Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Unbroken, and other Readings

Week two of my two-days-off-every-other-week plan.  I worked on my next e-publish effort last week, and have made great progress on getting caught up on my reading.  I finished the January editions of Nat Geo and Smithsonian, plus while reading Smithsonian I realized I had not read December's edition.  I had apparently put it aside and forgot about it.  Finished that edition as well, and started and finished the book I was given for Christmas, Unbroken.


January's Nat Geo article about the origin of the universe made me think about those who like to deny or ridicule certain science facts and theories when they don't fit into their comfort zone.  Of course, easy pickings are those who prefer to ignore the scientific work of the archeologists who estimate the earth at 4-5 billion years old, while believing in the creationist theory which places man and dinosaur on earth together, only 8000 years ago.  For those of us who looked to people like Bill Nye to help us learn about science when we were kids, he continues to be a source of rationality, and, kudos to him, patience, as he continues to teach real science rather than religious science. 


Then there are those who would rather believe in a liberal conspiracy as opposed to the insurmountable evidence of climate change.  My wife frequently asks me how seemingly intelligent people can continue to ignore all of the research; she forgets that even intelligence can be overcome by fear, and it is the fear that we need to alter our way of living that prevents so many people from trusting the science of climate change.  And, unfortunately, the power of the status quo, which in America today is translated as the power of the fossil fuel industry to deny their culpability, and use their influence to buy politicians, distort the facts, and instill fear through the prospect of lost jobs. 


Strangely, we are experiencing an unprecedented drop in the price of oil resulting in a huge drop in the cost of gas (good for the consumer), but a reduction in the profitability of shale and oil production in the United States (bad for US jobs).  So, it seems that no combination is good in that jobs will always suffer when oil is too high or too low.  What scares me is that the low price of oil is the result of OPEC manipulation to reacquaint America with its oil addiction (what better way to bring sheep back to the fold than to lower the cost), whereupon the pendulum will swing back to $4 a gallon gas once we have turned back to the OPEC teat.  Or, even worse than that, all of America's oil money going to the Arab countries will be used to build a huge solar energy industry that they will control, as I detailed in my story The Energy Conundrum.  (link below)  


http://wurdsfromtheburbs.blogspot.com/2011/05/energy-conundrum.html


What intrigues me about the science deniers is their tendency to trust certain other science implicitly.  Medical science, especially through the pharmaceutical industry, seems to have no doubters when it come to taking a pill to fix your ailment.  (Especially when that pill produces a hard on, but that topic is best left to rise another day).  Even when the side effects, which generally range from nose bleeds to death, are stated during the commercial, and presumably, on the label, we are more interested in the instant health gain than the potential hazard.  I guess that explains this clamor for the XL Pipeline.  It is the dirtiest, most difficult to cleanup, least efficient form of energy (tar sands from Canada), but, since it will produce some jobs for a few years, its full steam ahead.  Of course, should the president fail to veto the bill, or if the fossil fuel industry buys enough of our legislators to override the veto, don't expect that same Canadian company or the fossil fuel industry to pay for the cleanup, assuming they can even do so, when the first aquifer is spoiled, or the first swath of farmland is made barren.  No, the American tax payer will foot the bill, as we certainly can't allow those big oil and gas companies to go bankrupt.  Think of all those lost jobs!


I guess it depends on the nature of the science.  That which allows us to maintain our bad habits, only having to take a pill to rectify, good.  That which points out the consequences of our actions, or makes us think about our behaviors, bad. 


Finally, we turn to Unbroken.  I have not seen the movie, so be forewarn that my impressions from the book may seem odd to those of you who saw the film.  First, it is an incredible story of a remarkable man who defied the odds, and survived circumstances that would have killed, and or broken most of us.  For those of you who sometimes feel that fate or god has dealt you a poor hand, this story is a good reminder that everyone faces trials and tribulations, and that it is in the face of adversity that your character is forged, and your life is revealed.  The author takes the philosophy of the difference between perceiving things as half full or half empty, and, with the backdrop of the Pacific World War Two theatre and the indomitable spirit of the main character, Louis (Louie)Zamperini, she has created an amazing and inspirational story.  I read the 400 or so pages in less than a week.


Yet, I found myself not liking Louie.  Now, I am sure that had I met Mr Zamperini (he died just this past July), my perception may be different.  From what I have read in other accounts of his life, he was a truly remarkable man, the epitome of anything can be done if one tries. 


So, why did I find myself not liking his character?  I thought about it yesterday, on the ride to work, at work for a bit, and on the way home.  My current theory is that the author relied too much on divine intervention to explain Louis's ability to survive his torments, and to turn from his obsession with the war and one particular prison guard, to becoming an inspirational Christian speaker.  What bothers me about this way of explaining his strength, is its simplistic nature.  (My lack of faith lurks in the back of my mind; I acknowledge it is there, but prefer with this explanation, for now).  It seems to suggest that only those with such an abiding faith can survive such horror.  That, assuming divine intervention, only those preferred by God will overcome.  Taken to the next step, then, did God not favor the tens of thousands of American airmen who died in the Pacific theatre?  Did God not love those who survived, but could never overcome their bouts with the mental damage resulting from their particular experiences? 


Also, the author describes Louie's early years, before the crash of his plane began his ordeal, as someone who stole, fought, and was in trouble a lot.  It makes me wonder about the boys who exhibited similar immature traits and actions but did not have the boyish grin and luck to have been forgiven his foibles.  Boys who were merely thrown into jail at the first sign of trouble, especially in light of the appalling incarceration percentage of young black men today.  And, I was not all that happy with Louis's perception of women.  He loves his mother, immensely for sure, but when the author mentions other women in his life, they seem to be fulfilling only one purpose.  Even his wife, whom he marries after less than a month of dating, is treated poorly during his times of fighting with the mental devil that overcomes him after the war.


Finally, the horrific treatment of the American POW's at the hands or their Japanese captors is detailed very starkly.  In contrast the author offers a few examples of some Japanese officers who were not sadists, and mentions a Japanese POW who claims that his detention as a prisoner by America was a positive experience.  She glibly ignores the tens of thousands of Japanese Americans who were interred without warrant during the years of WW2.  Don't get me wrong, the Japanese culture of the time was not tolerant of the West, and its citizens had been socialized to consider other races inferior.  They were wrong in these beliefs, just as Americans were wrong to dehumanize the Japs and the Krauts.  It is a function of war to whip up the citizenry so that they will hate the enemy, and risk the lives of their children to die in the fight.  It was done during WW2 by all sides, as it is done today by those branding our enemies as terrorists, evil, barbaric.  In the end, when nuclear weapons were used to end the war against Japan, the author easily justifies it as having saved the lives of all the American POWs who would probably have been murdered by their Japanese captors.  We are led down the primrose path to empathize with the suffering of Louie and all the prisoners, hate the Japanese, and shrug off the death of tens of thousands of Japanese civilians living in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as necessary, without questioning the morality of killing women and children in their homes, their schools, their beds.  


I guess what I am saying is that the author paints a picture too black and white.  And, for me, Louie becomes the face of that picture.  Which, I guess, for me, makes him seem less human, more an extension of the divine. 


Is it that scary for us, that we have to make those who excel in life whether by overcoming tremendous obstacles or by exhibiting advanced spiritual knowledge, into something beyond human?  And, that we like to find flaws in those in the public eye, so as to bring them down to the level of the everyday?   Perhaps someday, we will be able to admire those who have achieved greatness despite, and with the knowledge of their human frailties, and bemoan those who commit despicable actions without attributing those actions to the devil.    










    

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