Thursday, January 31, 2013

Things on Thursday: Pictures from Space

Perhaps you know how I enjoy perspectives...different ones, big ones, small ones, odd ones. This morning, I took a look at a far-away perspective.

Take a look at our world from space, the amazing, beautiful, freaky, scary, weird, and wonderful Earth.

Chris Hadfield's Pictures from Space

Talk about perspective.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Gratitude Journal #172

Today, I am grateful for my family who took good care of me this weekend.

Today, I am grateful for laughter and all the funny stuff in life.

Today, I am grateful for the peace that comes from knowing you did your best...even if the situation didn't turn out as you expected or hoped.

Today, I am grateful for cuteness.


What are you grateful for today?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Words, Words, Words of Gratitude

"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have."  Frederick Keonig

What do you have right now that you can appreciate? What can you do to fully appreciate what you have?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mama Bear and the Movies

When was the last time you had a visceral reaction to a movie? Movies may be entertaining or moving, shocking or scary, hopeful or sweet, funny or ridiculous, enraging or frustrating, thrill rides or slow raft trips down a river. Some rare few will make you think. Even rarer movies will teach you something about life or death that you didn't already know.

But when was the last time a movie reached into your soul and showed you a part of yourself that you hadn't know existed before?

In fairness, my mama bear instinct has always been strong, but I've thought of it more as a protective instinct, not viscerally violent. Until I saw the movie Taken on Monday.

I'll put on my critic's cap and tell you (if you haven't already seen it) that Taken isn't a great movie, and I certainly didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did. I prefer my action movies silly rather than intense. Think The A-Team and Knight and and funny romps with nary a lick of seriousness in them. Taken, however, is nothing if not intensely serious. It was released in 2008, so it's really old news, but DVD is the only way I would see an action movie like this anyway because I can simply walk away when the action gets too violent or uncomfortable.

From a critic's viewpoint, the script of Taken is clunky, the plot predictable and extremely manipulative. The movie focuses so tightly on action and violence that the characters come off as flat stereotypes rather than rounded, real people.

But I loved the movie anyway because all the bad guys we meet--and there are a LOT of them--die violent, well-earned deaths at the hands of an angry father, played by Liam Neeson, who, by the way, is aging so very nicely.

What engaged me even more than a simple angry-dad-going-after-his-abducted-daughter plot is that the daughter's abductors are human traffickers, kidnapping attractive young women to sell into slavery. The subject is popular in the news lately, with lots of bloggers promoting organizations that rescue women trapped in the sex trade, plenty of news segments on NPR discussing the wife-buying between North Korea and China, and eastern European mafias. Human trafficking is everywhere, really, and always has been. Making slavery illegal doesn't make it go away.

That's why the justice meted out in Taken is so very, very satisfying. Neeson's character is a Dad operating outside a system which can't provide justice for all. Only a rogue retired CIA agent can get the job done, and these slavers are messing with the wrong Dad. As the movie's Dad brutally forces his way to his daughter, I felt the intense satisfaction that only comes from seeing justice duly served on people who would dare threaten my child.

Oh, yeah.

Isn't that what's great about the movies? We can experience vicariously that which we would never experience in real life. In Taken, the bad guys get their just desserts and the good guys return to normalcy without ill effect.

What isn't so satisfying is the fact that only two girls are saved...and the first one because Dad needs information to find his daughter. We see plenty of women who've been abducted, but Dad's only interested in saving his daughter. In the process he kills the wealthy leader of the Paris slave operation (yay!), but a thinking viewer knows this slime-ball is just a cog in a very large machine. Taking him down won't stop the slavery. Rescuing one woman won't help the thousands of women who aren't rescued.

I'm really proud of my teenage son Nick for recognizing this problem. "What about all the other girls?" he asked.

You might take that unspoken point from the movie as an indictment of the worldwide establishment which doesn't put enough effort in stopping slavery. But that would credit the movie with far more intelligence and social conscience than it demonstrates otherwise. It's an action movie that does action very well and engages the violent protective instincts latent in all parents, but not much more.

That's what makes it fun to watch.

The not-fun-at-all question remains, however. What about all the other girls?

Now it's your turn. What movie have you seen recently that, perhaps unexpectedly, engaged your heart or mind?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Gratitude Journal #171

Today, I am grateful for a four-day weekend.

Today, I am grateful for snow pretty and fluffy.

Today, I am grateful for my hands. They do so much!

What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Content of Their Character

Yesterday, just after I picked Jack up at school, NPR ran the entire tape of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivering his I Have a Dream speech. You can see a video recording of the speech here.

It's strange to think that in August, that tape will be 50 years old. Just think how far we've come since then.

Then, think how far we have yet to go.

Dr. King's speech is a tour de force of effective rhetoric, and I taught it as such in English 102 classes. Listening to Dr. King's voice yesterday in my car, I found myself speaking with him, saying his words out loud.

Jack noticed, and asked if I knew the words. I told him that the words were so important that yes, I did know a lot of them.

Jack is not at an age where he can appreciate the metaphor, the biblical references, the historical importance and context, the high and powerful rhetoric, though he is studying the Civil Rights Movement in school. Phrases like "victims of creative suffering" and "police brutality" and "valley of despair" and "oasis of freedom and justice" don't mean much to him.


I grew up in the south. I never saw the segregated water fountains or lunch counters or schools, but I saw segregated neighborhoods, I heard racist comments uttered freely and without thought, I saw news coverage of the Greensboro massacre in November, 1979, when I was almost 13 and attending a mostly-white private school.

I lived two hours from Greensboro. That massacre was in my back yard and an entire world away. I couldn't understand the politics and hate surrounding the massacre, but I did know that violence wasn't right, killing people wasn't right, wearing sheets or swastikas wasn't right.

That much I did understand.

My generation, however, saw far less of the dehumanizing ugliness of racism than my parent's generation, in large part because of the work and words of Dr. King and many others who stood up instead of by.

Jack's generation is growing up with an African-American president whose second inauguration will take place on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, and regardless of how you or I may feel about his politics, President Obama sets a powerful example of democracy's ability to move forward and expand its freedom and power to make true its belief that all men are created equal.

But Klan membership is growing. The ugliness isn't gone.


What is the content of our nation's character? How will we be judged? Will we ever truly be able to sing, "Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty. We're free at last"?

One day.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Gratitude Journal #170

Today, I am grateful for wonderful worship services to start the week.

Today, I am grateful to own a dog who makes a comfortable driving-around-town companion.

Today, I am grateful for friends who make time for me.

Today, I am grateful for blog readers who take time to read my words.

What are you grateful for today?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Words, Words, Words of Ambiguous Feeling

Found on Pinterest...

In one sense, this thought comforts me enormously. In another sense, it makes me very, very afraid.

Have a wonderful, calm weekend.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Books in Binary

When I received a Nook tablet for Christmas in 2011, I wondered if the end times were a-comin'. After all, my Luddite tendencies made me into a late- or non-adopter of new technology. Consider how I argued against my employer buying a fax machine back in 1988.

How useful could a fax machine have been?

Well, turns out it was pretty useful. Surprise!

So let's just say my track record with technology adoption hasn't been good. How in the world could binary and pixels replace paper, ink, boards, and glue?

Imagine my surprise when the Nook became my fiction format of choice. I love reading novels on my Nook. I also love playing sudoku, checking email, and surfing the internet a bit on my Nook. Watching movies on a plane...very cool. Enlarging the print size with a few touches of the screen...huge bonus for my aging eyes.

What I don't like about the Nook, however, is significant. It has a battery, and batteries run out, especially on six-hour airplane trips. No juice, no book, big problem. With practice, my battery management skills have improved, though.

Reading books with pictures, maps, or diagrams is deeply annoying on a Nook. When I read David McCullough's book about Paris, what a pain in the tookus it was trying to match pictures to text...and in a book with as many names and places as that one, pictures and maps help. A lot.

George even had a problem reading an Icelandic murder mystery recently. A map appeared at the end of the book, but he didn't know it was there until he finished reading. "This really would have helped early on," he said. The map was oriented on the tablet page incorrectly so it was sideways. When he rotated the Nook to look at the map, the whole page changed orientation so that the map was sideways and chopped off.


Now, he could fix the orientation problem by disabling the setting that turns the screen, but what a pain. A real book in his hands lends itself to thumbing. He might have found the map earlier if he'd read the table of contents (but does anyone do that?), and the map certainly wouldn't have moved around on the page in a print book.

Magazines are another problem. Some have tablet formatting options, but shrinking pages to see the whole, then enlarging to read the type gets annoying.

Finally, I've noticed an extraordinary number of typos in e-books. I try not to let them bother me, but it sure seems that the publishers...even very respected ones...are getting sloppy when it comes to proofreading e-books. This is particularly appalling in older books that were originally published before the digital age. I read one older novel recently where there was an error--quite literally--on almost every other page. Some were punctuation errors (periods after the next-to-last word in the sentence...really?), some were word-replacement errors (clearly they were using electronic edited...what a nightmare!), some were inconsistencies and misspellings in names of characters. I checked the paperback print version of the book, and the errors were not there.  

My aunt has also noticed that some e-books have added scenes and material not in the print books. While this isn't a crime, it's sloppy. Publishers should note different editions of books and acknowledge when an e-book isn't the same as its older, print self.

Often, e-books are only slightly less expensive than print books, which makes the plethora of errors more annoying and reflects poorly on the publishers. Some older books are still 7.99 in electronic format, while the paperback version costs only 8.99. The McCullough book, which was a new release when I bought it, was almost 20.00 in electronic format, cheaper than the hard cover of course, but not exactly a deal.  When you consider how little the electronic books cost publishers once they are formatted--and how little effort they seem to be putting into that formatting--the cost makes less sense.

Finally, as technology migrates, how will my electronic library hold up? Will I have to back up all my books to a thumb drive or nebulous cloud somewhere when the time comes to upgrade? Will I lose the whole library in a hideous accident? How will I read after the apocalypse when no one has electricity and everyone is taking a break from killing zombies?

These are things I worry about.

So my adoption of e-reading has been enthusiastically partial. I do love buying novels that I wouldn't normally reread (mysteries and popular fiction) on my Nook. This is particularly nice as I can buy fluffy novels or light nonfiction as soon as they are released and feel like I'm getting a deal, rather than wait for the paperback to come out. Books or magazines I read for intellectual stimulation, for interaction between pictures and text, or for repeated reading, I still very much prefer in print.

So imagine my pleasure when I read this article in the Wall Street Journal by Nicholas Carr. He cites the statistics on e-book sales, and draws the conclusion that while paperback reading (mostly light fiction) has migrated well to digital format, serious readers still prefer good ol' books.

For once, I'm right on trend.

How are you using your e-reader or tablet to read? Are you still holding out? Do you still buy print books?

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Movie or Playdate? How to Decide

This is my second post of the day. Please scroll down to the Gratitude Journal for the week.

This weekend, our thirteen-year-old son Nick was faced with a paralyzing choice: go see the movie Jack Reacher with his father or invite his friends over. How in the world is a young man to make such a difficult decision? He wanted to do both.

As I watched Nick struggle with his painful choice (and, boy, did he struggle), I wondered why sometimes decisions--even simple decisions--are so hard to make.

Nick hemmed and hawwed about his choice for so long that the movie ceased to be an option. His friends came over, and they had a great afternoon.

But it got me thinking. Whenever we make a decision to do one thing, we're giving up all the other options in that moment. We're making a sacrifice.

And who likes to sacrifice? Don't we want it all? Doesn't society tell us we deserve it all, are entitled to it all?

Society lies. It lies.

We hear the message in advertising. Doesn't everyone deserve the latest iPhone, iPad, and iPod? Of course you wanted a car and not a tacky sweater for Christmas. Those two things are equal, right?

We hear it in world politics: how many countries are in deeply serious financial trouble because spending has outstripped revenue? Those governments are making necessary sacrifices, and people are unhappy.

We hear it in military action: how connected are we to the sacrifice our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen are making right now? Do you know how much they sacrifice even when they don't go to war? Trust me. Every military service member makes enormous sacrifices to do jobs the rest of us don't want to do. 

Whether your decision is benign and insignificant (sacrificing Taco Bell for McDonald's for lunch), big and scary (buying a new house, changing careers, having a baby), or life-threatening (choosing one cancer treatment over another, joining the military), it's a sacrifice.

Daily sacrifice is necessary, unavoidable, inescapable.

When we turn sacrifice into a big, bad idea, something to be avoided at all costs, instead of a standard part of everyday life, we give ourselves and our children the false impression that we can have it all, that sacrifice is always an uncomfortable, unpleasant thing to be avoided at all cost.

Through lack of practice and a sense of entitlement, we lose the ability to make good and worthy sacrifices, to make positive decisions for our own good and the good of others. We hem and haw and waste energy trying to do the impossible: have it all.

What would your grandparents' generation think?

What sacrifices have you made or do you need to make? What big decisions are looming for you that scare you or make you wonder what you're giving up? Do you struggle with little decisions? What helps you make necessary sacrifices?

Gratitude Journal #169

Today, I am grateful for snow and the fact that it melts. We've had ours quite a while, and it's going away. I'll finally be able to refill the birdfeeder!

Today, I am grateful for volunteers. A lady at our church stepped up to run the meal ministry I've managed for eight years. It was time for me to step down, and Alice stepped up! Isn't the Holy Spirit grand?

Today, I am grateful for my Nook Tablet. Lovin' that thing!

Today, I am grateful for postage stamps.

What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Temporary Change in Comments

Sadly, I've had to temporarily turn off anonymous commenting on all my blogs. The quantity of spam is huge and growing, and it's simply taking too much time to deal with them all via comment moderation. For every legitimate anonymous comment, I'm receiving 60-70 spam comments.

I truly appreciate each legitimate comment...anonymous or otherwise...and understand that some of you don't want to register online for privacy reasons. For those of you who haven't registered with Blogger or Google, please note that these are free services and very little personal information is required, mainly an email address which you may choose to leave private.

If you truly don't want to register anywhere, you still have three private ways to contact me. First, go to the profile page on my blog (link is found in the right sidebar by my lovely picture!), where you'll find a link to email on the left sidebar. Second, you may subscribe to Simplicity via email and then simply reply to the email. Your comment will only be read by me, but I will be able to reply if you have questions. Third, add my email to your email address book. It's susanraihala at woh dot rr dot com.

I'm so sorry for this inconvenience.