Friday, June 27, 2014

Book Series Review: Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant


Divergent – This book is a 10/10.
It’s better written than the Hunger Games and far more interesting. (my Hunger Games review)
The characters are more interesting and the balance of character development, plot, and fun is perfect.
It reads like fan fiction of Hunger Games written by someone with a better understanding of the human mind and extreme emotions. It also doesn’t base the entire plot on kids killing kids so it isn’t nearly as grotesque and macabre as Hunger Games.
Veronica Roth is witty and wise. She understands teenage cliques and the dichotomous struggle to honor parents while striving for independence and freedom.
She understands the impossible topic of suicide:  
"He throws himself off a ledge and Eric's calling it brave?"
- "What do you want them to do? Condemn him? Al's already dead. He can't hear it and it's too late."
"It's not about Al." I snap. "It's about everyone watching! Everyone who now sees hurling themselves into the chasm as a viable option. I mean, why not do it if everyone calls you a hero afterwards? Why not do it if everyone remembers your name?"
Divergent is an excellent book and well worth reading.  It is a very fast read and though the basis of the book seems at first far-fetched, it makes a great landscape and background for a riveting story.

Insurgent – 6/10.  
     It’s still a very fast read and well-paced novel.  The problem is that the author kind of loses her way.  It’s a little like Hunger Games Book 3 – when an author changes the world in which their story is written, it’s very difficult to know which characters fit where and what they would do in different situations.  To me Ms. Roth knew her characters fairly well, but once the background changed they no longer felt fully authentic and the plot got muddled.  I still read it in less than 5 hours, and I wanted to read book 3, but the fun and the intrigue weren’t as strong.

Allegiant – 2/10.  Yeah, this book has 3 HUGE flaws.
1.      VIEWPOINT.  The first two books are written first person from the female protagonist’s viewpoint.  Veronica Roth writes perfectly from the mind of a teenage girl.  THEN - In the 3rd book the author changes it up so every other chapter is written from the Male protagonists point of view… and it fails miserably.  At least 7 or 8 times while reading I was confused because the “male” chapter sounded the exact like the “female” chapters.  His voice and thoughts and perceptions were exactly the same as hers.  Roth may develop the skill of writing from a male viewpoint, but she isn’t there yet, and the book suffered terribly because of it.
2.       MORAL.  This book is “the moral of the trilogy.” But instead of letting it play out through the characters and natural plot – the author decides to tell you the moral of the story, over and over and over again.  She slams it down your throat like you’re so dense you didn’t get it the first few hundred times so she must explicitly state it again.  I got so sick of it that by the time she reached the emotional climax of the book and I was supposed to be crying like a baby – I was bored instead.
3.       PLOT.  This book falls victim to the same problem that plagued the 4th Bourne movie and Hunger Games Book 3 and so many others.  The author had to expand the universe to keep the plot going.  She had to say “but wait, there’s more.  This is just the tip of the iceberg.”  Then she didn’t know what to do with the rest of the iceberg.  The plot pacing is off.  The characters get confusing as she tries to keep old characters, introduce new ones, change their alliances, and change their personalities and character.
She also refers to things characters said once, a thousand pages ago, and she expects the reader to remember what was said, who it was said to, and what emotions everyone was feeling at that time.
 
The series is not worth reading.  I was told that by multiple friends before I started, and they were right.  The first book is great and well worth it.  The second book is only valuable as a bridge to the third, and the third is a train wreck. 
The best thing I can compare this series to is the TV show Heroes. 

With Heroes – Stop after Season 1. 
With Divergent – Stop after Book 1.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

World Cup Playoffs Explained for Football Fans

I hear so many confused questions from friends about the world cup:
“Wait the USA lost, yet they’re on to the next round?” or “There was a tie? How does that work?”

For all you football fans, let me explain.

The NFL has 32 teams divided into 8 Divisions
The World Cup has 32 teams divided into 8 Groups.

Every NFL team plays the other 3 teams in their division, and they are ranked in that division.
Every World Cup team plays the other 3 teams in their group, and they are ranked in that group.

The top 1 team from each NFL division advances to the playoffs. (plus Wildcard teams)
The top 2 teams from each World Cup group advance to the playoffs.

Then it’s a single elimination playoff till the championship.

I don’t get why there is so much confusion.  In the NFL, you can lose your last game of the season and still advance to the playoffs.  Kansas City lost their last 2 games of 2013 and still made it – because they did well enough in their division to advance.
The USA just lost their last game of the “group stage” to Germany – but they were still one of the top 2 teams in their group (better than Portugal and Ghana) so they advanced. 

But futbol's system is better than football's.  It doesn’t just matter that you win, it also matters how you win. 
If you and another team have an equal “win-loss” record, then it matters how many goals you won by.  If you got blown out – it’s gonna cost you.  If you won in a landslide, it’s gonna help.

Futbol is awesome because it starts out giving everyone 3 games.  Every team gets a few chances to show what they can do.  They can recover from a mistake; they can still make it to the playoffs. 
THEN it’s Playoff time.  Single Elimination.  No ties allowed.  If you can’t win it in overtime, then it comes down to penalty kicks – 5 per team.

Futbol is beautiful.  Futbol is international.  Futbol’s World Cup group / playoff system is perfect.

Monday, June 23, 2014

One Man’s Thoughts on “Ordain Women”


If you read the Bible – women were once prophetesses and used the power of God to perform miracles. 
I think this is pretty common knowledge.

In the Bible men also had multiple wives.  The Lord’s people were commanded to sacrifice animals and not to
eat pigs. They couldn’t wear clothes with two kinds of fabric and they were commanded at different times to kill anyone who worshipped a different God.
When Moses became prophet and revealed the 10 commandments did he say “I’m giving you these because Adam was wrong?”

When Jesus taught a “new” law, did he call Moses a “fallen prophet?”
Did he say the prophet’s of old were misguided men following their own desires and ignoring God?  Were they misinterpreting the word of God?

No.  Jesus studied their words, taught from them, and converted many by using the Old Testament’s teachings.  He also revealed God’s will for the people in HIS day.  He did away with animal sacrifice, and started the sacrament.  He was certainly much more than a prophet, but these were things he did in his role as a prophet.

If you believe and follow the LDS (mormon) faith – then you believe that there are prophets of God today.  They are still receiving revelation, and so things are still changing.
I don’t drink coffee.  Why?  Because the prophet said God doesn’t want me to right now.   
Do I think Coffee is the devil's brew and it will bring hellfire and damnation on those who drink it?  No.
I have no idea if the Lord's command not to drink coffee is a long term thing or a temporary law for our day.  All I know is – the prophet said it, I have prayed and been told by God that the prophet is God's prophet and I should follow him – so I don’t drink coffee.

SO.  To the topic at hand - The Priesthood:

Who can hold the priesthood (power of God) at this time? – All worthy, ordained men.  It wasn’t always that way.  There was a time when only descendents of the tribe of Levi could hold this power to work in the Temple.  Then there was a time when only members of the 12 tribes could.  Then there was a time when it expanded to all men of white skin, no matter their lineage.  The latest prophets have said any worthy man of any race can be ordained and receive the Priesthood.

Now what else will God tell the prophets?  What else will He change for our good?  What else will He ask us to do to show our obedience and humility?
Will some newer commandments go away and return to old ways?
Will He allow us to drink alcohol?  Will He ask us not to shave our beards? Will He ask us to wear clothing covering us from head to toe? Will He reinstitute polygamy? 

I don’t know.  So what do I do?  What all Mormons are instructed to do:

I read the scriptures.  I pray, wonder, doubt, question, discuss, ponder and pray again. 
When we can’t find an answer in the scriptures or through prayer, we ask our prophet.  Sometimes we ask if things should be changed.  Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes it is no.

What does Ordain Women want?  Let’s read from their mission statement:
“The fundamental tenets of Mormonism support gender equality… Ordain Women believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.”

Sounds fair enough right?  Gender Equality in the church.  Women and men are equal.  That sounds appropriate and correct and exactly what the Lord would want.

But that second part “women MUST be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.”

That sounds more like the people telling the Lord what to do, rather than listening to Him. 
It sounds like the Israelites telling Moses he was wrong for leading them out of Egypt.  They told Moses he should take them back to Egypt because life was better there. That was where Joseph and the Lord had told them to be!  (They were still following a past prophet, not the current one)

Ordain Women sounds like people who really don’t believe.  They have believed, and maybe they want to believe, and they have been trying to follow – but not anymore.  They have turned.  They aren't seeking understanding, or revelation.  They are seeking public recognition and their own definition of equality.

From their Mission Statement:
"As a group we intend to put ourselves in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood."

Do they believe in change by revelation, or by political pressure and public humiliation?
Do they believe Moses was a prophet?  Was Abraham?  Peter?  Joseph Smith?

We should all question.  We should study and ponder and doubt and figure things out.  We do not follow blindly.

But Ordain Women made an ultimatum on the Lord.  They tried to tell him what equality in the church means, and how he has to do it to satisfy their demands.

“Women must be ordained.”

Does that sound like people seeking an answer?  Or does that sound like people who have already decided what the answer should be and it is the Lord’s place to agree with them?

Those are my thoughts, and they are my own.  If God tells the prophet that women are now to be “in charge." – That they are now going to be ordained, become prophets and apostles and lead in the church - I better be ready to listen and obey. 
I believe my faith, and I publicly profess to follow it.  I should act like it.

I am not perfect, and I am certainly hypocritical in many many ways.  But I am striving to follow what I believe; to bring myself closer to Christ and to help others do the same thing.
I hope I succeed, and I hope others strive for the same thing.

The Bias of Assuming Bias

I am white.
I am male. 
I am American.
I am short, bald, Christian, and married with kids.
I also fit under a thousand other labels, which can be interesting and informative, or stereotypical and speculative.

If I support a “women’s cause,” I am told I am open-minded.  If I do not support one I am told it is because I am male, and I am “biased.”
Why couldn’t I be open-minded in both instances?
On the flipside - who’s to say I wasn’t unfairly biased both times?  It’s just that women didn’t mind it the first time because my bias was in their favor.

Because I am white – does that mean I am biased against all other races?  Automatically?
Because I am short, am I biased against those who are tall?  Am I biased against those with hair on their heads? 

Who is more biased: a Christian, a Muslim, or an Atheist? 
The question is idiotic.  It depends on the individual.  I am a Christian, yet I know Muslims who are far better people than some of the Christians I know.
(And by my reading of the Bible, I know some Atheists more likely to go to heaven than some Christians)


Bias and prejudice and misunderstanding are all “no respecter of persons.” 
When we assume bias based on demographics – guess whose really being the biased one?
Women are just as biased as men.  Blacks just as biased as Whites.  Poor are just as biased as Rich.  Married just as biased as Single.

When you tell someone “you’re biased because you’re _____,”  guess whose bias is shining through?

There ARE people who gain more understanding, spend more time in introspection, and work harder to eliminate their biases.  Those people both Republicans and Democrats, both Men and Women.  They are in all groups, all religions, and they are part of every demographic.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

We Must Be Willing To Feel Everything

I posted earlier this week about "hate."

No one likes the word "hate" - it has become "the unacceptable emotion."
It is like Voldemort - hate is "he who shall not be named."


Hate is associated with so many horrific things that we can hardly say the word anymore.
 
Yet as long as we fear any emotion or thought, we are prisoners; unable to grow.



In order to have anything in life, we have to be willing to have the opposite.

In order to get married, we must open ourselves to the possibility of divorce.
In order to have faith, we have to be willing to doubt, to question, to learn and grow.
In order to have courage, we must be willing to fear.
In order to love, we must be willing to hate. We have to be willing to care about someone that much. We have to be that invested, that deeply attached.
In order to trust we have to open ourselves up to the possibility of being betrayed, abandoned, let down.

When any emotion or feeling becomes unacceptable, then we lose the correlating emotion. When we are unwilling to to be betrayed, we lose the ability to trust.
If we are unwilling to lose, we are unable to win.
If we are are unwilling to be rejected, we are unable to be accepted.

We must be vulnerable. All emotions must be a possibility. All emotions must be acceptable.

When we accept the fact that we feel and think horrific things, AND we can still act according to our values - then we have happiness.  Then we have self mastery.
We can think and feel anything, be put through any horror or atrocity, and still be ourselves, living our life. When we can become like Viktor Frankl - be stripped of everything, have our jobs and homes and livelihoods taken, have our family killed, and be forced to work in a Nazi concentration camp - and still live our values, still have a life of meaning - then we have success.  Then we have happiness. Then we have a life worth living.

 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Teach Your Children That It's Okay To Hate

I mean that.  Teach them that it is perfectly acceptable and even healthy to feel hatred.
It is a GOOD thing to hate.
Just like it is a GOOD thing to feel sadness, fear, resentment, anger, loneliness, regret, guilt, hate, etc… 
When we teach our children to “hate” these feelings, to fear them and reject them and deny them and suppress them – we are teaching our children a lie.  We are teaching them that they should always be happy, always be pleasant, always like other people, always be pleased with life and its outcomes.
Really?  We should be happy with death, loss, hunger, abuse, disease, failure and rejection?
We shouldn’t hate anything?  Really?
Any Christians out there?
 - Proverbs 6:16 tells us that the Lord hates some things.
 - Revelations 2:6 tells us Jesus hated as well.

Hate and love are the strongest emotions possible.  They are not opposites.  The opposite of love is apathy.  The opposite of hate is also apathy.
Teaching kids to ignore their strongest “negative” emotions also inevitably limits their “positive” emotions.
If you get rid of the strongest hate, you also get rid of the strongest love.   
Why do Christians believe that Christ’s love is the ultimate love?  Why is it perfect?
Because he felt all our pain, all our sufferings, all of our shortcomings, all of our hatred.  He felt all those things - completely understands us, and he has the most perfect love and caring and concern for our eternal well-being.
Hate isn’t bad.  Doing hateful things is bad.  
You may be tempted to say - "but hate can only lead to bad things - love leads to all good things."
Really?  How many terrible things have been done in the name of "love" or in the pursuit of "happiness."
Telling kids not to hate is like telling Elsa in the movie Frozen to “conceal don’t feel.”
Thoughts and emotions are neither good nor bad – they just are.  Thoughts and emotions happen whether we want them to or not.  The question is what we DO with them.  They are all useful and appropriate at times.
Happiness/cheeriness can be a very bad thing.  At a funeral, in the Emergency room, when admitting your child to the psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt - being happy and cheery and full of bubbly hope and peter pan advice like “think a happy thought” - is not "good" in these situations.  It is not appropriate, it is not helpful, it is bad.
Why do you think the happiest people usually seem to be the people who have suffered the most?  Why do the most inspirational people, the ones who really touch us – usually have horrific life histories of pain and suffering and hate.  Those emotions taught them how to feel true love and appreciation and caring.  They learned how to accept the fact that they feel hatred and anger, and how to use that emotion to live a happy life, according to their beliefs and values.
If we teach our children to fear emotion, to fear anger and hatred and deny that those feelings ever existed - we are setting them up to explode.  The hate and anger are there.  Everyone feels them.  We can either admit it and accept it, or conceal it, fear it, and then await the explosion of the ticking time bomb.

Don't teach kids to fear hatred.  Teach them what to do when they feel it; what it means, and why it's good. 

Teach your kids that it's okay to hate - it's the only way they'll ever learn to love.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Book Review: Dante’s Inferno (1308 AD)



Preface #1 -  I could write many blog posts about the history of this epic poem, why Dante wrote it, what it meant politically, and who all the characters were in his life.  But you can just read Wikipedia instead and you’ll get the gist of it.

Preface #2 - I am reviewing the 1954 translation by John Ciardi.  (If you’re going to read a 300 page poem, written 700 years ago in Italian, you want to take time to find the best translation)
This translation is ideal because each Canto (chapter) starts with a half page summary of the chapter.  Then you read the poetic chapter.  Then you find 3 pages of notes about the chapter, who the characters were and what they meant to Dante and Italian culture in the 14th Century.

MY REVIEW: This book is excellent. 

It is an amazing work by a magnificent poet which explains what Hell might look like.  He details the suffering and punishment for each kind of sin.  As he descends further and further through the 9 circles of Hell, he finds people he knew, politicians, religious leaders, rival poets, etc…  He describes why each one is there, why they are suffering, and what they would tell those still living if they could.

The First Circle of Hell is genius.  There is no suffering, it feels like heaven.  It is reserved for the righteous and virtuous who were not baptized in life.  Here he finds Homer, Cicero, Hippocrates, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and many others.  They are not destined to suffer at all, but are only in hell because without baptism they cannot be allowed into heaven.

Then Dante starts the descent into progressively more horrific suffering as he details the gradation of sin.  First Lust, then Gluttony, Greed, Wrath, and Heresy.  When Dante gets to the 7th circle of hell which is reserved for the Violent - he breaks it into 3 levels.  1 – Violence against others.  2 – Violence against self.  3 – Violence against God and Nature.

Circle 8 is when he really hits his stride.  This circle is reserved for the Frauds and Dante details the ten different kinds of Fraud and why each is worse than the last: Seducers, flatterers, those who sold church offices, false prophets, corrupt politicians, hypocrites, thieves, evil counselors, the “sowers of Discord” and at last the imposters.  Dante doesn’t pull any punches as he describes which Catholic Pope is found in each section. He then even details Muhammad’s suffering for leading people away from Christianity. 

Circle 9 is the last circle of Hell where Satan himself lives.  This is saved for those who committed the sin of betrayal.  Cain who killed Abel, Antenor of Troy who betrayed his city to the Greeks, Ptolemy who invited all his enemies to a banquet of truce, and killed them all.


In the bottom of Circle 9 is the worst place in all of hell: Judecca.  This is where the three-headed Satan abides with one sinner being torn to shreds in each of his three mouths.  Brutus and Cassius are in the mouths on the sides, suffering eternal torment from Satan for their betrayal of Julius Caesar.
In the central most vicious mouth is Judas Iscariot, who betrayed the Lord Jesus Christ.  Judas’ head is being constantly gnawed by Satan's jaws as his back is forever being skinned by Satan's claws.

The poem is then complete.

The detail of this poem is exquisite.  The profound symbolism is aweing as each sinner suffers in a manner symbolic of the pain they caused others in life. 

I don’t know if I will ever read parts 2 and 3 (Purgatory and Paradise), but I am glad I read this literary classic.  It was well written, and in its own way, it was very inspiring.  I recommend it.