Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Worlds Meet

They're All the Same

As NBC’s series, The Event, resumed recently, the attitude shown by presidential advisor Blake Sterling could be seen as narrow as that shown by Congressman Peter King (R-NY).

The Event’s conflict shows how two cultures struggle to find acceptance as they interact to survive. A group of humanoid beings from another world who crash-landed decades ago have been kept in prison by the United States. The humanoids are virtually human and cannot be told apart from Earth people. But as the plot evolves, both cultures face rebellions. The president is threatened by assassination from Americans, and the leader of the “others” is in danger because her son wants to use violence against human society.

One crucial scene that shows Sterling and King’s intolerance occurred when Sterling attempted to interrogate one of the imprisoned “others”. Sterling wanted to find the leader’s son who planned violence. The “other” being interrogated tried to tell Sterling that the group wished no violence against humans. Actually, the son’s actions were not endorsed by the group. Sterling could not think that members of the “others” held different ideas about violence. When asked if anything could be said to show him the nonviolent hopes by the group, Sterling answered, “I don’t think there’s anything you can say.”

That mental attitude resembles the present state of mind from Congressman King as he conducted hearings into Radical Islam. King didn’t need to bring in experts on Islam, he only needed to bring in a few people who had anecdotes of violent behavior. That was his thinking. Those revelations should have been enough to show the entire community was violent — right? The fact that terrorism has no real tie to religion passed his grasp. The history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt renouncing violence and spurning groups that still wanted to use killing didn’t enter into his thinking. Maybe he, too, believes nothing can change his opinion. King has admitted that he is obsessed with the events that happened on 9/11. We dare to ask how any real change could ever occur if that is the foundation of his thinking.

Literature and the screen display the flaws of characters so we can learn from their mistakes. When we have so many examples of political factions that erupt with sub factions who disagree, we are educated on how we should view each faction separately. Most experts of political science or crisis management support that. However, human fears often stop us from using our knowledge. We have to learn how to see when people want to pick up the handshake instead of the gun. When Nelson Mandela took office as president of South Africa, he used some former members of the Secret Service who were White. Those White Secret Service members accepted Mandela’s offer and shook hands with their new leader. But more often we dare to ask why some real people fail to learn the lessons that jump at us from narrow characters on the screen.

- Tom Pope

The Event image courtesy of impawards.com
Peter King image courtesy of journalnow.com

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fiction's Philosophy

The Price of Solitude

In literature as well as the real world, characters and people might deal with their world by seeking isolation, but perhaps their philosophical view of the reason for life comes from a desire to avoid the very contact they fear.

Man’s quest to not only explore, but conquer nature is practically as old as well, man himself. Many have succeeded and many failed, although their quests may have been driven by a yearning for solitude or ways to cope with social contact. For some, their failure was due in large part to inadequate preparation or research, a miscalculation in direction or weather patterns, or just plain bad luck. In the cases of both Aron Ralston in the movie, 127 Hours, and Christopher McCandless in the movie, Into The Wild, I dare to ask if the tragedies that befell the avid adventurers and naturalists were due to something even more insidious than not choosing to alert their friends or family as to where they were going.

Both men made decisions that ended with tragic results. Ralston made the agonizing decision to amputate part of his right arm after his hand and wrist wound up being pinned against a canyon wall after an eight hundred pound boulder tumbled loose as he was descending a portion of Blue John Canyon. Ralston’s story was also described in the book Between A Rock and A Hard Place. Chris McCandless’ story was movingly captured by author Jon Kraukauer in the book and movie with the same name of, Into the Wild. McCandless wound up forsaking all of his worldly possessions and trekking all the way to Alaska where he hoped to enjoy a solitary existence of living off of the land. He met a tragic and untimely demise when he accidentally ate a poisonous plant that he believed was safe.

While no one can argue that both Ralston and McCandless had a genuine love of nature and appreciated the freedom and the beauty of the lands they explored, they both craved the solitude of the wide open spaces they were a part of. In both Between A Rock and A Hard Place and Into the Wild, Ralston and McCandless comment frequently that they looked forward to being alone, away from either the boredom, mundaneness or in Chris McCandless’ case, the pain, heartache and chaos of everyday life.

For Ralston, his need to be alone against the elements seemed to come from his supreme confidence in his abilities as a climber, medic and overall naturalist and adventurer. It was also a desire to see how long and how far he could push himself. There was an air of invincibility and a slight arrogance within him. A feeling that he had taken all that nature could dish out and was still standing. For Ralston, it seemed that there was no situation he couldn’t handle while out in the wild. For Ralston, family and relationships were pushed aside for more adventure and more solitude.

McCandless’ motives for burning his money and most of his other worldly possessions and heading to Alaska seemed to be due to his disillusionment with the conventions of living a “regular” life. He held a great deal of resentment and harbored many internal scars toward his parents, who he felt were pressuring him into living a materialistic, typical American lifestyle. For McCandless and his na├»ve idealism of challenging himself and living off of the harsh Alaskan land, solitude in the Alaskan wilderness also meant not having to deal with the stresses and vapidness of everyday life. It also meant having minimal contact with others. Minimal contact meant not having to deal with the baggage, and in McCandless’ mind, the inevitable hurt and disappointment that came with establishing a connection or a relationship with someone.

But in the end, when both men were slowly, agonizingly dying, they both had the same epiphany - that in the end, it wasn’t solitude that they were craving. But rather, it was the relationships and bonds that they had forged in life with friends and family that had meant the most – relationships that both men had ultimately forsaken for their own selfish or fearful reasons. Before summoning the strength to make the brazen decision to amputate his arm, Ralston wondered if his sudden enlightenment was his body’s final desperate attempt to persevere or if it was a final, cruel lesson about his life and how he lived it.

Unfortunately, Christopher McCandless would not have the opportunity to follow through on his realization. He died from starvation near Denali National Park and Preserve, alone in a beat up school bus that he used as a makeshift form of shelter. One of McCandless’ final statements as he lay near death and was barely able to move was the following, “Happiness is only real when shared.”

Despite losing part of his right arm and nearly bleeding to death, Aron Ralston would be the only one to heed McCandless’ advice and learn from his mistakes.

- Hamilton Maher

"127 Hours" image courtesy of comingsoon.net
"Into the Wild" image courtesy of alltrailers.net

Laughs Abound

Chicago — Loss of Collective Bargaining Stops Trains

When Governor Vel Veta took away the collective bargaining rights of workers in his state, he probably didn’t know the act would stop trains going east of Chicago.

Workers on trains faced muscle strains from lifting the luggage of residents fleeing to the West after several states took away those rights to workers.

Veta simply stated that he thought states could no longer bargain with workers and workers had to take the scraps of whatever was left in the budget.

“They have to contribute to the financial solutions,” Veta said, as he loaded up several suitcases filled with cash from the funds unions set aside to help out two years ago.

Veta suffered a back strain from lifting, but couldn’t reach his healthcare company because his judge voted down the new Healthcare Affordable Act for his state. “We shouldn’t be addressing healthcare when we have to stop spending money first.”

When asked why the state faced the shortage, he answered, “We have to pay so much on healthcare it creates a budget crisis.”

The recent drive to stop the rights of workers to bargain began when he arrived at the negotiations carrying a small card table. “I ain’t gonna share this table with nobody,” he said.

Union leaders had to sit against the wall without chairs in the hall while Veta sat on a platform with his small table. “They don’t have to bargain, we can tell them what to accept,” he said.

Veta’s emergence into the governor ship occurred when the cheese manufacturers in the state backed him and saw a jump in statewide profits. Part of the surge came when they decided workers should contribute to the cheese cutters needed to make the cheese.

“They need to do their job,” he said. “They should contribute to paying for the cost.”

When some workers complained that they were losing their homes because their payments couldn’t meet the rent and mortgage obligations, Veta told the manufacturers to let them have some rind to keep them happy.

“Our financial crisis means we have to support our businesses making the cheese,” he said. “We can’t expect them to pay out to help the state — they’d all leave us high and dry.”

As flocks of people flee from the affected states, they have strained the train systems so that engine parts are breaking down. Those train workers are now being asked by companies to help pay for new rails and wheels so that the train firms can make a profit.

“If the porters strain their backs, they might need some doctors’ help, but we just don’t have the funds because of the crisis,” Veta said.

Workers who sat at the negotiations wanted to have some power at the small table to decide on workplace issues. They said that the governor and management control hiring and salaries, and that collective bargaining was the only weapon the workers had that would give them a fair shake.

“They got jobs, don’t they? They should be happy with that,” Veta said.

- Tom Pope

Image courtesy of CartoonStock.com