Anatomy of a Scene – Miracle Ceasefire

How we as humanity cling to hope is our investment into the future that better and brighter days are ahead as long as we persevere, push forward, and leave our world a little bit better for the next generation. ‘Children of Men’ is great because it poses the answer to the question of how does humanity hope for a future when no babies are being born?

The world without hearing children’s voices, laughter, and even cries can be a dark and hopeless place. That central message of the now classic movie ‘Children of Men’ (2006) has stayed with me especially in the current times of a pandemic that we are living in. How we as humanity cling to hope is our investment into the future that better and brighter days are ahead as long as we persevere, push forward, and leave our world a little bit better for the next generation. ‘Children of Men’ is great because it poses the answer to the question of how does humanity hope for a future when no babies are being born?

When you think deeply about it, humanity is restored generation after generation thanks to our youth, their ideas, their drive, their desire to not repeat the mistakes of the past and to learn from history. When you take humanity’s future away, what is there left to fight and live for? It is a powerful premise and one for which I am glad Director Alfonso Cuaron decided to focus on. His movie does not pull any punches and shows humanity at its worst when women are no longer able to have children.

Without children, playgrounds and swing sets remain empty. Refugees and immigrants are persecuted and forced into detention camps, suicide pills are common place, environmental degradation is the norm rather than an obscenity, and violent factions fight it out with the government in a post-apocalyptic United Kingdom where suicide bombings are an increasingly common occurrence as Theo (Clive Owen) discovers when he is almost the victim of one in one of the earliest scenes. Perhaps the most frightening part of the whole movie is that no one has figured out why women can’t have babies anymore and the novel that the film is based on is also clear when it shies away from saying why men can’t help in the reproduction process anymore.

In ‘Children of Men’, no child has been born for 18 years and it can be hard to retain hope after that long that things will change. The world is in a downward spiral and things get worse as the youngest person alive, Diego, is killed by an angry crowd. Theo takes solace in the fact that he has a good job at the government ministry and has a funny friend who goes by the name Jasper. Still, you can tell that Theo has lost faith in humanity especially after the death of his infant son due to a flu pandemic and his estranged relationship with Julian, his wife. However, when Julian tells Theo about Kee, a pregnant African woman, who may be carrying the first baby in almost two decades, everything changes, and Theo finds his purpose again to live and to fight for a tomorrow. Theo dedicates himself to protecting Kee and her future baby and wants to get her to safety, which means getting her to the Human Project, a group of the world’s best scientists discussing how best to make humans fertile again.

Theo’s journey with Kee involves getting her out of a refugee camp, escaping men who want to keep Kee’s baby for political purposes and who are also armed combatants, and avoiding fascist police forces who intend to get in their way. To escape the escalating urban violence around them as both the government and rebels fight it out in bombed out Bexhill, Theo and Kee take shelter in a refugee settlement in a former apartment building. The three of them come close to being killed and the baby’s cries echo throughout the building much to the stunned shock, joy, and awe it inspires among the refugees, the rebel forces, and the government troops.

The way the cinematographer follows Kee’s baby and Kee around in a wide tracking shot is absolutely beautiful making it one of the most memorable scenes in cinema history. “How is she?”, Theo asks Kee. “Annoyed.” Kee replies. A refugee woman reaches out her hand to touch the baby and another woman sings a sweet song in her native language. Prayers and aspirations are given to the baby as Theo and Kee walk through the crowd. The rebel soldiers acknowledge the baby as they get away from the advancing troops behind them. The government’s military soldiers are in absolute shock as one soldiers’ yell at his army unit: “Ceasefire! Ceasefire!” All of them stop shooting at once and look upon Kee’s baby in disbelief, many of them never having seen a human child before in person.

To see the armed men in tanks and heavy weapons and their technological mastery stop, think, and realize how humanity and its future must be preserved and let free without being in danger. Not much can stop a war from continuing but a baby’s cries can most certainly pause it for a few minutes as this brilliant scene exemplifies. An immediate symbol of hope for humanity and its possible redemption is realized in its newest addition and it is a wonderful allegory to how despite our differences, any human around the world will stop to comfort, aid, and protect for a baby as we would do for our own children or grandchildren or even nieces and nephews.

Those men who don’t see the baby continue to fire at each other in the distance but any soldier, man, or woman who hears the baby crying lowers their weapon, pays their respect, and let Theo and Kee have safe passage as they represent a glimpse of hope finally for humanity’s future rather than its eventual extinction. Some of the soldiers pray to their God and others peer in to get a look at the baby with their own eyes but all are silent and in disbelief thinking that finally there might be hope again.

After a minute or two of calm and as Kee and Theo are about to get away, a rocket RPG hits the government soldiers and the men ignore the baby again and get back to fighting the rebel forces in the building that Kee and Theo just left. To me, that is a tragic symbol of how once we have something out of sight and out of mind, we go back to fighting each other instead of uniting around a common cause. As that RPG fires, I think to myself watching this scene how somebody always has to ruin it for everybody else. Unfortunately, Kee’s baby does not lead right away to world peace and a cessation of arms. However, it is enough time for the two of them to escape and have a fighting chance of reaching the Human Project.

A baby’s cries are more powerful and everlasting than any weapon, any political cause, and any division between humanity. While human nature cannot be totally pacified by children and babies being born, it allows us to fight for better days and for a future freer of pain, sorrow, and tragedy.

I hope that when you watch this scene, you’ll realize that even in our current age when fertility is not extinct and is not a present issue that we are still fighting to preserve hope for the next generation and generations to come. Whether it is preventing pandemics, stemming the worst effects of climate change, or preventing nuclear war between nations, we all have a responsibility to be stewards like Theo in protecting the babies of the future against any manmade harm that could befall them due to our own neglect and ignorance.

Please do watch this ‘Miracle Ceasefire’ scene and the rest of ‘Children of Men’ when you have the chance. It is an excellent film to see and this scene may be the best one of the entire film. Hope and redemption are only as strong as our ability to have a better future.

Get Your Own House In Order

“Before you can set an example to others in your house, or others in your community, or others in an overall society, you first need to show that you can ‘get your own house in order.’ You need to be able to handle yourself and your own day-to-day problems first before you can lead others to do the same in their own lives.”

There’s an old adage I have been thinking about lately about how it is primarily important to take care of oneself first and not just in one way but in every part of your life. Before you can set an example to others in your house, or others in your community, or others in an overall society, you first need to show that you can ‘get your own house in order.’ You need to be able to handle yourself and your own day-to-day problems first before you can lead others to do the same in their own lives.

It can be hard for other people to take you seriously when you don’t take yourself seriously in the first place. How will you be able to lead a team or an organization or a company if you are not able to master your own tasks and your own desires? Self-development isn’t just about making sure you are able to create a good life for yourself but it’s also about setting a positive example for others who would look up to you as a result. You cannot be a mentor or a role model for others without first putting yourself out there and doing what needs to be done to make yourself successful.

When you have not struggled, when have not persevered, when you have not done what it takes to reach your goals, how can you give advice to other people on what they should do to have the same kind of success? “Getting your own house in order” means taking care of yourself first and doing so consistently before you can use those same pieces of advice and examples for others to follow. Firstly, your own house in order starts with your mental and physical health.

Your body is your own house so it must be taken care of first and foremost in terms of getting good sleep, eating properly, not indulging in vices like alcohol or tobacco to excess, and knowing how to exercise as well to keep yourself in shape. It also extends to being able to relax, de-stress, handle anxiety, and be mentally sharp by challenging yourself but also relaxing your mind so as to not exhaust it entirely. Your body and your mind are their own little houses and they must be maintained thoroughly so that other people will know that you are capable enough to handle other demands in life.

Another house we don’t think of is appearance and grooming. Your own house in this case means maintaining a good appearance and practicing good hygiene. These practices are necessary also on a daily basis and to show to the world that you care about yourself and want to be taken seriously. For a job, an internship, a presentation, a seminar, a lecture, etc., your personal dress should indicate that you are a serious person for the role or for the opportunity and that others will know that they can respect your house because you respect it yourself. They will not respect your house when you show up to an interview in shorts or when you wear Yoga pants to a college lecture. Physical appearance and grooming are another ‘house’ that we all must take seriously and to do so primarily before we can give advice to others on how to maintain their own ‘houses’ in good order.

Lastly, the last ‘house’ on a personal level that I would like to focus on is where you live regardless if it is a small studio apartment or a huge mansion. Maintaining your own physical shape in the world is crucial if you want to tackle bigger and better problems. If you can’t make your bed, clean your bathroom, or keep your kitchen clean, how can you tackle any major issue in your community or in your society? At the end of the day, this kind of ‘house’ maintenance comes down to self-respect and putting your own ego aside to do the work that we all must do.

The chances are good that at the end of the work to maintain this ‘house’ that you will feel a lot better for having done the work needed to keep up a clean and orderly home. It is not easy to do this consistently but it is necessary and if you plan on having guests over, having friends over for a get-together, or want to be romantically involved with someone, a clean ‘house’ will go a long way to making you respectable and responsible in the eyes of others. Being able to maintain care not just of yourself but your own physical space means that people will know that they can trust you with other tasks and matters of importance that extend beyond your ‘house’ and to the ‘houses’ of others in the community and in the society.

Thinking about a community as a whole, their ‘houses’ include making sure that the schools are meeting the needs of the students, that the community is safe and protected for all of its residents, that the roads and bridges are maintained and do not have potholes or faulty beams, and to make sure that each and every person has access to utilities including water, electricity, and yes, an Internet connection too. If a community does not have those necessities for a high quality of life, then that ‘house’ is not in order and those people who have their own ‘houses’ in order need to step up to do their part to help others get the community in good shape.

If you have your own ‘house’ in order, you can set the standard for the rest of the community and be able to use your ideas to help others especially if you gain their respect and their trust. With how you act and how you behave in addition to your own appearance, ideas, and personal goals, you can make the community better and it’s important for you to get in there and show that you can make a difference there.

When a community can all of its necessities in order, that one community can definitely have an impact on the larger society within a country and even the world. A community where everyone has equal access to a good education, where health care is not a privilege but a right to all in that society, and when kindness, honesty, and virtue are rewarded rather than chastised. That is an overall society that is getting its own house in order and can serve as an example to other societies in other parts of the world.

Being able to provide a high quality of life and a chance to succeed to all of the people in a society should be the goal of society with its own ‘home’ in order. I am not talking about a social utopia per say but rather an ideal place where people know that they can succeed if given a fair shot in life. It’s also about providing the basic tools of any society to all of its people without discrimination and without corruption. Whether that is no homelessness, enough healthy food for everyone, and an economy where inequality is minimalized, that is what a society should be focusing on and using as an example to other societies.

When a society prioritizes the needs of the few over the many based on wealth or another privilege, that society does not have its own house in order. If there are people out there hungry, homeless, or without health care, then that society is not in order. A society cannot be an example for other societies when it lacks the courage to invest in its most vulnerable populations or to provide a higher quality of life for all people.

Without that kind of an example, a society will lose its influence or example setting and will turn inward and often tear itself apart without good leadership or good values. A society that gets its own house in order prioritizes the right social needs and finds the investments, funding necessary to maintain these necessities of its people will automatically become an example to other societies whether they are near or far. A society that doesn’t does not have a moral ground to stand on and will lose the example it could set by practicing bad ‘house’ manners in different ways.

“Getting Your Own House in Order” does not just apply to one individual but it also applies to a community and a society as a whole. We all are human and fallible and sometimes, we will fall short but if we strive to do better in our homes, in our lives, and in our examples we set for others, that kind of ‘Ripple Effect’ of positive values will improve the larger community and society as a result. How we treat ourselves (mind and body), our homes, our way of life has a direct effect on the community we share, and, on the society,  we find ourselves a part of. This kind of example setting starts at home, but it can ripple throughout to the rest of the world and it all begins with ourselves and our own actions.

‘The Edge’ – Film Review and Analysis

“Whether it was ‘The Revenant’ with Leonardo DiCaprio or ‘The Grey’ with Liam Neeson, these films highlight man’s struggle to overcome the elements, the animals, and even his own demons. Many of these ‘man v. nature’ films focus on one main lead and a small cast of supporting characters but most of the film’s runtime is about the sole main character. ‘The Edge’ is different.”

I have always really liked Man vs. Nature type of films. Even though they have similar premises and conclusions, it really is a raw kind of film that grips you and leaves you wondering what you would do in a similar kind of situation. Whether it was ‘The Revenant’ with Leonardo DiCaprio or ‘The Grey’ with Liam Neeson, these films highlight man’s struggle to overcome the elements, the animals, and even his own demons. Many of these ‘man v. nature’ films focus on one main lead and a small cast of supporting characters but most of the film’s runtime is about the sole main character. ‘The Edge’ is different.

In ‘The Edge’ (1997), this survival film does something else by highlighting two men who have different intentions and different backgrounds. One is a wealthy man named Charles Morse (played by Anthony Hopkins) and the other is a photography presumably who take pictures of models and is very much a person of the city who is not used to nature or wildlife. Bob Green (played by Alec Baldwin) has ulterior motives in mind but comes off as affable and friendly enough in giving Charles a gift for his birthday in the form of a hunting knife. Charles is accompanied by his beautiful wife, a model named Mickey, who Bob takes pictures of as well as Bob’s assistant, Stephen, who is also new to being in wildlife. The small group are joined by a few friends in a cabin in the Canadian wilderness to celebrate Charles’s birthday.

From the beginning of this film, you can tell that Charles is more comfortable with his intellectual pursuits than with his friends. He loves Mickey, his wife, but he understands that he is more interested in books than in people. Charles is particular obsessed with a survival book / guide that he is reading and is fascinated by the natural surroundings that he has brought the group to and the people who hunt there for bears and other wildlife.

Charles’s fondness for nature and of survival are to come in handy later on in the film and is an excellent use of foreshadowing when things go haywire later on. During this birthday celebration, the viewer can also tell that Bob while he is kind to Charles is envious of him, his life, his money, and his wife. He openly flirts with Mickey and kisses her platonically. Charles can sense this animosity and is wary of Bob’s intentions.

Part of the reason why they all have come up to the Canadian wilderness besides Charles’s birthday is to find, interview, and take photographs of a famous Alaskan Indian hunter. During their flight, as Bob and Charles make small talk, Charles blurts out of the blue to him: “How do you plan to kill me?”. Before Bob has a chance to respond, a flock of birds come out of nowhere and strike the plane’s engines and its windshield killing the pilot and causing a downward crash.

The plane crash lands in the lake and all three men (Bob, Charles, and Stephen) are all shook up but survive the crash. The pilot does not but the men quickly realize they may be stranded for a while. Charles, given his survival skills knowledge, takes charge and encourages the other two men not to panic and to learn from him. Using his encyclopedic knowledge from his memory, he is able to make a compass to plot their course forward, make a small fire, and also give them advice about how to proceed.

Charles is not perfect in his survival skills and he almost gets swallowed up by a river rapid that almost carries him away until Bob pulls him out. For most of the film, it is unclear to the viewer how the two men really feel about each other. Their survival and getting out of the wild takes first priority. This becomes even more pressing when they wander into the territory of a giant Kodiak bear who is a real ‘manhunter’ as Charles calls him.

Stephen injures himself while climbing and Bob mistakenly hangs up the blood-soaked clothes of Stephen later on at night around the fire drawing the bear to him. This costly mistake leads to the Kodiak bear tracing their scent and finding them. Instead of burying the clothes, Bob lets them hang above their campsite causing Stephen to be attacked and brutally killed by the bear. Bob and Charles barely escape and realize that if they want to survive this ordeal, they must band together to trick the bear and then kill him.

Food is also a concern for both men as they haven’t eaten anything since they crashed and will starve to death if they don’t kill the bear. This is another instance where Charles comes in handy as he is able to distract the bear while Bob goads the bear into falling into their trap. By working together as a team and using a hidden spear to impale the bear, Bob and Charles are able to kill the bear together even when they both end up wounded from the encounter.

This is a small victory in the long road to survival for both men as they are able to eat well, don bear skins, and even find a cabin where they can get supplies. However, this is not the end of their animosity or wariness of each other. Man’s most fatal enemy is not nature or animals but often his fellow man and that comes into play.

While Charles is a smart and dedicated man to have achieved his wealth and success, he may have been naïve to who Bob is and what his wife Mickey was doing with him. Bob is not a survivalist and relies on Charles to survive but with the bear vanquished and having reached a cabin with some ability to reside there for some time, does Bob need Charles anymore and will his wife Mickey miss him if he didn’t come back?

The viewer has a lot to absorb and while I don’t want to spoil the film’s ending, ‘The Edge’ is not just about survivalism, but the edge of our tolerance of one another or our shared cooperation when a woman or money or prestige comes between people. Both men are not perfect, and they gain more when they cooperate rather than try to kill one another. Bob has the negative traits of hubris, envy, and short-sightedness. He is not able to survive the woods without Charles but wonders how much he truly needs him now that they have conquered the bear. He also covets Bob’s wife and wonders if he could murder Charles and get away with it by making it look like an accident.

Charles is an avid survivalist but may be naïve about the people around him. He also knows that Mickey and Bob and other people may take advantage of him and he may not know if they truly love him for him or if it is for his wealth and influence. While Bob is a personable, fun, and outgoing, Charles is an introvert with a love for knowledge and learning. They are opposite personalities, which is why they clash at times during this film.

While being in a precarious, life-threatening situation can bring the best out of people, it can also bring the worst out of the people, which is why ‘The Edge’ is a great film. Survival films like it do not just focus on the brutal realm of the wilderness where our creature comforts and our money cannot protect us, but they can also focus on man’s cruelty to man as well as our ability to work together too. ‘The Edge’ does a good job of pointing out how we can rise to the occasion when our survival counts on it but also shows us how dark human nature can be when we feel compelled to act out of jealousy, rage, and deceit.

‘The Edge’ is a great and underrated film, which I do highly recommend. The vistas of the Canadian wilderness are brilliant shown through the cinematography. The Kodiak bear, which was played by a real bear, named Bart, does a great job of showing how terrifying and powerful a giant bear can be when it is attacking you. Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin are respectively some of the best actors of their generations and they do a great job of highlighting the unique personalities of their characters. You really believe the scenarios that they could find themselves in having been stranded in the wilderness for weeks. It is a believable kind of film from being able to make a fire, to finding fish in the river, to being attacked by a bear, to climbing and hiking day after day in unknown territory.

‘The Edge’ is overall a very compelling and realistic film. It does a great job of blending elements of ‘man vs. nature’, ‘man vs. animal’, and most importantly ‘man vs. man’, which is an element missing from our survival films. I would be lying if watching ‘The Edge’ didn’t make me want to buy my own survivalist guide to learn about how to survive in the wild for days or weeks. A terrifying plane crash, a boat whose engine doesn’t start, or a car engine that goes dead is enough to make anyone panic.

I believe it is important to prepare like Charles did for that kind of horrible situation and not to panic or dwell with shame. As Charles says at the beginning of the film, “Those who get lost in the woods often die of shame because they were ashamed that it happened to them.” This is an important quote of his to keep in mind. When the chips are down, you have to use your knowledge, resources, and will to survive whatever the circumstances. The best time to start preparing for that kind of occurrence is now.

See the Stars

“If you are going through troubles in your life, I believe it can be comforting to see the stars not only to realize that while our problems are serious and need to be dealt with, it is also good to realize the beauty in things and nothing is perhaps more beautiful than a clear, night sky where you can see the constellations, the full moon, and even a shooting star if you are lucky.”

One nightly ritual that should make a comeback is to see the stars. A simple yet effective way to remember our place in the universe and how small we really are when it comes to the cosmos. If you are going through troubles in your life, I believe it can be comforting to see the stars not only to realize that while our problems are serious and need to be dealt with, it is also good to realize the beauty in things and nothing is perhaps more beautiful than a clear, night sky where you can see the constellations, the full moon, and even a shooting star if you are lucky.

While not likely under the traditional definition for a ‘meditation experience’, I think that you can definitely get lost in your own thoughts or perhaps stop thinking for a while as you concentrate on the brightest stars or the allure of the full moon. Instead of thinking about your problems and your worries, you can try to map the ‘Big Dipper’ or ‘Orion’s Belt’, which can be a fun activity not just for you but for your loved one as well.

In our modern, fast-paced world, it is increasingly difficult to find places or open spaces where light pollution has not clouded the stars or has kept us from fully appreciating the sheer number of stars, galaxies, and planets out there in the universe. If you live in a major city or even a big town, light pollution as well as other forms of pollution have likely kept you from appreciating the stars in their full capacity. I honestly believe that shutting off the city lights or the town’s lights for just a few minutes for some simple star gazing would ease a lot of people’s anxieties, stresses, and worries as they look to the heavens to see the possibilities of what lies beyond humanity’s reach.

In my opinion, looking at the stars is more humbling than scary, more illuminating than disturbing, and more beautiful than dark. A clear sky on a full night is a precious gift and one for which we should all appreciate in those little moments of peace that we can make for ourselves in our daily lives. Not only is it healthy for you to relax, to grab a chair, and even make a snack over the fireplace while you appreciate the stars above, it’s a great way to bond with your family and your friends.

Sadly, you may need to take a vacation to a rural country home or to a mountain chalet in order to be able to immerse yourself in stargazing. Most of us around the world live in densely populated communities and cities where finding the stars is as difficult sometimes as finding the sky during the day due to the various forms of pollution. However, it’s good in general to go to quiet spots from time to time where the air is fresh, the water is clean to drink, and the stars are bright to enjoy nature in its fullest.

From open country fields to the mountain tops, there are still places out there in the world that are isolated from civilization and where you can really appreciate the stars at night. It may take effort and money to do so but it’s worth it to be introspective and to think about what could be out there, what it could be like to explore those different planets that may be habitable to man, and how cool it would be to be up in space where gravity is non-existent and where you can see how small and unique our little blue planet really is.

One tip that you should consider using to fully appreciate the stars is a really good telescope that can zoom in to see certain constellations and planets at a really high resolution and for which you can eventually become good at making a map over a week or a month of where they are located at in the night sky. Telescopes are the best tool for also seeing shooting stars or seeing what stage the moon is in during its monthly cycle. It can be a worthwhile investment if you live in a rural or unpopulated area where the night sky is always clear, and the stars are abundant to see.

Being able to appreciate the stars is a simple joy and one which is overlooked in a fast-paced world. However, I believe it is good for the soul and for our peace of mind. Looking at a full night sky has different meanings for different people but for me, it is reassuring. It’s nice to know what what we consider astronomical problems here on Earth are actually not that big in the grand scheme of the universe.

We should try to keep our small place in the universe in mind when we consider the scale of our own Earth-based problems. While it’s a definite fact that we must make our own planet more livable, freer, more just, and cleaner, we also have to acknowledge that we are most likely not alone in its great expanse. Our place in the universe and even in our own Milky Way galaxy is so tiny that we can’t help but appreciate what could lie beyond our planet and that maybe one day we will finally be able to find out what’s out there and to reach further for the stars than we did before to find out, once and for all, if we are truly alone in the universe and also what Earth-like planets would be there for us to discover and perhaps live on?  

The Need to Have a Social Conscience

Keeping with what’s been going on in the world lately, I believe it’s important to reinforce just how important it is now and into the future the need to have a social conscience. What do I mean by a social conscience? Boiling down the formal definition to even simpler terms, it is the feeling derived from caring for others more than yourself. You feel the urge to put others’ needs before your own. It does not mean to stop caring for yourself and taking care of your daily needs but to think of others who rely on you and to put them first especially for family members and friends.

However, having a social conscience goes beyond just our family and our friends. It goes for our immediate society as a whole whether it is the community you live in, the nation you reside in, or the world you inhabit. You feel responsible for what goes on outside of your own life and those of family and friends to think of a larger picture. To have a social conscience is to see beyond your own problems and to see the injustices that continue to plague our world.

You also have to realize that your problems while difficult or not unique and others are going through the same tribulations as you are and sometimes worse. Having a social conscience involves putting yourselves into the shoes of other people and to realize how they could possibly be helped and how you personally can be involved in assisting them. Showing concern for others is the right way to have a social conscience and also to think about how these injustices can be resolved. Any individual can make a difference by having a social conscience and by taking it upon themselves to change their behavior to reflect their new attitude.

How do you show your social conscience? There are numerous ways to do so and you could even put them on a scale from small actions to large movements designed to change the foundations of the society. In the case of a social conscience, I find that it’s like exercising your body. You don’t want to take on too much weight or distance at first for weightlifting or running. You should rather want to start small and build up your actions over time and to be more ambitious.

For some examples, starting off small with your social conscience can include environmental stewardship, collecting donations, or getting involved in your local community. Any of these actions can create a ripple effect and can cause a shift in societal behavior for others to follow your lead or for the actions to spread to other people and even communities based on how consistent and courteous you are with these goodwill efforts. For environmental stewardship, it could be recycling your own bottles and cans each day and getting your neighborhood to do so as well.

You can also plant trees and install solar panels on your house if able to gather momentum from smaller actions. Donating your own clothes or extra food can lead to organizing food drives or even creating your own organizations to help collect donations in your town or city. Leading a local trash pickup event can lead to other future leadership roles for yourself such as running for your child’s PTA (parent – teacher association) board to running for the town / city council board seat. Social consciousness does not have to encompass all of humanity but rather as the popular saying goes, “think globally, act locally.”

As long as you are having a positive impact on the life of another person, you are exercising your social consciousness. The more you do it, the more natural it is, and it becomes your routine or habit. Your first time donating your old clothes to the Salvation Army becomes a monthly habit. Your first-time volunteering at the local food bank becomes a weekly occurrence. Helping others feels good and it can lead to you doing it more often so why not give it a try? A social consciousness does not have to extend to everybody in the world all at once but the actions you do locally can definitely ripple out and stand as a positive example for others to implement in their own communities.

If you would like to get involved globally, there are an almost infinite number of opportunities to study, teach, work, and volunteer in non-governmental organizations and local non-for-profits in important areas such as education, health care, infrastructure and the environment. Spending time to educate yourself on the culture, history, politics, and the society of other places around the world will help better inform you of the injustices and problems of your own. No human society is perfect but there are small improvements that each day we can choose to perform to make it a little bit better than it was before.

Even when you are not in a position of local, national, or even global leadership, you can elect to pay attention to the problems that must be solved, form your position on the issues by being educated and choosing your sources of information carefully and then choose to vote and elect those leaders who have a social conscience. You will know if they have one or not by not only of what they advocate for but how they have advocated for these issues and who they have surrounded themselves with. A person with no social conscience cares for no one but himself and his own brood. Their friends are disposable to them and they care nothing for others beyond what they can do for him or her and how their own prospects can be improved. A person without a social conscience deserves to lead nobody and not be followed by anyone.

A socially conscious leader cares for the least among them and feels their pain as his or her own. While they have not experienced pain or misery as those whom he or she advocates for, he can listen to them, see what they say based on those experiences, and come to an educated decision on how to best fix the problem and work with those who are experts in that field to solve the issue as best as humanly possible. Social conscious behavior is so key to have when it comes to be a leader of a community or a nation and it is unfortunately neglected as of late when it comes to judging the men and the women we put into positions of influence and power.

As long as people err in their own behavior and judgment, there will be manmade problems and injustices. What someone with a social conscience can do is to do their best to continue to fight for justice and solve those problems in any way they can. Rather than focus on 100 problems at one time, it is best to focus one’s attention at 1 or 2 big problems that can be solved in time and that can gain popular support from the community after receiving the facts of why and how the injustice exists. Keep educating yourself on the injustices and the problems that exist in your world and decide how you want to push our world back towards the ‘arc of justice’ that our conscience and actions should bend to as Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently put it. We only have a finite amount of time on this planet and if we can right some wrongs and create justice where there was little or none before then we are doing our small part to make this world a better and fairer place.

An Ode to Curiosity

What separates the dreamers from the strivers? There are a number of characteristics and personal qualities that distinguish someone who dreams of doing big things and one who actually strives to accomplish these big things. Among these characteristics include commitment, consistency, hard work, patience, perseverance and they are all important for different reasons but the most important characteristics that stands out to me is having curiosity and being willing to learn new things because of that curiosity. If you don’t have any curiosity or willingness to learn how things work and why, you can dream about making an impact all you want but if you aren’t willing to spend time learning about what you’re interested in and what you can improve upon whether physically or mentally, then your goals will likely not be accomplished.

This ability to strive for hard-to-reach goals amid an appetite for education, learning, and overall growth is exemplified by a number of great men and women throughout history. Even when they were unsure that they would not live to see their ideas or their plans come to fruition, their insatiable curiosity was used to move the goal posts forward often to the benefit of humanity as a whole.

I was reminded by this characteristic this past weekend as I went to a really well-done and educational exhibit on 500 Years of Leonardo Da Vinci regarding both his finished and his unfinished works. Books full of notes, dozens of paintings, and sketches, graphs, and illustrations to note what he had in mind for the furthering of humankind. I would say most of what he set out to do during his life was not accomplished during it but what he did was open up the ideas and the possibilities to the rest of the world so that some other engineer or inventor could go all the way to make his vision a reality.

Da Vinci was a genius, but he was also curious about how to bring about new ideas in the world. He did not care if they could never come to fruition or if they failed. Similar to other great inventors, he knew that sometimes you have to try things out one hundred or even one thousand times to get things truly right. You can’t be shy or timid if you have something you think can truly change the world and make it a better place. In some cases, Da Vinci’s ideas where decades or even centuries ahead of time and if more people were curious to the same extent, there is no telling that the 1500s could have been more like the 1900s much quicker.

To understand how to make a man fly in the air or how to bring him back down safely, to figure out how to make cities more livable, and how to engineer machines to bring energy and water to people more easily, these are all monumental tasks that stem from Da Vinci’s trait of having an insatiable curiosity. He was mainly self-educated and self-taught who loved learning about the wonders of the world from engineering to painting to the science of the human body. It is difficult to even comprehend how things would be different today had he been born in the modern era instead of during the renaissance era.

He was almost superhuman in his drive and in his motivation but what all of us can have in common with Da Vinci is to awaken the innate curiosity or curiosities inside of us. Few of us today, if any, will have the curiosity matched by the genius and intellect of a Da Vinci but all of us are curious about something and we want to do our best to master it. For some of us, it’s our curiosity to play a piece of music perfectly without stopping.

For others, it’s about solving an almost impossibly hard equation that could have real-world consequences. Whether it is art, science(s), programming, mathematics, politics, etc., you have to find out what you are curious about and how you can use your curiosity to further advancements and developments in any of these fields. You may only have curiosity about a particular field, but it is your prerogative then to be the best you can in that field in order to get that sense of fulfillment.

Leonardo Da Vinci was a special person and a once-in-a-lifetime talent whose likes we may have seen the last of but what he represents is our drive as human beings to reach new heights and to challenge past notions of what is and what isn’t possible. During his relatively short life, he was able to accomplish so much in different areas of human endeavor and still has had an impact on the world today more than 500 years after his death. He is an example of what is possible if you set your mind and your body to quenching your curiosity and leaving your mark on the world in some small way.

Even if you are not recognized during your life, it is important to keep notes, drawings, illustrations, and records of your hard work so that someone may be able to pick up the torch after you and carry it forward. Sharing your thought process and your ideas with the world long after your time on Earth comes to an end is the closest a person can get to a sense of immortality.

Da Vinci may not have made man fly during his lifetime or made them capable of constructing his idea of the perfect city, but he was able to leave detailed blueprints for other engineers and inventors to carry forward with their own innate sense of curiosities. Having an insatiable curiosity and a powerful imagination can drive you even when you have tried your 100th or 1000th idea. If you are curious, passionate, and willing to fail more than you will likely succeed, you will be sure of having some impact on the world and a chance to be remembered by others long after you have gone.

The Power of An Idea

According to the University of Southern California’s Laboratory of Neuroimaging, the average person has about 70,000 thoughts per day. That is about 45 thoughts per minute and 2,700 thoughts per hour. Most likely, 90% of those thoughts are focused on the day-to-day habits and responsibilities that we take upon ourselves out of necessity. Where we go to eat, where we go shop for food, what to clean and how to clean it, and the need to brush, dress, and groom ourselves so that we look presentable to the world. However, what makes us stand out as a species is our ability to pull a few ideas from these thousands of thoughts that end up changing the world in some measurable way.

Thoughts can be random, scattered, and hard to quantify but with concentrated effort and documentation, these thoughts become ideas that later can become a reality. How does an idea turn into a real thing? Well, one part of making an idea real is jotting it down on paper or even on a smartphone today and really spending a lot of time focusing on the plausibility of it. Ideas can make the best sense in the world to you but if they are not popular or don’t transcend just your belief in them, they will go nowhere fast.

Ideas are meant to be tested, changed, and optimized so that people believe in them, for better or for worse. The paradox that is inherent with ideas is that they are very similar to human nature. They can be used for the greatest good or the greatest evil. Ideas are so powerful that wars have been waged over them, millions have lost their lives, and untold amounts of money have been spent to promote or degrade them.

When you really think about it, ideas that are put into action have caused changes to human civilizations throughout the millennia. Whether its education, health, infrastructure, scientific advancement, community building, ideas are at the forefront of upending the status quo and changing human lives, sometimes for the better or sometimes for worse. While I just mentioned the positive advancements that come from ideas, it is also valid that ideas have led to war, poverty, inequality, destruction, and multiple isms that have caused conflict and strife among nations, races, and religions.

You may be reading this article and wondering that maybe it’s best to not contribute your ideas to the world in some way. I think this is a false dichotomy because I like to think that if your ideas are not harming people, are not harming the planet, and can lead to a better community, country or world, then you should try out your ideas and see what happens. The key part to realizing an idea of yours is to see how other people react to it. Are they happier because of your idea? Are they healthier because of it? Are they better educated because of your idea?

You should be asking yourself: Is my idea doing some sort of measurable good for the world and how can I improve upon it? Ideas start out as being imperfect but once you start acting to make those ideas a reality in the world, you will soon learn that implementation of those ideas will take serious hard work and effort. Getting feedback from unbiased users or participants is a key step to see whether the idea is worth merit and whether it is sustainable or not in the long-term. Imposing your idea on the world without substantive feedback or without understanding how your idea fits in to your specific niche will end up in failure.

If you have an idea, remember to write it down and construct how it could work and whether it would be worth pursuing. Similar to starting a business or launching a campaign, you have to test drive the idea first to see if people would be interested in what you have to offer whether they are paying customers or voters from the town you are running your campaign in. Careful assessment and fleshing out of your idea will make a better idea and will make your idea stand out from others that are similar or may be able to usurp yours.

Ideas do not always have to be original but there must be some added benefit or advantage that hasn’t been tried before or could change the status quo in some positive way. There is a rightful stigma against ideas, but it is important to realize that our faith in ideas is crucial to keeping civilization going even when some ideas turn out to be bad for us. Our shared belief in ideas is what leads to massive companies like Google or Apple becoming the most influential or profitable in the world and has led to nation-states forming in the past few centuries such as the United States of America or the United Kingdom.

Without thoughts that turned into ideas which turned into actions, where would humanity be? Our ability to analyze, process, and think about how to change the world or how to introduce something new in the world is what sets us apart from other species on the planet. Essentially, the story of human progress could be argued to revolve around how to maximize the impact and spread of good ideas and how to minimize the influence and the source of bad ideas. Most of us tend to shy away from sharing our ideas or trying them out but I think having a more entrepreneurial and innovative vision is a key part of being self-actualized as a person.

Having a sense of belief in your ideas and how you can leave the world better than you found it is extremely powerful. While working on the ideas of others and promoting them to the world is also very useful, I tend to think that each and every one of us has a good idea that could be fleshed out, tried out, and implemented with the help of others, which would play a key part in making the world a better place.

Because the world is so interconnected, ideas spread so rapidly that it can be overwhelming with how much is out there. However, the ideas that stick around are the ones that take time to develop, that are tweaked with, that refine their logic and their execution, and for which have gained a solid following of people who believe in those ideas. An idea that has a powerful story which resonates with people can also withstand the test of time.

The next time you have an idea, think deeply about it. Maybe you’re on your commute to work or you’re in the bathroom, or you’re on a walk in the local park, but don’t let it slip away if you think that it can serve a positive purpose and if it is actionable. Ideas can come and go in a millisecond so being able to concentrate on the idea, remember it, and write it down as soon as possible could pay off in a big way. Another way to let your ideas form is to focus on the impact that it could have and how people could benefit from the idea(s). I believe that the more observant you are of your surroundings, the better your ideas will be. Another part of gaining traction with your ideas is reading books, whether they were entrepreneurs, inventors, politicians, and reformists from different eras of history.

You may find that your idea is not so unique and may date back a few decades or even a few centuries but maybe that idea never took off. You are eager to learn more about that so you do your research, you find out more about the history of the idea, and you decide why it may be right for the present and into the future based on changes to society. Just because an idea failed in the past doesn’t mean it can’t make a return with a few useful tweaks. From the electric car to virtual reality to smartphones, these kinds of ideas have their roots buried firmly in previous unsuccessful efforts in the past only to be revived because of inventors and thinkers who thought of how to adapt these inventions to the modern era.

Ideas are powerful because of are shared belief in them and how they can change the world. However, without serious action, commitment, and hard work, ideas of ours will just stay like that as ideas alone. Ideas without belief or without support from others will go nowhere. The key to implementing good ideas in our era is that they have been tested, have some measurable benefit to humanity, and have staying power because of their relevance to our societies. If you are not sure that you are an ‘ideas’ person, try to concentrate on your thoughts and remember whether there are any of them in your daily life that could become a reality.

You must decide if any of these ideas of yours could be written down, planned out, implemented, and eventually supported by the work of others. Once you go through that chronological checklist, you will be ready to start putting those ideas into action. Your ideas may ultimately fail and you may get discouraged but if your idea(s) were able to have a kind of positive impact on someone or something because of that thought that you first had go through your mind, you will know that it will have been worth the effort of carrying it out in the first place.

The Brilliance of a Speech – Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin, one of the great film figures of the 20th century and known for his silent work in film, took a great leap of faith and showed moral courage by his performance parodying Adolf Hitler in ‘The Great Dictator.’ This film was the first one where Chaplin had any actual dialogue even though he had been in numerous silent films in previous decades from the 1910s through the 1930s. By that time of the late 1930s, Chaplin had achieved worldwide success and critical acclaim as an actor and a comedian but at that tumultuous time in world affairs, he knew he had the responsibility to speak out about growing militant nationalism that was surging in both Europe and Asia.

Compared to the modern times in which we live, Chaplin was taking a big risk with both his career and his personal safety by mixing politics and world events in his roles in ‘The Great Dictator.’ Because this film was the first of his to use sound and the fact that still in 1940, it was not common to condemn and criticize the rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe by Hollywood. Even though World War II had begun, and the U.S. had remained neutral up until that point, Charlie Chaplin brought to life through satire and comedy just how ridiculous dictators like Hitler and Mussolini were in their desire to conquer territory and expand their rule.

It was unknown to Chaplin and the other people involved in making ‘The Great Dictator’ though that Hitler and the Nazis would create concentration camps and extermination chambers to kill over eleven million people, including six million Jewish men, women, and children. Chaplin, like few other actors of the time, was able in this satirical film to play both the main protagonist and the main antagonist. Both a Jewish barber and Adenoid Hynkel, Chaplin in both roles was able to lay out how clearly to the audience how prescient of a threat the rise of fascism in Europe was but also how important it was to poke fun still at the Nazi threat in order to be better able to confront it later on.

While 95% of ‘The Great Dictator’ is making fun of Hitler and the Nazi leadership, the last five minutes is a speech given by Chaplin playing the satirical role of Adenoid Hynkel in full costume but talking seriously about the need to confront Nazism and how it got to this low point in world history. This speech is extremely popular and brilliantly crafted to put it simply. It is no wonder that this film was commercially and critically acclaimed especially in the United States and in the United Kingdom. The invigorating words that Chaplin passionately and profoundly passes on directly to the audience of ‘The Great Dictator’ carries real weight to it especially by the end of the film where it’s been comical and relatively lighthearted up until that point. At the time of the film and of the year it was released, 1940, the horrors of World War II were far from being fully realized yet. However, the ending speech was not just foreboding of what was to come but it was also a forewarning to humanity that this can happen at any time and in any part of the world. Chaplin urges the audience to consider how it got to this point, how we can turn it all around, and how to avoid the dictators who pit us against each other and separate us into us vs. them.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile – black man – white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.”

Being able to take care of people and to treat each other with respect and dignity is crucial to one’s humanity regardless of race, ethnicity, or religious background. In Chaplin’s speech, he caters to the better angels of our nature and how we really should yearn to make each other’s live better and spread happiness, not hate. The Earth that we have been given is big enough for everyone regardless of who we are and is ‘rich’ in its natural resources and its ability to provide for everybody with food, water, etc. The natural state of man should be yearning for freedom and beauty, but sometimes we have to collectively steer ourselves back in that direction when we have ‘lost the way.’

“Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent, and all will be lost….”

Greed has turned men against one another, has caused hate to fill our souls, and has led us down the paths to misery and bloodshed. Similar to the pre-WWII period, we live in a time of rapid technological change where ‘speed’ is the essence of progress, but this same ‘speed’ has led to the consequence of alienating ourselves from others with these ‘advances in technology.’ While we live in abundant times, there are many out there who still ‘want’ for more because of increasing inequalities. Too much knowledge without wisdom can lead to cynicism. There is a lot of cleverness in the world but what really matters is how you treat other people and that ‘kindness’ and gentleness’ too often takes a back seat to ‘cleverness’ and showing your ego off to others. When there is not enough humanity, Chaplin tells us, life is violent, brutal, and the progress we have made can be reversed all too easily.

“The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men – cries out for universal brotherhood – for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world – millions of despairing men, women, and little children – victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.”

Substitute the iPhone and social media for ‘the aeroplane and the radio’, and this part of Chaplin’s speech is just as relevant as it was in 1940 with regards to technological change and its effects on humanity. While these devices and inventions can bring us together in an effort to achieve ‘universal brotherhood’, these same tools can be used to drive us apart from one another and lead to more universal forms of control, subjugation, and surveillance if we are not careful. Reaching out using technology to help men, women, and children in trouble thousands of miles away is what we should be striving for especially when they are in danger of being tortured, imprisoned, and killed.

“To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.”

Misery is temporary and so is greed which cannot go on forever because it stands in the way of both human progress and human development. Those men who benefit from hatred and violence also fear the progress of humanity because it will prevent them from taking all of the resources, money, and land for themselves. Dictators like all humans will eventually die and disappear from the face of the Earth and the power that was taken from the people will eventually be returned to them. There is always a chance for liberty to exist as long as the people have hope and as long as dictators can have their power be taken from them by force or by the passing of time. The torch of liberty can only be fully extinguished if people give up hope or if one dictator is exchanged for another dictator like nothing ever changed.

“Soldiers! don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel! Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!”

Dictators and authoritarian brutes do not care about the soldiers who they command and use them as pawns in their game of chess with other nations. These ‘leaders’ give the soldiers commands and teach them what to think, do, and feel, but they don’t instruct them on why they are fighting or what they are fighting for? The men who order soldiers to battle think like ‘machines’ rather than as human being. Men are born with the love of humanity in their hearts and were not born already hating others. Only those who are ‘unloved’ and ‘unnatural’ can be led to hate others (often by dictators). Soldiers enslave themselves to dictators and other leaders by fighting without questioning and instead should fight for the liberty of all human beings to live in peace, pursue their dreams, and better the world. The only fight worth having, Chaplin argues in the speech, is the ‘fight for liberty!’

“In the 17th Chapter of St Luke, it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.”

“The Kingdom of God is within man.” We are born imperfect as human beings but in order to create peace, prosperity, and liberty, it is within us alone to make. Only when all men unite together and not just one group or one man alone, there is nothing that we can’t accomplish together. For one, the power to create technology and machines is one that we have exercised for the past few centuries now. This power can be used for terrible things but if we unite together as one humanity then there is the power to do great good such as to pursue happiness, justice, and to make life free and beautiful for all peoples. One man can’t do it alone nor can a group of men from a country or region, but we must be all together united in the struggle to create a better future. These ‘machines’ that man creates can be used for evil or for good, and it is ultimately up to us in how to use the technology we have to further the progress of mankind.

“Then – in the name of democracy – let us use that power – let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world – a decent world that will give men a chance to work – that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will!”

Democracy and not dictatorship are the only power we need to unite under a banner of shared humanity. Dictators look to divide and conquer but democracy urges unity and peace among all nations in order to create a decent world. Being able to work and create is what men desire to give future generations a shot at a good life and to aid the elderly in age to have a secure retirement. Brutes promise a lot of things to their peoples under the guise of democracy, but they do not care for democracy or its principles of liberty, equality, and justice for all. Brutes are dictators and authoritarians who lie to the people in order to free themselves financially and politically, so their own families, friends, and connected elites can benefit. They never fulfill the promises that they were elected to handle, and they use the people’s trust to enrich themselves and consolidate power for themselves while criticizing anyone who thinks differently from them.

Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

When dictators rise to ultimate power, they keep that power for themselves and quite literally ‘enslave the people.’ This was the case in World War II with Hitler and Mussolini and is still the case today almost eighty years later. Chaplin argues that the only way the world and its seven billion inhabitants can be truly free is to do away with the borders we have imposed on ourselves to cause unnecessary tension, conflict, and violence, and to stop greed, hate, and intolerance in all of its forms or before it becomes too powerful to resist.

Democracy, liberty, equality, and justice are everlasting principles for human freedom but they must be fought for and obtained with each generation. These principles are not perfect either and they must be reformed and improved upon so that all humans can benefit from these ideals. Only in a world with reason, education (science and other subjects), the quest for humane progress can happiness and self-satisfaction be achieved. In order to prevent dictators from seizing power, democracy must be strengthened not just by ‘soldiers’ but by ‘citizens’ of all nations. Only when we unite together to disavow of false prophets like dictators and rather work together in a fair and free democratic system can we ensure the continued progress of man, woman, and child through the decades, generations, and centuries to come.

Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’ was a brilliant speech that tried to warn the world about the coming world war that would be the deadliest in human history. His words still carry immense weight and troubling foreboding in our world today. I hope and pray that we continue to heed his speech for its vision of a better, free, and just world or we could once again find ourselves staring into the abyss of future conflict, violence, and destruction….

You can read the full speech here: https://www.charliechaplin.com/en/articles/29-The-Final-Speech-from-The-Great-Dictator-

Book Recommendations – Volume VII

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been lucky enough to do some good reading. Each of these three books are enjoyable, interesting and which hold different lessons about the state of the world and humanity at large. These three books come highly recommended from myself and are well worth the time invested to read them. If you are looking for a few books to read, as spring becomes summer, below you will see the 7th edition of my book recommendations which highlights Submission by Michel Houellebecq, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, and A World in Disarray by Richard Haass.

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1.) Submission by Michel Houellebecq is an enjoyable and humorous take on French politics in the 21st The French author is known for his edgy content and his nihilistic take on modern life. Houellebecq is not known for writing about satire and for those who are a fan of his works, this novel was a sharp turn away from the other topics that he usually focuses on. Personally, I haven’t read the other novels associated with this writer but I really enjoyed this satirical look at French politics.

The premise of the novel is that there is a new political crisis in France. In order to stave off a win in the 2022 French presidential elections from Marine Le Pen’s National Front party, the Socialist party and the center-right Union for a Popular Movement party are forced to align with a newly formed Muslim Brotherhood party led by its charismatic leader, Mohammed Ben-Abbes in order to achieve victory as a coalition. The main character, Francois, is a middle-aged Literature professor at the Sorbonne is going through his own mid-life crisis. While he enjoys teaching at the university and cavorting physically with some of his students, he struggles to find meaning in his life and is distraught at the loss of both of his parents. This is on top of the fact that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood party will affect his ability to keep his full pension and be able to keep his job.                                                                                                                       

On top of the probability of losing his teaching job at the Sorbonne as well as the fleeing of his steady Jewish girlfriend, Myriam, who leaves France for Israel in the face of rising anti-Semitism, Francois contemplates suicide but decides instead to seek refuge in a monastery in the town of Martel. Ironically, Francois, after going through a self-imposed exile for a few weeks, comes to realize that the world didn’t end when the Muslim Brotherhood party takes power. Instead of fighting the changes going on at the Sorbonne, Francois is intrigued by the fact that if he converts or ‘submits’ to Islam, he will be able to still find a prestigious job, keep his lucrative pension, and be able to have a few wives chosen for him since polygamy had become legal in France. The main character, Francois, is a spectator to the changing political landscape rather than an active player.

While this book is known for being controversial, I find it to be full of slapstick humor in making fun of the main character’s overly dramatic take on life. Francois is a mere spectator whose desire for alcohol, food, and sex overrides any core convictions that he may have politically. Mainly, Houellebecq is making fun of French intellectuals who can’t be bothered to invest in them beyond their own hedonistic desires.

His take on the political situation in France is an obvious dramatization and I don’t believe that he was looking to ruffle any feathers. The rise of an Islamic nationalist party in France in 2022 would be completely unrealistic which is what the author was making clear in focusing on the political satire associated with that idea. Overall, it is a witty, entertaining novel, which tells us more about human nature than it does about the precarious state of French politics in the 21st century.

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2.) Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari is one of the best books I have ever read. In all likelihood, this is the kind of book that you can come back to multiple times and still enjoy it. This is not your average history book in that it focuses more on the big ideas and developments associated with each era of human history rather than diving into the endless details and events related to each period. Instead of a 4,000 page behemoth focused on human history, Harari does a great job in condensing the how and why of Homo sapiens into only 400+ pages.

While I was reading this book, it didn’t feel laborious at all and was a real page-turner. Harari’s main argument in the book is that the homo sapien (the modern human) were able to dominate the Earth because of our ability to cooperate and share with each other in large numbers. The downfall of pre-homo sapiens such as the Neanderthals along with various other extinct animals and plants was the result of the Cognitive Revolution, which occurred at around 70,000 BCE.

The exciting developments related to the establishment of shared human myths and imaginary mainstays such as money, religions, human rights, nation-states, etc. directly tied to Homo Sapien culture put sapiens on the path to long-term survival and flourishing. Harari convincingly argues that the history of humanity can be broken down into four parts: the Cognitive Revolution (the development of imagination), the Agricultural Revolution (the formation of collective societies), the Unification of humankind (the rise of empires and nations), along with the Scientific Revolution (the emergence of scientific knowledge) which is the stage where sapiens currently find ourselves in.

Harari believes that the rise of Homo sapiens as a species has had significant consequences on the planet we all inhabit as well as the harsh treatment of animals that has resulted from being at the top of the food chain. Also, while the Agricultural revolution led to the creation of large human societies and eventually sprawling empires, the shift from hunter gathering to farming caused the human diet and lifestyle to suffer as a direct result. Human beings after agriculture became less self-reliant and had to rely on a king, an emperor, or the state itself to provide food, water, and other necessities. Out of all of the developments in human history, the rise of agriculture was a fundamental shift in our thinking, which still affects us in the modern society we all inhabit today.

Overall, Sapiens is an excellent, informative, and timely read that I would recommend to anyone. It’s an easy book to pick up and a hard one to put down. I am currently reading another book of his, which is the sequel to Sapiens, this book and the one that follows it just shows how good of an author and intellectual that Mr. Harari is.

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3.) A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Older by Richard Haass is a refreshing take on the topsy-turvy world of international relations in this current period. Mr. Haass, who is currently the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, has advised previous U.S. presidents and worked as the Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department during the Bush Administration, is an expert on world affairs who has published multiple books and this one in particular could not be timelier.

While the U.S. remains the most powerful country in the world both economically and militarily, it has started to lose ground in terms of its ability to sway world opinion and events due to failures of U.S. foreign policy in the early years of the 21st century. The lack of success in denuclearizing of the Korean peninsula, the rise of Iran as a regional power in the Middle East, and the mixed results of the East Asia ‘pivot’ from the Obama administration have created a worldwide power vacuum. Also, due to the long and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both U.S. prestige and values were harmed by these adventures in the Middle East. Haass argues correctly that the post-WWII order that the United States and its European allies helped create is fraying due to the failure of its leaders, institutions, and policies to maintain stability across the globe.             

There are real challenges to contend with that the United States won’t be able to solve on its own. The threat of climate change, the challenge of cyber-security, and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons require a unified approach that has been lacking between the U.S. and its European allies. The events of Brexit, the Trump administration’s ‘America First’ isolationist policies, and the great power rivalries going on between Russia, China, and India have thrown the world in disarray. The days where the U.S. could have great influence and sway over events around the world may be drawing to a close. Haass sees that the U.S. is just one of the great global powers and must be willing to cooperate, collaborate with other powers in order to achieve results when the main issues of today are multilateral in nature.

In order for the world to follow America’s lead, Haass aptly understands that we must get our own house in order first. The rising national debt, the ongoing problems with investing in education, infrastructure, and health care prevent the United States from acting as an example to the rest of the world. A dysfunctional political process as well as a President who doesn’t believe in leading the international, post WWII order are preventing the United States from realizing its full potential as a global power.

For anyone who is new to international relations, A World In Disarray, is an excellent take on the history of the international system after World War II and how did we get to this point where the world seems more chaotic and unstable than ever. Mr. Haass understands the limits of American power and that in order to lead on the world stage; the U.S. must undertake reforms to benefit our own citizens at home. In order to solve complex, multilateral issues, the U.S. must value diplomacy and the relationships that we have with our allies. Where the U.S. used to be the only global superpower, after the fall of the Soviet Union, America is just one of the great powers now. In order to solve the multilateral issues of the 21st century, the United States cannot do it alone and we must be willing to use effective diplomacy and other forms of soft power to create peace and prosperity.

‘Children of Men’ – Film Review and Analysis

What would happen to our world if women were no longer able to have babies? How would human society, nations, and the globe as a whole react to such a consequential event to humanity? A dystopian take on the state of a world without children is the focus of the 2006 critically acclaimed film titled, ‘Children of Men’, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. This film stars Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and Chiwetel Ejiofor in its leading roles. The film is based off of a novel of the same name, ‘Children of Men’, which was written by author P.D. James in 1992.

The screenplay and the story have both been adapted from the novel but the striking visuals and the memorable cinematography make it fit for the big screen treatment. Despite a limited release and low profit earnings when it first came out, Children of Men has stayed in the public consciousness due to its timely socio-political themes on immigration, the environment, terrorism, and political violence. With the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President and the unlikely occurrence of Brexit, the message and themes of the film have turned out to be quite relevant. Although this film is set in the United Kingdom in the future year of 2027, despite the non-issue with the infertility of women, the issues that humanity is dealing with in 2017 are tied directly to different issues that the film brings up in its’ plotline.

Theo Faron, a civil servant for the British government and former activist, seems to have given up his fight for a better future. With humanity on the brink of extinction and with most of the countries’ governments having collapsed, there doesn’t seem to be any hope left. As one of the characters, Miriam, explains to Theo in the film, “As the sound of the playgrounds faded, despair set in. Very odd, what happens in a world without children’s voices.” Theo and his ex-wife, Julian, estranged for years after the death of their infant child, Dylan, are reunited due to a refugee named Kee. Julian and the Fishes, an anti-government and pro-refugee group involved in an uprising, would like to take Kee to the Human Project.

She is known to be the only woman in the world who is pregnant with the world’s first child in eighteen years, and is very valuable. However, things are not as they seem with the Fishes and their motives for helping Kee. Theo, in this film, is a lone character who promises to help Julian to bring Kee to the Human Project to ensure the future of humanity against all odds. Instead of using Kee as a political prop to help their cause against the government, Theo decides to help her escape from the Fishes, bring her to the British coast, and protect the future of humanity. Along the way, the viewer of the film sees the consequences of a world without babies. Where once there was no hope, Theo gains his sense of purpose and faith again as he hopes to redeem himself by getting Kee to safety and away from both the British government and the Fishes group.

Starting from the opening scene where the main character, Theo, is taken aback from a suicide bomb blast in the heart of London after just having left the café where the attack happened, you get a sense of what you’re in for with this movie. There’s a sense of hopelessness, dread, and despair as the audience is thrust into the focus of the movie as it’s made clear that the youngest person on Earth was eighteen years old meaning that something seriously has gone wrong to make that a reality. Although it’s never directly addressed in the movie, a few of the characters speculate that the reasons women can’t have babies anymore vary from environmental degradation to genetic experiments to too much pollution / radiation. The reason for women’s infertility is never addressed but the film makes it clear that the world is without hope because of the fact that there are no children to carry on the future of the human race.

Humanity faces certain extinction and the United Kingdom where the film’s setting is, instead of maintaining its’ parliamentary form of democracy has regressed into a totalitarian police state. Because it is one of the few surviving nations left on Earth, the country has developed a strict anti-immigration and anti-refugee policy. Any refugees or immigrants from outside the U.K. are rounded up and sent to detention camps, which have very poor and inhospitable conditions. The situation is so dire that the Fishes, labeled as a terrorist group, are fighting a guerrilla war campaign against the government to fight for immigrant rights.

The Fishes, with Julian, Theo’s ex-wife as their leader seem like the good guys but they have nefarious intentions in mind when it comes to the righteousness of their cause especially after they discover the first pregnant woman, Kee, in eighteen years. Throughout the movie, Theo is shown to be caught in the middle between the tyrannical government and the nefarious freedom fighter groups who are both trying to get hold of Kee for their own political gain.

The Human Project, believed to be a group of the world’s leading scientists, are thought to be the best people to help Kee with the baby and to perhaps study why she out of all the women on the planet was able to give birth to a child. Theo, having seemingly lost all hope and reason for living after the death of his baby, Dylan, believes again in the cause of getting Kee to be in the safe hands of the Human Project and to keep her from falling into the hands of either the Fishes group or the government. One of the main themes in this film is Theo’s regaining of hope and his quest for redemption after losing his only son years ago with his ex-wife, Julian.

The director, Alfonso Cuaron, does a great job of setting the scene of a dystopian future where humanity has lost all hope. A pill that allows people to commit suicide peacefully called ‘Quietus’ is mass advertised, terrorist attacks are an almost daily occurrence, and the immigrants, refugees who come to Britain are kept in detention camps separate from the rest of the population because the borders of the country have been closed down. In a plot and setting so dark, the only light to hold on to is Kee and her newborn to be. In a particular moving moment, Kee decides to name her baby girl after Theo’s deceased child, Dylan, showing just how much she really cares for the man who is getting her to the Human Project. It’s no coincidence that Kee herself is a refugee from a West African nation where the first humans emerged.

One of the best scenes in the film occurs when Kee, Theo, and the newborn baby are trying to leave a bombed out building where the rebels and the government are fighting each other in an urban war. The only thing that stops the bombs from falling and the bullets from firing are the sounds of a newborn baby echoing throughout the building and the street. This particular scene is a reminder of how special the sounds of a children’s cries are to the vitality of the world and how without them, it’s likely that humanity would descend into a downward spiral of chaos and violence. When all of the soldiers stopped for a few minutes to stop fighting, they realized that there was still hope in the world and that life can continue. It’s a very special scene for a special movie.

In addition to great directing, and great acting, Children of Men has some of the best cinematography of any movie in modern history. The single tracking shots, and there are quite a few throughout the film are ridiculously well done and help the viewer feel the tension and suspense in every scene. The soundtrack, the setting, and the messages of the film are extremely powerful and relevant to today’s world. I believe the director does a great job of asking the audience about how susceptible we are to either the rule of a totalitarian government or to the whims of absolutist extremist groups when societal collapse is imminent.

When there are no children or future generations, what is there worth fighting for? How also do we prevent ourselves from scapegoating other groups when things go bad? Maybe the issue is not infertility per say but rather climate change, the rise of artificial intelligence, or war between nations, how do we prevent ourselves from losing hope when things look bleak? The film, Children of Men, makes the argument that we should never lose hope especially in dire times. The future must be protected however especially as shown by the role the character, Theo, plays in helping Kee in her quest to meet members of The Human Project.

Ironically, there have been news stories out about the precipitous drop in men’s sperm counts over the past forty years in countries such as the United States. While this may not lead to total infertility, researchers labeled it as a cause for concern due to the overall trend of less fertility in men. In addition, birth rates are down below replacement level rates in multiple Western countries causing concern among scientists. Similar to the theories laid out in ‘Children of Men’, it is unclear why male infertility may be on the rise but it may be due to a number of factors, both environmental and otherwise. Where as Children of Men focused on women being infertile and not being able to have babies, the possibility of men being infertile in the future should be a cause for concern. (Source: http://www.newsweek.com/2017/09/22/male-infertility-crisis-experts-663074.html)

It is difficult to see why Children of Men did not win any of the Academy awards that it was nominated for. It’s an excellent, thought-provoking film that raises questions to the audience that are difficult to answer. If you have the chance to rent or buy this movie, please do so because it is widely regarded as one of the best movies of the 21st century.