night. If the rest of the world is that chaotic and terrifying, maybe my government isn't that bad, they may be repressive and seemingly unjust, but they keep me safe.

In this day of technology and “movie magic,” as long as you can keep your populace isolated, give them no access to unauthorized and undoctored news sources, and regulate the technology which they have available (so they don't know about CGI and other special effects), you can paint the rest of the world whatever way you wish. You wouldn't even have to produce anything new, but rather could cut clips from any well-made movie you wanted. You could have the rest of the world be filled with aliens, zombies, riots, explosions, barren landscapes, crumbling and devoid of people.

You may be thinking, people wouldn't really believe that stuff, they would have to know it was fake. Well, here's something to keep in mind, in the 90's my family lived in a developing country and we would have movie nights with some of the university students. Sometimes we would have a fairly hard time convincing the students that the special effects weren't real, that those things didn't really happen. These were smart people, university students, but they had never been exposed to such things. When you've grown up believing what you see and have no reason not to, it can take some getting used to when this is no longer always true. These were people just watching movies, who were being told the things they saw were just for entertainment, and yet they still, at first, had a hard time believing that they were not real. Now imagine the same situation, except it is news sources only showing clips, and the government is confirming what was shown was true.

Also, even as skeptic Americans, we can't really poke fun at such a situation, as proved by the fact that after Animal Planet aired their program Mermaids: The Body Found, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration felt they needed to issue an official statement denying the existence of mermaids because so many mistakenly thought a video contained in the program was authentic.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I Am Still or The Story of A Boulder

The world moves around me at a breakneck pace and they wonder why they so quickly pass away. I am still and I remain. Trees think they are still, they say “I am rooted to this spot. I am not moving, so I am still.” Trees are flighty things, here today and gone tomorrow. They are not still, but move with the slightest wind. Their roots crawl over the ground and burrow beneath. Trees try to move me, try to lift me with their roots or, with their last effort as they fall, try to push me aside. Even the little plants do their best, breaking pieces off of me, thinking to count that as movement, but once those pieces separate, they are no longer me, but pebbles, rocks, and earth. Trees and plants rot and fall away, but I am still and I remain.

The sun rises and, as the wind blows the branches of the trees, it filters down to warm me. It moves so fast, I wonder that it has been there so long and if one day it will not rise. Oh well, warm or cold, it matters not to me. Whether the sun rises or it does not, I am still and I remain.

I can feel the moon giving me a gentle tug as it passes over me, silly moon, you cannot move me. But as the rain falls, the raindrops whisper that the moon moves the ocean, something far larger than I. Then they tell me they were a part of the ocean and that it is made up of millions of them, rising and falling, rising and falling. I tell them the ocean is not larger than me, but it is made up of millions of them and that is why it allows the moon to move it. The raindrops only laugh at me and tell me that though they are small, they will move me. They move me ever so slightly and movement equals death, their washing the earth from beneath my feet makes me older, they make me smaller year by year. I move, but oh so slowly, so I remain.

Turtles come to seek my wisdom and learn how not to pass away. They try to look like me, but they must eat so they must move; they do but slowly, so time passes by them and forgets them for a while.

Man does not seek my wisdom, but runs through life and wishes everything to run with him. He adds acid to the rain making me smaller all the faster. Instead of going round us, if we are in his way, he does what the trees could not do and pushes us aside. He causes us to move and move, breaks us smaller so we are easier to move, and moves us from place to place. I am not still and so only dust remains.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Future is Now! or Where's my hover car, jet pack, and standard issue laser gun?

I'm 28 years old and I can remember when I was little basically being promised by “them” (the media, popular science, etc.) that hovercrafts, jet packs, and laser guns would be a common thing in the year 2000 or soon after. The year 2000 (if you didn't think the world was going to end) was The Future, you know, like in the Jetsons; but I'm still wanting for my hover car and there's no robot to do my chores.

Yes, I don't have those things and the prototypes that do exist are not very functional, but here are some things we may have forgotten and taken for granted. Some of the first computers weighed around 30 tons (that's 60,000 pounds!) and Popular Mechanics made the prediction in 1949 that they may someday weigh only 1.5 tons. Even science fiction, the genre which imagined up the jet pack, laser gun, and even more wondrous things, dreamed rather small (or more accurately big) when it came to how small a computer would be in the future. Isaac Asimov wrote a story first printed in 1953, entitled, Nobody There But - which was about two men who built computers. They were making a revolutionary small “calculator” which was “about three feet high, six feet long, and two feet deep.” The smallest Asimov dared his characters to dream of someday making the calculator was one that an “automobile” could carry. I remember reading another story that, even though it was based in the future, they were still using microfilm because, I guess, the author thought that would be the medium which replaced paper books.

Just a few years ago CDs were a pretty big deal. We thought the fact that they could carry, what, like 20 songs was pretty awesome. Now we have devices which are around an inch and a half wide and under a half inch thick that can hold around 4000 songs. Also, thanks to e-book readers, you can now hold thousands of books in your hands at one time.

Kids, I know the things I mentioned above may not seem like a big deal to you, but just imagine, a few years ago if you wanted to take music with you on a trip you had to take a bunch of CDs and if you wanted to take a bunch of books, well, your only option was to take paper books (which, I can tell you from experience, is quite heavy) .

As much as I wanted a hover car, I think these capabilities are even cooler. 

Can you think of any other ways in which we have gone beyond what was predicted as the future? Share in the comments. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How to Correctly Respond to a Disaster

The most important thing is, be flexible and try to be patient. Disasters are, in all senses of the word, chaotic. In disaster relief circles, the first wave of volunteers is sometimes called “the disaster after the disaster” because before they even know where to put all the survivors, before they even have a plan to coordinate all the volunteers, there's thousands of volunteers ready to be put to work. Also, remember the recovery after a disaster can take years and sometimes when the community needs you most is actually a few months or even a year after a disaster, because most other potential volunteers are no longer interested.

Sometimes the best thing to do directly after a disaster is to make contact with an organization already there and figure out their biggest needs (generators, ice, basic first-aid supplies, or sometimes the biggest need is just money). I know it may seem boring or unfulfilling to just raise money, but keep in mind that the church or mosque or whatever probably didn't factor sheltering dozens of survivors or feeding volunteers into their budgets, so money may be the thing they need most. Also, by giving them money, they can then spend it in the local economy, an economy which was very disrupted and lost a lot of money because of the disaster.

Contact and coordinate your efforts with people/organizations already at the scene. It may be that most areas are still locked-down and no one is allowed in, so there's not much volunteers can do. Also, try and figure out if there are age restrictions, if minors need a guardian present or a written consent form from a guardian. Someone who is actually there can also give you the areas where volunteers are needed (doing actual clean-up, donations sorting, data entry, etc) and tell you what type of clothing to wear. Some volunteers who wanted to do clean-up in Joplin came without close-toed shoes and it was too much of a hazard to have them in the field, so they had to volunteer in areas that they didn't really want to. Also in Joplin, we had EMTs, Firefighters, etc. coming to our volunteer center and demanding to be a part of the search and rescue. They are pretty careful who they allow on those teams, so this is something you should try and work out beforehand (for instance, if you're a firefighter, then try to call the local fire department in that area). It is also important to bring your id, certification, license, etc. if you are wanting to volunteer is a specialized capacity.

Make sure to work out beforehand all of your logistics (place to stay, food/water, bedding). As a volunteer you have to keep in mind that, because there was a disaster, most of the local resources are rapidly being exhausted and if you come unprepared and ill-equipped you can actually be more of a burden than a help. I remember a few times when food was supposed to be provided in disaster areas, but tornadoes have a way of making street signs disappear and cause landmarks to not be in their proper place, so meeting points are missed or misunderstood. You will have a better experience as a volunteer if you are thoroughly prepared.

While on the subject of food, if you have a food truck, a huge grill, or another thing of that nature and want to help provide food for volunteers, keep in mind that you will probably have to work things out with the health department. We had many well-meaning individuals who came a long way to Joplin who wished to set up and provide food for survivors and volunteers, only to be shut down by the health department because they weren't where they were supposed to be, didn't ask for permission, etc.

When trying to figure out needs, whether for volunteers or donations, don't solely depend on the media for information, because they often get misinformation (sometimes from well-meaning individuals) and/or do not share the whole story. Or the media makes an announcement for a need and doesn't realize that some company was generous enough to fulfill the whole need, so then there is an excess of that one item. Sometimes the media isn't allowed access to areas where heavily involved individuals are (people who actually know what's going on), so they ask whoever they can talk to, which is sometimes a volunteer who has only been there an hour or survivor who hasn't left the area of the emergency shelter since they got there.

Lastly, and very importantly, try and figure out if the community is keeping track of volunteer hours and equipment used in volunteer efforts. You can normally find this out by contacting someone in city hall, possibly looking on the community's website, or sometimes the media will announce it. If FEMA declares a disaster then the federal government does a cost share (the local government pays a percentage and the federal government pays a percentage) for the disaster recovery. Volunteer hours and equipment used can be given a dollar amount and be counted towards the percentage the local government has to pay. In other words, as well as your volunteering physically helping recover the disaster area, it can help it financially recover as well.

Thank you for your willingness to volunteer and I hope you have a wonderful volunteer experience. Be safe, work hard, maybe have some fun, and create some fulfilling memories. God bless, may he give your hands strength and may he comfort the survivors.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Dangers of Computational Dependency or TomTom and Seri: Downfall of Us All

This is another note along the same vein as the “zombies attack America.” Perhaps this will sound as if I am a conspiracy theorist, but I don't really think it is a conspiracy, rather, it is the natural course of things in the world we live in and there are those who may take advantage of that course. Alright, enough talking around what I wish to speak of.

Today, as I was driving in heavy traffic, I began to think how nice it would be to have one of those cars that practically drives itself. I saw an article in Time magazine or some such magazine about soon there will probably be a car which does completely drive itself. After thinking of driving, I also thought of how when people have a question now, instead of trying to remember the answer from things learned or even asking a friend for the answer, they ask their phone.

I recently watched a documentary, called Digital Nation, and in it a few educators who were interviewed said something along the lines of: children no longer need to be taught answers and facts because they now have access to all the answers at the touch of a button. I do think teaching styles should change over time, I do firmly believe in more than rote learning but, oh, can't you see that despite our phones, computers, an internet filled with information, and so many other modern things, our brains are still our best and most reliable resource? I know they more readily forget things, but they do not easily run out of power, they do not get out of range or hit a dead spot, and it is harder to tamper with them.

Now, if we were attacked by electromagnetic bombs (which can destroy electronic devices using high-powered microwaves) currently, we would be helpless in so many ways, but we could still drive old cars (“pre-computer cars”), because we have the skills to drive; many architects could still design a bridge, because they committed the skills they need to memory; a mechanic could fix a car because they learned how to, and not because they looks up a step by step video every time they do something. The more we commit to electronic memory, instead of committing it to our memory and using electronic merely as a “back-up,” the easier it is to render us helpless.

I was not planning on going in this direction, but my brain took me here, so off I go. Electronic memory and media is also more changeable and easier to change than “good old paper.” It saddens me and scares me a little that so many books, papers, magazines, etc. are moving purely toward the electronic. I can keep a paper copy of the Bible or history book or newspaper in my house and I would know if anyone were to tamper with it. Not only that, I can go to my friend and ask to compare my paper source to his, which, even if they were the same when they were made, are now mutually exclusive (if one changes, it does not effect the integrity of the other). Whereas millions of electronic copies can be linked to one source, can often be remotely accessed, and can be almost simultaneously changed. “Hey, didn't the ending of The Hunchback of Notre Dame used to be different?” “I'm not sure, but my e-book ends the same as yours, so I don't think so.” Just something else to think of.

Note: I am a little biased towards paper books, I like the way they feel and smell, I like that I can underline and, when a friend borrows the book, they can see my underlines. I also enjoy buying an old copy of something and seeing someone else's underlines. I have enjoyed reading a couple novels on a Kendall, and I do want to eventually get one to use when traveling, I also know e-books are better for the environment, but they are just not the same.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Your Mom's Home-cooking

As I was throwing together a meatloaf based on my Mom's vague instructions and ingredient amounts, I was composing this in my head to a male audience, so I will go ahead and write it that way. Women, feel free to read it as well.

Before you annoy your wife or girlfriend with comments about how a certain dish isn't like your mother makes it, even though she says she's following the recipe your mother gave her, here's some things you should know. Despite what some people try and say, cooking is not a science; yeah, it may kind of be when doing a fancy, highfalutin recipe, but not so when doing a recipe that is a staple, an old friend. When your mom is making her meatloaf, her spaghetti sauce, or her apple pie it is more of an art-form.

Tonight I asked my mom for her meatloaf recipe and how to make it and she proceeded to give me all the ingredients without any measurements. As she was telling me how to make it and how many eggs to use, all she said was, “If you have enough meat, use two eggs, but you don't want to use too many eggs, then it will be “eggy.” About the tomato sauce she stated, “Just put enough in to make the meat a nice pink color.” Now, I could have chosen to be frustrated with these instructions, but I cook fairly often, so I understand the vagueness and hinting at certain attributes.

When I make my flavored chocolate cupcakes of various flavors, I actually use a “lemon-lovers pound-cake” recipe as my base. If someone were to ask me for the recipe, well, I would have no idea exactly how much cocoa to tell them to use or the amount of coffee, Andes mints, mint flavoring, or whatever else I decide to use that time. If I make chili, I don't use the same amount of garlic, chili powder, or even the same amount of beans each time, but in the end it always taste like my chili. Why? Because I made it.

When my Mom makes meatloaf she adds tomato sauce until it looks right and crackers until it feels right. I add chili powder to my chili until it looks dark enough and tastes how I think it should taste. Cooking the long-used recipes is, like I said, similar to because able to recognize an old friend. You don't know exactly how tall they are or their weight to the once. Instead you know them by how they look, smell, feel, and taste. Hmm, maybe a comparison to a long-time lover would be more accurate.

So your mom may have given your wife or girlfriend the “recipe” or your dad may have told you how to make his secret barbecue sauce; but, most likely, objectively they don't know the exact amounts of all the ingredients or how long to stir it, mix it, or mold it, because how can you ever fully describe an old friend? So suck it up, let your wife make the recipe her own, or try it out for yourself and make it your own (one of the reasons I enjoy cooking is because I know I'll like what I make). And maybe one day, though it's not exactly the same, you'll discover the recipe is an old friend of yours as well.

Note: in light of my last post, with all this talking about old friends tied in with recipes, I feel I should say, please do not eat any old friends. I do not endorse that. Further note: I make it sound like the wives and girlfriends do most of the cooking, I have always cooked, so I know that is not always the case. I am sorry if I seemed to be promoting the stereotype of the woman in the kitchen. I strongly think men should be there as well, especially those who always gripe about how their love's cooking is not like their mother's. I have decided that when/if I get married, when I want something similar to my Mother's and different than my wife normally does, I will simply volunteer to cook, instead of making a big deal of it...and plan to cook lots of other times besides.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Zombies Attack America! or Why A Zombie Apocalypse Is Coming

Zombies attack America! *

Please keep in mind that this is primarily for entertainment purposes.

While I was in the shower this morning I thought about how wasteful showers are of water, which lead me to think of resources, which caused me to realize, that in the back of my mind I think our society is someday and somehow going to break down. I've been thinking for a few years that eventually I want to own land and be as self-sustaining as I can. My primary reason is simply that I don't like to be dependent, but a small part of me also whispers, “just in case.”

Just in case a virus is created which specifically targets the frontal lobe, which would take away our impulse control and much of what makes us human. Something that often occurs in warfare is a dehumanizing of an opponent, what better way to do this than to make them act little different than animals?

If you take away a human's higher brain functions, you leave them one of the most vulnerable creatures on the planet, especially if you are the stereotypical “obese American.” Also, deprived of our higher functions, I think we would largely become opportunists in in terms of our diet. So, you throw these two things together and ta-dah! The equivalent of flesh-eating zombies. In case you don't get it, the athletes would eat the, umm, husky people.

With such a potential threat to the rest of the planet residing in a country, not many would object to taking forceful action to deal with the problem, besides, the enemy is hardly human anymore anyway. So, there's the recipe for dealing with a country without causing the rest of the world to hate you and retaliate (as long as you can keep the secret of your releasing the virus).

So, stockpile your food and chose your weapons. As well as a shot gun (which I don't actually have, just so everybody knows), I'm going to keep my machete and hatchet handy (guns can malfunction and breakdown). Though, after having a discussion with the Emergency Response AmeriCorps Team I used to be a part of, we decided a small sledge hammer with an extended handle would be best (machetes and hatchets might get stuck in your opponent).

If you're stuck in a city, head to the inner city, because, though it will be more crowded, many of the shops are already fairly fortified. If you have the means, I recommend escaping to a small island with enough resources to sustain yourself, but keep in mind these zombies can probably swim.

Let's hope the virus isn't airborne and that it makes the zombies too stupid to use guns, otherwise, almost all of us are screwed. If it is airborne and you try to wear a mask, don't forget that the eyes are almost as susceptible to contagions as the mouth and nose are, so put on some goggles for good measure (or get a gas-mask).

*Note: this was written a few months ago, before the zombie-like attacks were reported in the news.