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Missing 9 review

Spoilers ahead.

The premise of the Korean show Missing 9 sounds great.  It’s a bit of a LOST takeoff, a group of people survive a plane crash only to be stranded on a deserted island where-in Lord of the Flies antics ensue.  I bring up LOST as an immediate comparison because for fans of that show it is impossible to not to see similarities, not only in the plot premise, but also in how the story is told.  (The Missing 9 creators are clearly replicating at least the flashback-present time switchback).  Missing 9, however goes more the direction of Lord of the Flies (and perhaps some Swiss Family Robinson) than heading off in the LOST no man’s land of science fiction. Although it would have been fun to see the Korean version of LOST with island monsters, time jumps, and the whole lot, not going in that direction is actually a strength of Missing 9.  At least initially.

For the first few episodes the fairly simple plot of Missing 9, the brief history of the celebrities and employees of Legend Entertainment, their plane crash and subsequent stranding on a deserted island somewhere off the coast of China, works. And it even still works once the people are pitted against each other on the island.  Where is fails is that one character ends up being a murderer bent on killing anyone who gets in his way.  For episode after episode he is the sole bad guy and the sole conflict the rest of the survivors have to fight against on the island. The plot rapidly gets old at this point and I actually stopped watching it and simply read through plot summaries of the rest of the show. Talk about mediocre ending.  I’m all for characters ending up happy, but partying with a murderer, even if he is soon to go back to prison, is a bit too much and actually makes light of what he’s done wrong.

Other things I liked about Missing 9 were the flashback scenes where everyone is dressed in beige or brown. It was an intriguing concept and it’s a shame it didn’t seem to go anywhere other than serve as a marker for which scenes were in the past. The soundtrack was better than most, both thrilling and nostalgic. The acting was also outstanding, especially the leads, Jung Kyung Ho (Falling in Love with Soon Jung), who is a very solid actor that exhibits old school charm (think Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant) and has complete mastery of both comedy and drama, and Baek Jin Hee (Pride and Prejudice (Kdrama)) who was a spot-on heroine and “average man” for the viewer to follow. Kim Sang Ho (City Hunter) is always a pleasure to watch and brings a subtle grounding to the production. His characters are always relatable and always seem to have good hearts. Choi Tae Hoon’s villain had a good progression of onscreen presence, but never really became a totally “love to hate” bad character that would have shot him to acting stardom. If they had cast Choi as the lead and Jung as the murderer, that would have given the show an amazing dynamic because Jung does have eyes that just pull one in. He would make a terrifying and thrilling villain and Kim’s character would be completely torn over love-hate as would the viewers. I also think that Choi would have faired better playing the lead as it would have necessarily forced him to have more expression on his face.

Missing 9 sounded like a must-watch, but ultimately failed to deliver. Better K-drama thrillers are Signal (2016) (probably the best TV thriller I’ve ever seen from any country) and Tunnel (2017).

On the Subject of Vaccine Safety

Out of curiosity, I recently watched the documentary Vaxxed. On its surface, the documentary appears to be anti-vaccine, but it’s not quite that. It is actually pro-vaccine, but questions the safety of vaccines, and especially the current schedule of vaccines for kids. After realizing Vaxxed was directed by Andrew Wakefield, I wanted to dig a little deeper.  Wakefield’s study back in 1998 was debunked, right?  He’s sort of a con artist, right?  If so, why, so many years later, is he continuing to try and inform people that at least for some of us, vaccines appear to be unsafe?

Let me tell you, I’ve read a whole slew of items on vaccines the past couple of weeks, books from the library, stuff on the internet, articles, studies, and so on.  I will tell you now that it is like going down a rabbit hole.  Just looking into Andrew Wakefield’s story alone is mind-boggling. Did he commit fraud? They say he did, he says he didn’t. He never claimed a direct connection with the MMR vaccine to autism, but was looking into a possible gastrointestinal (GI) effect that in turn caused autism. After hearing stories from parents who said their children were fine one minute, and not speaking the next, shortly after getting the MMR vaccine, Wakefield wanted to see if there was some kind of connection with GI issues, as all or most of the kids in the study had bowel issues.  The trouble is, in the press release for the study, he claimed a direct connection with the MMR triple vaccine, and he advocated using only the three separate vaccines for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella until further studies could be done.  Instant hoopla from the media.

There are a lot of troubling things about Wakefield, to be sure.  His study only had 12 children in it (though I’ve read/seen things elsewhere indicating there were 40+ other kids in the study). There are claims he faked some of the results to get what he wanted.  When one journalist, Brian Deer, actually took the time to investigate Wakefield (I know, what a novel idea, right?) he found that Wakefield had a patent for a potential vaccine to compete with the MMR vaccine. Wakefield claims this vaccine wasn’t really to be a vaccine at all, but a treatment for those whose GI systems have been adversely affected by vaccines (yet it is labeled in the patent form as a vaccine). Brian Deer is himself a bit of a sensationalist in his writing. He has an elaborate website detailing all of his stories. He has thrown a lot of accusations at Wakefield, which ended up getting Wakefield’s medical license revoked and his paper on the study redacted from the Lancet journal that printed it (you can still read the study on their website). Deer has his TV spot regarding Wakefield on Youtube, and I have to say, that although he may be correct, there’s still an seedy undertone to the whole thing, especially an interview with a really senile old man in the American South. This man is supposedly connected to Wakefield, but it was a very bizarre exchange to say the least. Wakefield and the others on his Vaxxed team (Del Bigtree a journalist who worked on the show The Doctors) don’t do their side any favors by often hosting meetings that seem a little to much like an old-time healing revival. In this whole story, Wakefield and Bigtree come across as being very well-spoken and charismatic, whereas Deer is the awkward, straight-talking journalist hunting the truth. There’s a sensationalist major motion picture somewhere in there.

So in watching Vaxxed, some of Wakefield’s interviews and interviews of other advocates for better vaccine safety (some are outright anti-vaccine), and then reading and watching what Brian Deer has to say, it’s difficult to figure out where the truth lies. I mean, Deer supposedly filed the complaint that ultimately got Wakefield’s license taken away. That strikes me as odd, but I don’t know if this is a common practice of journalists to in essence report their subjects to the authorities or to just publish the story and let the cards fall where they may. I also get the impression that just as the media didn’t really question Wakefield initially, neither do they question Brian Deer. This is troublesome, because it’s ultimately a failure of the media and journalism as a whole. When did the media become so lazy? Maybe they always have been lazy and we’ve just chosen to overlook it. And maybe I just haven’t done enough reading on this subject yet.

Aside from that whole story, the issue of vaccine safety is something people have instant opinions about, but if we’re honest, don’t really know much about. We want to believe the health care industry, the doctors, the drug companies, and the government all have our best interests at heart. But I think in our current time of universal deceit, especially from the media, we don’t know as much of the story as we should in order to make an informed decision. We want and do trust our doctors, but looking at the bigger picture, what if the doctors themselves have been lied to about the safety and/or effectiveness of vaccines? What if we all have been lied to? I bring this up due to Vaxxed’s biggest claim, that of having been contacted by a CDC whistleblower named William Thompson.  Thompson supposedly has a lawyer for whistleblowers and currently is still working at the CDC, though perhaps not in the same capacity.

According to Thompson’s phone calls (which were recorded without his knowledge), the CDC in doing their study (in which he was an administrator) to hopefully refute Andrew Wakefield’s study results, they deliberately hid and changed data that indicated a percentage of correlation (not causation) between the MMR vaccine and autism, especially when it comes to black males.  Some have asked that Thompson be hauled in front of Congress to give testimony.  To this date, I don’t think that he has been called.  This claim, that the CDC’s study actually found a high correlation with MMR and autism in black males is directly related to the current Measles outbreak in Minnesota.  Somalian mothers are worried about them getting autism from vaccines and so have not been vaccinating their children.

Let me add that lost in all this is that we are not really talking about a direct connection from the MMR vaccine to autism, but a connection between the vaccine causing GI issues that result in autism. Let me additionally add that anyone thinking rationally would come to the conclusion that the CDC’s study should be questioned every bit as Wakefield’s should. Their study was done at a time in which the drug companies, government, and health industry were under enormous pressure to restore the good name of all vaccines in public opinion. Vaxxed also states that the head of the CDC during this study shortly after went to work for Merck, one of the main drug companies making vaccines.

Now, if at that this point one was still “all in” for vaccines and trusts the CDC study, one really wouldn’t look much further, but I have looked further, and I really don’t know what to think.

One the one hand, it’s clear to me that vaccines in general do work to keep away certain diseases. However, after doing more reading, it has also become clear to me that this general idea is easily questioned, and for good reason. Take the flu vaccine. Why do so many people get vaccinated each year and still get sick?  Well, we know that the flu has many strains, so it could be a person vaccinated against one strain ends up catching another.  A second and probably more important reason is the timing of the vaccines. I don’t think it’s widely publicized enough that one should not get any vaccines if they are in any way sick or under the weather. The big push for the flu vaccine each year comes in fall/early winter, a time when everyone is stressed out, when the weather is getting colder, and when there is less sunlight.  All three elements tax many people’s immune systems. This can make someone susceptible to the very vaccine that is supposed to prevent illness.

Incidentally, I have found out that you can get the disease even if you have been vaccinated, and you can also possibly spread or be a carrier of the disease shortly after getting a vaccine. This was something I didn’t know, but then, this is the first time I’ve really looked into the criticisms of vaccines.

The main issue anti-vaxxers or those who question the safety of vaccines is the immune system component. Again, this was also something I didn’t know. I never knew the actual reasons and the basis of their arguments. Yes, I’d heard of the side effects listed on the vaccine inserts, and yes I’d heard of the stories of children and some adults being adversely affected by vaccines, but I never really understood the full argument against them. Most people know how vaccines work. The virus is introduced into our bloodstream and instigates our immune system making antibodies that will protect us against the virus if we ever are exposed to it. The argument against the safety of vaccines is this: Ultimately they overtax our immune system, something that most likely comes with a cost (possible auto-immune issues or GI issues that cause auto-immune symptoms).

We can see this line of thinking about the immune system is correct because the first argument pro-vaxxers jump to is that of: what about the poor children or others who can’t get vaccinated due to compromised immune systems?!? Leaving the moral dilemma of choosing one child’s well-being over another aside, that argument is somewhat conceding the point. These individuals have flawed immune systems. They are always at risk and are vulnerable whether vaccines exist or not. In fact they are so vulnerable they cannot even take the very vaccines that may save them. And why, again? Because vaccines tax the immune system. That is how they work.

Another interesting tidbit I’ve learned is regarding Measles. People don’t die from the Measles, per say; they die from pneumonia or some other such illness due to their immune system being so compromised. Measles also greatly drains the Vitamin A in a body. This is what causes blindness in some who get the disease because they already have depleted levels of Vitamin A and with the Measles it becomes almost nonexistent.  In places like Africa, vaccines aren’t going to work for the starving kids there until they are healthy, most often needing Vitamin A and other supplements. Once again, vaccines don’t work on compromised immune systems.

Let’s also take the idea of herd immunity.  On the face of it, herd immunity makes sense. If everyone is vaccinated, then the disease cannot be passed along and can even be eradicated from a certain location. But that doesn’t really hold up if indeed a vaccinated person can still get the disease and if vaccinated people can pass along the disease. And if the trade-off to a disease free life is a compromised and overtaxed immune system being passed down from generation to generation, this may ultimately lead to a society’s ruin. The herd immunity argument also brings up questions of freedom. If herd immunity is the only way for vaccines to work, then shouldn’t everyone be forced to get any and all vaccines available? Most liberty-loving people balk at such an idea, even if they think vaccines are completely safe.

Add to that the current fashion for “No Borders,” a policy instantly destroying any hope of herd immunity in a particular country (see Minnesota Measles outbreak begun by a “foreign” traveler).

It gives one even greater pause to learn that the current vaccine schedule is 60+ for kids and higher for adults (they are inventing more and more vaccines for all age groups). When exactly do we reach the point of too many vaccines? Have studies been conducted on the effects of getting multiple vaccines on a body? Throughout a lifetime? How about a developing baby’s body?

Another aside: I had no idea that we are now giving babies the Hepatitis B vaccine on the day of their birth. This is done despite there being no immediate risk (i.e., the baby’s parent’s do not have Hep B) to the baby and that it is usually a sexually transmitted disease, or something passed on by dirty drug needles.

Are anti-vaxxers really the crazy ones, here? Is there no point at which we can question the validity and effectiveness of vaccines, or at the very least, the need for more of them?

Let’s go back to Andrew Wakefield. So maybe he’s a con artist. But what about other studies (and the anti-vaxxers claim they are out there both before and after Wakefield’s time) on GI and Autism? What if, in the process of vaccines taking our immune systems for a workout, the balance of our bodies is damaged, including the GI equation? This is not even to mention the other harmful elements in a vaccine that may adversely affect our immune system and our gut. I don’t know many people who would deny they feel and function better when they eat healthy foods. If someone has difficulty digesting their food it can drastically affect their body, and, yes, brain function, as they may not be getting the adequate nutrition they need.  I know this from personal experience as I grew up with major GI problems myself. In America in particular, our diet is often vitamin depleting, so we have these nutrient-deprived bodies that are getting more and more vaccines all the time, and I have to wonder if our immune systems are having trouble keeping up. In addition, is this problem is being passed on to our kids and then getting compounded when they get vaccines as well?

Wakefield’s big thing was to administer the vaccines singly and over a more reasonable time frame, giving young children’s bodies the time to adjust, indicating that as late at 3 years old would be a much better time to administer especially the MMR one. This isn’t unreasonable in general, but it could be very unreasonable if you’re a drug company planning a schedule of 60+ vaccines before the child turns ten. No way are you going to get parents and kids coming in 60 times just to get a poke in their arm. That problem is even better solved by creating multi-vaccines, like the MMR, that vaccinate for a few different diseases at once. So it’s really no surprise that after the excitement around Wakefield’s statement, they did away with the single vaccines both in the UK and the USA, leaving parents with no choice but to give their children the triple MMR shot.

And somehow parents aren’t supposed to wonder if they’re being lied to?

Add on top of that the fact that drug companies cannot be directly sued (at least in the US) for harmful effects of their vaccines. If you’ve heard of the “vaccine court” that’s essentially what the government put in place (thanks a lot, Reagan) in the 1980s. You go to the government entity and they decide if you are owed monies and how much. And where do they get these dollars, pray tell? A tax on each individual vaccine, more if it’s the multiples (if I recall it was $0.75 for a single and $2+ for multiples). The vaccine court has dished out billions to vaccine injured parties and their families, and the government keeps the rest. If there was a perfect scenario for corruption, this is it. Neither the drug companies nor the government have the incentive to withdraw a single vaccine from the market. At best, they would wait until there are so many people adversely affected (I think it’s supposed to be half the population will have Autism in the near future?) and so much harm done that they would be forced by the public to take such vaccine off the market. The vaccine court is similar to a huge failing of the Catholic Church: insisting that all priests be celibate and unmarried. They essentially set themselves up for failure, and the eventually public outcry was entirely predictable, especially since the truth of the child abuse was deliberately hidden for a long time. If that’s the Church, how can we  then place any and/or more faith in secular government and public institutions? We already know that both the government and large corporations lie to us. It’s really not much of a stretch to consider they may be lying to us about vaccines, especially when a jaw-dropping amount of money is at stake.

At the end of all of this reading and watching, I go back and forth between both camps.  Vaccines are good, vaccines are bad. Vaccines are flawed, but still useful.  It’s thrilling to read books like Splendid Solution: Jonas Salk and the Conquest of Polio and think, yes, how wonderful for those children at the time, and then disconcerting to find that Polio was already on the downhill before the vaccine was largely implemented, and that after its invention the definition of “polio” was changed. So “polio” is eradicated, but we now have Guillain-Barré and other syndromes. Most people wouldn’t equate renaming a disease to it being eradicated. Anti-vaxx sites will claim this has happened with other diseases, that they are renamed to show how much the vaccine is “working.”

If you’ll notice, I haven’t cited any sources for this article and that is because, if you are curious about the whole discussion on vaccine safety, go out and read and watch and make up your own mind.  Nothing I write will ultimately convince you either way. A lot of information is available on the CDC’s website, on the NIH website, on the vaccine court’s website, etc. We have Andrew Wakefield’s story. Did you know that a number of his colleagues were exonerated from blame? Was the study really Wakefield’s long con or is something else going on? If there’s one CDC whistleblower, are there others? What is the connection between our immune system and GI issues? How much do GI issues affect our bodies and our brains? What adverse effects, if any, do vaccines have on our immune systems?  On our guts? Is there a gut-brain health connection? If the choice regarding vaccines is not between certain death from a disease and a healthy long life, but a choice between probable immunization from a disease that you may or may not be ever exposed to or even be permanently damaged or die of and the possibility of getting an auto-immune disorder for life that makes even eating an ordeal, what would you choose? What would you choose for your children?

As much as I want to believe that vaccines are ultimately safe, the very fact that they do harm some, gives me pause. The fact that they are such “holy” artifacts to our society that the companies that make them cannot be sued, gives me pause. The fact that our government is making money on the vaccines gives me pause. The fact that Andrew Wakefield may have falsified his results, gives me pause. His results were only seriously questioned after Brian Deer’s reporting and complaint. How many other scientific studies, both in favor and against vaccines were, have been, or are currently falsifying their results?

The anti-vax sentiment is merely part of a larger one: The disillusionment of public confidence regarding institutions. We have a media that outright lies to us on a daily basis. We have a government that often lies, too, and worse, they are not being held to account by said lying media. Vaccines are one of the last holdouts in public confidence. With the passing of Obamacare, faith in the health industry as a whole (not to mention Congress) is rapidly failing.  It’s only a matter of time before the public starts to question vaccines on a massive scale.

People immediately take offense over vaccine safety. They jump to anger ahead of any other response when anyone questions vaccines. Those who question God in Bible study don’t even get such a response. On comment boards, pro-vaxxers eerily mimic those in the the pro-Global Warming (or whatever it’s called these days) camp. They say the “science is settled” and that people who question vaccines are “deniers.” Pro-vaxxers often wish a horrible disease-ridden death on anti-vaxxers and their children or anyone who merely questions the safety of vaccines. Why is this? Is this not a huge red flag in some way? Before doing all of this reading, I reacted with certainty, too. Weren’t anti-vaxxers needlessly putting other people at risk? Hadn’t that all been debunked? Yes, it has been debunked, but only if one has confidence in large corporations, our government, and our public institutions. I can say I don’t have confidence the way I used to. These large entities are only as good as the people who run them, and if those people do not possess integrity, or moral excellence, it is very probable these entities are corrupt and should be seriously questioned, not blindly followed, even, and perhaps especially, when it comes to vaccines.

However I think about vaccines today (and I go back and forth as I do more research and reading), I can at least say I am informed, that I understand the arguments on both sides, and that I am not blindly following. If you are pro-vaccine, I highly recommend you start researching the other side and really look at their arguments. Look at the studies, too, if you find you can trust them. Anti-vaxxers, or those who question vaccines, be brave enough to question the claims your side is making. Understand that the pro-vaxx sentiment is largely emotional, but so is the anti-vaxx side. The generation now in their sixties grew up with a major media, government, and drug company campaign regarding Polio. The March of Dimes, the iron lungs, the horror stories of what happened to the children. This campaign of propaganda (the benefits of the vaccine aside) was pushed largely when our parents and/or grandparents were young children. Ever see a child completely melt down if their parent has a single cigarette? Yeah, that’s what I mean. Most older people also may have no idea just how many vaccines kids are supposed to get these days. What was two or three back in their day, is 60+ today.

For me, this is the biggest issue with vaccines:  In the future there will be more and more of them, and more combined – 10 in one shot, then 20! Whispers about mandating them or that unvaccinated children are somehow “unclean.” Little to no incentive for either the drug companies, the health industry, or the government to pull in the reigns. Where does it stop? How does it stop? How do we even reach the place where we can calmly  discuss if it should stop?

–P. Beldona

The Useful Idiot: The Circle

Absolute freedom and absolute tyranny both can be defined and enforced starting with the individual.  If the individual is not free, neither is society as a whole. If individuals are tyrannical without resistance, society eventually becomes tyrannical. Both the left and right sides of the political spectrum often use the term “useful idiots” to refer to those individuals who are fanatical to a fault in believing in the cause of their respective sides. These individuals are useful in the sense that without them tyranny would not gain a foothold and fools in the sense that they willfully ignore the truth and fail to anticipate the larger picture for the future.

The Circle by Dave Eggers (now a movie starring Emma Watson) tells the story of one useful, unthinking idiot, generally a progressive, but only in the sense that she wants to be part of the “in” crowd. The readers gets the feeling this twenty-something, Mae, would joyfully promote whatever was deemed to be popular and eagerly becomes part of and instigator in what can best be described as a “happy” fascism (see Hitler happy face on Jonah Goldberg’s bestseller Liberal Fascism). Her story instantly brings to mind the timeless quote by C.S. Lewis:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

I read The Circle in about a day and a half. The book consumed me and I think not unlike the unhealthy way that media in general can consume an individual’s attention. It is a horror story in the purest sense, relating our own eagerness to create hell on earth and highlighting that whatever technology humans create, there is always, always a downside. That Egger’s writing reels the reader into being able not to do much but read the story, he is genius in recreating the addictiveness of entertainment and the desire to “know.”

The Circle fits into two story genres for me, the first and perhaps more benign one of young people (often women) obtaining a dream job in which the company consumes their life, draining and using them up all for the almighty dollar. This story belongs alongside The Firm and The Devil Wears Prada as much as it also belongs with 1984. The second category, those stories of totalitarianism is what makes The Circle rise far above the first genre.  In reading the story, those who are well-read or have seen totalitarian films or movies will find instant parallels to 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Minority Report, The Giver, Antitrust, and thousands of other, similar stories.

Mae’s useful idiocy in The Circle is truly amazing. The Circle is a modern tech company with tentacles in every conceivable human endeavor, clearly symbolic of Google, Facebook, Apple, and the like. The story is so horrifying because the consuming nature of social media and modern technology has become evident to all. People spend thousands of hours a year (including myself) scrolling through news feeds, trying out new apps, liking and disliking, and commenting on topics we know little about. We see daily how our privacy is constantly infringed upon, whether it be yet another requirement in airport security or cameras installed (with or without our knowledge) in our neighborhood. This is presumably all to keep us safe, but leaves us more vulnerable than every to tyranny.

Useful idiots are hard to resist because together they make up millions and millions of people.  Technology makes it easy to become disconnected to reality. Just think of all the people rapidly accepting the Transgender movement without question. It’s easy to take on a cause online. One doesn’t have to think or research or actually comprehend the larger picture. With social media, it is also increasingly easy to think that “online” equals reality. Think of when Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of girls in Africa. What was our response?  The #bringbackourgirls hashtag for Twitter. The Circle parodies this perfectly as Mae “frowns” at a militant group terrorizing another country and then becomes concerned that the militant group will, first of all care that she is virtually frowning at them, and second of all, take steps to stop their behavior. Laughably, she also worries that they will physically try to target and attack her due to her one “frown” among millions of others.

To perhaps highlight just how unthinking Mae is, Eggers shows her as a young woman eager to sleep with almost anyone, even those she’s really not attracted to. This relates directly to the social justice nonsense that people are some how “-ist” (racist, agist, sexist) if they have preferences along race, gender and so on for romantic partners. Just as Mae feels bad if she doesn’t instantly reply to any message from anyone around the world in The Circle system, it’s no jump to figure she would feel just as bad rejecting any of the same people’s sexual advances. One of her partners seems to only use her for sex and then suddenly, inexplicably, relies on her to save the planet from tyranny. Mae isn’t the only useful idiot, just the one we happen to follow in the story.

The part where The Circle implements “instant democracy” is profound. Mae herself still can’t just immediately mark or voice her opinion. She (who has a lot of influence and power by this time) waits until others have given their “smiles” or “frowns” before she herself chooses the most popular option. If there was one thing I could change about modern education it would be to have a class clearly discussing and explaining to young minds just what democracy is and means. Pure democracy isn’t much different from mob rule and the only reason the young champion it is because they are young and are being taught by totalitarians. If all of one’s opinions match perfectly with those already in power, it is easy to think that pure democracy is a great thing. It’s easy to think that the governments have every right to force their citizens to speak or even to think a certain way.

The true horror of The Circle is that it is an all-knowing, all-seeing, mandatory participation system created and run by humans. If atheists think God is awful or should be disbelieved for demanding holiness, they should consider the alternative: humanity trying to be God.  This is the “god” that Satan would have for the world. In this Tower of Babel system, people have no chance to opt out, no rest from interference from their fellow humans, and perhaps most importantly, no forgiveness and no real love.  It is an evil that Boromir of Lord of the Rings would say “does not sleep.”

As harsh, or rather as just as God is, for love of us, He made a way out of punishment and eternal damnation. In Hell, there is no God and no forgiveness. Hell’s inhabitants have no relief from the evil they have done and that is the basis of their torment. We joke that everyone online is permanent, but it’s really no joke, and past information on people (especially of a political nature) is often used as a weapon against them and by all sides.

The invasive tracking of the individual in The Circle also brings to mind biblical prophesies like that in Revelation in which people are forced to wear the “mark of the beast” to buy or sell anything. The ironic thing about constant surveillance and tracking is that it is at the same time very inept. If the NSA tracks our every keystroke, in looking for the criminals, their haystack is impossibly huge. In addition, even though the information is in the “cloud” or “ether,” it still needs a physical space to be stored and itself uses a ton of physical resources. Talk about a burden on nature.

The Circle was so horrifying to me because it’s not so much telling the future, but telling what’s going on right now. The good thing is that people are becoming tired of social media. The bad thing is, once the next big social media site has a foothold, the obsession will start all over again. It’s at once great and also terrifying technology. People are peer-pressured into only sharing positive things online. People are increasingly (myself included) mistaken in the importance of their own opinions and thoughts. People are pushed into holding up only the popular or politically correct views and are more and more afraid of listening to any other views. In fact, young people especially, are starting to believe that any view that doesn’t conform with their own, or that of their college professors, is dangerous, and–even more remarkably–as physically dangerous to their person. This is where the “snowflake” accusation comes into play. We are attempting to make the world into a place where no negative or bad thing is spoken, seen, heard, or felt.  However, as any realist knows, this is futile. It is impossible to erase all of the bad things in the world and it is impossible to make utopia. This experiment is bound to fail in the long run, and worse than failure, will likely end with totalitarian oppression that must be overturned with physical violence. If one side will not listen to the other, if we “don’t use our words” as Stefan Molyneux often says, “we must use our fists.” This is no more clearly shown in episodes like that of the Berkeley riots against anyone on the “right” side of the political spectrum, and the rise of Antifa, purportedly a group against fascism, but fascistic itself and prone to physical violence against anyone who merely disagrees with them. Brave new world indeed.

Darkest before Dawn

The little ironies of life are funny sometimes.  Often when we think we look our best, we feel great all day, go home and look in the mirror and find that the feeling doesn’t quite match our appearance. Perhaps there’s food stuck in our teeth or dandruff on our shoulders. Maybe we have sweat stains under our armpits and a spot of toothpaste pooled on the bottom of our shirt. We may in actuality have looked pretty scary, but we felt great and so acted great and happy all day. We were at our best even if an outsider would say we looked our worst.

In contemplating the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ this Easter Season it struck me how when things look bleakest, those are often the most significant and important moments. By all accounts on that morning of the third day, Satan had won. No one’s sins were forgiven, and everyone was doomed to be apart from God and with Satan forever in the torment of Hell. The women walking to Jesus’ tomb were in mourning for their dearest friend. They were shocked to find that he was alive. Jesus was alive again after suffering the punishment of God’s wrath in our place. He took on our sin and gave us his holiness, his perfection, and his death was his finest moment, even though an outsider would have said it looked like he failed. But he didn’t fail; he rose again, conquering, death, sin, and the Devil all in one fell swoop.

If it’s ironic that we often feel at our best when often we actually look laughable, how much more fascinating is it when we feel at our worst. Some days, nothing seems to go right. We are crabby, we snap, we burst into tears, and we make one mistake after another and by the end of the day we wonder if there’s anything lovable or even likable about us at all. For Christians, we fill those times with the comfort that God always loves us no matter what. Still, we may feel we failed, as people, as Christians, as witnesses of that love. Sometimes when we feel at our worst, sure, it’s true, but sometimes we feel at our worst, but realize later that we may have been at our best. We may have been crabby yet brutally honest with someone who needed to hear the truth. We may have smiled in solidarity with someone else who was also having a bad day. Ever think you gave an awful performance or speech and everyone else thinks you were great? We scratch our heads at that, right? What are other people seeing that we don’t see?

The truth is, as much as we know ourselves, we don’t know ourselves very well. The picture of ourselves in our heads is a far cry from what others see. And, generally, that’s a blessing, for other people are far kinder to us than we are to ourselves. For Christians, God uses us as our weakest moments to shine brighter in his name, because it’s all not about us, but that wonderful salvation. And those moments that are the hardest, those times when we are really struggling, those are the times we grow the most as people.  Those are the times we learn the hard lessons and we learn the truths about love and live.  We don’t know it at the time, of course, and later on we discover we’ve grown gorgeous butterfly wings and think, how did I get here? How did God get me here? And sometimes we realize it was those dark moments, and sometimes we never know when it was that we grew.

For myself, those times when I’m feeling down and I’m definitely not at my best and I’m stalling with writing, I find myself thinking about how it’s always darkest before dawn. My prayer is that in the moments of despair, God will push me to hope. And I do find that after a time of heartbreak or melancholy, my mind is more focused, my story ideas brighter. I don’t always notice it, but when I really think about it, when things are going well, I don’t work as hard, I don’t try as hard, and I become soft and slothful. If it weren’t for the dark times, I wouldn’t be writing at all. The joy of anything in life, especially Easter and the Resurrection shines out the brighter because there’s something to contrast it against. I have to wonder if that’s why God started it all in the first place. I mean, he knew we were destined to sin, to go against his will and holiness, but he loved us so much and maybe loved that contrast that at once makes human life so perilous and so precious, that he found it worth it to create us, that it was better to create us with both the peril and preciousness rather than not create us at all. That it was better to have to face the suffering of the cross for our sake rather than face nothing at all.

Yes it’s darkest before dawn and sometimes it seems like dawn will never come, but sometimes dawn comes so slowly it creeps up on us and one day we stop and think, “hey, I’m happy!” Life is so miraculous and ironic and such an adventure. Just when we think winter will never end, the earth shakes off its slumber and teems with new life. Just when we think we hit rock bottom several fathoms ago we come to find that we helped someone without knowing it, or inspired someone, or wrote all our tearstained poems in perfect iambic pentameter. Life’s kind of exciting because we actually don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do. We don’t know what we are capable of until put to the test. It’s at once terrifying and fascinating, and even in those moments when we really, truly fail or behave awfully, we take it to heart and learn from it whether we want to or not.

Happy Spring, Happy Easter. When you think you look your best, don’t forget to check your teeth and when you’re at your worst remember that butterflies have those beautiful wings from struggling out of that binding cocoon. Without that struggle the butterflies would be fragile and weak, with it their wings are strong and they can fly out in to the world and beautify it. Without the cross, Jesus couldn’t have given us salvation and eternal life. Anything worth having comes with struggle. This is the tightrope we walk in this world of sin.

Romans 5:3-5 says: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (NIV)

When a Snail Falls in Love: Less Is More

“Less is More” is a common enough phrase, but rarely is it shown well in TV land. TV and movies more often than not, live in excess, clocking in far longer than the stories warrant and sometimes turning amazing shows at the beginning into shallow shells of themselves at the end. Romances or romantic comedies can be especially troublesome with this, throwing obstacle after more bizarre obstacle in front of the would-be happy couple in order to get in just one more episode.

The Chinese drama When a Snail Falls in Love, makes all the right moves where others fail. First off, the episodes are short, only thirty minutes, instantly increasing the pace compared to other shows. Second, although it’s a love story, that part is sparse at best, making the romantic moments that much sweeter, subtle though they may be. In fact,  the ending may be the only glaring part in the romance with (spoilers) a sudden kiss and proposal. At the same time, though, the couple has earned it by sticking to the case and having each other’s back. Thirdly, the main story is a police crime drama, not merely a cover story for the romance.  Despite the cute drawings the main character does, the story is anything but fluffy, with a ton of great action scenes and amazing cinematography that screams awards shows. It is also helps that the setting is somewhat exotic–southeast China (I think), and Myanmar.

The “snail” in the story is Xu Xu a psychological profiler, played by Wang Zi Wen.  Xu Xu’s deduction skills are top notch, but she’s not super athletic and is continually at risk for not being able to meet the physical standards of the police force.  She isn’t a bad cartoonist either, and quickly makes an animal cartoon character for each of her coworkers, including the boss, Ji Bai, who is her “lion.” Ji Bai (played by Wang Kai) is both good at his job and is also very athletic. His action scenes are pretty awesome as he uses his long legs to kick in one bad guy after another.

Xu Xu didn’t seem terribly interesting at first, but by the end she’s grown into her own and the audience can see why she deserves a spot on the force. Not only does she strive to meet the physical standards, but she is an intuitive detective, spotting things others don’t and having a sixth sense for when something is off. She is also courageous and bold at unexpected times, like when infiltrating a gambling den. Her alien watchfulness at the beginning (think Sherlock Holmes) becomes more feeling and animated by the end, perhaps due to her finding love.

Ji Bai is a good leader admired by women and respected by his colleagues. He is one of those all around good guys and if he’s a little eager to rush into danger, it’s because he likes and is good at doing his job. He has movie star looks and skinny arms that are somehow endearing. His weakness for a childhood friend is shown to be just that as she (again, spoiler) turns out to be one thread in an entire carpet of swindlers, drug dealers, traffickers, and near-do-wells, all of which he presumably had no idea.

The best thing about When a Snails Falls in Love is its unpredictability.  One starts watching thinking it’s going to be a typical romance with a sheen of police drama over the top.  Oh no.  The police investigation IS the story, and how refreshing it is. One crime after another is woven together in a way that makes the show feel more like a very long movie than just a show. In fact, the investigation pushes the romance story line to the side pretty fast, making the cartoon drawings with the theme song extremely out of place until they are finally dropped and preserved in Xu Xu’s comic book diary.

When a Snail Falls in love has less running time that other shows, but does far more with it.  A shout out to the editors and the director Zhang Kai Zhou. They know how to get the most out of their actors and quickly get to the heart of scenes instead of wasting time with filler. The choice to put the focus on the crime solving is what makes it stand out in a sea of romance dramas.  When a Snail Falls in Love is available on dramafever.com and viki.com.

Random Thoughts

In considering what to write about this week, I had several things, so I’ll just touch base briefly on all of them.

  1. The King of Dramas is a great show. It entertained all the way through and everyone grew for the better in some way, especially the two protagonists. The only misstep I thought was the shoehorning of a blindness handicap into the story which was something really not needed. Perhaps it was meant as a satire on writers inserting such issues into TV shows, etc., but as a whole I didn’t think it worked.
  2. War and Peace. I am still reading, though it is sloooow going. Page 200 is in sight.  Only 800+ more to go. I greatly appreciate it’s not all battlefield descriptions or I would seriously be depressed.
  3. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster. Forster is easily one of my favorite authors.  I love A Room with a View and have read it many times. This book is sort of a precursor to that and is about a young widow who goes to Italy and ends up engaged to a poor Italian a lot younger than herself. Her inlaws are horrified. Great fun so far and I can easily see how this story morphed into A Room with a View.
  4. Population, Resources, Environment: Issues in Human Ecology by Paul Ehrlich. My brother plumbed the thrift stores to find this publication from 1970. I’m reading it to do “opposition research” as he calls it. Ehrlich and his book The Population Bomb was more or the less the beginning of the current environment vs. human hysteria–I don’t even know what it’s called now. Climate change, I think? What’s next, changing the name again to the weather and then saying people who disagree are weather deniers? Oh, man, let’s just do that. So much fun. Anyway, I detest this whole idea that there are or ever will be too many people in the world. The world was built for humanity. Some hilarious quotes so far: “Spaceship earth” is “filled to capacity.” 2017: 7+ billion and growing – 1970 was about half that.  The earth is not full, not even close. This one had me nearly rolling on the floor in laughter: “Demographers who are interested in the total population of the planet work primarily with birth and death rates since there has been no migration to or from the earth.” A well of entertainment this book is. To be fair to the author I think he’s stepped back on some of his claims since then.
  5. Silence by Shusaku Endo. First, I am appalled I’ve never heard of this book before. Second, as a Christian I find the story intriguing. Do and will Christians hold to their faith in the face of real physical harm? Would I? Haven’t started reading it yet, but if I like it I will also try out the movie by Marin Scorsese.
  6. New Kdrama: Perfect Wife. Viki.com has it (I bounce between them and Dramafever). I watched episode one not really grasping what the show will be about.  The main character, Shim Jae Bok, is a woman in her thirties with a couple of kids and a not-so-faithful husband, but there’s a strange twist of someone behind the scenes manipulating events to incite her husband to cheat on her and to also get their family to move to a certain house. Sung Joon is in the cast as an annoying younger coworker (and future love interest?) and the cheating husband is played by Yoon Sang Hyun. Shim Jae Bok is played by Ko So Young who in this looks eerily like Rosamund Pike from Gone Girl, so I felt this foreboding while watching it.  By the end of the episode I wasn’t clear on where the story is heading, but I kind of like that. Viki.com has at least up to Episode 9 subtitled in English, so I’ll have to catch up at some point.  Other drama recommendations: Goblin, When a Snail Fails in Love (Chinese one), and She Was Pretty.

–P. Beldona

The Show Must Go On

It’s funny that when one is working on a project, one sees similar themes and ideas everywhere. I am–probably too–proud of the fact that I’ve taken a scene I knew was bad and am rewriting it. Sometimes I think parts of my story are bad, but then in reading them later, think they are ok and keep them. It’s tough with writing because you can read your own stuff one day and think it stinks and the next barely recognize it and think, “who is this brilliant writer?  Can’t be me, can it?”  But some scenes are bad from the beginning, bad ideas, uninspired, and so on.  I’m excited because I genuinely found one I wanted to change and know the new one will serve the story better.

Speaking of rewrites, what person calls themselves a writer and thinks there will be no editing? No rewrites? No criticism? Now imagine that writer is writing for movies or TV and can’t stomach the possibility of their script being changed?  Bizarre.  I mean, who doesn’t know that the script changes constantly, especially when filming starts, and if it’s bad with movies, what about TV shows?

But I’m rambling. I’ve been watching this kdrama called The King of Dramas. It’s an awesome show with a huge flaw in that the writer lives in this fantasy of “no revisions, no changes” to her original script. Fortunately, she is learning (like I am) as the episode sprogress, but still. Her rigidity stuck out like a sore thumb at first and it was hard to suspend my disbelief.

The King of Dramas, or, in my mind, The Show Must Go On! with same-titled song from Moulin Rouge, is a 2012 kdrama about producing a Korean TV show. With epic music and everything from mafia financing to last-second deadlines, this show will have you wondering how any dramas are made at all. I mean, who would want all that stress and headache? And it become clear why showbiz people can be a bit neurotic. Anthony Kim (Kim Myung Min) is Macbethian in his strive for power, with ruthlessness and an alarming propensity for lying. Kim, the actor, has a magnetic presence about him and although everyone claims to dislike him you get the feeling they secretly want to be on his team.

The naive, stubborn writer is played by Jung Ryeo Won, and it’s refreshing to have a heroine for whom romance will turn out to be incidental. She’s also not overly crazy, mannish and loud, but womanly and thankfully doesn’t have any part-time jobs. I like the down-and-out-girl-with-10-jobs-and-a-relative-in-the-hospital, trope but it’s nice to have a break from it. Lee Go Eun is refreshing in her normalcy. Jung Ryeo Won also has a unique look that compliments her thoughtful character.

The comic relief in the show falls on the chosen lead of Lee Go Eun’s script, handsome and famous Kang Hyun Min. This guy fits every bad stereotype of an actor–vain, money and fame hungry, selfish–and he’s hilarious! Choi Si Won overcomes his distracting Ken-doll  looks by actually…acting, something that other K-pop stars seem to take eons to figure out.

Both male leads are jerks and the farthest thing from husband material. I’m about halfway through the series and am wondering if they are going to go with a love story eventually and if either will prove themselves worthy enough for the quite nice, but stubborn writer.  And being that she’s working with overbearing people, it’s also a good thing that she’s so stubborn, but I’m glad she learns to do some self-reflection when it comes to her writing. And the show is actually fine without a love story, so different still.

My favorite character, though, is the middle-aged cutie Jung In Gi. He plays recovering alcoholic director Koo Young Mok. Jung’s a bit more disheveled in this than I’m used to seeing (he’s in a ton of Korean shows and movies), but he adds much needed gravitas when the others are too over the top. He also is very believable as a kdrama director and steals a lot of his scenes simply by his presence. He’s a likable father figure to the younger characters–someone who has “been there, done that” but is still struggling himself.

I don’t know what else the real writers of The King of Dramas will throw at their characters in the remaining episodes, but I’m guessing there’s a good many inside jokes going on for those whose careers are built in show-biz. No matter the country or culture, entertaining people is rarely as easy as it seems. And somehow the shows do go on and on and on in miraculous precision.

–P. Beldona