Sunday, May 05, 2024

Movie Review: Civil War

At first glance, Civil War isn't a movie that screams my name. It's violent and bloody and in many scenes, action-packed. Such cinematic displays usually don't interest me. However, I'd actually describe the movie as quiet. With long stretches of silence and not a lot of information about each character, it reminds me of "Cast Away," and that's a movie I watch probably once every year or two. Essentially, I loved this movie. I've thought about it multiple times since seeing it a couple of days ago, and it's now in my list of Top 20 movies, maybe Top 10.

I don't even know where to start on the specifics, and I don't even know if I want to go into those because I think it's best to go into this movie blind. Don't watch the trailer, and don't read the reviews. Just go see it. Suspend your disbelief a bit. Enjoy the thought experiment that's presented to you.

I guess I'll just end with this: I think it should be required viewing for all Americans. I think it's an important movie that won't get the recognition it deserves, but I hope you watch it.

Thing I'm thankful for: gloomy, rainy days

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

What Does It Mean to Be a Friend?

I've been thinking a lot about friendship recently because 1) it's difficult to make friends in middle-age, and 2) it's difficult to let friends go in middle-age. In my youth and early twenties, I read articles in teen's and women's magazines about how to get a boyfriend, how to break up with someone, and how to survive a breakup, but you know what? I don't remember reading anything about how to get a friend, how to break up with a friend, or how to survive the end of a friendship. It's so awkward and painful, and I think more should be written on it. Maybe I'll pitch an article to InStyle or Women's Health . . .

And maybe I'll write about what I think a friend should be. It centers around a scripture from Mormon theology and is found in Mosiah 18:8–10. In these verses, the prophet Alma teaches that to be baptized and to be considered one of the Lord's people, we must be "willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light" and "willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort."

Let that sink in. We must be willing to bear one another's burdens, mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort. If that's not what friendship is, then I don't know what is.

A couple of months ago, two people I thought were my friends said, "There's enough going on in the world; we don't need to add to each other's plates." It was then that I realized my idea of friendship is wholly different than theirs. They want lighthearted and agreeable conversation. They want laughter and fun. I want that, too, but I also want friends who care about my burdens. When I talk of frustration or sadness or a wrong someone has done to me, I want a friend who says, "Gosh, I'm sorry. That really stinks! What a jerk that person is for treating you like that!" That's it. That's all. We don't even have to dig into details. I just want someone who lets me know that they're in this life with me, and they'll be by my side when things are hard. They'll want to know of my joys, but also of my sorrows. I don't think it's too much to ask, and if they're Mormon, they should know it's at the heart of being one of the Lord's people.

Thing I'm thankful for: my best friend, Daryl

Monday, March 25, 2024

How to Know You're Dating a Potential Life Partner

Sure, the title is not as exciting as "How to Know You're Dating the One," but I don't believe in "The One." I believe in "a one," as in one of a few possible life partners. And how do you know you're dating a one you can marry and be happy with? Well, here's how I knew, in a nutshell:
  • You are compatible.
    You get along, work well together, and have overlapping hobbies and interests.
  • You can talk and talk and then talk more, and they like listening to you.
    Even if you're blathering on about your senior thesis on Lord of the Flies, they'll listen to you intently.
  • You feel at ease with them.
    Silence isn't uncomfortable, and making a mistake isn't the worst thing in the world. If you trip and fall, it's no big deal because you care about each other.
  • You look forward to seeing them.
    If you recently had an argument or spoke about something difficult, you'll still look forward to seeing them because it's important to you to work on your disagreements.
  • You are on the same page about finances.
    You might be afraid to talk about money, but you do it because you know financial arguments are one of the most common factors of divorce.
  • You are on the same page about intimacy.
    You've talked about what you will and won't do, how often you're comfortable with doing it, and whether there are any exceptions. If you can talk about intimacy frankly, then you can communicate about anything.
  • You are not embarrassed by them.
    You're not embarrassed by the jokes they tell or by what they say when you're with your friends and family. You can show up to a dinner party with this person, leave them alone while you get more refreshments, and know they won't say anything weird while you're gone.
  • You wouldn't mind raising a child with them.
    You like who they are, and you like their hobbies and interests. If there was a mini version of them in your life, you'd be fine with that; in fact, you'd probably love that.
Hopefully you can infer from this list that I don't use "knew" in a mystical, spiritual sense. I use it in the literal sense. In other words, I knew I wanted to marry Daryl through observation and through information he directly gave me––either because he offered it or because I asked him questions. People often say they "just knew," as if knowing is ethereal or magical––it shouldn't be. You should be able to list exactly why you love someone and know they're compatible with you before you sign a marriage license or buy a house together. If you can't explain how you know someone is a good match for you, then I'm sorry to say it, but you are living in a world of make-believe (and not the good kind). If you can say with confidence the eight statements above, though, then you'll be alright.

Thing I'm thankful for: thunderstorms

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Movie Review: White Christmas


This might shock you, but I don't love White Christmas. Yes, I grew up watching it, and yes, I've seen it dozens of times. But I only like it. The music is great, the costume design is great, some of the dancing is great (That modern dance number is awful, though, am I right?), and the "Sisters" scenes are excellent––truly excellent.

I just can't get past the romantic plot, though. So many movies today center around a woman and man who fall in love, fight, and make up. The man, however, is almost always the one to apologize in the end, even if the women is the one who made the big mistake! I often wonder when that weird pattern started showing up in film, but I suspect it started with "White Christmas." Betty falls in love with Bob, eavesdrops on one of his private phone calls, misinterprets his conversation, and leaves Vermont in a huff. When she finally realizes the truth of his conversation, she rushes back to Vermont, performs the song-and-dance deal, gives Bob a present, and everything is fine again. We never see her explain her bad behavior to Bob, let alone offer him an apology.

How is this okay? I'll wager that most Americans have problems with communication in their romantic relationships, and I'm pointing at least one finger to the modern rom-com, where this unhealthy and unreasonable pattern of miscommunication and non-apology by a female lead has exploded. Perhaps it's fun for female audiences to see this on screen, but it perpetuates the notion that women are the better halves and men are simply handsome buffoons. I don't like it.

So will I still watch "White Christmas?" Yes, if someone really wants to, but I'd rather watch a few other early- to mid-Twentieth Century movies first. Here's a list, if you're interested:

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

What to Say to People When Things are Hard

Yesterday, we had a Sunday School lesson about mental health. I thought the lesson was pretty good, though I wished there was a licensed psychologist there who offered some general tips. Still, the bishop did an excellent job of opening up the topic and letting people know that mental health struggles are a normal part of life. One thing I particularly liked was his answer to the following question: "You talked about what not to do or say to people we know are struggling with mental health; what are some things we should do?" His answer? "Search Google for what to say to people struggling with mental health." It was brilliant, and here's why:

  1. He introduced the congregation to the topic but expected people to actually do some work on their own to learn more.
  2. He encouraged people to simply search for answers on Google the way they would search for any other answer online. What a great use for technology!
I have a friend whose parents both died within a couple years of each other; she was only in her 30s. I had no idea what to say to her, so I literally googled, "What should I say to someone whose parents have both died." There were some great ideas, and the best part about it was that I didn't put the onus on anyone else to let me know what I should say or how I should act around someone who was feeling low. I'm reminded of the following Latter-day Saint scripture in Doctrine and Covenants, section 58:
For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. (verses 26–28)

But since I'm on the topic and since I've experienced hard things, including depression, here are some ideas:

  • "Gosh, I'm sorry to hear that; that really stinks."
  • "You don't have to text back right now, but I wanted to let you know I'm thinking about you."
  • [When a loved one has died] "Tell me about him." "What were your favorite things about her?" "Do you have a special memory of him?" "What was your dad's [or whoever's] name?"
  • "I know you've been going through some tough things lately. Do you want to talk about them, or do you want a distraction?"

    Most importantly, I think a good rule of thumb is to simply treat people like they're human beings . . . because they are. When difficult things happen to people or you think their situation is pity-able, simply treat them as you would treat anyone else. They don't need to be coddled or chastised or shamed. They need you to treat them like they're a whole and beautiful person who happens to have some troubles. Here are some good conversation starters:

    • "Tell me about yourself; what are your hobbies?"
    • "What have you been reading lately?"
    • "Have you been working on anything exciting these days? Tell me about it!"
    • "What's been the highlight of your week?"
    It's surprising how often people get tripped up over connections and basic human relationships, but I guess not everyone had a psychologist for a father or a chatty Cathy for a mother. This is why I'd be fully in support of "soft" skills classes in elementary, middle, and high school. I wonder whether they'll ever come a day . . .

    Thing I'm thankful for: walks on sunny Winter days

    Saturday, August 19, 2023

    Let's Talk About TikTok, Part 2

    Earlier this year, I posted about TikTok, but it was really just a post about the Internet, privacy, and security. This week, Pew Research Center published a report about similar topics: What Americans Know About AI, Cybersecurity, and Big Tech. To find out what they knew, the Center surveyed 5,101 U.S. adults and asked them 9 main multiple-choice questions:

    1. As of April 2023, which of the following companies did Elon Musk run?
    2. If a website uses cookies, it means the site can . . .
    3. What is a "deepfake?"
    4. In 2021, Facebook changed it's name to . . .
    5. Which of the following passwords is the most secure?
    6. How do large language models, such as ChatGPT, come up with answers to questions users submit?
    7. Some websites and online services use a security process known as two-step or two-factor authentication. Which of the following images is an example of two-factor authentication?
    8. Websites in the United States are prohibited from collecting data online from children under what age without a parent's consent?
    9. Does the United States have a national privacy law that sets common standards for what companies can do with all data their products and services collect?
    Among the findings, these stood out to me:
    • Only 4% of respondents were able to answer all 9 questions correctly. The median answered only 5 correctly.
    • Less than half of the respondents correctly identified an example of two-factor authentication from a series of pictures.
    • Not a lot of respondents know much about artificial intelligence. Only 42% know what a deepfake is, and only 32% understand how ChatGPT works.
    • Not a lot of respondents know much about federal privacy laws. Less than a quarter answered Questions 8 and 9 correctly.
    With so much of our lives online, it's unsettling to see these results. I wonder, too, how policymakers would fare on such a survey––my guess is they'd do worse than the general public. And yet here we are in a world where Montana is the first of probably several states to ban an app. (See Montana Becomes the First State to Ban TikTok.)

    What about you? Where do you think you'd fall? Take the quiz here: Test Your Knowledge of Digital Topics.

    Things I'm thankful for: curiosity and reading and journalists

    Tuesday, August 08, 2023

    Just Some Thoughts about Free Will

    Even though "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" recently came to theaters, I'm not going to write about them. I'm going to write about The Adjustment Bureau, which came out in 2009. I'd been thinking about it lately and decided to watch it again last night.

    Well, I liked it as much now as I did the first time I saw it. I particularly liked the last scene, in which Matt Damon and Emily Blunt's characters exercise free will to be together. When talking to a member of The Adjustment Bureau, Matt Damon's character says, "Is this some sort of test?" The member responds:

    In a way. It's all a test––for everybody, even the members of The Adjustment Bureau. Most people live life on the path we set for them––too afraid to explore any other. But once in a while, people like you come along who knock down all the obstacles we put in your way––people who realize free will is a gift you'll never know how to use until you fight for it. I think that's the Chairman's real plan––that maybe one day, we won't write the plan, you will.

    I suppose I harp on about free will quite a bit,* but it's my favorite part about life––my favorite gift, as the Adjustment Bureau member put it. It's also a major part of Latter-day Saint theology. If we used "The Adjustment Bureau" as a metaphor for Christianity, Mormons would say that the Chairman is God, and his gift to us is free will. More importantly, we would tell you that free will is worth fighting for. It's literally the point of our bodily existence.

    Regarding Mormons––and Christians in general––however, I have a pretty big bone to pick. Time and time again, they say people should pray to know God's will. They say they want to make the Right choice, or the choice God would have them make. They say, "This is what God wanted" or "This is part of God's plan for me." It's maddening because so often, there is no Right choice; there is no predetermined plan that God has laid out for each of us; and God largely stays out of our way, so we can exercise free will. What is the point in having free will, if we simply wait for God to tell us what to do?

    When I think of God's will, I think of the two great commandments found in the Book of Matthew: to love the Lord [...] with all thy heart and to love thy neighbor as thyself (Matthew 22:36–40). I think of the Ten Commandments, too. I think of all the ways Christ lived a good life. Those things––the two great commandments, the Ten Commandments, and Christ's example––are God's will for us. He simply wants us to live righteous lives. He does not want to make decisions for us or direct our lives to the tee. He wants us to make a myriad of decisions on our own and experience the consequences of living a mortal life––all while being kind and gentle with every living thing we come into contact with. That's it.

    I love movies such as "The Adjustment Bureau" because they remind me what life is all about. They remind me that I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul (Invictus, Henley).

    *See Agency Is the Very Best, Omniscience, Timing, Trust God? Not This One!, Enoch's Tears and God's Rainbow, When God Makes You Wait––Huh???.

    Thing I'm thankful for: medicine