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Fall Reading List: 2020

With the cooling weather, fall is a great time to curl up with a hot drink and a book. Okay, who am I fooling, I do that all the time, no matter the season. Here are some of the books I plan to read this fall.

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. Sadly, I didn’t get to read this classic this summer, so fall it will be. It’s one of my favorite reads and a great adventure story.

Partners of the Heart by Vivien T. Thomas. My mom has been bugging me to read this book for a few years, now, and finally I’m getting around to it. It’s about cardiac surgery and the two men who pioneered the program at Johns Hopkins University.

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier. Nothing like a du Maurier story, but add time travel and I’m sold!

Marriage by Decree by Ellen Fitzgerald. I am still wading through the tacky Regency romances. In this one, the heroine is American.

Restaurant to Another World, Book 1 by Junpei Inuzuka. Sometimes I do peruse the Manga shelves at my local bookstore. This one sounds promising and is also written as an actual novel. The chapter titles are all food dishes, so I will make sure to have snacks near me when reading it.

The Meaning of Everything by Simon Winchester. This is a second read for me, and tells the story of how the Oxford English Dictionary came to be. It’s one of those books that many would find boring, but I find fascinating and have wanted to read it again for some time.

House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig. A retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, a German fairy tale in the Grimm collection. I really like modern versions of fairy tales, especially if they are done well. One of my favorites is Cold Spell by Jackson Pearce, a retelling of the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson.

Heart of India series by Linda Chaikin. Starting with the book Silk, as a teenager I could not put this series down. It’s got romance and adventure galore and is set in the late 1700s. Somehow this series avoided being cookie cutter Christian fiction, an amazing feat in its own right.

This isn’t a full list, as I’ll likely pick up some Sherlock Holmes or Poe–’tis the season, after all. And always, always, am I finding new stories to read every day.

Those D’Urbervilles: A Review of Tess of the…

Thomas Hardy just may be my new favorite writer. Somehow I missed reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles in school and am sorely sorry I did. What a crazy, wonderful book. There’s much to love and hate about the story and that’s kind of why I like it–Great literature often produces polarizing views and opinions.

Because Hardy is writing in a time of more censor in art and entertainment, the scenes regarding the rape were unclear to me. Not that I wanted to read violence or anything, it’s just he wrote it in a way that even Tess herself didn’t understand she was raped. But Hardy makes it very clear she doesn’t like Alex D’Urberville, especially in the last part of the story. More spoilers ahead.

Tess is a sad, sad story, but it’s not a boring sad story: It ends with a cathartic, pathetic climax of both horror and ecstasy. I do not like the story itself, nor many of the characters, but it reminded me of another much hailed horrible story: The Great Gatsby by Scott F. Fitzgerald. Both of these books are somewhat the horrors of their times on display, written in gorgeous prose. Most of the enjoyment is in the writing itself, but as with Gatsby, there’s much to learn from Tess about the times in which she lived.

Again, we come to the problem of a woman in being young and beautiful. Here, my sympathy is roused, as Tess faces not only a rapist who impregnates her, but who, after encountering her later on continues stalking and pursuing her. Because she is poor and her husband who could have helped her has abandoned her, she has little defense against him. The story is intended to show how hypocritical society is towards young women who have been wronged in this way. The rape part aside for a brief moment, even still today a woman that sleeps around is reviled, where a man that does the same is often lifted up as having many conquests. Why this is the case, I’m not sure, but it has largely to do with the differences between the sexes, and there are many.

This is shown a bit in the story: Tess and three of her friends all are in love with Angel, our almost hero. One gets the impression that at least her friends would have all been perfectly happy to be in a harem with Angel. Maybe they think it would be better than nothing. Tess herself seems genuinely sad for them that they don’t get the desire of their heart. They also are genuinely happy that Angel chooses her. This is may be a bit of a fantastical view of women from a man’s point of view, but it is true that at least some women don’t seem to mind sharing a man. Men seem far less likely to agree to share their woman with another man, and a man who would, would automatically go down a few notches in a woman’s perspective of him.

I think the dichotomy between the sexes comes largely due to the fact that men are and should be the pursuers when it comes to romance. It just doesn’t work out when the woman is the one doing the pursuing, and that is the implication that comes to mind when we hear of a women having many sexual partners.

However, this is not our dear, beautiful Tess! In this story, Tess is an innocent teenager who has been raped. Society should have compassion on her; sadly, in those times, it often did not. Hardy doesn’t really show society’s rejection of Tess in full force. He shows it through one man: Angel Clare. Like his name, Angel is a fanciful head-in-the-clouds kind of person. He doesn’t take the religion of his parents seriously, has the luxury of being well off enough to have time to think and dabble in farming, considering making it his occupation. Being able to study, think, and write is really a form of wealth all on its own. Tess is quite a thinker herself, but she has to do it while doing physical labor or while making treks of miles and miles across Wessex, Hardy’s fictional English county.

Angel Clare is essentially modern society at the time, throwing off religion and taking up fanciful views of the people who work the land. He is a man who imagines himself to be very liberal minded, but when it comes down to it, it is the Christian love and forgiveness that would have served him far better than any liberal attitudes. Not that Tess really has anything to forgive. It was so, so hard to read the chapter when they finally got married and on their wedding night she still hadn’t told him that she wasn’t a virgin, when lo and behold, he suddenly brings up the topic. Angel, too, is no virgin, having had a fling one night. He is anxious that Tess would forgive him for this and her soul soars because she, too, has a similar sin to confess, and is thrilled thinking they will both forgive each other and that will be the end of the matter.

But as will people who profess to be tolerant, often one finds they are not. So it is with Angel. He rejects her almost instantly. Does he understand she’s been raped? Does society understand this about the incident? Tess’s mother certainly does, but she seems to be the only one. Tess is so in love with Angel, that she agrees to be a martyr, to take whatever punishment he meets out. Hardy says she would have been far better to act more the emotional women, to beg and plead at his feet, as then he would have been won over and relented. Hardy is referring to the fact that men are moved by women’s genuine tears; and to their credit, they so often are. We love that about men. Hardy also states that Angel’s father who is a preacher and very religious is far more full of forgiveness than the irreligious son. It is true that society so often promotes the judgmental church, that it forgets the church is also and much more so about forgiveness and love, and being able to start over no matter what–all things are possible with God.

Tess’s behavior in willingly letting Angel walk all over here is pathetic, but it comes from an unstable mind: It is unclear in the book until the end that Tess understands that what Alex did to her was wrong, though she is afraid of him and talks about doing him harm if he keeps showing up in her life. It is also clear that Angel’s rejection is merely a picture of society’s rejection of her. At this time Tess would be perfectly happy to die at Angel’s hand as punishment for her sin. This foreshadows her death at the hand of society for another, worse, sin. Tess really has no outlet for sharing her sorrows, for the guilt of the rape is placed on herself, i.e., she never should have put herself in that vulnerable position. While it’s true that sometimes young women don’t use common sense in dress and behavior that encourages unwanted attention, I don’t think it’s fair to blame them for a man raping them. Even Alex continually says it’s her fault for being so attractive! Is this belief genuine, from Alex, from society, and from Angel? It seems to me a good way not to deal with the actual problem: Alex D’urberville is a dangerous predator who should be tried and charged.

Happily, Angel eventually wakes up from his stupidity, realizing a year or more later that he does love Tess and does forgive her. Sadly, there still is little self-reflection on his own sin. Aside from his confession on their wedding night–a confession in which there was no question in his mind that Tess would forgive him–he thinks little of it. What hypocrites we humans are: We commit the same sin (though I wouldn’t call it a sin on Tess’s part) and ignore it in ourselves, yet see it as unforgivable in other people.

Angel and Tess are reunited for a few good nights of passion, but this comes at a cost: Tess murders Alex D’Urberville. Because Angel takes so long coming back to her, and she and her family are so down on their luck, Tess becomes prey once again for Alex. Although he is loathsome, when someone wants to step in and provide for you and your family that are on the brink homelessness and starvation, that’s hard to turn down. She also believes his lies that her husband will never come back to her, and it is those lies that actually cause her to stab Alex.

The story ends rather epically in the early morning as Tess and Angel are fleeing cross country. They happen upon Stonehenge and decide to rest there, only to be surrounded by the police. As before, Tess is only too happy to be taken away to be tried and executed for her sin. I think Hardy is making it very difficult for society at the time to swallow such a thing as the criminal so eager to be brought to justice. The implication in this is that even in committing murder, Tess did nothing wrong. Again, Christian love, forgiveness, and understanding from the beginning would have been far better, as would have justice against the true villain, Alex, but then we wouldn’t have a story.

For a time, Hardy has Alex himself reform and take up religion, but it is only a sham, for the moment he sees Tess again, he drops God like a hot potato, and picks up his sin of wrongfully pursuing her once again. Alex justifies this by claiming to love her and also to want to take care of her and provide for her, but it’s pretty clear all he’s going by is lust.

What the significance is with the D’Urberville family history in the story, I’m still not sure. Tess is Tess Durbeyfeld, and her family was at one time the powerful D’Urberville tribe, of which her very distant cousin, Alex, is one of the last. The family estates and cemetery plots appear to be all over the county. Tess’s father is a drunken lout, who has no real keening for work. He’s a dreamer and when he finds out that his family was rich long, long ago, he fancies that somehow riches will find his family again, as if by magic. He and his wife send their eldest daughter, Tess, out in search of the leftover D’Urbervilles, putting her in Alex’s way, and there the story begins. So far has the family fallen, that their last remaining heir is a rapist, and Tess’s branch of the family poverty stricken. It’s all great, great stuff, especially Angel’s profession not to care for lofty families, but then being impressed that Tess is a D’Urberville. Maybe the significance is, again, just the ironies involved, or Angel’s inconsistency. It’s easy to forget that he, too, is very young–maybe 25?

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the wonderful writing, and will definitely be reading it again at some point. I take it back what I said about good looking people: It can be a curse for them, just as much as ugly looks can be a kind of curse for others. The good news is that we don’t have to live our lives based on such shallow things. We can choose to rise above them, and with God’s help, succeed. This love and charity Hardy showed best between Tess and her friends. They were only too happy for each other’s success in romance, held no grudges against each other, and continued being friends and giving genuine help, despite their unfortunate fixation on Angel Clare. As for this idea that only women are held accountable when it comes to sex, it’s hard to deny that even today, this is still somewhat true. It may be largely due to the fact that women alone can get pregnant, a nine-month visibility of the sin. Happily today, rape is considered wrong and not the women’s fault, though that’s muddied a bit by some women falsely accusing men of the crime and the feminist push to perceive all men as rapists.

Again, we don’t have to live this way. All women are not harlots trying to trap men and all men are not rapists trying to abuse women. I for one would be happy to see the movements of the sexual revolution and feminism die the agonizing deaths they well deserve. Both philosophies are a stain on humanity and have caused so much grief, sorrow, and torment, especially for women. Nowadays, some men have been so estranged from women that they will gleefully talk about sleeping with them whenever they feel like it, but never about protecting, providing, or loving them. With glee, these men joke about lonely cat ladies, while they eagerly pile on wealth for themselves and themselves alone. Many women do the same, neither caring for or nurturing the men they sleep with, and only wanting their money, quickly divorcing them for the alimony at the first chance they get. Both attitudes keep the cycle of war between the sexes spinning at an impressive rate. How did we get here?

I say, again, we don’t have to live this way. We can choose to marry, to settle down, to have children and family, to have lives full of love and meaning. We can rise above past hurts and still love and care for the opposite sex. Even if for some reason we can’t marry or can’t have kids, we can support those who can, and encourage their prosperity. Families, not single, selfish, lonely people, are the true building blocks of a thriving society. Tess clearly shows that all of Angel’s lofty ideas are but nought if he has not love and charity. This, for me, was the true lesson of the story.

Jeremiah: Always timely

This was supposed to be published last week, but other things got in the way. Gotta earn my daily bacon somehow. Next week I plan to review Tess of the D’Urbervilles and also possibly the Kdrama Melting Me Softly, if I finish it in time. Tried Watcher starring Han Suk Kyu (Secret Door) and Seo Kang Joon (When the Weather is Fine), and made it to episode 5 before realizing I was extremely bored, despite it being an interesting plot of investigation police corruption. Sometimes a show can be too slowly paced, even if it’s a slow burn type of story. On to the prophet Jeremiah:

In Bible reading the Old Testament prophets don’t get a lot of love. Many people like Psalms, Proverbs in the OT, and the Gospels and letters of the New Testament, but the books of the prophets are often a hard sell for daily reading. For one thing, God’s prophets were sent with one main message: Repent or you will be destroyed. Not a happy message. God also asked the prophets to do strange things in their lives, making them into living object lessons for the people. The books of the prophets often require a knowledge and understanding of the history of Israel and Judah at the time as well, so they can really be intimidating. These days, I’m reading Jeremiah, as I’ve never read the whole thing before, but I’m doing it via The People’s Bible series, which combines commentary and annotations to the text, presenting a fuller picture for the reader.

Jeremiah prophesied from 627BC to 586BC, some forty plus years. He lived in Judah after the northern kingdom of Israel had been destroyed, and went through four kings of Judah in his time of ministry. After I finish Jeremiah, I want to read the parts of 2 Kings that deal with this time in history, as it will give more a picture of each king’s reign. The first king, Josiah, was a good king, who rediscovered the Scriptures and helped lead at least some of the Jews back to worshipping God. Josiah’s sons, however, were ungodly and despicable, and although God’s patience is long, eventually the kingdom of Judah was conquered by Babylon and king Nebuchadnezzar.

A prophet’s life is one of ministry, it’s a calling and is one’s whole life. Jeremiah didn’t get to have a wife or family, as God wanted him solely focused on telling the people of Judah what God wanted him to say. For warning the kingdom of the coming destruction, Jeremiah got no thanks and was much abused by the people and officials of the day. His life was often threatened and at times he was imprisoned or put in the stocks. Still, he kept speaking the truth, hoping that some would listen, repent, and turn back to the Living God who so loves them.

One thing I really like with The People’s Bible series is getting more background of what’s going on. It also helps in separating what parts of the prophecy are Jeremiah speaking and what parts are what God said. For some reason in trying to read it straight through on my own, I didn’t really distinguish it as much, even though it’s pretty clearly identified by Jeremiah. Likely, I was just trying to read it too fast. Forty years, lots of prophecies. Now I’m about halfway, and like with Isaiah, another long book of prophecies, one almost gets whiplash. It goes from punishment to redemption, destruction to salvation, and captivity to freedom. That is kind of the roller coaster or rather pendulum of the Christian faith. Sin, repentance, forgiveness and redemption…and then usually back to Sin again, because our sinful natures constantly drag us down, pulling us away from God. Again, again, and again, we need to be shown our sin and turn back to God. If that’s sounds frustrating for us, it’s probably even more so for God, but he hasn’t deserted us. He has a lot of patience, considering. In Jeremiah, he had a lot of patience for Judah as well, but finally had to fulfill the prophesies of destruction and captivity, for they would not repent of their idolatry and turn back to them.

Unrepentant hearts aren’t unique to Judah. This is a problem every nation faces. Many Christians can see the same effects of sin and idolatry in America today. It’s maybe not outright idol worship, but it’s just as destructive to the country. We have many criminals and people of violence wishing to seize power and drag us down even further. However, I think many people are turning back to God, which is a wonderful thing. Now, a lot of the evil is being so blatant and open about what they are doing that many people’s eyes are being opened to the truth. Our governments have all become very, very corrupt, and it is only by God’s grace that we currently have a president who actually loves America and its people.

The other side only has fear, violence, and hate. Most people don’t want to live that way; they want to live quiet lives and go to work and care for their families. For some reason, in this day and time, God is letting the good people have power again, and they are gaining more every day. I’d like to think that he is relenting in our country’s destruction because many are turning back to him in prayer, but I don’t know for sure. God chooses the authorities and rulers in this world, and, good or bad, he works out what they do for his purposes. In Jeremiah, it’s clear that any ruler who deliberately scorns God is walking a dangerous tightrope, both for himself and for his nation.

Jeremiah also has some good quotes. I’m on chapter 29 and here are my favorites so far:

Circumcize yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your heart, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done–burn with no one to quench it. –Jeremiah 4:4

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, “We will not walk in it.” –Jeremiah 6:16

They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire–something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. –Jeremiah 7:31

O Lord, my strength and my fortress, my refuge in time of distress, to you the nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, “Our fathers possessed nothing but false gods, worthless idols that did them no good. Do men make their own gods? Yes, but they are not gods!” “Therefore I will teach them–this time I will teach them my power and might. Then they will know that my name is the Lord.” –Jeremiah 16:19-21

“But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is him him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that send out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. –Jeremiah 17:7-8

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? –Jeremiah 17:9

“I will punish you as your deeds deserve,” declares the Lord. “I will kindle a fire in your forests and will consume everything around you.” –Jeremiah 21:14

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.” –Jeremiah 23:5-6

“Am I only a God nearby,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord. –Jeremiah 23:23-24

“But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.” (Jeremiah speaking to the false prophets who kept saying everything would be fine and that Judah would not be destroyed) –Jeremiah 28:9

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” –Jeremiah 29:11-13

There are so, so many more good quotes, so many cool idioms and metaphors, and such great descriptions, that I just couldn’t write them all down. Would have to become a biblical scribe. I’m sure by the time I’m done reading it, I will have many more quotes written down. Jeremiah is timely in his message now and until the end of the world, because we are always sinning, and always need God to remind us to repent and to turn to him and all will be forgiven through the blood of Jesus. It’s very comforting to know that God does take sin seriously, especially idolatry and the evil practices regarding children of the day. This has not gone away. Children are still being trafficked and abused horribly by those in power who practice idolatry or even just pretend to practice it to get ahead in whatever power group in which they want to advance. Because God does take sin seriously, it is all the more comforting to see he is just as serious about our salvation from sin. He wants everyone, all people, to turn to him, to believe on Jesus Christ who lived a perfect life and died for them, and to be saved to eternal life.

Are You Human?: Give Shin His Life Back

The good news is, I am currently watching a drama that I love with a million hearts. The bad news is that Are you Human? (Viki title is Are You Human Too?) starring Seo Kang Joon (The Cheese in the Trap) and Gong Seung Yeon (Six Flying Dragons) is not that drama. A very watchable drama with decent acting, Are You Human? could have reached for profound, but settled for easy. It is also one of the few shows that had me constantly yelling at the screen: He is a robot! A robot!

Yes, my friends, this is a robot story involving a theme that has been overdone in sci-fi at this point: defining humanity. Exploring the question what does is mean to be human through a robot’s eyes can be effective, but in this show it was used to promote the idea that it’s ok to think of robots and human and even to replace actual humans with them. Not sure if this was the intended message by the writer, but nevertheless, it made me sick to my stomach.

The story is about a young man named Nam Shin, and in this review I’ll mainly call him Shin, who of course is the grandson of a rich company CEO. The grandpa is…how can I say psychotic nicely? I can’t. Anyway, grandpa basically holds kid Shin hostage, saying if he goes to his grieving mother (dad just committed suicide), grandpa will harm mom. Thus mother and son grow up apart. But this is not your average mom. Oh Ra Ra is a super smart robotic scientist who flees to the Czech Republic and there makes a robot to look exactly like her son. She finds out later that her project is funded by (spoilers) grandpa. Robot Shin III is programmed to be a kind, loving, young gentlemen, who in disaster mode will leap into action to save whatever human lives are at stake. Not a bad thing, but at the beginning, it’s unclear just what mom’s motive is in this. Her son is still alive, and I would have actually found it less weird for him to be dead and in her grief she finds comfort in a lookalike machine.

The real Shin grows up and appears to be a typically spoiled rich boy, but he does long for his mother and makes a plan to escape grandpa’s watch and go to Czecho to see her. This involves the manipulation of a bodyguard, Kang So Bong, who used to be a pro fighter, but had to retire due to injury. She’s a somewhat feisty character who becomes less so over time. Robot Shin runs across real Shin in the town of Karlovy Vary, and I kind of wish the story would have stayed in Czecho, because it’s a beautiful fairy tale country and I miss living in it. The bad guy, played stereotypically by Yu Oh Seong (Faith) wants to take over the company and has a hitman take out Shin. Mom and her scientist buddy arrive just in time to witness the accident and mom instinctively knows it is her real son that has been run over. Turns out Shin isn’t dead, but he’s in a coma and so mom and Shin’s watcher for grandpa Ji Young Hoon (Lee Joon Hyuk from City Hunter) come up with the obvious plan to have robot Shin pretend to be human Shin.

The story didn’t quite play out as I imagined it would, but instead of surprising me, it continually disappointed me. The acting was very good, Seo Kang Joon has a bright future ahead of him and played both Shin’s well. He also has great screen presence, something one just has or doesn’t have, and will continue to be a great lead because of that. Gong Seung Yoon started out strong, as did her girl bodyguard character, but the writing basically killed her character by the end. She would have benefited from a ton more screen time with human Shin, which would have been a romance worth watching. Everyone else did a decent job, but nothing really of note.

Let’s get into the ranting part. So human Shin is a jerk, a spoiled jerk, but he loves his mom, has been royally abused by his grandpa, and wakes up partway through the series to find that he has literally been replaced by a lifelike robot built by his mother. And she won’t destroy it for his sake. She’s far too attached. Understandably, Shin is upset, very upset and wants the robot gone and his life back. He does pretty despicable things to try to make this happen, and the thing is, most of the time I was cheering him on! His fellow humans were all acting psycho, continually telling him that the robot was a better human than he was, and having affection for a machine that just…shouldn’t be there. I like my cell phone and my vacuum cleaner, but I’m not about to fall in love with them. Come to find out that crazy grandpa has the plan to actually fully replace his grandson by the robot and having the robot run the company.

This is a dark side of humanity, that we think we can create something better than a human and replace humanity with it. But it’s faulty, sinful human beings doing the making and programming, and it’s simply wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, to do this. Robots are a machine, a tool, and while they can certainly be humanlike, we walk a dangerous tightrope trying to make them as much like humans as possible. And on this show, what does that look like? Sadly, it reduces humanity to one thing: emotion. There’s a little nod to kindness, etc., being a part of humanity, but the focus is on emotion. Robot Shin is only still a robot because he doesn’t have emotions. He’s programmed to smile or give someone a hug when they need it, but that’s about it. Humans are so much more than their emotions, and why the writers didn’t choose to plumb the depths by either doing outright fantasy and having robot Shin somehow earn a fairy blessing of humanity, or by giving human Shin a beautiful redemptive love story, I don’t know. Either choice would have been so much better than what they went with. Yes, robot Shin (spoilers) does magically shed tears at the end, but this is never explained, and other than the humans continually telling him he seems human to them, no reason is given other than the fact that he sacrificed himself to save a human. But that’s no great feat, because he’s a robot programmed to do just that.

Let’s talk about the love story. Gong’s first interaction is with human Shin, who actually hit her to carry out his little escape plan. She then has a chance to vent her anger, but it ends up being on the robot Shin. It takes a little while for her find that this Shin is a robot, but bizarrely, she continues down the path of a relationship with the robot. Yes, he’s handsome, he’s kind and gentle, and so on, but he’s programmed to be that way. At times she treats him like a child, and other times like a pet. If a real, grown woman tells you she wants this kind of romance, run. Run away fast. Real woman do not want robots or pets, they want men, real men that don’t do whatever they say, and who have flaws and faults that they sometimes courageously overcome. Real women want a man they can argue with, share their lives and dreams with, and…ahem…have sex with. Now the show doesn’t go there, but they could probably program robot Shin to do the deed, but he’s not more much more than a blowup doll. Is that really what Gong should be aspiring to, a pretend relationship with a blowup doll? They did give him tears at the end, they did, but even at the end, when she first encounters human Shin, there’s a spark there that is not there when she and the robot kiss. The ending turned my stomach. Human Shin happily looking on as a woman kisses and makes promises to a machine that looks just like him. It was rather gross and not romantic in the slightest.

Give human Shin his life back. Rewrite this atrocity and give him a redemption and love story that values humanity, not programmed robots. There was another character that did love human Shin and the writers did nothing with her, except finally send her away to America where hopefully she found someone to appreciate her persistence, sweetness, loyalty, and bravery.

Are You Human? is watchable, far more than some other dramas, but the message it conveys is just so icky to me that I have trouble recommending it because of that. Even emotionally, there wasn’t really a good cathartic moment. Anger, maybe, Shin’s anger at being replaced, and then more anger because he’s met not with understanding, but with the robot is a better human that you are. I mean, what the actual blank? As for robot Shin, he’s got a bland personality, but of course he does. Humans can’t program a personality the way God creates one. The idea that we can is laughable. Also really not sure what to make of the talk in the show of a whole city with humans and these humanlike robots…sounds nightmarish to me. Sometimes I really hate science and think that at its heart it is anti-God and anti-human.

Humans are Pointless: Tell Me What You Saw Review

Humanism is bunk. Not only that, it’s un-inspirational, nihilistic, and depressing. Over and over I ask myself, why do I like murder mysteries? Why do I enjoy stories in which murderers are hunted down and brought to justice? For starters, good and evil do exist, and it is the work of good to bring evil into submission. This is justice. What is not justice is the hunting down of evildoers for the sake of human, and only human law. This in itself is pointless and leads to gross miscarriages of justice, like Javert from Les Miserables hunting down Jean Val Jean, who should be treated with mercy and compassion and allowed to do the good that he wants to do. This is also why people in America are suddenly finding their Constitutional rights terribly violated. Humans who believe in humanism often also believe they themselves are superior to their fellow humans, and their goal is to put everyone else under submission to them.

But I digress. Back to murder mysteries. A good mystery, chase, and/or cat and mouse game is fun to read and or watch. One hopes in anticipation that the detective(s) can outthink the bad guy, or sometimes vice versa. Korean dramas that try to do crime or police procedurals are on shaky ground. I don’t know a lot about the cops in South Korea, but their shows constantly portray them as being severely inept and corrupt. In American cop shows and crime dramas, although those elements are there, they are understated. The point for American TV is often to boost audience confidence in the system. Corruption would be more of a twist ending thing, and rarely are the federal officers or cops shown as being truly inept. The show Tell Me What You Saw, has an interesting balance of smart Korean detectives who are simultaneously inept, and who, although they do want to bring the murderers to justice, don’t seem to truly understand, well, how to keep the public safe.

The story revolves around three main detectives, Oh Hyun Jae, played by the ever versatile Jang Hyuk, is the main one. I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Jang, as he was in the first Korean movie I ever saw, the funny Please Teach Me English. He’s know for his hilarious laugh, often over-the-top characters, and his athletic ability. Jang was a good choice to play Detective Oh, as the man is definitely larger than life, albeit so severely psychologically damaged that he’s bolted down any and all emotions. Unfortunately, this means that Jang wears a blank expression more than half the time, though he does use his eyes to emote well on occasion.

Tell Me What You Saw revolves roughly around three plot gimmicks, that are used unevenly and are often dropped. Detective Oh is damaged psychologically and physically. When Policewoman Cha Soo Young (Soo Young from Squad 38), our second detective, who is transferring to the Metropolitan detective unit, meets him, he is in a wheelchair and sunglasses. Sometimes characters with disabilities add a lot to these kinds of shows, but it initially seemed the writers were piling it on, as we’d already met Cha who communicates fluently in sign language due to having deaf parents. I wasn’t sure where they were going with all of that, but was intrigued to find out. It’s sad to peg any disability as a gimmick in stories, but that’s just so often what they end up being. In this show, sign language is used well for parts of the story, but wasn’t an integral part of the show.

The second gimmick, and most prominent one, at least for the first half of the show, is photographic memory. This almost superhuman ability work well on screen if used reasonably, and I actually thought the writers underused it considering it’s the reason for the name of the show. Again, it’s just not something integral to the show, and it probably was meant to be, but the third gimmick takes prominence. Well, sort of.

The third gimmick used is that of profiling, specifically profiling of serial killers. An example of where this is actually an integral part of a show is the awesome Criminal Minds, an America show that has been amazingly successful. Detective Oh is not just a detective, but a famous profiler and he and the third detective, Hwang Hwa Young played by Jin Seo Yeon, were both on the hunt for a serial killer 5 years before our story begins. They were both injured when the serial killer blew up a car in which Oh’s fiancee was trapped. Both detectives have made it their mission to find this guy and bring him to justice, though officially, the killer is supposed to be dead.

Hwang is Cha’s new boss, and she’s a tough cookie. By the end of the show I concluded she’s way, way more traumatized and damaged than Oh, and it really grated on me that he refused to show her genuine kindness or compassion.

So, three main detectives, three gimmicks, corruption, ineptness, and darkness all around. One thing the show does hands down, is showcase creepy serial killers. Very creepy and also very gruesome even though half of the stuff is blurred out. It is the stuff of nightmares and I don’t blame any of the characters for their somberness or melancholy. At the end of the series there’s a bit of a rush to add some light and hope. Corruption is routed, at least for the time being. The big bad is brought to justice, though in such a roundabout, drawn out way, it’s a bit hollow. The idea is stated that even if one is naturally programmed to do bad, one can choose to step into the light, just as good people can choose to give into evil.

The light is dampened, or at least it was for me, by Oh and Cha’s last conversation. He says there’s no divine retribution in this world, but they chase the killers and bad guys to uphold the law and that’s enough. Have to say, after watching the whole show, I doubt very much that Oh actually believes that. The character is saying it because that’s sort of a standard rah-rah line for government worker shows. Upholding human laws is why they exist, but it’s not a message of light and hope in and of itself. Now, maybe Oh was hinting that in the afterlife or the next world there is divine retribution, but he didn’t say that, and none of the characters seemed remotely religious except for some of the baddies. No, Oh’s statement is humanism that rang super hollow and pointless at the end. Maybe it was just that the story itself got too dark, very little humor or poignant human moments. Very little, too little, actual profiling. Until it was suddenly brought again in the last couple of episodes, I had forgotten that Oh was a profiler at all. I often forgot that Cha had a special memory and that she knew sign language. Terrible writing in that aspect, and it’s really the last half in which it goes downhill.

Let me go back to this idea that the point of these detectives jobs is to hunt down killers for the sake of the law. They can’t even do that well–it took them way too long to put some things together–and they risked so many lives by not shooting on sight at times. Not sure what the rules are for officers in S. Korea, but as an American watching it was frustrating. It was also infuriating how Detective Hwang’s story unfolded. She put so, so many people in danger by not dealing with her own trauma, and if she got any counseling at all or even informed her team and superiors of what happened to her, I missed those scenes. And detective Oh was the worst. As soon as he figured out who the killer was he should have either done a citizen’s arrest or shot the killer on sight. Both would have been better and more satisfying than what actually happened.

(Spoilers) No, Oh, doesn’t kill the bad guy like he wants to. He’s too superior for that, for some reason he think he’s owed a torture session. He also stupidly lets himself get almost killed, so he can’t help his fellow detectives. As a profiler, he should first of all, know that the criminal gets off on torture, and as a detective, should second of all, understand that he’s just giving the killer more chances to escape. This is the pride of humanism, one starts to think they are above even the human rules and makes mistakes, not only against other people, but also against oneself–a la Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment.

Detective Cha arrives just in time to pull Oh into the light, but I’m not sure what light she’s pulling him into. Even in humanism, aren’t the standards for “good” people more than just not killing someone? In some cases, isn’t killing the bad guy actually the best thing to do? Detective Oh might actually benefit from some jail time and counseling, so little thought did he–did any of the detectives have–for the safety of the public in general. Everyone was so inwardly focused, one could almost forget they are in the business of public safety. Tell Me What You Saw reminded me a bit of the movie Se7en, both stories so laser pointed on the dark, so nihilistic, that on a spiritual level it makes them not worth watching.

Although I never finished it, I thought Voice, also starring Jang Hyuk, had much more light to offer, at least in the first half that I watched. Other, better serial killer hunting down shows from S. Korea are Tunnel and Signal. These shows offer emotional impact, if nothing else, and the cops are good, and can be labeled as good, even if they are sometimes inept. In these shows the cops and detectives are clearly about saving lives, not satisfying their own revenge fantasies. As these far better shows don’t have religion or God in them per se, I think maybe part of the problem with Tell Me What You Saw‘s humanism, is that they forgot the human part. Any of the detectives could have easily been played by a long list of other actors. There was just no there there, which was a shame, because I did enjoy the first half. Detective Hwang’s story definitely had the most impact, and in the end she forgave herself, a very spiritual revelation. The other two detectives were emotionally blank, though Jang did make some use out of his signature laugh, and his character often made me wonder how wise it really is to think like a murderer, even if one’s goal is to catch him. Are serious profilers just one step away from being murderers themselves?

Not only that, how wise is it to read and watch stories about killers? Is it the fun of the mystery or chase or is it the draw of the darkness that’s really what’s sucking me in? With Agatha Christie, it’s easy, God is incorporated and it really is about justice, not human law in and of itself. But with stories like these, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just letting bad writing get me down. It irks me because I really, really wanted to like it, but Tell Me What You Saw just left me feeling empty. Jane Austen of Pride and Prejudice fame began her writing career by considering the dangers of ingesting too many fictional stories. She was right. One can have too much of them and be pulled into the darkness. It’s telling that her stories push readers solidly into the light. I need to have more discernment, because humanity by itself is pointless and lost without God. That way be dragons, as the saying goes.

A Good Friday

Since Two Weeks is actually taking me a good two weeks to watch, I don’t the review ready yet. I will say, though, that so far Li Joon Gi (Scarlet Heart Ryeo) is almost having to overact to compensate for most of the other cast members who are all just phoning it in, especially the bad guys. Further review coming next week.

Aside from the shutdown or collective quarantine or coronavirus panic, or whatever we’re calling this craziness in 2020, I had planned to have this day off, anyway. Sometimes with work going on, many church services I wish to attend, and added duties like directing choir or getting Lenten meals set up, the Lenten season and Holy Week are often just too busy for me to reflect properly on the wonderful gift of salvation in Christ.

Today, I do have off for Good Friday, for once, and it’s great to have the time to just be quiet and think, to think on my sins, and more importantly, to think on their forgiveness. That a sin can be forgiven is true magic, otherworldly magic. No amount of pixie dust or cauldron spells can touch that. They can’t even come close, either in our imagination or our reality. The real suffering of Christ was from God’s abandonment, his forsaking of him at the cross, due to the world’s sins placed on his shoulders. It is the worst pain to ever exist and something we can’t even fathom. Sometimes in life, it seems like God has gone away from us, but usually it’s actually that we’ve gone away from Him, focused on other, earthly things, or fallen into a sin. If God had truly gone away, the world would stop, literally stop, and we would all be gone.

God could have truly abandoned us–we did and do deserve that, due to the evil in our hearts, but He didn’t. Instead, He abandoned His own perfect Son, who suffered and died in our place, transferring the benefits of his holy life to us, and taking on our sinfulness to himself. And that’s how Jesus won forgiveness, a truly great act of magic, only it’s real, there’s no trick behind it.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13 (NIV)

The Scapegoat review (Spoilers)

To watch the movie first or read the book first? This was a tough call for me, but since I was certain the movie would lose some impact if I did read the book first, I went ahead and watched The Scapegoat starring Matthew Rhys. Now I’m chomping at the bit to read the book, but that probably won’t happen for awhile as there’s much on my plate as far as both reading and writing projects.

The Scapegoat (2012) is an adaptation of the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Recently, I have become a big fan of du Maurier and her amazing, atmospheric writing. She has great skill in writing in just about any time period and sounding relatively authentic, plus has a great affinity for thrilling plots. The Scapegoat is a doppelgänger tale, two strangers switch places and their lives are never the same after. The plot immediately brought to mind the works of Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley), whose Strangers on a Train is also on my reading and eventual watch list.

Two identical strangers meet coincidentally in a pub. One’s rich, the other poor. Shades of Prince and the Pauper, and they do exchange places, though the poor, out of work schoolteacher gets tricked into it. John continues the charade of playing Johnny because he’s rather thrilled with the aspect of being rich for awhile: Cool car, big house, etc. After meeting Johnny’s family, however, he realizes that his twin isn’t a very nice person, keeping mistresses, continually cheating on his wife, lying, and generally being careless with the welfare of his family and company. It quickly becomes clear that a company deal Johnny was supposed to have brokered did not happen, and he’s placed John in a position to take the fall.

The schoolteacher’s character quickly becomes clear: He’s very kind to all of Johnny’s family, especially his very precocious, annoying daughter, nicknamed Piglet. Since John is more bookish and intelligent than Johnny, he even finds a way to remedy the company situation and ends up getting the deal done, anyway. Throughout the film, which takes the place over maybe a week or so, we see how John affects Johnny’s family in positive ways, hearing out their troubles, getting his mother (Eileen Atkins) to forgo her morphine addiction and get out and among people again, comforting his sister (Jodhi May) who is still in mourning for the loss of a loved one, and giving real hope to his brother and a chance for him to move forward career wise.

Johnny is placed firmly in the villain camp. He comes back to find John settling quite nicely into his rather great life, and is so jealous, especially of John’s connection with his wife (Alice Orr-Ewing), that Johnny actually manipulates her into committing suicide. Fortunately, due to the precocious yet very smart Piglet, John is alerted and gets there just in time to save her. It is heavily implicated that Johnny was the cause of the suicide of Rose, whom his sister loved, and that he likely manipulated her in the very same way. Despicable does not even begin to describe this person.

As Johnny would now like his life back, now that the schoolteacher has fixed everything, John finds that he must literally fight for his life in order to oppose him. It is only the housekeeper/nanny (Phoebe Nicholls) who calls John out as not actually being Johnny, and it’s something she does as a last resort to get the better man to stay, stay and keep doing good for the family. I think it likely the rest of the family members suspect something–how could they not–but like this new Johnny so much, they prefer not to question. This is truly a happy ending: The villain is dead and has gotten his just desserts, and a much better man is installed in his place.

The term scapegoat comes from the Bible’s Old Testament. The sins of all the Israelites were symbolically placed on a goat by a high priest and the goat was sent off into the desert to die. This concept of someone or something else punished in one’s place is found throughout the Bible, because Jesus the Savior, though he was innocent, took on all of the sins of the world, and the punishment and death for them. He also conquered death from rising from the dead, something that Christians celebrate every Easter.

Another story connected with this idea, is The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman, in which a poor boy is whipped or punished whenever the rich boy does something wrong. In this story, the boys also swap identities. In effect, that is what a scapegoat means, taking on the identity of another person.

A great watch, and I can’t wait to read the book. Next week I will be back to reviewing Korean dramas. Just started Two Weeks starring Li Joon-Gi from the popular Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo. It’s about a falsely accused man trying to prove in innocence and make it time to donate bone marrow for his daughter dying of leukemia. I’m also reading and immensely enjoying the book The Lies of Lock Lamora. I heard about the book from perusing reviews of Six of Crows, which I loved. This is also a fantasy heist/con artist story, and although I never got into the Game of Thrones TV series, I think fans of that would like this.

Remembering Outbreak

Sadly, I don’t own the movie anymore, but for awhile Outbreak (1995) starring Dustin Hoffmann, Rene Russo, and Morgan Freeman, was my favorite disaster movie. Contagion, made in 2011 I thought kind of meh in comparison. Hoffmann’s really not much of a leading man, in my opinion, but I think he shines in the role, especially as it’s not so much a story about a worrisome viral outbreak, as it is a tale about corruption.

I think with the current Coronavirus outbreak going on, we can all see just how many of our politicians use situations like this to gain more power and money, often with little care for their citizens. With their mouths they say they care, but their actions often go against that.

In the film, a deadly virus escapes from Africa in the form of a cute monkey being sold on the black market. The monkey ends up in California, escapes, and subsequently starts infecting the people he comes across. One of the best scenes in the movie, comes with Patrick Dempsey, clearly sick, on an airplane with other passengers. Germaphobes everywhere will have nightmares, as they also will from a movie theater scene where they show how the droplets from coughs and sneezes spread everywhere.

Offhand, I don’t remember how deadly the disease in the movie is, but am pretty sure it is many orders of magnitude higher than the current virus we are dealing with. In Outbreak, panic is truly justified, both from the CDC and from the average person. Despite that, though, the fictional Americans in this movie would hardly recognize the Americans of today. I think they would be baffled at putting the whole country–whole countries–on lockdown for something with symptoms not much different than the yearly flu. For the town that gets put in military lockdown and quarantine, those who are still healthy would be scratching their heads at how quickly we current Americans all acquiesced to a much wider quarantine. These days are strange days, and I wonder if all flu seasons hereafter will be different. If people will now actually stay home when they are sick and if employers will mandate them to do so. Hey, maybe we’ll all get more sick days to use. Maybe, though, it will be a mandated yearly loss of freedom of movement, gathering together, and the like. Many people are worried this will be the end result.

The best thing about the movie is that they find a cure, not a vaccine, which oddly people seem to equate to a cure, but an actual cure. Here we all are being encouraged to wait on a vaccine that will be ready well after we’ve all been exposed, when the virus has multiplied into many different strains, and, well, you get the idea. For many, this seems like a fear psy-op initiated by the media. I tend to agree. The numbers just don’t seem to justify the response, and there’s almost no analyzing of the data: For example for Italy, how many were and are older and already had compromised immune systems and underlying health issues? This matters because these are people who should already be self-quarantining almost all the time, but especially during times of the year when sickness tends to go around. Does it really make sense to restrict the movements of everyone who has a healthy immune system? Our current “science” will tell us it makes sense, just like they tell us the only way to protect these people from other diseases like measles is to vaccinate everyone, no matter any adverse effects of immunization on otherwise healthy people. Another thing I’m curious about from Italy: How many infected and/or dead are actually Chinese workers from Wuhan? I have heard they imported quite a lot of workers from there in the past year or so.

I have been waiting for the numbers of infected to rise, for hospitals to be overwhelmed and the like, because I don’t want this to be a psy-op, I would rather it be real. Awful as it sounds, it’s far more frightening to me if it’s fear pushed on us to get more power. I would much rather deal with a truly deadly virus than a hoax fomented by people salivating to bring the world to its knees. Real or not, the panicked reaction is almost impossible to go against. This is peer pressure at its finest, a real-life Stanford Experiment playing out right in front of us.

At the end of the movie, Dustin Hoffmann saves the quarantined town from getting annihilated off the face of the earth. Thankfully, we are nowhere near calling for the deaths of sick people, yet we are almost callously sentencing quite a few of our fellow citizens–healthy and sick–to very dire straights should we let this forced economic collapse continue. Every year there’s a dangerous disease out there, spread like a cold or flu–sometimes it just is a bad cold or flu. Are we really going to stop our lives every time flu season hits? With something like Ebola that has a very high death rate, to stop everything would be justified, but this… We didn’t do this for Ebola. We didn’t do this for SARS or Zika, or swine flu, or any other outbreak from recent memory.

Whatever the truth is, I know God’s in control, but sometimes I’m not sure what to pray for: An end to disease or that we wake up from this spell we’ve been put under? Probably, it should be both.

For a different perspective on this whole outbreak–I am not the only skeptic–checkout Del Bigtree’s Highwire show and Amazing Polly, both on Youtube. Del, especially, in his most recent show from yesterday goes through quotes from many doctors who also think the freakout just isn’t warranted. Also weird that the freakout continues despite clear forms of treatment showing quick results. If this is a bioweapon, as some claim, it’s not a super effective one, but that wouldn’t be the point, would it? No, if it were a bioweapon, manufactured by the evil people of the world, it’s just enough, just enough to keep that fear going, for the next time. A next time that may never happen, but now will always be a collective fear until it fades and a new fear trends.

This all reminds me of a couple of short stories I wrote considering Totalitarianism. They are below. Happy reading.

A Society of Health (written in 2010)

“Aaachoooiee!!”  Alyssa Taylor sneezed mightily into a tissue from the box on her desk.

“Bless you.”  Raymond Bins, her coworker said as he tapped away on a computer spreadsheet.  “Coming down with something?”

“I think it’s allergies.  Ever since we moved here––”

“Who sneezed?”  Ariana Blight stepped ferociously around the office partition.  She looked a bit like a crow with her tiny, birdlike frame, black sweater and pants.  Her dull gray hair was pulled tightly back into a bun that rested heavily on top of her little, wobbling head.  

Alyssa raised her hand.  “Guilty,”  She smiled sheepishly.  “Sorry, I know my sneezes are so loud.  My daughter always says I sound like a firecracker.”  She drew back into her chair as the older woman stepped up to her, the woman’s beady eyes bright with anticipation.  

“Do you have a cold?”

“It’s…just allergies.”  Alyssa exchanged a glance with Raymond who had stopped typing.  “This building is so full of dust…”  Ariana continued to inspect her, bending low enough to look up her nostrils.  “Is everything all right, Ariana?”

“You have mucus,”  She pointed to the left nostril.  “There.  It appears yellow, not clear.  Blow into this.”  The small woman brought forth a crisp handkerchief from the bowels of her sweater.  Laughing a little, Alyssa obliged.  Raymond rolled his eyes and made crazy signs that the old woman couldn’t see.  It had never been clear to them what exactly Ariana’s job at the company was, but she always seemed to know everything about everyone.  Ariana fearlessly opened the handkerchief and proceeded to inspect the leavings.  “As I thought. Yellow, going on green.  You, Ms. Alyssa Taylor, have the beginnings of a very bad cold, an infection.”

Alyssa shrugged.  “You know, I did feel a bit off yesterday, but I thought it was the weather.  And my allergies get so bad this time of year…”  She trailed off when she saw the glinting triumph in the older woman’s eyes.  “Is there a problem?”

Ariana Blight pulled a small flip-top notebook out of a sweater pocket.  She proceeded to read:  “United States Code, Title Forty-Two, Chapter Two, Section Eight Thousand Four Hundred and Nineteen:  All persons shall take precautions to prevent the spreading of the common cold.  Subsection D, Four:  Any person expectorating or sneezing in a public place shall be examined for infection.  If infection is found, said persons are duty-bound to report to the nearest Health Center and receive treatment.  Upon refusal to do so within one hour of infection report, said person may be subjected to a fine of One Hundred Dollars or up to Thirty days in the local quarantine cell.  Subsection D, Twenty:  Any and all persons failing to comply with this Chapter shall be labeled as a Spreader of Disease and a criminal under this Title Forty-Two.”  

“What?”  Alyssa blinked up at her.  “I don’t…I’ve never heard…”

“They didn’t publish it, you see,”  Ariana whispered softly, leaning over her.  “Only passed it, our wonderful…New Congress.  Now, let’s come along down to the office Health Center, shall we?”  Alyssa sat there blankly.  “Ah, and Raymond…”  The crow-like woman filled out a yellow slip from her pad of paper, ripped it off, and handed it to him.  “The citation number, should you wish to pursue legal action in the near future.  Being around her nine hours out of the day, you are the likeliest to suffer from her…negligence.”  Raymond took the paper and paled at its contents.  “Of course, should you also come down with said infection and fail to address it immediately, you will be issued a citation as well.”

Mottle Knows Best (from 2010)

Mrs. Mottle scurried after her neighbor, Rose.  Rose stopped abruptly on the sidewalk and turned around with a grimace.  “Following me again, Mrs. Mottle?”  She put one hand on her hip.  “Let me guess, block party meeting this evening?”

“We are a social group.”  Mrs. Mottle said, taken aback at Rose’s fierceness.  “We get together and talk about the happenings in the neighborhood.”

“Gossips, the lot of you.”  Rose tapped her heels impatiently.  “I’m due at the office in twenty minutes.  If I arrive late and someone else grabs up the spot, I’m blaming you.”

“Me?”  Mrs. Mottle’s heart fluttered.  “Rose, you are so irritated at me when I’m only trying to help you…for your own good!  They may take you away!”

“What?”  Rose’s eyes narrowed and she stepped forward.  “What did you say?  What have you been telling the block party, Mrs. Mottle?  Only too happy to ‘report,’ aren’t you?”

Mrs. Mottle realized she’d said too much.  “N-no, of course not, dear.  We’re only here to help!  I would never get you…in trouble, but for your own good, it––”

“Then what is it?  What did I do this time?”

“Rose, you must understand that I have your best interests at heart.  This morning,”  She sighed, “Now prepare yourself…this morning your shower was seven minutes.”  Mrs. Mottle looked up hopefully only to find Rose staring down at her open-mouthed.  

Rose crossed her arms.  “And?  I’m waiting for the punch line…”

The younger woman laughed shortly.  “Oh, Rose, why, you’ve forgotten!  The new edict!  Now let me see if I remember it straight, ‘all citizens are responsible for their water use.  To go beyond the recommended five minutes for a shower is shameful and a waste.’ So you see––”

“Oh, shut up!”  Rose pulled her handbag up higher on her shoulder.  “What does it matter if I take a seven-minute shower?  What does it matter if I take a twenty-minute shower? I’m paying for it!  We have entire oceans at our disposal, and, apparently you haven’t noticed because you’ve been too busy spying on people, it has rained cats and dogs every evening for the last eight days!  Oh, and another thing!  You think the Higher-Ups really care about these things?  You think the block party does?  Damn it, Mrs. Mottle!  Can’t you see what they’re doing?”

“Of course, Rose, but Practical Science states––”

“Ha!  As if PS is ever practical!  Or right!  One day eggs are good for you, the next they’re bad!  Why, I saw an article just the other day on the evils of fruit!  Fruit!  You know what it is, don’t you?  They want us to eat only that dog food for humans they keep manufacturing, while the Higher-Ups feed on steak and wine!  Oh, I can’t believe I let you rile me up this early in the morning!  Good day, Mrs.  Mottle!”  Rose tromped off in her heels.

Her neighbor looked sorrowfully after her.  Little did Rose know the danger she was in.  Two more strikes and she would have to be put in rehabilitation…for the common good, of course.  Mrs. Mottle didn’t like her task, but the important thing was that the laws be kept.  Rose was always going off about the “stupid, ridiculous, impractical laws that made real living impossible!”  Mrs.  Mottle didn’t think that was for them to judge.  That was for the Higher-Ups, the people who knew better.  She wasn’t sure at that moment why they did know better, but surely they must, as they were in charge.  She must inform the party of Rose’s seven-minute shower.  The young lady puffed out her chest.  They would talk it through.  They would come up with a solution and show Rose how her thinking was wrong.  It was only a matter of time.  

Library Wars: Manga review

My local library has the whole manga series of Library Wars: Love and War, a series based on books by Hiro Arikawa. This series is written and illustrated by Kiiro Yumi. Throughout books 1 & 2, she has some notes about what it was like to create and release the books. Although the notes did take me out of the story, as a fellow writer it was interesting to get her perspective on her progress.

Yesterday, I got all ready to sit down and write a review and realized I don’t really have a lot to say about the series. I really like and would love to read the original books someday, but the manga centers mostly around romance. This is not bad, I like romance and love triangles, but there’s just not much to say about them. That libraries could be in a war with government factions bent on censorship–this I believe. There’s something in human nature that wants to destroy and stamp out ideas we don’t agree with. We’ve often done this by destroying and confiscating books, a somewhat futile endeavor, as ideas come from the brain, and even if one stamps it out in the moment, the same idea will surely arise somewhere in someone’s brain in the future.

Along with many others, the most baffling “war” going on is the panicked run on toilet paper and other items, not only in America, but across the world. Although the Coronavirus has been around for months, people are now racing to the shelves and taking everything there as if there’s some shortage we should be afraid of. This is, of course, one of those self-fulfilling fears.

For a few weeks, I have noticed that the toilet paper aisle has been a little low at my local Walmart, but yesterday, as did need to purchase a pack, it was completely out and the store was crammed full of people. The dichotomy between canceled group meetings and events versus everyone rushing to the store to stand in crowded aisles and long lines is striking. I feel for the grocery store workers who have to deal with this. It must be alarming. It’s a strange, strange thing to see everyone apparently so panicked. I don’t remember anyone doing this during other virus outbreaks, not even with Ebola. Not sure what to make of it, but I am praying that everyone will remain calm and stay healthy and safe.

Are Those Who Seek the Truth Mentally Ill? (book review)

At one time, I don’t remember from where, I heard that the CIA or someone coined the term “conspiracy theory” in order to make those who question the official story, from the government or whoever, look crazy. The term is often used to discredit people who question official stories, or sometimes against people who just see things differently, and the media especially encourages the public to look at anyone labeled a “conspiracy theorist” as someone unstable and to avoid associating with. This has been done repeatedly over the years to questioners of the official stories of the JFK Assassination, shooter and terrorist attacks of all sorts, the attacks on 9/11/2001, and the like. “Conspiracy theory” is also a broad term encompassing topics on everything from flat earth and space aliens, to vaccines, to a New World Order, and, most recently, to Qanon. Sometimes these things involve speculations of people actually conspiring, sometimes it’s just a questioning of the mainstream narrative, whatever that may be.

As mental illness does sometimes involve paranoia and the idea that everyone is out to get you, it is prudent to be skeptical of someone exhibiting this paranoia, especially if they are seeing, say, people not actually there. However, it’s also good to remember that 1) conspiracy theorists aren’t always paranoid–they may be speculating about an event that doesn’t presently affect either their safely or well being, and their questions may be valid, 2) conspiracies do actually exist, and have existed all throughout time, and 3) sometimes they, whoever they are, are out to get you, your money, your influence, and even your life.

I am by no means an expert on mental illness, and cannot say offhand how often a person with mental illness is also someone who follows and is interested in conspiracy theories. I do really wonder, though, just why the media and society at large is always in such a rush to portray conspiracy theorists as having a mental illness. Aside from some symptoms that do manifest in some mental illnesses, like paranoia, the two things really aren’t connected. Isn’t questioning just a normal thing to do, something vital to holding those with power to account? And, when it’s obvious that the media in particular never tells the straight out truth, isn’t it crazier not to question things?

In Truthers, author Geoffrey Girard uses his story to plumb the depths of those questions. The book is YA genre about a teenager named Kate who’s father gets put in a mental institution for his wild claims and speculations about the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. In a brave move, even so many years after (it was published in 2017), the two towers now gone are portrayed in blue Matrix movie-like numbers on the front cover. Using a visual connection to the Matrix movies–about a conspiracy that is indeed true–Girard already tips his hat: He thinks the questions are vital.

Kate is sent to live with a foster family. Her father hasn’t been the best dad, but he’s still her dad, and she wants to help him get better and get free. For those readers who may have thought Truthers was going to be about dealing with mental illness, Kate’s next move is a definite step away from that: She starts to investigate the questions, speculations, and claims around 9/11 in the hope to have enough proof that there is good reason to question, so that a court will set her father free. The story pulled me in right away by connecting with what I’ve said above: The media and society at large encourage anyone questioning things to be seen as mentally unstable or really naive at best. It’s truly a fascinating form of gaslighting. Are you questioning too much? Well, it must not be that there are reasons to question, no, it must be that you are going insane or really dumb. See how it works?

Using Kate’s need to research, Girard takes his readers through some of the conspiracy theories about 9/11, from the thought that the government purposely dropped the ball in some way, to the idea that the government did it, that there were actually no planes, only missiles, and even to the idea that the people on the planes were taken somewhere else and executed there. In some ways, it’s concerning stuff, in others it shows just how far trust in our government has fallen. Many, many people don’t believe the official story. They believe they are purposely and even maliciously being lied to. Interestingly, the one person in Truthers who actually does seem crazy enough to go and kill someone is a person chillingly committed to the official story.

As painfully and also as callously as Truthers revels in speculations about 9/11, the author is just as quick to point out flaws in the “truthers” or conspiracy theorists. They are almost all men, most of whom are very paranoid indeed, using strange hacking measures to communicate with Kate, and having what seems to be an unnecessary amount of security set up around them. They jump to conclusions with little, concrete evidence. Kate goes back and forth, struggling, as we all would, with whom to trust. She gets frustrated with the lack of real evidence and real answers. Real, hard evidence is often difficult to come by, especially when considering an event from long ago. Even a recent event is tricky, as those in power have increasing technological tools to make sure their version of history is the only version future generations will know. The invention of the internet has made this difficult as of late, but corporations are now serving as the new gatekeepers by banning and canceling the accounts of people who refuse to toe the current PC line.

Truthers ends up going all spy-on-spy mode at the end, which kind of took away some of the realism it had going, but I liked the ending, and I liked this key scene: Kate and her friend Max are talking. He’s skeptical of a 9/11 Truther’s claims and says that anyone can hop online and think they’re an expert on something in just a few minutes. Before that capability, Max says, people who researched, say, JFK, had to do more due diligence. They earned their theories and their right to question. Max goes on to say that he doesn’t believe the USA is some evil country that did its own citizens in, although it’s certainly made mistakes. He says the cliche of “the USA is the worst country in the world, except for all the rest.”

Kate responds by listing off some very real ways in which the USA has historically done things not in the best interest of either their citizens or other people, and at times even harming them. She tells Max that he is very smart guy, but has a blind spot in his view. She tells him the country she just described could easily have masterminded 9/11. Next in the argument, Kate asks, what if it wasn’t the government that did it, but a powerful corporation?

Again, Max is skeptical, saying she’s really only researched this stuff for a few weeks, and it’s “easy to get swept up in it all.” “Half of the information you need for the truth is deemed too classified to see, and the other half is more info than any one person could possibly wrap their head around.” Kate asks Max if he thinks she would think differently if she spent more time on the subject, ‘earned it’ in his eyes. She then asks him a very profound question that anyone searching for truth should ask those who stubbornly stick to the official story: “Have you ‘earned’ it? Your views on this subject?” Max only grumbles at this, because of course he hasn’t, yet he’s so certain that the Truthers are wrong and off base. The certainty of ignorance works so well to discourage people from really doing their due diligence.

Truthers is an interesting book with much food for thought about questioners, truthers, or conspiracy theorists, whatever you want to call them. It grazes the surface on dealing with mental illness, so if you’re looking for a good book on that issue, this would not be it. This book is also definitely not for someone very emotionally connected to what happened on 9/11. A lot of the theories do sound loony, for some it may seem like Girard is stepping on people’s graves, and it may be traumatizing to read. But Girard’s intention is not to dishonor the dead, but to point to real questions and aspects about 9/11 that need to and should be answered by our government and those in power. He also indicates it is our civic duty to hold our government and those in power to account. Questioning doesn’t do this in and of itself, but it’s a start.

A person can have a mental illness and also have legitimate questions about horrific events like 9/11. This is what I took from the book: First and foremost, do your due diligence. Don’t write off things as crazy simply because they don’t fit either the mainstream narrative or your own personal worldview. The world is complicated and humans are fundamentally dishonest, conspiring against each other in hurtful ways all the time. The more questions, the better. Good thing is, with enough time, the truth often does come out. Truthers has a second good lesson as well: Conspiracy theorists may be asking the right questions, but they don’t often have concrete answers or proof, and one may disappointed they don’t have them. But if indeed those in power are hiding the truth, actual proof will be hard to come by. It’s simply the nature of the beast. I think that if enough people choose to hold those in power to account, therein lies opportunities to get real answers. Maybe someday there will be an American generation that does this. That would be amazing to see.