‘First Reformed’ – Film Review and Analysis

Man’s struggle with God can almost be as endearing yet painful as his struggle against man. If there is one way to sum up the excellent film, ‘First Reformed’, that would be it. First Reformed (2017) focuses on the environment, one’s faith, and the struggle to find hope when things seem rather bleak. “Can God forgive us for what we’ve done to the world?”, a troubled environmental activist asks Pastor Ernst Toller and the Pastor replies to his congregant, “Who can know the mind of God?”

While this movie did not receive any Oscar awards, the acting by Ethan Hawke (Pastor Ernst Toller) and also by Amanda Seyfried (Mary) is excellent as well as the cinematography, the adapted screenplay by Director Paul Schrader which helps this film earn its critical acclaim and some Independent Spirit award nominations as well as one Academy Award nomination. I still believe Mr. Hawke was snubbed from getting an Oscar nomination since this film’s performance was one of the best he has ever done and deserved more praise. In many of his films, I find him to be one of the best actors of his generation and able to produce genuine emotion regardless of the situation his character finds himself in.

In ‘First Reformed’, Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) finds himself faced with difficult questions surrounding his faith, morality, the environment in 2017, and what lies ahead in the future for humanity. These are weighty questions for anyone to deal with let alone a pillar of a community like Toller finds himself to be in Snowbridge, New York as the head pastor for the colonial era First Reformed church that dates back to the time of British colonization and the underground railroad movement later on.

This historical church is seen to be losing its membership and interest and Pastor Toller has to resort to touristic gimmicks and a small gift shop to help make ends meet to keep the church going. There is a noticeable parallel to the decline of Christianity in terms of active members of the Christian church in the United States so a fictional movie such as this one has some real-life parallels that seem plausible. The crisis of faith in churches in certain communities has a coinciding similarity with Toller’s own faith in God and in himself. He is an alcoholic struggling to find meaning and purpose in his life at the beginning of the film.

While making the church more touristy, he has also made the church more spiritual as well instead of its Calvinist origins. He sticks more to sermons than to scriptures and has enlisted the financial backing and ownership of an evangelical megachurch in nearby Albany, New York, which is likely to take over the church in the near future much to Toller’s apprehension. As we go through the film, we peel back the curtain on who this pastor is and like any of us, he has his own personal flaws and past sins but has also suffered for them and wishes to make amends in some way.

We find out that Pastor Toller lost his son, Joseph, recently while serving in the Iraq War and feels guilt for having told him to enlist having come from a military background himself as a chaplain. During that difficult time, he committed adultery and started drinking but also found his faith again to then become a pastor at First Reformed after going through grieving his son’s loss. However, a chance encounter with one of his congregants and his wife puts his faith in God and humanity to the ultimate test.

Mary, a devout congregant and believer in God and her skeptical husband, Michael, a stern environmentalist and becoming increasingly radical meet with Pastor Toller separately in their house. Mary has concerns about Michael’s well-being and tells the Pastor they expect to have a child soon. Michael is sincerely struggling with the fact that he will be a father soon when the world’s ecosystems are steadily collapsing, sea levels are rising, and the effects of global climate change are to be felt beginning in the next few decades. For any of us watching this pivotal scene including Pastor Toller himself, there are no easy answers from God or from man either regarding the future of humanity. Ernest finds it difficult to comfort Michael but asks to keep seeing him and to look out for Mary and the unborn child.

This particular scene leads to the rest of the film’s deeper dive into the effects of capitalism and greed on the environment as well as the relationship between big industry and religious institutions. Pastor Toller’s awakening from meeting with Mary and Michael leads him to questioning why the environmental situation is so dire, who is responsible for it, what can be done to stop it, and how far should measures be taken. Because the Pastor has no easy answers for Michael, he starts looking for them and is obviously dismayed by what he finds out regarding the local environmental situation in his community and how greed, industry, and the lack of stewardship for his community have led humanity down towards an unsustainable path.

Without spoiling the film, The Pastor struggles with what he can do as one individual to counteract the forces aligned against good stewardship of the planet and what a person can do to draw attention to the problem. Not only is there a crisis of faith in God but in each other and what is being done to the only planet we have ever known. The Pastor, with certain health issues related to alcoholism, is reconciling with the fact that he is mortal and what kind of impact he wants to leave behind.

He is comforted by the fact that Mary is still a believer in the future and wants to have a child even with the future of the planet looking relatively bleak. Pastor Toller knows however that he has the responsibility now to hold those accountable for their actions whether it’s the Evangelical church, a big industrialist doing environmental damage, or even himself when he strays from helping those in his congregation who need it the most.

‘First Reformed’ poses a lot of weighty questions and it is an extremely timely film in terms of its messages and themes. It is bleak because it has to be and raises a lot of issues that we have neglected regarding the environment and now we may be finding that time to make a difference in this escalating problem is running out. ‘First Reformed’ asks us how an ordinary man of faith yet a pillar of the community so respond to those in his congregation who are in despair regarding environmental damage and destruction.

How far should he go and how radical should he be to get people to listen and understand what is being done? Can love and faith overcome the desire to do harm and take revenge against those who have sinned against the planet? Like any good film, there are no easy answers and the director does not condone or condemn the thoughts or possible actions that Pastor Toller weights leading up to the climax of the last scene.

What this film does an excellent job of is warning its viewers about the consequences of greed, ignorance, lack of stewardship, valuing profits over the health and well-being of people, and the unholy alliance of organized religion and big industries. There are numerous fingers to point at regarding the worsening state of climate change going on in the world currently but perhaps those who watch this excellent film will realize that the finger should be pointed at ourselves first about the damage being done. Perhaps that kind of introspective thinking is what it will take for massive external action to occur and for the worst of the consequences to be avoided.

English Corner – Demonstratives

When it comes to discussing one’s distance from objects, things, or other people, it’s necessary to master the grammatical concept of demonstratives. To describe the physical distance of something or someone to another is a key aspect of demonstratives. Depending if the speaker is near or far from the other object, person, place or thing, the demonstrative will change to reflect that change in closeness.

A key aspect of demonstratives to remember is that they can either be adverbs or pronouns for both singular and plural nouns. You can use demonstratives as well to describe both countable and uncountable nouns. In addition, when it comes to discussing actual events, you would use ‘near’ forms of the demonstrative to refer to the present while ‘far’ forms of the demonstrative would refer to the past.

For the demonstrative adverbs, the word ‘here’ refers to the subject who is close by and near to the object, thing, or person. For the opposite, the adverb ‘there’ refers to the subject that is far away from the object, thing, or person.

Here are some examples of demonstrative adverbs for near / far usage:

  • I am here at the police station.
  • They are here for the Science exam.
  • She was there for the graduation ceremony.
  • We will be there at 9 o’clock.

Based on these examples, it’s important to remember that the adverb ‘here’ for near situations should be used in the present tense whereas for far situations, ‘there’ is heavily used and often with either the past or future tenses.

As mentioned before, if you are near to an object, thing, or person and you’re looking to use a demonstrative pronoun, you’ll want to use the words of ‘this’ or ‘these’ depending upon if its’ with a singular, uncountable noun or with plural, countable nouns. The demonstrative ‘this’ or ‘that’ would be used with singular and uncountable nouns while ‘these’ or ‘those’ would be used with plural and countable nouns.

Here are some examples of how ‘this’ and ‘these’ would be used in sentences to describe objects, things, or people that are close in distance to the subject:

  • This cup is for my tea.
  • Is this your jacket?
  • Where have you been traveling to these days?
  • These bananas are delicious.
  • This is my friend, Dan.

As you can see from these examples, these objects or things are close to the subject rather than far away in distance. You can also see how the demonstrative ‘this’ is used for singular nouns while the pronoun ‘these’ are being used with plural nouns.

If the opposite occurs and you or another subject in your sentence is far away in distance from another, person, place or thing, you’re going to want to use the demonstratives ‘that’ or ‘those.’

Here are some examples of how ‘that’ and ‘those’ would be used in sentences to describe objects, things, or people that are far in distance to the subject:

  • What are those men doing over there?
  • That book in my shelf was really enjoyable.
  • That printer has a paper jam that needs to be fixed.
  • Those boys are heading off to play in the park.
  • Those tires are flat. They need air.

It’s clear from those examples above that those objects or things are considered to be far away from the subject of the sentence. You can also see how the demonstrative ‘that’ is used for singular nouns while the pronoun ‘those’ are being used with plural nouns.

When it comes to placing a demonstrative like ‘that’, ‘this’, ‘these’, ‘those’ in a sentence, you should remember that those pronouns can be placed before the noun or adjective that modifies the noun even if there is more than one noun in the same sentence.

Examples:

  • Those hungry people need to eat soon.
  • These tired citizens are waiting long hours in the unemployment line.

Another way to use the demonstrative is that it can be placed before any number by itself when the noun is understood within the context of a larger paragraph.

Examples:

  • These four need to be fixed.
  • That one gave me some trouble.

Sometimes, a demonstrative pronoun or adverb can be used by itself in a sentence without a noun even being present after the demonstrative. The noun can be understood from the context of a previous sentence or larger paragraph making the demonstrative clear the only necessary subject to have.

Examples:

  • This was not very fair to me.
  • That is really cool.
  • Those were really interesting.
  • What was the issue with these?

As with many other grammatical concepts in English, there are some rules and circumstances that have to be remembered in order to develop both spoken and written fluency. In order to become comfortable with demonstratives, study the examples, create sentences of your own, and re-read this article to remember the rules of usage.

A Study in Contrasts – the Medellin Metro and the Boston T

I’ve used a lot of different metropolitan transit systems in cities I’ve either visited or lived in. From Istanbul to Berlin to Washington, DC, it’s fascinating to see how different cultures and countries treat their metro systems. Some cities emphasize the ability to eat and drink at established vendors right next to the platform, while others emphasize the ability to know exactly when the next train will be arriving with real-time updates. In a way, these metro systems are a microcosm of a country’s culture. Unbeknownst to most travelers, you can learn a lot about a city and a country as a whole based on how they approach their public transportation. Each metro system I’ve used has had their own kind of flair to them whether it’s the London Underground’s cleanliness, New York Subway’s 24-hour service, and Istanbul’s kind food merchants.

Out of all the metro systems I’ve rode on, there are currently two in the world that stand out to me in their approach to customer service. While most systems rarely have attendants to help people enter or leave the train, the two cities that are the exception to this rule are Boston and Medellin. These two transit systems actually have attendants working on behalf of the transportation authority to help passengers to use the metro effectively but with different approaches. For example, the way Boston does its’ customer service would be more hands-off while in Medellin it is much more hands on.

This difference in culture may play into the fact that the Boston T system has been in operation since 1897 and the locals are pretty adept at navigating the transit system considering its’ more than a century old. When it comes to Medellin, the metro system there began in 1995, which is a little over twenty years old. Medellin currently has the only urban train network in Colombia. Still though, you could draw the conclusion that the way the customer service of these two transit systems functions is reflective of the overall culture. In the U.S., we tend to be more individualistic especially when it comes to our urban transportation. When I lived in Medellin, I was enamored with how collective the metro system was when compared to where I’m currently living. In Boston, it’s much more about every man or woman for himself or herself as they try to navigate the system regardless of whether you’re a long-time local or a first-time visitor.

For Medellin, the aspect of their metro system that stood out most to me was the number of attendants who would help riders enter the train platform, instruct users on how to board and exit the trains, and how to refill and use their metro cards. Instead of just one or two attendants there on behalf of the transportation authority, there were usually up to a dozen workers assisting customers at each station. It was really nice for me to see the attention to detail that the metro system had in terms of assisting passengers to use the system effectively. This approach was crucial especially during a busy rush hour when there would be thousands of passengers wanting to enter and exit the train station.

Having a dedicated group of workers on hand to help smooth things over and make sure passengers were respecting each other and the transit system was a really impressive thing to witness. It doesn’t hurt that the entire Medellin metro system is well kept and has no littering, little rats running around etc. at any of its’ dozens of train stations. Compared to other cities, Medellin does a great job with its’ communal approach to the metro system. One of the catchphrases of their advertising is to ‘Vive La Cultura de Metro’, which basically translates to living the metro culture by respecting others and keeping the system clean.

Other cities could benefit from replicating the effective customer service, the emphasis on cleanliness, and the easy access to information that the Medellin Metro provides. Like any other transit system in a major city, it still does get quite congested during rush hour, and it can be hard to get on the train during peak hours due to lack of trains available. I know this from my own past experiences of having to fight to get on the train at 6 AM some mornings when I was a teacher there.

When it comes to the Boston T system, it’s the oldest in the United States and doesn’t take much time to get acclimated to. However, compared to the New York or Washington, DC transit systems, there is some customer service and assistance given. However, when you compare Boston to Medellin in this regard, it’s really no contest. While there are usually one or two attendants from the transit authority present, they don’t really actively help passengers. Sometimes, you can see a transit worker more interested in a smartphone game than to see if anyone needs help or has a question. Instead of being on the train platform to help riders get on and get off the train without issue, they usually just stand by the entrance to the station making sure everybody pays their fare.

Coming from where I was living in Medellin before I moved to Boston, this was a bit of a culture shock to me. It’s nice to have one or two more customer service attendants around to ask questions but I wish there were more attendants on the platform handling crowd control and enforcing the unwritten rules of getting on or leaving the train especially during rush hour. Also, compared to the dozen workers at any train station platform in Medellin, a city like Boston should have a few more people helping out compared to one or two workers per station.

Perhaps this cultural contrast is due to the fact that metro systems in the United States are much more individualistic in nature and the fact that public transit has been part of cities’ makeup for decades especially in the Northeast. I’m guessing that the majority of Bostonians would prefer to be left alone during the morning and evening commute rather than have hands-on help from transit service officials especially at a station platform. However, it might make everyone’s day a bit better and smoother if there were workers actively helping to assist people to refill their transit cards, making sure the rush hour commute goes smoothly, and aiding travelers to the city with directions.

When you travel to different countries, it is tempting to compare and contrast approaches to daily life. In any city, the transit system is an extension of the culture and I find it interesting to see the similarities and differences between countries in how they run their metro systems. It’s good to see how other cities and other countries do things because you’re able to see within your own culture what could be better or more improved. However, what may suit your own tastes may not suit others as much, even your own countrymen.

Train systems like whole cultures tend to be more individualistic or communal. What one city may lack in efficiency, they can make up for it in customer service. I believe it’s best to shoot for improvement in all areas to create a better travel experience. Having the trains run on time, being treated fairly by attendants, and enjoying clean, safe rides are keys for any metro system to achieve. Hopefully as more and more people travel and see the world, we can better see what ways we can improve our own cities and countries by seeing how others do it themselves.

English Corner – More Fun with Modals

In the last ‘English Corner’ post, I focused on introducing the topic of modals by beginning with ‘modals of ability.’ As I mentioned previously, there are different types of modals in the English language. We have already covered the modals of ability and permission so now this article will concentrate on those modals that deal with making suggestions, having obligations, seeking advice, going through with a decision, and getting an invitation. The modal verbs of must, shall, should, will, would are going to be highlighted in this article in terms of when to use them in sentences and how those sentences are to be structured.

For making suggestions, the modal verb of ‘shall’ can be used to offer up something to someone or to give advice to them. You can also use this auxiliary verb in the future tense if you plan on doing some action decisively. The modal ‘shall’ can be used both in the positive for and also be posed as a question.

Examples:

1) Shall I pick you up from your house at 8 pm tonight?

2) I shall travel to Morocco and Brazil in 2018.

Once again, it should be noted that ‘shall’ like other modals is to be used as an auxiliary verb in the sentence and often goes before the main verb like ‘travel’ or ‘pick up.’

When it comes to giving out advice or seeking it from somebody else, the modal verb of ‘should’ will come in handy for English learners. You can use ‘should’ at both the beginning of a sentence if it’s in the question form and towards the middle of the sentence after the subject word if you’re using it in the positive form. Should can also be used negatively when you change the word to ‘shouldn’t’ to express that modal in its’ negative form.

Examples:

1.) You should go to the doctor since you have a high fever.

2.) Should we wait for the presentation to end before leaving here?

3.) They shouldn’t have been rude to the doctor yesterday.

When you have an obligation that you simply can’t get out of or a duty to fulfill that cannot be delayed, the modal verb of ‘must’ is key to put in your sentences. Similar to other modal verbs, it is auxiliary and comes before the main verb in the sentence structure. You can also use ‘must’ in the form of a question as well.

Examples:

1.) He must do his homework by tomorrow.

2.) Must I bear this burden alone?

When it comes to making a firm decision to be carried out in the future, choosing the modal word of ‘will’ is a good choice. It is a definite verb that can be used as a question, a positive and a negative. To create the negative form, you simply have to change ‘will’ to ‘won’t’ after conjugating ‘will’ and ‘not’ together to form ‘won’t. When you use ‘will’, you’re not just making a decision but you’re also making a promise to someone that you shouldn’t break.

Examples:

  1. I will play football with you guys this weekend.
  2. Won’t you join us for dinner tonight?
  3. She will be so tired from the party that she won’t be able to study later.

As shown above in the third example, you can use both the positive and negative form of the modal ‘will’ in the same sentence, and the same modal can be used more than once in the same sentence too.

For the last modal ‘would’, you are going to want to use this one when it comes to seeking permission, giving a request, or extending an invitation to somebody. There are a couple of different uses for this last main modal verb but it’s important to keep in mind that it can be used in all forms including positive, negative, and question. As with the other modals, it is an auxiliary verb that will always come before the main verb in the sentence.

Examples:

  1. Would you join me at the birthday party Friday night?
  2. I would like to go home now if that is fine with you.
  3. We wouldn’t climb Mount Everest because it is so dangerous.

The modal verbs of must, shall, should, will, would are focused on the future tense and are very strong in terms of making suggestions or going through with a decision. In total, you now have a basis of understanding the nine main modal verbs. There are others in the English language but these nine words ‘can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would’ come up the most and are the most important to master.

English Corner – Introduction to Modals

There are many different kinds of modals to study but in this ‘English Corner’ blog post, we’re going to start out with an introduction dealing with the modals of ability. Modals of ability are the most common and the most important to master firstly. Modals are verbs usually and the ones that I am going to be focused on in this article are can, could, be able to, may, might.

Modal verbs act as auxiliary verbs in your average sentence and can express different ideas. These ideas include expressing one’s ability, one’s possibility, and sometimes necessity. Modal verbs often have more than one meaning and can be significant in a variety of ways. A simple form of a verb always follows a modal verb in a regular sentence as well.

Example:

  • Ben can do his homework.

The modal verb ‘can’ is followed by the simple form of the verb ‘to do’ followed by the object part, which refers to his homework.

An Introduction to Modals can be broken down into three separate parts: modals for ability, modals for possibility, and modals for permission. Each type of modals is unique in their own way but they each help to express oneself in some form or another.

For ‘Modals of Ability’, you can express your own ability or that of someone else by using the words ‘can, be able to, could’ in order to highlight your ability to do something.

Present Ability: I can speak three languages.

Negative Form: I cannot read this book.

Past Ability: Jack could play on the swings when he was a child but not anymore.

Negative Past Ability: Jane couldn’t go to the dance last night because she was sick.

In any regular sentence, the verb after the modal ‘can, could, be able to’ is always in the simple form and always follows the auxiliary (modal) verb. It’s important to note that the simple verb after the modal verb never changes either.

Examples:

-Ben can doing his homework. X

-Ben can to do his homework. X

-Ben can did his homework. X

All of these examples listed above give us the understanding we need to see that the simple form of the verb such as ‘to do’ never changes from its’ original intention. ‘Ben can do his homework’ is the only correct answer in this case.

In order to turn the ability modal into a question, it’s also quite easy to do. The form of the sentence should look like ‘modal verb + subject + main verb + object…? For any of the ability modals whether it’s can, could, etc., you can use them in the form of a question.

Examples:

  1. Can she play the flute?
  2. Could you go to the store to pick up some fruit?
  3. Are you able to do your homework tonight?

‘Able to’ is an exception in that as a modal of ability verb, the structure of the question form looks like: ‘to be’ + subject + able to + main verb + object…?’

For Modals of Possibility, it’s important to understand how to express ‘possibility’ in a sentence through showing what’s possible and what’s not possible for someone or something. The modals of possibility include ‘may, might, and could’ now and in the future. All of these three modals have the same meaning and can be used interchangeably regardless of the type of sentence.

Examples:

  • I might be late to the business meeting tomorrow.
  • You may want to re-take the exam next year.
  • You could get into college if you study harder.

Possibility cannot be expressed for the past but only for the present and the future when it comes to grammar.

For ‘Modals of Permission’, you can express ways to ask for or to give permission in a regular sentence. In order to create this modal sentence, we need to use the modals of ‘may, could, and can’, which are also apart of permission and ability modals. Permission modals are very polite and formal so it’s important to know how to write and verbally use them correctly in a sentence.

Examples:

  • May I go to the bathroom please?
  • Could I borrow your lawnmower today?
  • Can he have the last piece of chocolate cake?

For the main verb that comes after the subject and before the modal verb, it’s always going to be in its’ regular, simple form which never changes. When it comes to modals of permission, it’s important to remember that using ‘may’ especially at the beginning of the sentence is the most formal of the three options. Also, if someone were to answer you to grant that permission so you can go to the bathroom or to use your lawnmower, you can answer with:

-Yes, you may or No, you may not.

There’s also the possible positive or negative response to the modal question with ‘Yes, you can’ or ‘No, you can’t.’

While not the most popular grammar topic, there are many kinds of modals and knowing some of them especially those modals concerning permission, ability, and possibility is key to improving your English proficiency. This article is simply an introduction to modals and in the coming weeks and months; I hope to highlight other types of modals that are likely to come up in your grammar studies. “You can do it!”

 

Book Recommendations – Volume VI

As we go into the month of December, the winds start to blow, the snow starts to fall, and the cold begins to set in, it’s no better a time during the year to crack open a book to catch up on some reading. The three books I’ve read at this time and am highlighting in this ‘Book Recommendations’ post focus on current events. I tend to stay away from politics but these books do a good job of reflecting upon the political moment we are living in here in the United States.

All three of these books come from authors who have a wealth of life experiences and are considered to be experts in what they do. If you’re not into non-fiction books, you may want to skip these ones but if you want to understand more about the United States in 2017, you should give each of these books a honest read.

edwardluce

1. The Retreat of Western Liberalism by Edward G. Luce is an excellent take on the current state of liberal democracy in Western countries. Due to growing income inequality, the failure of institutions to handle complex issues involving immigration, health care, infrastructure, etc. causes more and more citizens to doubt the benefits of the current democratic system. Luce pulls no punches and does a good job summarizing the pressing problems that ail the United States and Western Europe.

While not the cause of these problems that have been building up for decades, Donald Trump, Brexit, and the rise of far-right parties throughout Europe are symptoms of a virus that is weakening the fundamentals of liberalism. For every action, there is a reaction and the negligence shown by political and economic elites in the Western world has caused there to be a backlash against our system of governance. Luce believes that there has been a lot of doing away with the principles that made democracy work for the past couple of centuries. In the 21st century, the current political system has not adapted to technological, economic, and social changes that have occurred at a quickening pace. Unless more attention is paid to those men and women not succeeding in today’s globalized economy, there will continue to be political dysfunction within the democratic system.

Unless the Western countries can guarantee that political liberties and freedoms can go hand in hand with an economic system that works for the many and not the few, the status quo will not last. Mr. Luce is not hesitant in using the rise of authoritarianism in countries such as Russia, Turkey, and the Philippines to draw a distinct parallel as to an alternative form of government that is becoming more prominent. The Western system used to be an example of good governance to the rest of the world but is that still the case today?

tribe

2. Tribe by Sebastian Junger deals more with modern psychology than modern politics but you can gain a lot of insight into what drives us as human beings from reading this book. Mr. Junger is a war correspondent that has covered the front lines for over a decade in America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. From his experiences, he was able to form the hypothesis that there are certain living conditions that bring out the best of us. When a person is surrounded by the members of the same ‘tribe’, usually about 20-30 people, who he or she has something in common with and for whom survival is not guaranteed but fought for every day, that goes back to our early days on the planet as hunter-gatherers.

Mr. Junger makes excellent points throughout the book that we started out thousands of years ago as a communal society moving from place to place and relying on each other to survive against the elements and against other creatures. He argues consistently that we may do best when we work with each other instead of against each other for a common goal or purpose. The alienation, individualism, and me-first culture in modern Western societies is out of line with our evolutionary history and may be the cause of the mental illnesses and anxieties that have been shown to be on the rise. Combat veterans who come home from war often miss the bonds of brotherhood that were formed from fighting for the guy or girl on the left or the right of you. They often miss the bonds created during battle that are impossible to recreate after re-entry into modern society.

The author uses an example from early American history when some English settlers would leave the colonial towns to join the Indian society, which was exactly like the tribal lifestyle, and the reverse would never be the same. There were no Indians who would leave their tribe to join the English settlers in their more modern colony set-up. In tribal communities where everybody has a say and where everybody has a role to play, it’s easy to make the argument that there would be less stress, less anxiety, and more purpose for those apart of it. Mr. Junger also brings up the example of Great Britain’s citizens during World War II and how only adversity would bring that modern society together.

A lot of Britons felt more patriotic and more cooperative each other during the war than compared to before and after the war. Adversity, struggle, and the fight for survival can be more meaningful to people than the safe and sanitized existences that make up the modern West. The time spent living through natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes can stir up people’s memories more than the average vacation or wedding. Tribe is an excellent, must-read book that pulls different elements of history, anthropology, and sociology to make a compelling argument that the average person should think deeply about.

fantasyland

3. Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire – A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen is not your average American history book. Mr. Andersen spends about 500 pages summing up 500 years of American history through the lens of what’s fantasy and what’s real. Fantastical thinking, Andersen argues, has been apart of American culture since the first pilgrims arrived on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. In order to understand what’s going on in the America of 2017, he does a good job of bringing out examples from past centuries to explain how we got to this unique point in our history.

The ‘fake news’, ‘alternative facts’, and other fantastical phrases that have become part of the national dialect are not outlandish in the sense that they have always been apart of the national character. Citing examples such as the extremes of Puritan beliefs, the Salem witch trials, P.T. Barnum and show business, the anything-goes ‘cultural revolution’ of the 1960’s, the spread of Hollywood and celebrity culture, etc., each century in America has brought about new fantasies to become part of the national fabric.

The individualistic nature of American culture has led to dreamers, believers, and magical thinkers being indulged rather than the other way around as done in other countries. The idea that you can be whom you want and believe what you want in America has become a national rallying cry, especially in recent decades. Our belief in the stuff of fantasy (ghosts, extraterrestrials, is the Earth flat?) has made America an international outlier among the industrialized nations.

Mr. Andersen argues that with the rise of Donald Trump and the excessive polarization along cultural and political fault lines that we may have hit a point of no return. The lines of fantasy and reality are becoming increasingly blurred whereas in our past, fantasy and reality were competing ideas in American society but never overtook each other to reign supreme. An amazing and timely non-fiction book that is an easy page-turner, Fantasyland is a must-read in 2017 and will help you understand how we Americans ended up here over the span of centuries.

English Corner – Personal Pronouns

When you begin to learn the English language and specifically English grammar, it is very important to be able to address people whether it’s a man, a woman, or a collective group of people. You won’t be able to become personal with people unless you understand and know about personal pronouns.

The good news is that learning about personal pronouns is quite easy and doesn’t take much time compared to other grammar topics. Personal pronouns can be divided into two separate categories: subject pronouns and object pronouns. It’s important to recall that we use pronouns in place of a full noun. Pronoun words tend to be shorter than regular nouns in terms of syllables and length too.

The subject pronouns are as follows in the list below:

I         (Singular)

You   (Plural)

He     (Singular)

She     (Singular)

It         (Singular)

We      (Plural)

They   (Plural)

These subject pronouns are personal and apply to both singular and plural subjects. The singular subject pronouns are ‘I, he, she, it’ while the plural subject pronouns are ‘you, we, they.’ Regardless if you are using the present, past, or future tense of the verb form, the singular pronouns stay singular and the plural pronouns stay plural.

The object pronouns are as follows in the list below:

Me    (Singular)

You   (Plural)

Him   (Singular)

Her   (Singular)

It       (Singular)

Us     (Plural)

Them (Plural)

These object pronouns are also to be used for personal reasons and apply to both singular and plural subjects. The singular object pronouns are ‘me, him, her, it’ while the plural subject pronouns are ‘you, us, them.’ Regardless if you are using the present, past, or future tense of the verb form, the singular pronouns stay singular and the plural pronouns stay plural when it comes to objects. If you study both the subject and object pronouns consistently, you’ll be able to tell which words are singular and which words are plural.

It’s important to remember that in the English language, gendered nouns are not as prominently used compared to other languages such as Spanish or Italian. However, he / him is always used to refer to a man or boy while she / her is used to refer to a woman or girl. ‘It’ is often used to refer to a non-human entity such as an animal (whose gender is unknown) or an object like a desk.

Another key thing to keep in mind is that ‘you’ is a singular pronoun in terms of it referring to just one person, thing, or object. However, ‘you’ goes along with the plural form of a verb such as ‘to be’ making it more of a plural pronoun. For example, instead of putting ‘you’ and ‘is’ (to be) together, you would instead put ‘you’ and ‘are’ (to be) together, which is the plural form of the verb and not the singular form.

‘You is smart’ is a sentence that is not grammatically correct in English while ‘You are smart’ is correct instead. I like to call this English rule of personal pronouns the ‘You’ exception. Similar to ‘I, He, She, It’, ‘You’ is singular in its’ meaning yet it can be used with the plural form of the verb ‘to be’ instead of the singular form. Due to this exception, ‘You’ should be grouped more with ‘We, They’, which are both plural subject pronouns rather than with the former singular subject pronouns.

Here are some examples to show you how the singular and plural subject pronouns can be formed in complete yet simple sentences:

Subject Pronouns (Singular)

  1. I am doing okay.
  2. He is feeling good.
  3. She is playing tennis.
  4. It is raining outside.

Subject Pronouns (Plural)

  1. You are being mean.
  2. They are going to the movies.
  3. We are hungry for dinner.

From the examples above, you can see that the singular subject pronouns go with the ‘am, is’ form of the verb ‘to be’ in the simple present tense while the plural subject pronouns all use the ‘are’ form of the verb ‘to be.’ By following the examples above, you’ll have a better understanding of how to use the subject pronouns correctly in order to be personal in English.

One of the main differences between the subject and object pronouns is that the ‘subject’ pronouns begin the sentence while the ‘object’ pronouns often come at the end of the sentence. The English language follows a structure of ‘subject – verb – object’ and that is a formula of a basic sentence that rarely changes. The singular ‘object’ pronouns are words like ‘me, him, her, it’ while the plural ‘object’ pronouns are words like ‘you, us, them.’ As mentioned before, the word ‘you’ falls into the plural category with object pronouns like it does for the subject pronouns.

Here are some examples to show you how the singular and plural object pronouns can be formed in complete yet simple sentences:

Object Pronouns (Singular)

  1. The horse jumped over me.
  2. Think about him.
  3. Sing loudly with her.
  4. They did it.

Object Pronouns (Plural)

  1. I like
  2. The reservation is for us.
  3. We were here before

Without being able to address anyone or anything properly, your English will not advance that much. If you want to be comfortable forming sentences either verbally or in the written form, you must study and master the personal pronouns to the best of your ability.

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If you’re looking to improve your English through private lessons with me on a one-to-one basis please check out my ‘Learn English with Ben‘ page here: https://benjweinberg.com/learn-english-with-ben/

You can also check out my ‘English Grammar’ courses on Teachable.com here: https://benjweinberg.com/my-grammar-courses/

The Power of Mentorship

Since the days of ancient Greece, the concept of mentoring or mentorship has been apart of human recordkeeping and history. The naming of the word itself ‘mentor’ is said to have come from Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ where the main character, Odysseus, while getting ready to leave for his famous voyage, decided to leave his infant son behind. Because he didn’t want to leave his son alone considering how long his ‘odyssey’ could be, His infant son, Telemachos, was left in the care and companionship of Odysseus’s friend named ‘Mentor.’ From this allegorical story from Homer, we get a sense of how longstanding the idea of mentorship has been around and why it has lasted throughout the centuries.

Why exactly is mentorship so powerful? Well, there are a number of reasons why it can be such a helpful and important part of a person’s success. People very rarely can do everything by themselves and to have the ability to seek out someone who gives them both their time and expertise without asking for anything in exchange is what makes having a mentor so powerful. Now, not everybody starts out being the best mentor. It’s a skill like any other skill that takes time to develop. It’s also impossible to mentor somebody in every aspect of his or her life.

It would be better to focus on an area where you think you can be a good mentor and lend help to another person. For example, if you’re good at writing and consider yourself to be a writer, you should want to mentor someone else who’s aspiring to be a writer and not someone who wants to become a mechanical engineer. Your mentoring has to line up with the mentee’s aspirations and what they hope to do in the future. Mentorship doesn’t only have to be professional advice but it can also involve be personal advice as well. Mentorship can range from how to learn a new skill set in order to make more money to being able to manage your personal relationships better.

Before mentorship can begin though, a level of trust has to be built up over time between the mentor and the mentee. When you’ve taken upon the role of the mentor, it’s important to make sure that you think that the mentee can be successful and that they can put in the work and effort to reach their goals. If somebody is mentoring you, it’s important to make sure that you know them well already, you respect them, and you find that they have good expertise and knowledge in the field or area that you need mentoring in.

A mentor doesn’t have to be a boss or a co-worker. It could also be a friend or family member who you have a close relationship to and is able to give you sound advice based off of their personal and/or professional experiences. When it comes to mentorship, it has to be a consistent and long-standing relationship between two people. The mentor and the mentee should be meeting on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis together in order to make actual real and sustained progress on both their short-term and long-term goals. If you’re only meeting with a mentor once every month or every three months, it’s not going to work out and you’ll be lucky to make any lasting progress. If mentorship is done right, the mentee will see themselves go far in the area, skillset, or field that they’re focusing on especially if the mentor is giving out real, practical advice that they themselves have proven to work.

For mentorship to be successful, it’s important that this kind of relationship between two people be a two-way street and not just a one-sided affair. The mentee should not be getting 100% of the benefits out of the mentorship because respect and appreciation has to be paid from the mentee to the mentor. Time, as we all know, is quite valuable and for a mentor to be giving his time freely to the mentee especially on a weekly or monthly basis is a very selfless thing to be doing. While the mentor should not expect anything in return right away, a healthy mentorship would involve the mentee taking it upon himself to show his appreciation and thanks through small gestures. It could be buying your mentor a gift for the holidays or buying them a ticket to a baseball game or a concert but it’s important to show that you care about the mentorship and that you realize it’s nice to give back every now and then.

If you’ve built up a strong personal friendship with your mentor, it would be nice for the mentee to spend time with the mentor outside of their formal meetings / sit-downs, etc. For example, if you two have shared interests outside of business, you can go out together for dinner, or do an activity together. Mentorships don’t have to be strictly business all of the time and the best mentorships are when both parties like each other and would consider themselves to be good friends. One of the key powers of mentorship is its’ sustainability and longevity when it’s done right. A fruitful mentorship of months and even years can definitely change the course of a person’s life. While not the easiest thing in life to take upon oneself, being a mentor to someone is one of the most rewarding things a person can do and it’s an easy way to make the world a bit better than before.

Unfortunately, true mentorship today isn’t as prevalent as it used to be and is a far cry from what it was like just a generation or two ago. Most people today do not have a mentor in their lives to help them who can they rely on for good advice without paying money. If you’re able to be a mentor to someone who needs your help or advice, it is something that should be seriously considered especially if that person has a lot of potential. Mentorships shouldn’t always be thought of in terms of the mentor being older the mentee in terms of age.

That’s a fallacy in that there are ways in which older people can learn from younger people especially in this current digital age of technology. The power of mentorships lies in the inherent decency of one person helping another person to get ahead in life in any way that they can. The mentee can then take the advice to heart and work hard to improve themselves in professional and/or personal ways. The mentee should show gratitude and appreciation to the mentor because having a good mentor who is generous with his time is not easy to find these days. While mentorships and apprenticeships were more common a generation or two ago, they are exceedingly rare nowadays. If you’re able to have a good mentor in your life, remember to be grateful for it and pay it back in the future by mentoring another person who is growing through the same struggles and setbacks that you once conquered yourself.

If there were more active mentoring going on between people, not only would their own individual lives improve over time but also that of the local community and society as a whole. When more and more folks are willing to give back to others in their community and help them out consistently, that helps out the society in general. The power of mentorship is also a reminder that we’re all in this together and we should try to spur on success of others rather than kick them down a notch. You’ll feel happier and more engaged in the world to when you give mentorship a shot so I encourage those of you reading this article to go out there, think about why mentorship is important, and figure out if that is a calling that you personally would like to take upon in the future in an effort to help other people help themselves.

English Corner – Prepositions of Place

In this ‘English Corner’ blog post, we are going to go deeper into the topic of prepositions, which we have covered previously but I want to highlight the specific ‘prepositions of place’ that are a large part of this expansive grammatical topic. The thing to keep in mind when reading this article is to focus mainly on the examples listed below to see how, when, and why these preposition words such as ‘at, on, and in’ are used. There are different reasons that are given when it comes to each of the ‘preposition of place’ words and how they end up being used in a sentence. Later on, I will highlight the ‘prepositions of time’ and how they are utilized when compared to the ‘prepositions of place.’

When it comes to ‘prepositions of place’, the main point of this type of prepositions is to show where something or someone is located, usually in a physical sense. The three major words that are ‘prepositions of place’ are ‘at, in, and on’, which also come up the most frequently in terms of usage. ‘At’ is used in a very specific manner in terms of being referred to for a specific location, place, or position.

Here are some examples where we can use ‘at’ as a ‘preposition of place’ in the right way:

  1. I was at Jonathan’s birthday party last night.
  2. We lived together at 8 Drury Lane for two years.
  3. They danced with each other for the first time at the Senior Prom.

When you use the prepositional word ‘on’, the meaning and usage for it is a little bit different than ‘at.’ For ‘on’, you’re going to use it to indicate the position of an object, thing, or person on a horizontal or vertical surface such as a desk, table, floor, etc.

Here are some examples of how we can the preposition ‘on’ in a sentence:

  1. The boy is playing on the playground.
  2. The basketball was bouncing on the court surface.
  3. I put my cowboy hat on the kitchen table.

Similarly to ‘at’, ‘on’ can also be used for positioning when it comes to streets, roads, and avenues.

Example: I used to live on Beacon Street.

The last major ‘preposition of place’ would have to be ‘in’ which is quite frequent in its’ usage. In terms of its’ meaning, the preposition ‘in’ is used for something or someone that is enclosed or surrounded.

Here are some examples of how we can use the preposition ‘in’ in a sentence:

  1. The check is in the mail.
  2. The letters are in the mailbox.
  3. She is in the high-speed train going home from work.

In addition to discussing enclosed or closed off places and spaces, the preposition ‘in’ can also refer to a position within a general area such as a town, city, country, region, country, continent, etc.

Example: I used to live in Istanbul, Turkey but now I live in London, England.

It’s important that the average English learner be made aware that there are many more prepositions of place besides the main ones, which are ‘at, in, on.’ There are many other prepositions of place words, and it would be an exhaustive list to go over the meaning and usage of each one. However, it would be better to highlight another couple of preposition of place words that come up frequently but not as often as ‘in, on, at.’ The other ‘preposition of place’ words would be after, among, behind, between, in front of, next to, beside, by, over, above, under, below, and beneath. Here are some examples of sentences that use these other preposition of place that were just mentioned above:

  1. The dog jumped over the wheelbarrow.
  2. He was hanging out by the pool on his off day from work.
  3. She checked under her bed to see if her pet gerbil was there.

There are dozens of examples that could be made with prepositions of place. However, it’s best to focus mainly on the particular prepositions of place such as ‘at, on, in’ and to understand clearly when, why, and how we use them correctly. While a sub-topic within ‘prepositions’, knowing what prepositions of place are and how to use them correctly in the grammatical sense will help you to become a better English learner and student.

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If you’re looking to improve your English through private lessons with me on a one-to-one basis please check out my ‘Learn English with Ben‘ page here: https://benjweinberg.com/learn-english-with-ben/

You can also check out my ‘English Grammar’ courses on Teachable.com here: https://benjweinberg.com/my-grammar-courses/

‘Babel’ – Film Review and Analysis

There’s a famous story from the Book of Genesis in the Bible that is known as the ‘Tower of Babel.’ It’s a mythic story about how human beings were once speaking the same language around the world and were able to communicate seamlessly enough where they were able to build a magnificent tower to reach the heavens. Humanity is united and in peace with each other given that they share the same language, culture, and geographical location.

After the ‘great flood’ washed away and receded, humanity wanted to build the tower of Babel in order to reach God and the heavens. In the story, God is befuddled by this show of hubris and ego that has united humanity together in building this tower to reach his presence, and decides to make humanity speak different languages, and separates people into different tribes located in different places around the world. The confusion of languages has a major impact on humanity causing a breakdown in communication, and leading to the future certainties of conflict, violence, and overall suffering.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has created a beautiful film named after this allegorical Biblical event titled, Babel (2006), which was released over a decade ago, and was a winner of Best Original Score at the Oscars as well as six other Academy Award nominations. The film was released to critical acclaim and has garnered a lot of recognition for its’ themes of globalization, cultural and language miscommunication, and the powerlessness of people to control critical events that happen in their lives.

‘Babel’ features an ensemble cast of actors from around the world, which include Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal, Koji Yashuko, and Adriana Barraza. ‘Babel’ is an intriguing film in that the characters and situations in the film take place in three different parts of the world but are interrelated with each other. The sequences of events that occur are out of order but are shown to connect with each other as the film goes on. As for the countries where the film is set, they include Morocco, Japan, Mexico, and the United States. A lot of credit must be given to Mr. Inarritu for weaving these three storylines together without making it too hard to follow or too farcical to be believed. The aspects that make this film unique are the interweaving storylines, the excellent acting, and the themes and questions that ‘Babel’ poses to its’ audience.

The stories that make up ‘Babel’ show how unrelated and seemingly random events at the time can end up turning people’s lives upside down. The overall plot of ‘Babel’ starts out with a Japanese businessman giving a rifle to his hunting companion / tour guide in Morocco as an innocuous gift. This event seems harmless as a moment between two men of different countries and cultures sharing a gift but which causes different events of the movie to unfold over three different continents.

The hunting rifle that makes its’ way to Morocco, is eventually sold by Hassan Ibrahim, who receives the rifle from his old Japanese hunting partner and the rifle ends up in the hands of a goat-herder named Abdullah. Perhaps not using the best judgment as a grandfather should but not seeing a problem with it, Abdullah gives over the hunting rifle to his two sons, Yussef and Ahmed, who want to use it to ward off jackals from killing the goats in their flock.

The boys who are only teenagers and are not skilled with weapons end up practicing the range of the rifle and end up practicing the firing of the rifle on rocks, a moving car, and then the bus. The two boys do not really know the danger that they’re playing with and they don’t know who is on the bus they’re firing the rifle at. The Western tourists who are travelling through Morocco are also unaware as to what is about to happen and are trying to enjoy their trip to a foreign country. Susan, played by Cate Blanchett, is an American woman sleeping on that bus filled with Western tourists and is trying to get some rest when she is shot in the neck accidentally by one of the Moroccan boys with the hunting rifle.

Her husband, Richard, played by Brad Pitt, is caught unaware of what happens to his wife, Susan, but quickly catches up to the reality that his wife is severely wounded in a foreign country where he doesn’t speak the language, and he doesn’t have control of the situation. After losing their third child recently to the SIDS disease, Richard and Susan’s marriage is on the rocks and they took the trip to Morocco to get the spark back in their love life. In some scenes of the film, they seem angry, confused, and emotionally distraught after the tragic death of their infant child.

While Richard and Susan are on vacation in Morocco as a means to save their marriage, their two children are in the care of their long-term nanny who is originally from Mexico. Amelia (played by Adriana Barraza) is put into a difficult situation after Susan’s injured state becomes known. She is an undocumented person working in the United States illegally but she has been a nanny and housekeeper for Richard and Susan for many years. She treats their children like her own son and daughter after being a personal caretaker for them. It is made clear to the audience that Adriana has been in the U.S. for over a decade and a half and she has close ties to the American family.

During the film, Adriana is put into a very difficult situation, as she has to go back to Mexico for her son’s wedding but is unable to leave Richard and Susan’s children by themselves at the house in California. Because Richard can’t leave Susan’s bedside, they are delayed in their arrival back to San Diego. Against Richard’s wishes, Adriana decides to take their children with her to Mexico for the evening to enjoy the wedding of her son. Everything is fine for Adriana and the children at the wedding until her nephew, Santiago, decides to drink heavily during the celebration. He is shown to be intoxicated before driving on the way back to U.S.-Mexico border with Adriana and the children causing a number of unfortunate events that upends the lives of all those who are involved in his serious mistake.

The last part of the storyline takes place in Japan and focuses mainly on a teenage girl named Chieko Wataya (played by Rinko Kikuchi). Chieko is deaf and is unable to hear the outside world. On top of that, her mother recently committed suicide, which Chieko became the first witness to leaving her traumatized and inconsolable. She struggles in her attempts to relate to people anymore and is frustrated with boys her age. It is implied that her father and Chieko don’t have the best relationship with each other and haven’t discussed the traumatic event of her mother’s suicide.

During this storyline, it becomes clear that Chieko is confused, lonely, and looking to receive love from a father-like figure since her own father has been so absent in her life. Without spoiling the ending of this storyline, it is also revealed that Chieko’s father is the one to originally give the hunting rifle to the Moroccan man, Hassan Ibrahim, who he met on his trip there. The police eventually question Chieko’s father about why he sold his rifle to Hassan, and how Susan’s wounded state has become a major political point of contention between the U.S. and Moroccan governments.

Overall, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu does an excellent job of bringing these four storylines over three continents to life, and is able to tie them together seamlessly. ‘Babel’ is a story of human beings living their lives in their own ways within their own cultures but who get caught up in external events beyond their control. Inarritu is able to capture how interconnected our world is today in the early stages of the 21st century whether we would like to be aware of it or not. Seemingly unrelated events to each other are able to cause powerful effects that can change people’s lives when they least expect them.

A Japanese man goes on a hunting trip in Morocco, enjoys his Moroccan hunter’s company, and gives him a gift. That Moroccan man sells the rifle to a local goat-herder who lets his two sons practice with the weapon, and they fire the gun consecutively without knowing the damage it can do. The boys, not trying to do harm intentionally, end up shooting accurately at a bus that happens to be filled with Western tourists. An American woman who is catching some sleep catches a stray bullet and starts to bleed to death. She has to seek help from the local Moroccans in the village, and her wounded status causes a political feud between the U.S. – Moroccan governments over whether or not the act was ‘terrorism.’

While she’s recovering from her wounds, her housekeeper half a world away takes her children to Mexico to see her son get married at a wedding. Her nephew uses poor judgment on the drive back to the U.S. from Mexico and makes a fateful decision that changes Adriana and the children’s lives. ‘Babel’ was one of the first movies of the 21st century to really capture the phenomenon of globalization, and how actions that happen half a world away can affect other people’s lives directly. In this movie, we see how people try to do their best as people do, and often times don’t mean to do harm to others intentionally.

Sometimes, people can get caught up in making decisions that they think are good at the time but end up having the opposite effect. ‘Babel’ is not a simple black and white film with truly good or truly evil people. This is a film that understands that there are various shades of grey to life, and that it is difficult to control everything that happens to us and the people in our lives.

Overall, ‘Babel’ is an emotionally charged film that reminds us how people, things, and events can be misinterpreted. When you as an individual come from different cultural and language backgrounds, there are things that are likely to be lost in translation with another person of a different background. Unfortunately, miscommunication is apart of life, and problems are going to occur when people are unable to understand and connect with each other even if they do speak the same language with each other.

As the Biblical story goes, humanity ended up being divided by different languages after trying to be unified in their desire to build up a singular tower to the heavens. We are said to have been punished for our hubris and ego, which caused us to be separated from each other as we were spread out intentionally across the globe.

The audience is left to wonder at the end of ‘Babel’ if there is a truly happy or sad ending to take note of. The plain truth of the ending to me is that ‘Babel’ purposely shows all the elements of the human experience from Chieko’s joy at going to a rave party with her friends to Adriana’s pure despair at losing Richard and Susan’s children in the Mexican desert.

‘Babel’ shows us that life has its’ inevitable ups and downs, and that we can only control so much about our own lives, and many things are often out of our control yet still happen to affect us deeply regardless. Still, this brilliant film captures the resilience of its’ characters who try to make amends for their mistakes, and want to become better as they figure out the complexities and difficulties that make up life. I highly recommend ‘Babel’ to others and hope that it will get the recognition it deserves for years to come.