Into the Wild - A Movie Dialogue

Into the Wild is the true story of Christopher McCandless, an Emory Univeristy graduate who became fed up with society, traveled the country without any money, and made a trip to Alaska. As with all of my reviews, this one has spoilers.

Throughout the movie, I struggled with the idea of whether it is wise to go out and discover the "truth" in the wilderness all alone. The idea of isolation is a glorified concept ever since Thoreau and his experience at Walden Pond. Our culture is fascinated with the self-sufficent individual. My reaction to the individuality of our culture has been just the opposite. I long to share my life with people. I have always thought that God was experienced more in community than in a beautiful meadow alone. This movie made me question that. Would it be good for me to go and experience God all alone for forty days like Jesus did? Should I? It was a real wrestling match. Maybe in the end the healthy life is a combination of both isolation with God and a shared life with others.

At other times throughout the film, I envied Christopher and the community he experienced while traveling the nation without any money. Part of me wants that life. At times I was ready to sell everything and hit the road. I want to share my life with others and have a good time just like he did. It seems like money, selfishness, and material goods get in the way of doing that. The poor seem to have better community than the rich. If I have to become poor to experience life more fully, then that is what I want to do. Then I struggled with the idea of my children. I do not want them to grow up poor. Deep in my core, there is apparently a clinging to the belief that money is essential to happiness or I would be fine with raising my children without much money and material possessions. This movie revealed that about me, and I just do not know what to do.

In the end, Christopher began to die. The movie makes it look like he was poisoned from eating poisonous seeds. Apparently, outdoors men that know about nature and the area he was in do not know if that is the real story. He might have just been dying of starvation and thought it was the result of the seeds. Whatever the reason, Christopher was dying alone in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. Before he died, the movie and his writings seem to show that he began to understand what life was all about. It took going into Alaska, living by himself for over 100 days, and dying to figure it out.  May we be able to learn the real meaning of life in time to enjoy it.

He inscribed in his book, "Happiness is only real when shared." This is a complete reversal of his previous thought, "You're wrong if you think the joy of life comes from human relationships." It was only when he was faced with death that he made the decision to forgive his parents, throw away his made up name, and take back his real name. There in that "magic bus," Christopher learned to forgive. He heeded the words of the old man that wanted to adopt him: "When you forgive, you love. And when you love, God's light shines on you."

This movie made me long for community, to share my life with people and get to know them. I know that when I go to work tomorrow, I will strive to be what I should be every day. I will try to listen to people who need to share their hurts, wishes, excitement, or any other thing. I will look for ways to help those around me. What a tremendous story. I am blessed to have watched it. I am sad that Christopher died.

Happiness is only real when shared. Let us share life.

Entertaining: 3/5
Inspiring: 5/5
Ethical Thinking: 5/5

Obama the Celebrity - Is Celebrity a Negative?

The McCain campaign released a television attack ad against Obama yesterday focusing on three issues: Obama's celebrity, his refusal to support offshore drilling, and that he will raise taxes. The funny thing about this attack ad is that it was all true although he twisted them without intelligently dealing with. The other interesting thing is that these "attacks" are all viewed as positives by Obama supporters.

The McCain camp wants me to link Obama's celebrity with the irresponsible celebrities like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears who are partiers, alcoholics, and a terrible parent, but the case just does not stand. When I see Obama's celebrity, I think charisma. Obama's just a politician, yet he has somehow become celebrity. Something about his person and his message of change has connected with the American people and the people around the world. That is the only reason he, as a complete underdog, was able to go against the Clinton political machine and win. McCain asks in the commercial if Obama is ready to lead, but if the savviness with which he has ran his campaign and the event-making machine with which he has garnished media attention transfers into the way he operates the presidency, he will be able to get the American people behind him to bring about change in Washington.

The Republicans like to say that Obama is all fluff, but anyone can go to his website and read all of his stances on various issues. He is not all fluff. One does not have to be fluff to connect to the American people. In the end, I do not think it is fluffiness that the Republicans dislike about Obama, it's those stances on the issue that they disagree with. In regards to the various attacks, I will be quoting from his website.

As for his stance on taxes, Obama says that "he will reverse most of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers." His tax policy highlights the government making spending cuts if they make tax cuts or tax increases to pay for new proposed programs. This is called PAYGO in political lingo, which means the government pays for its decisions as it makes them. He also proposes to "cut pork barrel spending," "make government spending more accountable and efficient," "end wasteful government spending," "end tax haven abuse," and "close special interest corporate loopholes." He explains these stances more thoroughly on his website. That sounds like a good tax plan to me. McCain says that Obama wants to raise taxes on the wealthy and that sounds fiscally responsible to me at this time.

As for Obama's stance against offshore drilling, McCain is right in stating that Obama is against it. The commercial states that, but it does not go into Obama's thought out reason why. His reasoning is that the oil companies should start drilling with the land contracts that they already have. His website states: "The 68 million acres of stockpiled leases have the potential to produce an additional 4.8 million barrels of oil each day. This would nearly double total U.S. oil production. The Obama plan would force oil and gas companies to either produce or pay a fee on unused federal onshore and offshore leases they are stockpiling." I know that my grandparents signed a contract with an oil company for the oil under our farm around fifty years ago. The contract has no sunset clause, but the oil company has not began to drill. The oil companies would much rather profit from federal oil rather than drill for the oil they already have the right to drill. I say that we let the people's oil increase in value while the oil companies start to drill the oil they have the right to. Offshore drilling seems to just provide an easy out to explain away the gas prices when it is really insignificant. The oil companies need to build more refineries, drill the oil they already have access to, and start investing in energy from renewable sources.

Still being undecided, I know what Obama's message is: "Change we can believe in." I still really have no idea what McCain's message is. McCain used to be a candidate for change, but the "straight-talk express" isn't talking about change or his own message all that much anymore. I want change in Washington. McCain should have commercials focusing on the changes he wants to bring rather than resort to the traditional political attack ads that I hate. I really do not appreciate politicians dealing unfairly with other people's viewpoints rather than dealing intelligently with the issues.

The Dark Knight - A Movie Dialogue

The Dark Knight has smashed the records. It became the fastest movie to reach $200mil. It earned 158.4 mil on its first weekend, setting another record. A lot of people are seeing it, and then seeing it again. I won't be joining that list. As is the case in my movie writing, I will not be critiquing the acting or directing, just discussing the theme and prevailing thoughts of the movie. So there will be no drooling over the job done by Heath Ledger here.

*Spoiler Warning
*Spoiler Warning

The movie is very scattered in developing a point. The name of the movie and the conversation at the end make the argument that a hero should be willing to be looked down upon in order to benefit the people he is trying to help. Batman was willing to be a "dark knight" rather than a knight in shining armor when he decided to take the fall for Two-Face's shift to evil. I would agree that a hero should not be concerned about how he is perceived, but I would not agree with the lie that Commissioner Gordon and Batman agreed to tell in order to let the people have hope. This point highlights my frustration with the movie, and American leadership in general. There is this general conception that the public is stupid and not able to handle the truth like those in leadership can. Left unchecked for a while, this view of leadership will lead to a lack of accountability, which in turn will lead to ever-increasing abuses of power. It is definitely not the characteristic of a hero, but that is why Batman is a dark hero.

After I left the movie, I felt that I just sat through a propaganda film trying to manipulate me into believing that it is okay to be violent to those that are unstable in this world. It was like an argument for American military involvment in any of the troublespots around the world because we always characterize the leaders in those places as unstable and impossible to negotiate with. Batman and others reiterated the point throughout the film that the Joker is the type of person that one can only resort to violence to get under control. The problem with taking this logic to its conclusion is that it would be done through impulse rather than some scientific criteria to define who is psychotic. Leadership, and the general public, would inevitably begin to loosely define what makes someone so crazy that he cannot be communicated with. Everyone that holds a different point of view would eventually be classified as a crazy person that needs to be brutalized into agreeing with us or restrained from being different. Soon we would have people fighting one another while both argue that the other is the type of person that can not be negotiated with. Actually, we might already have that. It is kind of like "just war" in that every side always makes an argument for why their view is just. In this scenario where we could use violence against the individual, or leader of a nation, who we perceive as being mentally off, everyone would make the argument that their foe is mentally off and a good example of someone that would only respond to violence.

Combine these first two points and we are left with a handbook on being a dictator. Christopher Nolan is the Machiavelli of our time.

Commissioner Gordon was almost a hero in the movie, but then he decided to go along with the lie to protect the citizens from losing hope from reality.

Two-Face was an example of falling when the cards don't go your way. When tragedy happened, he folded and used his disfigurement as an excuse to be the evil person that he always had inside of him. He was not strong enough to withstand difficult circumstances.

In the end, the only redeeming people in the whole movie were the citizens on the two boats who the joker tried to have kill each other; the criminals moreso than the regular citizens because the prisoner took the trigger away from the guard and threw it out of the window while the citizens decided to kill the prisoners. However, the logic behind the general public being the true hero was kind of strained because earlier they blamed the people for allowing the city to become the way it was. This view also does not go along with the idea that the public cannot handle the truth. The refusal to by the people to blow each other up was the redeeming moment in the movie, but the theme was not developed consistently or well.

I left the movie disgusted by the thoughts, but it was an entertaining flick and led to a good hour and a half discussion afterward about the themes. It inspired me to go kill that stupid guy that just won't agree with my points in my movie reviews because he is just irrational and not one that can be dealt with by reason.

Entertaining: 4/5
Inspiring: 1/5
Ethical Thinking: 5/5

Updated Best Freeware List

I updated my best freeware post today after searching for new and improved freeware after my computer was lagging the other day.

An updated post

I rewrote my post on Obama flip-flopping if you would like to read it.

Two lengthy posts up on Dewey and Educaiton

I have started to use Hubpages as a way to organize my posts and to also post my lengthier scholastic writings in such a way that they do not bog my blog. Although I noticed that your rating gets hammered when you write political posts because people evaluate your writing on the political opinion expressed rather than on whether it is a well-written piece.

Here are two new scholastic posts with excerpts.

Review of Dewey and Education:

In Experience and Education, John Dewey attempted to lay a foundation explaining what constitutes progressive education. From the time he started to explore progressive education in practice when he established The Laboratory School at the University of Chicago in 1896 to the time of the writing of this book in 1938, John Dewey had seen both good and abysmal attempts at creating new methods of education. Dewey wrote this book in response to the educators behind those misguided attempts at reform and the purveyors of traditional education who used those blunders as a straw man to attack progressive education. It was his hope to develop the principle of education "positively and constructively" rather than just reacting against the traditional education which he viewed as failing the students (20). He wanted people to stop worrying about labels, whether something is "progressive," "new," or "traditional," and focus on whether students are really receiving a good education (90). This book is an attempt to define what a good education looks like by defining the roles of the educator in progressive education.

Another excerpt:

The educator defends the individual from their own impulses by guiding the student's development of a clear purpose and keeping them on course. Dewey described the purpose as the "end-view." Purpose "involves foresight of the consequences which will result from acting on impulse." He further elaborates, "The formation of purposes and the organization of means to execute them are the work of intelligence" (67). It is a dangerous role to play when a educator stifles a student from pursuing their impulses in order to help them achieve their purpose. Dewey provides two ways for an educator to avoid overstepping their boundaries: "The way is, first, for the teacher to be intelligently aware of the capacities, needs, and past experiences of those under instruction, and secondly, to allow the suggestion made to develop into a plan and project by means of the further suggestions contributed and organized into a whole by the members of the group" (71-72). Although difficult and dangerous, the teacher should never lightly shirk their responsibility to keep their student on track for reaching their purpose nor should they stifle learning because it is going in a direction different from their interests.

My Educational Experience in Light of Dewey's Experience and Education

In examining the teachings of John Dewey with my educational past, I am amazed at how little he really impacted most of my teachers. Throughout high school and college, I have always been plagued with the question, "Why? Why must we learn this? What good will it do me?" I remember having this frustration with one of my advanced math classes in high school. My parents had me ask it of one of my uncles the "why" question because he is an engineer, but he did not provide me with a good answer. So I did the work well and received a good grade, but I still have a tough time seeing the relevance of sine, cosine, and all of the theorems we had to learn. They are safely secured in a "water-tight compartment" in my head, except maybe they have finally drowned.

And another excerpt:

Having been raised in a small town of 1,400 people with a school class size of sixty students, which decreased to around thirty after students went to vocational school during their junior year, and following that up with graduating from a small college where I had the same History professor, English professor, etc., for most of my classes, I have seen the advantage in the relationships built with my educators throughout the process. Bringing this process of education which is found successful throughout rural America into the inner cities might just give those teachers a hope of impacting children who have difficult situations outside of school, and it might decrease that extremely high dropout rate in the cities. Our educational system is in need of a drastic overhaul. If Dewey is right in that knowledge of the student is essential for the educator, then our current system of passing students along to another teacher year after year prevents the teacher from genuinely knowing the student.

Final Cancer Update

Good news! Despite some of what they removed from temple being not normal (they did not use the word cancerous and I cannot recall the confusing word they did use), I am all clear because they removed enough. The way I can think of explaining it is that I had a bad area that was the size of a dime but they removed the size of a quarter.

Two of the three other moles that they removed were "bad" (again I cannot remember the technical term) moles and could have been on their way to melanoma, but they were not cancerous yet. The surgeon says that I have shown a tendency to develop cancer so I need to be careful now. Now I just have to regularly visit a dermatologist and have everything removed that looks suspicious. I have a 90% survival rate for the next five years. Thanks to all who prayed for me. I cannot thank you enough.

Live as if there is a tomorrow!

Adding Digg to Blogger

Well, I decided to add Digg to blogger since someone went so far as to add a link in the comments of one of my posts. It had twelve diggs by people cutting and pasting the digg into their browser. I thought this would make it easier. I am sure that most of my posts will not have any diggs, but others seem to keep getting hits over and over again. People must digg them. Now I will let them have the opportunity to express that.

As for adding Digg to blogger, I found this great post on the subject. Start digging.

Another skin cancer update

We received back the lung x-ray results. They were good.

We are still waiting for the results from the surgery. I hope to receive the call today, but that is just my hope. And I pray that the news will be good.

After this, I will just have to start making regular trips to the dermatologist. I will also be happy to be a statistic that shows that the medical establishment can cure cancer despite the fact that I probably would have chosen not to undergo chemotherapy or radiation if the cancer was more severe.

A Protest of Media Bias - Obama's trip to the Middle East

I just read Howard Kurtz's article, 3 Anchors to Follow Obama's Trek Abroad, for the Washington Post in which he hinted that there was a news bias because the anchors of the three networks are traveling with Obama while none of the networks have traveled with McCain on his three previous foreign trips. Two of his ten paragraphs were focused on this point. I was ready to jump along and declare "media bias" until I started thinking about what is newsworthy. Te networks care about what will get ratings and McCain's previous trips would not draw the ratings like Obama's trip will.

For starters, McCain has been making the Obama foreign trip newsworthy because he has been challenging Obama to go back to Iraq and observe how peaceful it is there now compared to his first visit. Obama has been chided for wanting the United States to withdraw from Iraq. I find this funny since the Iraqis themselves have begun to ask for us to withdrawl (see Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki demands US withdrawal timetable). If it was not an occupation before, it definitely will become one if we refuse Iraq's request for us to leave. Obama should not be lambasted for actually agreeing with the Iraqi government that we should have a timetable for withdrawl for the American troops.

This trip is more newsworthy than McCain's recent trips to Mexico, Colombia, Canada, France, Britain, and Israel because those are all comfortable allies to the United States. Visiting Iraq, Jordan, or whatever other country that will be on the unannounced itinerary is much more newsworthy than visiting some of the comfortable allies of the United States. I would assume that the anchors know the itinerary and know that the stops are newsworthy, as least much more newsworthy than visiting Mexico, Colombia, Canada, Britain, and Israel.

Obama also used a nice strategy of linking this trip with exclusive interviews from the anchors. I would assume that the conversation went along the lines of, "Katie, do you want an exclusive interview with Obama? If you do, then you better come along on this trip because we do not know when we would be able to schedule one otherwise." Obama's political strategist show that they are very savvy. They have turned this trip into a spectacle by offering exclusive interviews and visiting Iraq. Obama would really make me happy if he made a detour into Iran. McCain should be upset at his strategist.

And finally, Obama has the ability to draw massive crowds. This is also more newsworthy than any of McCain's trips. Obama might speak to 70,000 Germans. That is quite newsworthy. He will probably draw large crowds all along his trip. In the end, this love from Europe might just backfire because Americans seem to have the tendency of Europhobia. If Obama is loved by Europe, it might turn away some American voters.

In the end, I think it is fair to say that the "biased" media is going on this trip because it is more newsworthy than any of the trips McCain has been on. McCain should create an exciting trip where he would go and talk to the leaders of Cuba, Iran, and Pakistan. A trip like that would also bring the anchors along. Newspaper columnists like Howard Kurtz should complain about McCain's campaign not creating a newsworthy trip rather than complain about bias in the media. The bias might be there but this is not an example of that. This is just an example of the Obama campaign creating an event that the media wants to cover because it will draw ratings.

On the Beach - A Book Dialogue

I recently finished Nevil Shute's On the Beach. This book was written in 1957 amidst the Cold War fears of nuclear annihilation. It has been made into two movies, one in 1959 starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire and a smaller budget film in 2000. Shute was a bestselling writer in his time. "In 2007, Gideon Haigh wrote an article in The Monthly arguing that On the Beach is Australia's most important novel." (From the Wikipedia article on Nevil Shute.)

It's now probably categorized as science fiction, but there really is no impossible science throughout the book. At the time it was written, it was an expression of the fears of many. Now, it is more of an alternative fiction, which is really what all fiction is anyway, of what the world would have been like if a nuclear war had broken out. To not get into the details too much, the story centers on Australia after a nuclear war had totally destroyed the northern hemispehere. Slowly, the radiation spreads south. Shute focuses on a group of people located in Melbourne who know that they are going to all die soon from radiation poisioning that is spreading south. It sounds bleak and depressing, which it is. The sadness of the book is the only reason I did not give it a perfect rating. It is excruciatingly sad.

As for the themes, the book tackles suicide. The government manufactured pills for people to take once they began to show signs of radiation sickness. There would be no possibility of recovery once the radiation started poisoning people; nobody could win this battle with death. Through the story, Shute asks, "Would suicide in such a situation be okay?"

The book made me wonder (not that my little bout with cancer hasn't also done this) if I am doing what I would like to do if I knew that I would die in three months. The people in the book were forced to ask this. In the book, most of the people just kept on doing what they had already been doing. I think I would do the same. I fell I am where I am supposed to be working toward where I am supposed to go. I wouldn't mind reforming the church I go to or planting a fresh start that would exhibit the love of Christ to one another and the community around them if reformation is not possible. We always think that we have all the time in the world to get things done right, but we just might not. We're frail creatures who are just blessed with a little time to share with one another here on earth. The only vain things that I I would like to do before I die is go to a Jack Johnson, Derek Webb, and, after last night's Last Comic Standing, God's Pottery concert. A trip to China and Japan would also be nice, but I would not want to leave any bills behind for Lindsay to pay.

In the end, the book really caused me to examine what should be valued in the world we live in. I think I am a better person for having read this book.

Entertaining: 4/5
Inspiring: 5/5
Ethical Thinking: 5/5

This book was so depressing that I do not know if I will ever read it again. I will definitely keep this book. It was great to read and challenging to my thoughts. It would also be a great discussion starter.

I love God's Pottery

Last night I watched Last Comic Standing and was sadly disappointed that the winner did not make me laugh once and the biggest loser made me laugh the whole time they were on stage. Okay, maybe not really the whole time. When they took the stage I really did not know what to think of them. But that didn't matter for long. They soon had me laughing out loud on my couch while I was the only one awake in the house. Great stuff.

So here's to God's Pottery.

I recommend listening to some of their clips. I only listened to the audio but I enjoyed The Pants Come Off When the Ring Goes On and Brand New Start With Christ. They will make you laugh, cringe, and wonder whether it is appropriate comedy. In the end, I think it is just fine to make light of ourselves once in a while. Enjoy the laugh. But don't listen out loud at work. Your co-workers might think you are crazy. While not inappropriate, the words are probably not something you want broadcast to those around you.

Using the flip-flop tactic again

Recent cries of flip-flopping have been hurled at Obama. I understand that the approach worked very well in 2004 in taking Kerry down, so it is no surprise that the same tactic would be used at trying to take down Obama.

What is not understood by the people proclaiming that Obama is a flip-flopper is that the desires of the American people have changed since 2004. Then, we wanted sure and steady. Now, we want change. Congress and the President have the smallest approval ratings in recorded history. This new environment brings a new set of American values. Flip-flopping, if understood as the ability to quickly change one's mind based upon new circumstances, appears to be in vogue now compared to the steady and unwavering decisions of President Bush.

Maybe branding Obama a flip-flopper will work on some, but I am obviously not the target audience of those attacks. Every time I hear another news story that Obama has flip-flopped, I breathe a sigh of relief and think, "Whew, this man can change his mind and his approach to situations based upon changing circumstances." Flip-flopping comes across as an asset.

Obama does have many flaws that the McCain camp could attack, but I think the flip-flop flaw might actually be an asset in this election cycle.

Another skin cancer update

The surgery went fine. Thanks to everyone who prayed for me. I am also very happy (in a vain way) that might skin did not want to stitch up the way they thought they were going to have to stitch it and my eye does not have a permanent squint. I will have the test results next week.

I was antsy on Monday and called my family doctor to ask if she could order the tests that my surgeon was going to order once the surgery was done in order to get the process on the road. I just want to be done with waiting for results. This has been such a long, drawn out process. She ordered the tests and Monday afternoon I went into the Defiance hospital for a lung x-ray and liver enzyme test. The results for the liver enzyme test came back good. I will find out on the x-ray today.

Things are looking really good.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy - A Book Dialogue

I am on a post-apocalyptic fix at the moment and just finished the Pullitzer Prize winning The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

It is a depressing story about a man and his child trying to survive in the gloomiest post-apocalyptic world I have ever seen. The author tries to shove hamfisted christological allusions about the son to the reader throughout the book through conversations that seem like they would never happen. Apparently, the book is supposed to mean more than it does on the surface because the surface is pretty bad, but I did not experience this book while sitting in a classroom with a professor who loved it; I purchased it while researching at Swarthmore and read it for my own pleasure. The books seems illogical and more allegorical, but the allegory never clicked with me. I disliked the artsy refusal to use quotations for dialogue. It was a distraction for me to get into the book.

Some people love this book. It has four stars over at Amazon. It did win a Pullitzer Prize and was selected as an Oprah's Book Club book. One reviewer described it as Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece. I just figure that if this is his masterpiece, then I will stay away from his other books. The only redeeming thing about my experience with this book is that it did drag me to the end. It might be that people who like this book were not deterred by the bad science set in an unbelievable post-apocalyptic book. I envy them. They were able to look past all that and enjoy a story of love and friendship between a father and a son.

One of the constant subjects of conversation between the father and the son centers around "What is a good guy?" The boy is genuinely good and loving in a completely desolate and hostile world. We see hope in the child. When they encounter a stranger, even one who has stolen from them, he tries to love. It makes me wonder how much of our love is just love because it is comfortable to love in our culture. If I was thrown into a setting like the father in this book, would I still be loving? Would I be loving if it meant risking my life day in and day out?

Entertaining: 2/5
Inspiring: 2/5
Ethical Thinking: 3/5

Quick Skin Cancer Update

I will be having my surgery next Wednesday. I feel fine, so I am very hopeful that it did not spread before they found it and that I do not have it anywhere else.

It's been over a month since it has been discovered. Talk about quick medicine.