Scorecard: Jurassic World – 1 Avengers Infinity War – 0

My shameless plug for science fiction

 

Here’s the lesson. Stick the landing. I enjoyed Jurassic World from the beginning, the middle, and the end. We moviegoers know what we want, and we know what we like. Movie makers often appreciate that, meaning us. Infinity War didn’t deliver. If you doubt that just check any source of viewer responses.

I don’t care about the setup for your sequel. You can give an audience an enjoyable ending and still setup the sequel at the same time. Infinity War is a comic, so I guess it falls into the category of fantasy. And don’t assume I have anything against fantasy. Bilbo and Frodo are all that and a bag of chips. Jurassic World is science fiction. I think that matters.

By developing a taste for science fiction you are enabling yourself to contemplate important issues of the day. You can engage your curiosity. You can form ethical arguments. You begin to think and act in a way that determines your future, and you can do good things for someone following in your footsteps. Science fiction perpetually compares the now with the what if. It asks this question. What would happen if we had the ability to do such and such? History has taught us that the less prepared we are for advances in technology, the more bad decisions we suffer from. Remember DDT? Shouldn’t we commit the time to consider the harm of new abilities before we make ourselves too vulnerable? Science fiction has proven to be one of the most reliable tools we have to engage in the debate.

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The science in Jurassic World is cloning. Genetically modified organisms, otherwise know as dinosaurs, are brought to life by combining original ‘dino’ DNA with other animals’ filling in the missing pieces. In a fairly frightening manner, the movie weighs the possible outcomes of producing genetically modified animals for profit. I’ll borrow from one of my favorite 70’s sci-fi TV shows, the Six Million Dollar Man, which introduced us to the idea of the bionically enhanced human, who’s famous line is “We have the technology. We can make you stronger, faster, better than before.” The antagonists in the film decide to do just that when they investigate the possibility of turning a dinosaur into a military weapon.

Today we are faced with a number of staggering challenges from the technology we now, or very soon will possess. What are the right answers for whether or not we should clone animals, or humans? Who should police the internet? What are the worst consequences for us of the dark web? Can there be rules and punishments for cyber warfare and cyber espionage? Where will unchecked gene research lead us? More good than harm? Will that depend on how careful we are? Who will decide? These are a few of the necessary questions. Turn to your favorite science fiction book or movie to consider the answers.

If you have never appreciated the science fiction genre before, there are many places to go for recommendations. I will offer some suggestions. Here is my Mount Rushmore of authors.

 

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Suggested Science Fiction

Books by or films based on the writing of
Philip K. Dick
Michael Crichton
Ray Bradbury
Robert Heinlein
Isaac Asimov

Let me give an honorable mention to Neal Stephenson, whose novel Seveneves promises to offer some of the best in science fiction movies to date. Read the book now before the first movie comes out.

Meditation

My journey of personal observations which I have made over the years to apply Bible reading in my life.

Psalm 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

Observation

The psalmist pledges to speak the things that honor God and to meditate on the things that Honor God.

Application my life

The words I speak need to be honest words that represent what I feel not what I think other people want to hear me say.  Another way of saying this is that I should not be politically correct to get the approval of others when in fact I do not feel the same way as they do.  That means that I refrain from saying things which I do not feel aligned with or that do not reflect my thinking.  My words need to be what I believe, because they come from my heart.  That represents my integrity.  So in order for my words to be such that they are honoring to God my thoughts that lead to those words need to be right minded thoughts which God approves of.  My meditation therefore needs to be about the things God says are good.  And as an extension of that train of thought, I need to purpose to spend time in meditation, making certain that I am spending time focused on God’s priorities.  I can set aside time for meditation and use scripture passages to meditate over.  In this way I will know that the meditation of my heart is acceptable to God.

My prayer

I will set aside time daily to mediate on your word Lord.  I want the meditation of my heart to be acceptable to you.  I want the words of my mouth to be acceptable to you.  I will focus on your word on a regualar basis. Amen

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Book Review: Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr

Author Philip Kerr died a few months ago. In honor of his passing I wanted to include a review of his latest novel, Greeks Bearing Gifts.
First, I confess I am a biased. I think the Bernie Gunther novel series will at some future time be recognized as one of the significant literary contributions of this era.

What I liked
Bernie Gunther detective prose is compelling reading. If you have never read one, I recommend you start with book one, March Violets. You can decide then if you’d like more. These are genre books and as such they will not appeal to all tastes. They are very sober subjects. The setting is Nazi Germany. That creates a convenient opportunity for some very brutal conflict, murder, mayhem, deceit, the double cross, the triple cross, and a constant reminder of what happens to a society when it sacrifices legitimate moral authority in favor of brute force.
Because of the premise of his books, Kerr was more than able to provide story arcs that placed situational ethics at the forefront. Sheer reading enjoyment is here for you if you appreciate engrossing tales with unpredictable outcomes and fascinating characters.
The hero, Bernie Gunther, is one of the most complex you’ll ever find. This is a man with the fiercest of survival instincts, who never ceases to communicate his antipathy for the Third Reich. Greeks Bearing Gifts finds him enjoying himself more than anytime in his previous travels. Which is logical, when you consider by this time, 1956, the Nazi regime and its aftermath have reached an historical conclusion for the most part.
His biggest conflict seems to be an internal one. Because he has learned to succeed numerous life threatening battles involving duplicitous and unprincipled people at every turn, he finds himself incapable of trusting anyone. You really get to explore what it would be like to try to have a normal life under such circumstances. It is a powerful study of how the environment we evolve in can make an indelible impact on our ability to appreciate life’s wonders.

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What I didn’t like
Greeks Bearing Gifts was probably my least favorite Kerr novel. Perhaps because I felt it had more of an educational bent than a provocative noir foundation. However, the plot itself should have gravitas enough for the typical reader. The pillaging of the entire wealth of an ethnic community, a targeted race, and the desperate pursuit to keep the stolen treasures by the vanquished. Add to that the mass escape of untold numbers of Nazi war criminals from the reaches of justice.
However, I was fascinated by the prospect of the next novel. Which is hinted at quite a bit. I understand this final posthumous publishing with take place next year. Because the books have reached such significant depths and spanned over three decades, the final entry has the potential payoff of a genuine master stroke. Bernie Gunther has lived a memorable life, made serious mistakes, suffered consequences few could endure, and grown in ways we ourselves often wish we could.

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What you should know
There is much more In the Philip Kerr novels to be appreciated than a well told tale. My apologies for not sharing them. I hope you find out for yourself firsthand.

Recommendation: Must Read

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Book Review: Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner

What you should know

Missing, Presumed is essentially about how absence impacts the lives of people. How the void filled by people in our lives becomes fully appreciated in their absence. Our personality and behaviors are shaped by relationships, and by the dynamic of how we interact with one another. The feelings and impressions caused by what others do around us. What we do with these feelings creates a persona from which we view our environment, make our decisions, and it influences how we categorize our efforts, positively, negatively, or with indifference.

In the setting we find Manon, who is very fearful of intimacy, having suffered the death of her mother at the age of 14. She also witnessed her grief stricken father sleepwalk through his responsibilities only to replace their mother with a new wife whom she does not accept.

Another player in this drama is Manon’s partner Davy, who is in a relationship with a depressed girlfriend. Davy needs the to be with someone, anyone, more than he actually needs her.

Then there are the three people affected most by the missing person, Edith. Her best friend Helena, who’s fragile in so many ways that without the presence of the dominant Edith in her life, she might not be able to handle it. Next is Ian, Edith’s overbearing father, now distant from her mother Miriam, is it because she is the missing link that connected them? Finally we have Miriam, who suffers the most when her daughter goes missing. We see every ramification of the effect it has, on her thought life, her daily routine, her belief in herself as a parent, and her relationship with her husband, as well as with the outside world in general.

What I liked

Often it’s the little gems that you discover in a novel that you appreciate most. All of us suffer loss and the grief associated with it. For me this passage struck a chord. On grief –

Manon knows what lies beneath, how people can seem normal and yet grief swirls about like an unseen tide working against the currents of life, the mourner wrong-footed by its undertow. The bereaved should  wear signs, she thinks, saying GRIEF IN PROGRESS – for at least a couple years. (page 275)

As a law enforcement professional I am always aware when something genuine pops out of fiction. Here is one I am especially fond of:

He thought it would be one long arse ache, that pint with the boss, but as they sat at the small round table, he found he was too tired for toadying, so he looked Stanton in the eye and told him how rotten he felt…and how responsible. Stanton licked the foam off his upper lip and said, “If you can keep those feelings, Davy lad-and let me tell you, every minute in the police will chip away at them-but if you can hold on to those human feelings, you might just make a good copper.” (page 270)

What I didn’t like

I think one reason we read fiction is because it can take us to far away places and provide experiences unavailable in our everyday lives. Since police investigations are something I know well from first hand experience, I have found a great entertainment out of exploring police stories in foreign lands. Vikram Chandra provided that for me in Sacred Games. But my absolute favorite is Tana French. This book brought me to England, and the tiny community of Huntingdon.

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Sadly, the course of the missing persons case was all too realistic. I have always argued that real police work is unbearably dull and unimaginative, a far cry from the famous fictionalized super sleuths of the traditional detective novel. I found it an accurate rendering of how cases are worked, but how many people find these things great reading? I sure don’t. That’s my paradox. Until I figure it out I won’t be able myself to endeavor to write similar stories with any confidence that an audience is waiting to appreciate them.

Recommendation: Good Read

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Hope

My journey of personal observations which I have made over the years to apply Bible reading in my life.

Psalm 130:7 O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.
Observation
God redeems us from our sin and its consequences out of an expression of His love which is sacrificial and selfless. That is our hope when all else fails, it is our hope before self reliance, it is our hope in the beginning and in the end.
Application in my life
I read where the United Nations commission on global warming says that human life will be affected by rising surface temperatures, water will not be available to sub saharan areas of Africa and similar lands, millions of square miles of habitats along the coastline will be under water, and crops will not grow in areas where they currently do. People will migrate in order to survive and less food will be available to feed the growing planet’s population. I did not feel very good about our future reading this. The experts predicted violence and unrest by groups of people in reaction to the climate changes.

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Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is an example of the increased harm climate change has already brought into the environment today, which is more violent and deadly weather than ever before. When I think about the bleak picture that this presents, verses such as Psalm 130:7 help to provide a calm that comes with the realization that although I may not be able to place much hope and confidence in governments or corporations or other people, I do have a God with whom my hope belongs. While I believe †he increase in greenhouse gases do to human consumption is partly the result of sinful behavior and unwise choices, I also believe we all have a responsibility to do what we can to fix it.
My prayer
Lord help use providence to deal with the consequences of global warming, provide us shelter and safety from the storms ahead, let us act wisely to minimize the harm that the destructive production of greenhouse gasses has brought upon us. Allow us to see Your vision for a lifestyle that is a blessing and not a curse, Amen

Balanced Living

My journey of personal observations which I have made over the years to apply Bible reading in my life.
James 4:13-15 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say,” If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
Observation
James admonishes against the sin of worldliness and is speaking specifically to a certain kind of behavior that people fall into, or find themselves participating in or misguidedly see as the right way to act. It becomes part of the culture and as such dominates the thinking and the lives of many who live within it, including Christians
Application in my life
So our american culture has many Christian aspects to it as it has matured over the years. Christianity has always played a part, however, many people have distorted both the culture and the religion. What I get from this discussion is the idea expressed as Balanced Living. For example, planning and goal setting are good things to do in the proper situation. But what this verse reminds me of is where God fits into all that planning and goal setting. I want to strike the right balance in my life so that I do not plan God out of it. I used to work so much that I did not have time for church. How did that plan work for me?
I like to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr who was leading a great cultural movement and died before the movement reached the point of changing American institutions. So he understood the concept of “If the Lord wills, we will live to do this or that.” And  he understood that he was a mist that appeared for a little time and then vanished. But the work can continue on with others who follow the same paths. For me it is summed up in the statement ‘redeem the time’.
My prayer
Lord if You will, let me redeem the time that I have to do the things that You direct me, that You place on my heart and are providing the spiritual force to accomplish. Let me lead a balanced life that places You at the center, and my family around the center, Amen

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Documentary: Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, starring Fred Rogers

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Megyn Kelly TODAY

Documentary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, starring Fred Rogers

The film portrays the relationship between the educational children’s public television series Mister Roger’s Neighborhood (1968-2001), and its creator, writer, composer, and host, Fred Rogers.

The message of the show was simple. However the substance of the show was very deep and highly complex. A subtle irony associated with it developed around the observation that for some, the simplicity of the program may have masked the inherent brilliance from them. So they failed to appreciate the true value it had for children.

I find a parallel with the Biblical account of Jesus of Nazareth. Many of his messages appeared simple on the surface. Yet the substance of what Jesus communicated has astounded countless readers over the generations with its complexity and depth. Personally, I think that the reaction to what Jesus said tells you more about the person who forms their opinion, than it does about Christ. Comparatively, the same applies to Fred Rogers. Your reaction to him and his television show reveals more about you, than it does about the value of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

One of the takeaways for me from the documentary was how important the manner in which Fred Rogers acknowledged the dignity of each individual child was. Another was how selfless his commitment to children seemed to be. And another was the contribution he made to so many lives. There were more for me, but I’m focusing on these three.

Fred Rogers gave his total attention to children. He answered serious questions about life for them. He created an atmosphere where spending time together was more important than mindless humor, and he incorporated music to aid memory, create comfort, and impart joy. His respectful approach was unparalleled, and sadly, has not been replicated to this day.

One unique aspect of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is that while other educational programs focused on teaching reading, vocabulary and arithmetic, it focused instead on teaching kids how to think and mature as human beings, how to deal with the realities of life like friendship, responsibility, kindness. I’d imagine every key concept was covered short of income tax. Fred Rogers did this because he cared that TV could harm children if all it gave them was relative garbage (vis a vis the saying ‘garbage in garbage out’). I think it was his Christian calling, which speaks to his belief in practicing what Jesus preached.

He was determined to counter the mindless entertainment forced into homes and provide quality content for the benefit of children, regardless of the challenging circumstances or misguided critics, which often were too many. My favorite part of the film was when Rogers faced off against the U.S. Senate effort to cut funding for public television in order to put the money into the Vietnam War. The documentary is well worth seeing for just that scene alone.

The contribution Fred Rogers made to the lives of so many people is best exemplified by his statement that ‘you are special just the way you are’. He believed this about himself, and he was aware that so many children struggled in their childhood and later in life because of their lack of self esteem and the emotional and psychological handicaps inflicted upon them as a result. His legacy, generations of well adjusted people, is a testament to what he was able to accomplish because of this belief.

Wisdom

My journey of personal observations which I have made over the years to apply Bible reading in my life.
Hebrews 9:8 The Holy Spirit was making it clear that the way into the most holy place had not yet been disclosed while the first tabernacle was still standing. Hebrews 9:11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.
Observation
In the letter the author is explaining the transformation taking place between the old covenant that began with Abraham and the new covenant that exists with the ministry of Jesus Christ. He mentions that people did not know the way into the most holy place during the old covenant. Christ provides this new knowledge through His position as the new high priest
Application to my life 
As a professor I am often reminded that I am most effective when I find ways to help others learn new things. The more new things I am able to learn, the more effective I can be teaching others. Similarly, God continuously reminds us that wisdom is the key to understanding, and the knowledge we gain is a blessing. The knowledge provided by the coming of Christ was good news in one particular way: that it meant the establishment of a new covenant and by that a new way of salvation became available for all who would choose to accept it. This is what God wants Christians to share; to teach, to anyone willing to believe it. There are so many people today – all around the world – who do not have this knowledge and who would choose to accept it, if only someone would teach it to them.
My Prayer
I pray that I may do my part to help others learn about the new covenant and the good news of Christ. I pray that I continue to learn by prayer, and by reading the Bible, so that I can better share these truths and so that I can help others grow while I grow and increase in knowledge about being a disciple. Lord strengthen me in these areas, Amen.

 

Book Review: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

I read Small Great Things during a time when racial animus seemed to be causing so much harm in America. I did some research before choosing to read it. I needed the book to have value to me, for the time and effort I planned to commit. I wanted the book to make me better somehow. If it could do that, then perhaps I could recommend it to others for similar reasons.

What I liked.

This is a book about consequences. I call it a picture book. For it depicts how we can take people, make negative assumptions about them, hinder them from having prosperous lives, limit their educational potential, send them countless messages to convince them they are inferior, and create a system that severely punishes them, whether they deserve it or not.

By depicting this, the book allows us to ask ourselves why does this happen? How could it be tolerated? The author tells the story from points of view that enable us to think about ourselves, critically, and determine if we are part of the problem, part of the solution, or both.

The first person POV forces you to engage in the story, doesn’t allow you to remain on the sidelines as a bystander, watching others passively. It makes you uncomfortable, forces you to feel the emotions, the guilt, the pain, anger and frustration of being lost in a world that appears to provide little more than wrong answers. Choices between lesser evils.

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What is the message? Somethings are very wrong here. This should not be. This need not continue. It will, unless.

The 3 main POV characters are very real, well fleshed out human beings whose thoughts and beliefs are given great attention. Their family and friends are well developed and multidimensional too. This is a world you will recognize, as all too familiar. Just as much attention is paid to the thoughts as it is to the words that are spoken and the actions taken by the victim’s family, the accused, and the legal professionals handling the case.

I believe this is a courageous piece of fiction by Jodi Picoult. My hope is that more talented authors have the desire and willingness to do something like this. Make a real contribution to the reading community of something that they can use to improve their knowledge, their understanding, and their ability to grow morally. To find the difference between right and wrong, and choose justly.

What I didn’t like.

I have personally seen many people stand up and defend others who have been mistreated. So I know first hand what good things we are capable of. Yet why does it seem that the world around us is getting worse? Why do things appear so hopeless? Small Great Things is stuck in a world doomed to repeat its failures, with the resulting damage to our culture, our economy, and our future. Not good. Yet I can’t so much blame the book as much as I can recognize that the fault lies with the society that the book explores. If this is an accurate reflection of the world we live in, maybe the best thing to do is for us face the reality that our ship is taking on water. So let’s figure out how best to bail while we form a plan to plug the leak.

What you should know.

Jodi Picoult has mastered her craft. She is famous for the research she does into each novel. You will learn something. Will you like it? Will it entertain you? Should these be your main considerations? If the hardest things in life require the most effort, if they can only be achieved by having all available gifts and talents working together in a cohesive team with a common objective, what is your role? What are you doing about it? How much damage is your inaction causing? This book may help you find these answers.

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Book Review: The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Book Review: The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

What I liked.

This is a smart story. It’s action packed for those who like the genre. It is also suspenseful and stuffed with dramatic confrontations. It isn’t just smartly told. The prose is easy to follow with a good bit of humor for such a serious subject, an act of cyber warfare on the United States. This is one of the highly charged current topics up for debate as the modern world becomes more and more dependent on artificial intelligence and we realize how much of the essentials we take for granted are interconnected in an invisible cyberspace that has little, if any, existence in a tangible form.

Why is this an important issue all of us should think about? Here are some reasons. How much money do you have? What is the source of your income? Your savings? Your investments? Your health benefits? What physical proof of them exists? How much of our basic needs, water, electricity, communication, depend on the electronic grids that help facilitate them? How vulnerable are we individually and collectively as a society if we do not protect them well enough from potential enemies?

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All of these ideas and more are addressed in this novel. But it’s all done in a very entertaining fashion. It doesn’t preach, lecture, or promote an ideologically biased point of view. It delivers the news. Then lets you, the reader figure things out for yourself.

On a deeper level the story is strong in the way it touches on key themes such as trust, integrity, political animosity, and prejudice. I applaud that effort because I think it’s true that if we don’t work on removing stereotypes and establish priorities that put the common interests of most people first so that we avoid trying to create winners and losers in every important area, we may wake up to find out that we have already lost what few other nations have ever had, a secure republic that works for every American who is willing to work hard to live with liberty and pursue what makes them happy.

What I didn’t like.

Some of the characters were not developed well at all. They were primarily present to move the plot along without delving deep enough into their motives or moral dilemmas. I’m not sure they even had any! So the problems a world power like the U.S. faces from external threats aren’t going to be fixed by such a simplistic worldview that is barely defined. I will admit that we have to figure out our internal problems before we can best understand foreign threats. So I hope the next novel following this, if there is one, makes an effort to look at where our enemies come from and what we can do to mitigate their creation.

What you should know.

This is a book for the average everyday reader. It isn’t full of technical, high level complexity. Although it has a message that everyone should consider. There is nothing wrong with simplifying things in order to make the story more enjoyable for most. If you are looking for the intricate details found in some of the more intellectual offerings from other authors, try not to be too disappointed. Think of it as a fun summer read.

Recommendation: Must Read

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