A Very Good Save-the-World Software Development Idea. Please Help Yourself! :-)

Will some brilliant programmer please step up and design a google-type software program that can linguistically analyze and determine a speaker/writer’s cooperative tone and intent?


Your new program could identify and distinguish among those writers/speakers whose communications promote a sense of division, partisanship, negativity, polarization, blame, attack, incivility, rudeness, destructiveness, unfriendly competition, bickering and hate—and those promoting a sense of positivity, creativity, life-affirmation, support, harmony, acceptance, forgiveness, productivity, civility, courtesy, equality of opportunity, caring, cooperation and unity.


Your software could have endless useful and profitable applications. For immediate profitability, please consider using your product for security purposes, to helpfully ward off unfriendly attacks and attackers (of whatever kind) upon individuals and enterprises (of whatever kind.)


Imagine leaders young and old in every field vying for their communications to be screened and certified via your software. Why not simultaneously award a “Truth-bearer” (or some other such logo) “gold seal of approval” identifying individuals and organizations as positive communicators, healers, light-bearers?


Your prestigious and desirable software “accreditation” could motivate many people to investigate and understand the important distinctions between peaceful and contentious communication purposes, and to recognize and encourage humanity-unifying goals as non-threatening and potentially beneficial to all earthlings, while discouraging communications with adversarial, hostile ends. Your software would also surely stoke national dialogue, while heightening awareness about the many distinct (although often confusingly-disguised) differences between helpful and harmful human communications. Your software would take care not to exclude any gentle, friendly, cooperative practitioner of any ideology, religion, political party, nation, organization, affiliation, etc.


One important goal of your software would be to educate. Hopefully, everyone would eventually become enlightened enough to merit universal inclusivity (by acting as good, positive communicators) according to your accrediting software, which might also be developed Wikipedically, or perhaps Amazon-style—i.e., open-sourced, by inviting motivated reviewers and voters opportunities not only to build your site, but also to offer feedback opportunities and provide needed talent to shape and debug upgrades and develop next-generation software.


Recipients of your approving nods (such as Nobel prize winners and mild-mannered third-graders) could proudly display and announce their cherished new affiliation and certification on their websites, on Facebook, business cards, in TV commercials and advertising, on coffee cups, tee-shirts, shopping bags….


Additionally, your software could assist web surfers to more-judiciously select helpfully-screened websites, products and opinions as the very ones they will most benefit from investigating. Perhaps your software could also eventually include a function which would recognize and refute inappropriate co-opters of your symbol of acceptance and stamp of approval—an iterative process that would call out abusers while encouraging more awareness and discussion.


Your software will stimulate lively dialogue; increase the impact and number of creative, thought-provoking, and controversial-but-civil exchanges; reduce (by virtue of indifference and neglect) the quantity and influence of divisive communications arising anywhere in the world; universally improve facility in verbal and mental processing of complexities, innuendo and nuances; and inspire us all to pull together cooperatively to resolve our common personal, local and global problems.


While you're programming, please give extra points for humor?


And if you're not a programmer, but merely a earthlinged, godlinged promosapient like me, please pass this idea on to any similarly-inclined programming/software folk or foundations, or to whomever might be interested!


Thank you…. 🙂


Nancy Pace





















































































Daniel Craig As Evolving, New Age James Bond “Everyman”: Hey, It Works For Me

I went to see Quantum of Solace because I liked Daniel Craig as James Bond in Casino Royale, and because I always take my husband to opening weekends of all good new action movies. I’d already heard reviewers complain that this new Craig/Bond was insufficiently Bondish—i.e., not enough jokes, too much heavy emotion, too many similarities to other, un-Bond-like traditionally-vengeful action heroes, not enough Bond-techy gimmicks and vehicles, too few glam locales. And what to make of the movie’s weird politics? And of Bond’s lack-of-sex with his sexy new love interest? I went to see for myself.


I liked the movie very well. I thought it was very effective, violent, destructive, action entertainment, for those who enjoy this genre. I thought it was definitely worth the price of admission. Even if it was only part of a to-be-continued movie, it was a very complete and satisfying part, setting up well the Craig/Kurylenko movie(s) to follow, which will tantalizingly develop Bond’s budding romance with this particularly ravishing new heroine.


I thought Olga Kurylenko was great. She reminded me of what I love about Catherine Zeta-Jones. I hope she will endure as an unkicked-aside Bond sidekick for many films to come. How much more can Bond evolve, than to stick with one woman?


I liked this movie’s (admittedly undeveloped) politics. I was glad the writers went to the trouble to imply that good and bad actors can be found in every nation and every endeavor, and that all of us will have ample opportunities to participate–or not–in increasingly rampant opportunities for corruption, greed, crime, terrorism, hypocrisy, war, cruelty, espionage, exploitation, backstabbing and wanton violence, especially as enhanced by the global contest for dwindling resources—oil, water, money, what have you….


I also enjoyed the side-talk references affirming vengeance as both a very powerful and tempting human motivation and an unsatisfying one, and forgiveness—of oneself and others—as essential to sanity and peace. Very un-traditional un-Bondian stuff. Very New Age perspectives. And also very true.


This Bond movie didn't disapoint my expectation for novelty, either. I don't think I'm alone in my curiosity about life in desperately poor third world locales like Port au Prince, Haiti, or about glamourous off-the-beaten-track cultural events like traditional bareback horse racing in the public square, and exotically-staged modern operas.


I also loved the new holiday Coca-Cola commercial which preceded the movie. Taken together, the new commercial with the new Bond movie, I got a heady whiff of what our millennial creatives are all about and up to these days: philosophical acceptance of an imperfect “what is,” along with real commitment to making “what is” better, through positive, ideologically indifferent, large and small, person-to-person, moment-to-moment, choice-by-choice contributions in gray areas and complex moral situations, in whatever way they can.


Thus, I saw variously flawed and well-intentioned players in the movie and the commercial persist in acquiring the necessary wisdom and clout to act well their parts and support one another when and where it mattered most—that is, when push came to shove. These creatives and the crowds they are playing to believe in the power of acceptance, forgiveness, inclusion, diversity, and best of all, in one person’s ability to make a difference and find a quantum of solace within such caring moments.


I liked watching Daniel Craig’s Bond try to do his best with his very limited but amazing personal resources. I enjoyed watching him courageously try to make some sense of a morally chaotic world, and seek meaningful ways to contribute and endure. Craig’s Bond is a unique and powerful Everyman perfectly suited to today’s audiences.


I don’t miss the grand old Bond clichés. That was then. This is now. Welcome back, Mr. Bond.



Please send comments to njcpace@gmail.com. Thank you. 🙂






Ironman (the Movie) Offers Good Entertainment and Good Politics

It's hard to find an action movie that both my husband and I think is wonderful, but Ironman has proven once again that it can be done. I loved the characters, humor, romance and politics in Ironman, and my husband especially enjoyed the heroism, computers, robotics, stunts, jets and action. The whole theatre, filled with middle/high-schoolers and adults, cheered and clapped when the movie ended. Amazingly enough, we hadn’t even been exploited or insulted by stupid politics, graphic sex, or gratuitous violence masquerading as entertainment….
You can tell that the whole world is changing when a big-box-office action movie has as its major theme the evils of war profiteering and global weapons proliferation. Ironman simultaneously entertained and enlightened the whole crowd. Multi-faceted Robert Downey Jr. and classy Gwyneth Paltrow were at their most charming.
Ironman is a sweet, funny, exciting, well-made, fast-paced action movie I recommend to all who enjoy high-quality movie-making in this genre….

(Please send your comments to njcpace@gmail.com and I'll post them here. Thanks. 🙂

If THE DEPARTED Reflects American Cultural Offerings to the World, Then We Yankees Truly Should Stay Home

The Departed is a too-long slog through a repellent underworld of hopelessness, human frailty, and continual struggle. An angry, bitter old man’s cynical vision of despair and disillusionment, it mocks all human efforts to transcend past and primal influences. Its desired audience-response seems to be disgust.


Although The Departed offered challenging roles to talented actors and film-makers, I kept wondering, why did any of them, the immensely talented and capable Scorsese included, even bother? Why make this movie? What’s the point of pooling all that energy, creativity, and talent on such a boring, pointless script? The Departed is neither entertaining, nor satisfying, nor thought-provoking, nor enlightening, nor any other respected goal of movie-making—unless perhaps you find pleasure in staring at cripples or ogling car wrecks.


Scorsese’s many clumsy attempts at youthful (Tarantinoesque?) edginess played out as merely shock-by-politically-incorrect low-life humor,  inspiring only embarrassed titters. I found this film completely lacking in compassion, crass, boorish, and childishly defiant about religion, race, and responsibility. It was definitely a movie offering family values–all the wrong ones. For those hooked on action and violence who want to see positive values, start with L.A. Confidential or A History of Violence (see my review elsewhere in this blog), In the Line of Fire or The Fugitive. It can be done!


When I compare this kind of American blockbuster to, say, the Iranian blockbuster, Children of Heaven–also a depiction of human struggle under the most difficult circumstances–I can certainly understand why many Muslims find our culture decadent, and why they hope to prevent us from infecting their own cultures.


Always in search of high-quality action movies which my husband and I can both enjoy, we saw The Departed on opening night out of respect for Scorcese’s better (if uneven) previous efforts—The Age of Innocence, Taxi Driver, Casino, and Raging Bull. We even heard, while standing in line, that the reviews so far were stellar. What a disappointment.


Leonardo di Caprio’s and Mark Wahlberg’s brilliant performances were very appealing and convincing, but I found little else to like. The sound was uneven too—either way too loud (I literally protected my ears) or too soft.


In comparison, Invinceable—although formulaic—was a recent high-quality action movie we will add to our collection, one which I would be proud to export to other countries as an example of American culture and entertainment. That we might use our great wealth and freedom in order to corrupt the minds of our own youth and those around the world with garbage like the life-sucks-and-then-you-die story offered by The Departed is a truly depressing thought. 


Please send comments to epharmon@adelphia.net








Good Comic Strips (About War and Sexuality) That I Wrote, But Never Drew

First, the comics about war:


Two of my (unfinished) comic strip characters were kids–one, a smart, mouthy, radical multi-racial activist type, “Krissy,” and the other, her conservative, wealthy, red-blooded-American patriot boyfriend, “Cole,” who loves war toys and dreams of a military career.  These two kids are crazy about each other, but they are also always arguing about politics…. Since I wrote (but never drew) these panels, will you imagine them with me? 



(Cole, thinking aloud)


Krissy’s version of patriotism seems like a lot of trouble.


It takes years of work, money, time, and sacrifice to make a peaceful difference in the world.


In the old days, all you had to do to be patriotic was … die… and kill… and maim…and maybe get maimed….


But at least you could get it over with!





 (Cole, thinking aloud)


Krissy thinks true patriots work for peace and justice all the time.


She says dying for your country is not enough.


She says you have to be willing to live for your country, too.


Dying seems like a lot less trouble.





(Cole thinking aloud)


Krissy says it’s no longer enough to be willing to kill and die for your country.


She says true patriots live for their country by working and sacrificing all their lives.


But realizing global peace and justice is so much work!


When I said I’d be willing to give my life for my country, I never meant this!






(Cole thinking aloud)


Patriotism is a lot more complicated nowadays.


History has shown that even America has fought unjust, immoral wars.


In the olden days, patriots only had to be willing to kill and die for their country.


Nowadays, I guess they’d better understand why, too.





(Cole to Krissy)


I think I prefer the old days….


…when all you had to do to be a patriot was die for your country….


I mean, living for your country in peacetime could turn out to be a real drag….


I mean, what if I have to live a really long time?!





(Cole thinking aloud)


Patriotism used to be only a two-year hitch.


Now Krissy tells me true patriots should work hard their whole lives to prevent the injustices that cause war.


But if we prevent all war, everyone will have to live peacefully ‘til they’re really really old!


What a rotten deal….




(Cole thinking aloud)


Krissy thinks the truest patriotism is living, not dying for your country.


She thinks we all need to learn more about national and global politics….


…and work hard to uphold our country’s ideals for everyone in the world.


It seems like dying would be a lot simpler….




(Cole thinking aloud)


Krissy says ideals can’t end at national borders.


She says we either want liberty and justice for all, or we don’t really hold those ideals at all.


She says “liberty and justice for some” just doesn’t ring true.


I have a feeling this is gonna be a lot of trouble.




(Krissy is carrying a “protest sign” in the first panel (“IF YOU WANT PEACE, WORK FOR JUSTICE”)


(Cole) Hey! I’m not my brother’s keeper, you know!


I’m only interested in looking out for American interests! I can’t worry about everybody else on the planet!


(In this panel he has his hand over his heart, pledging) “I pledge allegiance…to the flag…with liberty and justice for all…uh…er…all … uh… Americans…. Hmmmm.


(Cole, angry, with hands on hips.) RATS….

(Krissy is carrying a protest sign that says, THINK GLOBAL. ACT LOCAL.




OK, since you’ve so patiently waded through my peace comics, here are some good sex comics….


I read a wonderful how-to book (Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex, by Deborah M. Roffman, about the importance of values-oriented sex education, and then I wrote the following panels using my four comic strip characters (all young children), and introducing a new character, Ms. Z, an elderly Jewish lady who was once a sex education public health nurse. She’s a tiny fiery fireplug of a woman, a very stereotypically loving Jewish-mom-type who nurtures her four neighbor-kids. (Ms. Z is based on my best friend/next-door neighbor, age 80+) I never drew this series either. Four panels each, with usually at least two of the kids talking in each panel, and sometimes all four talking in a panel.



My parents seem to think it’s not nice to talk and think about sex until I’m an adult.


Mine too.

But it’s a difficult thing to do.


I mean, we’re surrounded by talk about sex, all day every day, on TV, in books and magazines, the kids at school, the stuff on the net….


I guess we’re not supposed to notice….





What our parents don’t get is that we’re surrounded by sex, all day every day, whether we like it or not.


Yeah. They don’t know what we know.


And we don’t know what we don’t know.

 It’s sort of a conspiracy of silence.


Hmmm. Do you think we’re the good guys or the bad guys?





My mom says parents will tell kids everything they need to know about sex on their wedding night.


So when do we get to ask our questions?


I guess after that.


When it’s too late.






My mom thinks I know nothing about sex, and she plans to keep it that way.


That’s why I can’t ask her any questions—if I do, she worries about me knowing about sex and thinking about it.


So why don’t you just maturely tell her you know a lot already, but need her help sorting it all out?


I don’t think she’s developmentally ready for that yet….





From what I can tell, sex is all one big disaster.


Yeah, it can make you sick, crazy, poor, and sometimes it even kills you.


I guess we’re supposed to learn about sex from our mistakes?


You’d think they’d invent a better way….





My mom encourages me to talk with her about sex and then freaks out when I ask her questions.


Sometime it seems like sexuality is something I should learn all about in order to be a mature, responsible, caring, healthy adult.


And sometimes I feel like it’s a naughty nasty secret that we’re not supposed to know anything about.


Schizophrenia begins at home….





Everywhere I turn, the subject of sex comes up.


I have so many questions that I really need to have answered.


I mean, I wanna be good, smart, and happy, and I really wish I could understand where sex fits into all of this.


(Looking sad) Everybody’s talking about sex, but nobody’s listening….





If the subject of sex even comes up in my family…


My mom gets embarrassed.

Mine gets mad.

My dad changes the subject.

Mine leaves.


I guess we’ll just have to learn about sex from our friends and the internet.


We’re twenty-first century kids trapped in nineteenth century families.






…and then, if you pray, millions of sperm fly like electricity through the air, and…


Are you sure that’s the way it works?


I think so, but my parents get all freaked out and embarrassed when I ask questions.


I guess sex is something we’re supposed to learn by trial and error….





Sex seems to have something to do with being bad.

And with secret body parts.

And sneaking around.

And unwanted pregnancies.

And infections.

And even dying.


But it also seems to be about love and caring.


(They stare blankly at each other in silence.)


Well, I sure don’t get the connection….

 No, I can’t see any connection either…..





The kids on the playground all say that grownups, are like, you know, like dogs? They rub their thingys together until they make a baby?


Ooog. Disgusting. That’s it? That’s everything?

Yeah, that’s it.


Well, I guess we finally understand all about sex.


(in unison, depressed) What a bummer.








I guess when we’re adults, we’ll understand all about sex.


But for now, I hate it that I have so many questions and no one to ask.


My parents seem to know all about it, but they get all freaked out if I ask questions about it.


I wonder who they asked?





Y’know, between the four of us, we know a lot about sex.


Yeah, we’ve learned so much from books, magazines, our music, parents, the internet, TV, and each other. I mean, how can we help it? It’s everywhere!


Well, it still seems all crazy and confusing to me. I wish we had someone who could answer our questions….


(in unison) Ms. Z!!!





My mom says Ms. Z was a sexuality education nurse before she retired.


Yeah, I’ve known her since I was little.

Me too.

She’s really nice.

My parents say we can ask her anything.


(They stare at each other in silence)


You first.





What did Ms. Z do when you asked her your sex question?


Well, she answered it. She didn’t even act surprised, embarrassed, angry, or bossy. She seemed, actually, fine about it.


 (They stare at each other, looking uncertain, in silence.)


Maybe she’s an alien.





Was Ms. Z shocked that you knew something about sex?


Was she mad that you were interested in it?



Did she make you feel dumb?


Or treat you like a little kid?



Did she embarrass you?


Did she answer your questions?



Boy, we could sure use her on the school playground.





Ms. Z says sex is about who you are as much as about what you do.


She says sex is about caring, communicating, and taking responsibility, as much as it is about genitals.


So what do you think?


Sounds very unlikely.





Ms. Z answered that sex question I was wondering about for so long.


So now you understand all about sex.



Well, actually, to be perfectly honest, there’s a problem with having someone who will answer your sex questions for you.



Now I have more questions.






Please send comments to epharmon@adelphia.net










Today’s Muslims: More “christian” Than Christians?

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People everywhere, many Americans included, have begun to think of Muslims as more “christian” than many Christians—in the traditional sense of “christian spirits” that are loving, forgiving, pious, selfless, gentle, kind, and peaceful in their attitudes toward other human beings.
While most Americans still aspire to such qualities, we are today viewed globally as both culturally and politically rather more mean-spirited than christian-spirited. Many foreigners now see Americans as greedy and materialistic, and think of America as an arrogant young nation that tries to tell others how to live, that foolishly and hurtfully pushes its culture, economics and politics onto unwilling others.
If Osama bin Laden had wanted to increase world awareness of past and present American support for regime changes, friendly tyrannies, and repression of democratic movements around the world, he succeeded brilliantly, even though few Americans are even aware of these sad and distinctly un-“christian” exploitations in support of American corporate interests.
And if Osama bin Laden had wanted to stir up empathy for Islam, he could hardly have dreamed up anything more brilliant than our current bloody military adventuring in the Middle East. Ignoring all expertise, we’ve turned a criminal, political, social and economic problem—terrorism—into a military one, barging willy-nilly into a very un-christian war against peaceful people who never threatened us.
But Osama’s biggest bang for his comparatively small, if immensely tragic, PR. buck was sending our reading public—most of whom previously couldn’t find Iraq or even Israel on a map—scrambling for best-sellers about Islam. Because, sometime during the last five years, Americans finally noticed that Muslim cultures, although very different from ours, are, in fact, very “christian” in ways we greatly admire—along with having many unique shortcomings, like every culture.
For example, many Americans are motivated by their christian spirits to protect women’s rights to equality—to enter any profession, to be educated, to be equal citizens—but they are also sadly free to become drunks, addicts, prostitutes, rape victims, divorcees and unwed mothers. Muslims’ “christian spirits” motivate them to overprotect their wives and children, with the many drawbacks that come with that approach. Future christian-spirited dialogue and exchange between our two cultures will bring us all closer to understanding and agreement about our common, universal, “christian”—if not exclusively “Christian”—values, all those which offer respect and support to all human life everywhere.
The single sad silver lining behind bin Laden’s blood-and-publicity-soaked attack was to open western eyes and hearts to Islam. We have finally seen enough Muslims to look past the angry, despairing extremists, past the unfamiliar turbans, suspicious scarves and rough accents, to see clearly the many kind human faces and wise human hearts of gentle fathers, bright mothers, laughing daughters and fierce sons—who are, after all, not really so different from our own.
For the first time, Americans are experiencing the christian spirits of this exotic and unfamiliar culture which devoutly prays many times daily, is devoted to family, and which, just like Christians, exhorts its children at home, mosque and school to acts of goodness, kindness, generosity, and peace.
When we choose to see them through christian-spirited eyes, we’ll see a gentle people who have suffered greatly during a century of relentless violence from outsiders, simply because oil was discovered on the land of their ancestors, who yet still reach out hospitably to all who come, not as occupiers and invaders, but as peaceful, respectful visitors and citizens.
Most Muslims, like most Christians, have “christian” spirits, wanting to raise families in a compassionate culture which nurtures universal values. Yet most Americans today agree that, somewhere along the way, America has lost many of her ‘christian’ ways.
Certainly we’re coming off very poorly in our latest war. Our national leadership has acquired a well-deserved international reputation as far-from-christian-spirited religious extremists, unschooled in diplomacy and too quick on the draw.
I am not an expert on Islam; I keep up with the news and have a lifelong interest in all world religions and philosophies. But I do know that Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world, one which accepts Jesus as a great prophet, along with all his teachings.
I have closely observed my Muslim neighbors, and know them by what we used to call their “christian witness”—that is, by the way they live their lives. As a group, Muslims are pious, kind, neighborly, civic-minded, charitable and scholarly. Islam, as practiced by its most thoughtful and faithful practitioners, embraces the high ecumenical values espoused in Jesus’ teachings, particularly those about universal brotherhood, peace, charity, service, forgiveness, and love of God.
Yet, right after the towers fell, Christian extremists, perhaps fearing their congregations would be pulled away by curiosity about Islam, forgot to exhort their flocks to christian-spirited unity with their global brothers, and instead chose to preach sermon after mean, frightening, televangelical sermon demonizing Muslims as violent, cruel, scheming, and anti-Christian.
Muslims everywhere were dismayed and frightened by such un-christian televised messages, not to mention the rude insistence of multinational corporations to hawk materialist values and profitably push distinctly un-christian habits and lifestyles to anyone anywhere anytime.
Neither God nor Jesus nor any prophet, philosopher or saint cares which faith you pray to them from, nor what names you call them by, nor what form your prayers take; but they do care that all their many pleading and peaceful messages of acceptance, compassion, and reconciliation are spread everywhere to unify and bring peace to a frightened, suffering world.
On C-Span, CNN, and other media, Americans have heard the sad voices of Muslims in war-torn countries pleading to be left in peace, along with the voices of articulate and caring Muslim leaders sharing their concerns and patiently explaining their unfamiliar approaches. Many of us have also enjoyed the brilliant, award-winning family-values films and books streaming out of Iran and other Muslim countries.
We have also been terrified by American demagogues that Iran will acquire a nuclear weapon and use it against Israelis or Americans. Yet, just as worrisome to many, is the terrifying possibility that our own malleable President, egged on by powerful, trigger-happy sidekicks, will use our own vast American nuclear arsenal to initiate a very un-christian WWIII.
Muslims and Christians alike want most to live their lives in peace, in accordance with their beliefs and values. We want our children to grow up in warm, safe communities, in homes and schools that support—or at least, do not undermine—our heartfelt beliefs and values. Muslims and Christians alike think it unreasonable to be under continual attack from commercial and media corporations who use our freedoms and our public airwaves to hammer away at our cherished values.
Muslim immigrants come to America for the same reasons all immigrants have ever come: for the freedoms and benefits of good government which serves and supports the quality of all the human life which God created equal on this fragile blue planet.
We all want a justice system which respects and serves all people equally, quickly, and affordably. We all want fairly-elected, familiar local public servants who spend our hard-earned tax money on our youngest and neediest citizens, on convenient, quality health care for all, on retraining workers, on offering quality public services and infrastructure, on supporting emerging technologies and creating competitive economic opportunities within a thriving economy offering living wages. We all want well-disciplined, high-tech educational environments and opportunities that offer all children a real chance in life.
Instead, Americans seem stuck with a bloated and increasingly indebted federal government which cuts local services to pay for its steady stream of immoral foreign wars, which only line the pockets of corporate war profiteers, while bankrupting average Americans and compromising our children's futures.
Instead of offering good local government, where small local militias are well-trained in non-violent conflict resolution and stand ready to assist local communities during emergencies—floods, hurricanes, epidemics, invasions—we have instead a vast, far-flung military machine enforcing hegemonic American corporate interests wherever in the world they see an opportunity to make a fast, if un-christian, buck.
Soon—although not soon enough for the hundreds of thousands of dead, disabled, and desperate Muslims and Christians we have harmed—America will retreat from its current un-christian aggressions, will expensively buy peace in Israel and reconciliation in Iraq, and will stand aside while Muslims shake off their dictators and sort out their own political destinies, whether violently or in a more christian spirit, as would better suit all our mutual interests and befit the highest values of all our various religious and cultural traditions.
When their oilfields have been carved up among them, may our charitable American christian spirits uphold their right to spend their oil money creating opportunities for their hungry youth, while we refrain from using our own vast stores of nuclear weapons during this most-dangerous era of unaccustomed American humility, as we wait in line politely for Middle Eastern oil like any other paying customer.
Hopefully, we will all—Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, and atheist alike—support only leaders demonstrating christian lives and spirits—whether or not they are Christians—leaders who advocate politics which reflect the universally cherished golden rule of treating all others as we ourselves would want to be treated.
May Christians and all other Americans join with all people everywhere in making christian-minded personal choices, and may we all support only political representatives having peaceful christian hearts, words, actions and lives—regardless of whether they be Christian, Jew, Atheist, Muslim, Hindu, or any other.
Please send comments to epharmon@adelphia.net

A Fog of War Movies and Books

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A few months ago, I decided to watch some of the best-received war movies that came out of the Vietnam era—The Deer Hunter, The Killing Fields, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, and Coming Home, as well as some recent and older ones—The Battle of Algiers, Crimson Tide, Saving Private Ryan, The Enemy Below, and Black Hawk Down.
Although I’m definitely a quality-movie buff, I’m not easily entertained by violence, which explains why I avoided all of these movies when they first came out, despite a deep childhood curiosity about (and fear of) war.
I’m currently writing about the immorality of war, so feel compelled to watch such movies to help fill in my (fortunate) experiential gaps. I also watch them out of respect for their creators’ passion, dedication, and achievements in uniquely sharing their own war experiences.
Despite the fact that my father was a war hero and bird colonel with thirty-three years in the service (Silver Star, Purple Heart, and many more) he always firmly refused to share with us his sad or frightening WWII memories.
So after I left my military-brat life on-post, I dipped my toe into the vast body of quality literature coming out of Vietnam and other wars, admiring and enjoying Fields of Fire (go Jim Webb!), Dispatches, The Things They Carried, as well as War and Peace, Silent Flows the Don, and All Quiet on the Western Front. More recently, I loved Cold Mountain, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Blowback, An American Requiem, and the wonderful Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin series.
I found amazing agreement in all these books and movies in their moral conclusions about war, even as each offered me a unique personal perspective and story unlike any other.
Over and over, every work expressed or implied the point of view that “their” particular war had been insane, cruel, hard, sad, misguided, and stupid, and that it had seemed to create far more problems than it resolved. Their actual acts of war—the killing parts—were consistently experienced as pointless, chaotic, numbing, unreasonable, inhumane, confusing, wrong–and often thrilling, in that the pointy end of the sword had actually gone into the other guy.
Each work of art also revealed war’s most appealing reality:  war, like any other deeply challenging experience from marriage to sports, offers stirring opportunities for revelation and nobility, compassion and achievement, faith and idealism.
The “highs” of war remembered in these works were based in youth’s vitality, resiliance and resourcefulness, in the belongingness, common cause, and humor of bands of young brothers, and of course, in the bittersweet exhilaration following survival in battles in which, although others died, you didn’t.
Nearly every work used war’s bleak, terrified, often mutilated children to emphasize the meaninglessness and tragedy of war. And they all made the point that fear for oneself and for one’s friends drove them to acts of cruelty and immorality unimaginable during peacetime.
War, in these books and movies, turns out to be not at all what was expected, nor what they were trained or prepared for—although with works of art like these, perhaps the next generation will be better informed.
None of these soldier/artists, with the exception of O’Brian, ever found a way to make killing feel psychologically acceptable, although they all killed as necessary, “doing their duty” and protecting one another; their childhood moral conditioning in human compassion too strongly resisted killing other people. (Jack Aubrey’s disciplined and enthusiastic patriotism and militarism overruled his compassion, as happens sometimes with seasoned soldiers, if less often, with artists, but Maturin’s disgust with war offered a thoughtful foil.)
All authors implied how indelibly their training in the hate and fear which is necessary to kill enemies in cold blood had carved black chasms in their psyches, changing them (and their families) forever in ways they could not express to anyone who hadn’t shared similar experiences—mixed as war memories are with both pride and shame.
When at war, every soldier longed for home, and when finally back home, missed the “highs” mentioned above.
Most celebrated the rare beauty of the foreign lands being fought over, and condemned the  environmental and human waste, and the high costs of war.
Another interesting commonality was how universally fascinated all were with how soldiers react to fear, and, most specifically, with how they would perform under fire. (Although I didn't care much for The Red Badge of Courage, it merits attention primarily for this focus.) Much consideration was given in each of these works to the fact that every soldier reacts differently to fear, and to the impossibility of hiding one’s unique sensibilities during war. Like vocation, parenting, friendship, scholarship, accident, disease, death, and every other peacetime human trial, war reveals much too clearly the best and the worst in each person’s character and personality, while offering, as all difficult challenges do, ample opportunities for growth and wisdom.
I feel deeply privileged (and emotionally gutted) to have read and watched these great works, and will continue to see and read more. Some of the war-related books I want to read (and review) next are: Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq; Carroll’s House of War; Ambrose’s Citizen Soldiers; and perhaps Keegan’s The Second World War. The movies next on my list are, first, war documentaries: Why We Fight, The Fog of War, The War on Iraq, Hearts and Minds, and Protocols of Zion, followed by Foyle’s War, The War Within, and Casualties of War.
Do you have any other suggestions for quality war movies and books? I’ll gladly share them with my readers.

Santa, Horror Movies, Earthquakes, and Other Childhood Religious Experiences

I felt hurt when my childhood friends laughed at me for devoutly believing in Santa Claus, and foolish, when they later scorned me for doubting the existence of my childhood fairytale-God….  

All my omnipotent, omniscient household deities such as Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy–all solemnly attested to by the otherwise scrupulously honest adults in my life–later turned out to be a childish embarrassment, mere games and illusions swallowed only by simpletons. On the other hand, unraveling the mysteries of religion increasingly was deemed a difficult and profound thing, to be accepted now on faith, and puzzled out rationally only by hoarier heads than mine, or perhaps in far off adulthood….   

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” (the circular argument legitimizing the commercialized Santa by equating him with the Christian spirit of love) didn't clear up any of my confusions at all…..

The teachers in my elementary schools poked fun and laughed merrily at all the many varieties of “primitive” religious beliefs (i.e., any religion outside of mainstream American Judeo-Christianity) such as the early Greek and Roman myths, American Indian spirituality (in those days, I thought “native” meant “naked,”) ancestor “worship,” many-armed “goddesses,” etc. My classmates and I learned to confidently pooh-pooh photos displaying what we were told were radically important differences in 'foreign” (i.e., “weird”) religious practices and dress and customs, and of course we concluded that western civilization and enlightened religious rationales and practices, such as credentialed religious leaders saying magic words that turned lifeless-looking wafers and water into the actual body and blood of an historical crucified spiritual leader, and then drinking and eating it, were somehow less weird, somehow intellectually superior. Ick.

I remember asking my Sunday School teacher about the confusing song, “Yes, Jesus loves me: the Bible tells me so.” 

“So how does the Bible know?”

“It just does. God wrote the Bible. Everything in it is true.”

“Oh.” That was the end of my questioning on that subject for about twenty years….

One of my (quite religious) sisters, who was a Mormon convert, admitted at age fifty that she had never even considered questioning that particular teaching (the inerrancy and source/s of the Bible), although she had pored over The Good Book daily for enlightenment and wisdom all her life.

Little kids are so innocent, and their minds so susceptible to cultural influences; they swallow whole all that their cultures teach them, including its radically peculiar particularities.

I'm reading lately where horror movies are coming back now, bigger and scarier than ever, sort of…terror-porn…in all its sadistic gore, reflecting, some enthusiastic critics say, what is really happening in “the real world.” Oh, really? Of all that is happening in the world, this is what we're noticing? This is what we want our children to focus on? This is “the way of the world” that we want to teach our children all about? As if violence and fear and terror were inevitable, and not primarily a matter of what and how we are taught, and later, how we choose to see and traverse this life?

If all the world could be raised by enlightened Quakers or Buddhists or Jesuits, in just two generations, all mankind would live in peace. 

(To be sure, all animals experience conflict. Some even feed upon each other. Yet warfare is a uniquely human, cultural invention. The biological connection to war is our very human language-making ability, which makes possible cultural learning and the invention and coordination of ideas, groups, and technnologies. Biology doesn't condemn humanity to war. Just as wars begin in the minds of men, peace also begins in our minds. We who were capable of inventing war are capable of inventing peace. The responsiblity and capability lie in each of us.)

In my girlhood, I worked hard to puzzle out,with my parents, exactly which movie and storybook monsters and dangers might be real; i.e., which were the ones I'd have to look out for and steer clear of? And which were the “made-up” ones I didn't have to worry about?

Grizzlies? Yes. Very real. Very scary.

Ghosts? Well…. Hmmm. Let me think about that one.

Angels? Hmmmm, again. 

Bad angels? Hmmm.

Dragons? Oh, no! Silly girl! Imagine, dragons! No of course they're not real. Whatever gave you that idea?

Dinosaurs? No! Or, well, yes. Or, well, maybe. Sort of, but not, like, you know, any more. (Thanks a lot for clearing that one up!)

The Snow White witch and the Wizard of Oz witch? No. Except of course, the movie star. She's real. (Hmmm.)

Robbers? Well, uh, maybe. They're real, but we don't have to worry about them. (And why was/is that?)

War? Well, maybe there are wars in some other countries, but we never have to fight them in the U.S. (How soon we forget!) (And why weren't they ever fought in the US? Why were wars always something we fought, but only elsewhere? And why didn't all those other people decide to fight their wars elsewhere?)

Death? Yes, death is real. Uh, well, and … well, no. Death is…uh…only sort of real. Don't forget about heaven. Hmmm.

Earthquakes? Oh yes, very real. Where do they happen? Only in Japan, California, and a few other faraway places. But, not to worry…. We don't live in any of those places. Now run along, dear, enough silly questions….

My military family soon got our orders to spend a year in Fort Ord, CA followed by three years in Tokyo, Japan, to my…horror…. (see paragraph above.)

The only earthquakes I knew about were the ones I'd seen in a movie, in which huge, mile-wide-deep chasms opened up and swallowed down whole screaming villages of people, houses, and cattle, all of which went sliding and scrabbling down into the closing gulf to disappear forever…. 

And that was where we were going to live?

My parents dismissed my alarmed, “but…but…but…” with a condescending wave of their hands. “Foolish child. Be a brave little patriot and stop complaining. After all, there are only six or eight real earthquakes in Japan a year. Military brats have to bravely go where they're sent! Now run along …. We're going to get in nine holes of golf before dark….”

Fortunately, the many many earthquakes I soon experienced served mostly just to rattle the tableware.

Although once I crawled across a parade ground nearly all the way to my elementary school, thinking my legs had stopped working. And another time my mother whisked me out of a wildly splashing bathtub and wrapped me in a towel to join the families (and staring friends!) standing outside.

What's really funny is that by the time I had crawled most of the way to school, my legs had “started working again,” so I had already forgotten my troubles (ah, youth!)–when all the teachers rushed up to me, worried about me, and I said, “What earthquake? I didn't feel any earthquake.” I was actually feeling a little aggrieved that I'd missed all the excitement, until I figured out..that…I hadn't.

And sitting in the bathtub during the other big earthquake, silent and still as a stone while the water roiled and sloshed over the sides, all I could think of was how much trouble I'd be in, for making all that water illegally splash so hard and so much with my boisterous bathtub play that it couldn't stop splashing.

Kids have a hard enough time figuring out what's real from what isn't without their parents making their jobs that much more difficult. That is why we parents must often reassure our kids that, “There are no stupid questions” and give them time to follow up on their confusions. I didn't do this very well with my kids–I thought they did have a lot of stupid questions, and felt embarrassed for myself, that I hadn't already taught my very bright children much better long ago…. I'm sure I was worse even than my parents in this…. Consequently, both my children and I often thought many of our questions were too stupid to ask. Now why was that? 

Wouldn't it be nice if children everywhere could get their examples and habits and attitudes and transcendent truths and values and realities from loving adults who held to their highest ideals and principles and didn't meanwhile pollute little minds with opportunistic fables and vague shadowy threatening omniscient eminences and all the terrifying blockbuster media horrors it does no good to think about (which is not to say we cannot add all our loving energy and creativity to the world, and thus help solve many its many problems….)

If I ever have grandchildren, I pray I will teach them all about the highest and best things in life, about goodness and kindness and love. I'm going to equate all that goodness with God/reverence. I'll try to show them how the human need for God and ideals and a spiritual life and a path to God can be found in all the highest forms of all the great religions. I'm not going to be complicit in teaching them distortions and fairy tales about imaginary cultural deities and hobgoblins. The magic and wonder of science and the humanities, indeed, all the wonders of life on earth, will offer them plenty of food for their imaginations, more than enough challenges for their creativity and intellects. Nor will I diss any alternative philosophical or religious expressions, but instead, hope to seek to understand and embrace their highest human and spiritual commonalities.

I will be sorely challenged, though, in this free-for-all world, to protect children from a steady diet of fear–whether political, cultural, media, storybook, or any other kind. But protect them we must–or lose them to a fear-based, instead of a love-based, sense of reality.

Perhaps what we can do best is to help them grow up positively and powerfully, so they can act on every good impulse and shine their lovely lights onto all the dark places in the world.

Perhaps someday, we can together lift ourselves and our loved ones (and that is, everyone) over life's heartaches and losses and disappointments–life's rough and lonely places–and never let anyone fall into feeling lost and separated for very long.



Please send your comments to epharmon@adelphia.net

Thank you!





Central Station, Not One Less, Children of Heaven, Autumn Spring, and Other Wonderful Movies….

I just watched the award-winning 1998 Brazilian film, Central Station (about the importance of connecting, belonging, and giving.) Two desperate, appealing, and brilliantly acted characters in dire straits—one a recent orphan, the other a sad retiree—are thrown together, and reluctantly save one another. The story centers on a relationship that develops during a journey. This movie drives home in a touching and entertaining way, how important family, friends, and security are in life, and how fragile and easily lost they are in life’s changing circumstances, and through cynicism, defeatism, and self-isolation. This gripping, beautifully-directed movie is also a revealing snapshot of everyday lives in a variety of intriguing rural, suburban, and urban settings in today’s Brazil.


Among many other wonderful, critically-acclaimed foreign films I’ve seen recently through Netflix, the following are truly the best of the best….


For families with young children, and for every adult, these films have my highest recommendation, as entertaining, well-made, and, well…just plain wonderful. Like Central Station (above), each has great potential for discussion, for insight into different cultures and human values, and for just about every pleasure one can find in a really memorable, insightful movie:


Children of Heaven, a not-to-be-missed, touching slice-of-life story showcasing a child learning values while making difficult choices, is set in working-class Iran. Not One Less (the same, with an emphasis on perseverance, is set in rural China. Rabbit-Proof Fence, an Incredible Journey-sort of film, except that it’s set in historical Australia, is based on true events. The three sojourners are Aborigine children trying to return home….


These three movies are all gentle, touching stories of winning children/families living typical lives in far corners of the earth, all highly enjoyable for all ages. They will stay in your mind forever.


For teens and their families, or for any adult, I recommend The Road Home, a sweet love story set in mainland China, and the funny and moving Secrets and Lies, about a successful (black) daughter’s reunion with her troubled (white) birth mother/family, who gave her away before seeing her as an infant (set in London).


The Battle of Algiers is a well-made, sad, dark, and moving historical film about an Islamic uprising against French colonists. I recommend it only (but especially) for adults who, like me, are interested in politics and history. It compellingly sheds light on current Middle Eastern conflicts.


The Barbarian Invasions is an interesting story of a father-son reconciliation, as well as a marvelous depiction of what a “good death” might entail. You'll see some fascinating Canadian culture, strong direction, a funny, thought-provoking and touching script, and solid performances by a delightful cast … recommended for any adult who finds this synopsis appealing.


I not only found Autumn Spring (about a Czech retired couple) delightful; it also taught me something I had forgotten about men—that they need to feel free to be men or they’ll die inside. Right after seeing this movie, I encouraged my husband to buy the bike of his dreams, which he is simply thrilled with…. I’m so happy with his new happiness that I’m reminded, as I write this review, to keep listening for and supporting the rest of his dreams…as he does mine….


Finally, a sometimes slow-moving but memorable and powerful film for anyone interested in immigration, migration, and refugees in any country, including our own, is In This World, about two young Afghan cousins who undertake a secret/illegal, and very arduous journey to improve their lives in London.


I am so grateful to all the creative and brilliant film-industry workers who made these films, and also to Netflix, truly the bargain of the century for culture-lovers…. Thank you!


(Please click on “reviews” to see earlier outstanding movies I've reviewed….)


Please send your comments to epharmon@adelphia.net






Transfixed by Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation is my (all-time) favorite movie. With so many sad movies about sexual exploitation floating around, it’s a refresher to see two nice, interesting people exchange such powerful, passionate, platonic gifts during a brief, innocent time, without taking advantage of or hurting one another, and leaving one another happier and stronger.


Sofia Coppola’s complex, beautiful, diverse sensibilities drench each frame with implications… revelations… perturbations…. Like all perfect movies, this one is rich, deep, lavishly-textured, and gorgeously-layered. Coppola adds not a questionable jot nor extraneous tittle, and leaves out nothing necessary to her narrative or contemplation. She attends masterfully to imagery, editing, framing, character, dialogue, tension, narrative, symbol, improvisation, serendipity…a small sampling of her range of talents, may she live long and prosper in the movie-making business.


I lived for a few childhood years in Tokyo during the American post-war occupation, and took away beautiful, evanescent impressions, so perhaps I’m more susceptible to the delights of this movie than your typical movie-goer. Watching Lost in Translation, I'm enchanted both by remembered charms and recent technological innovations, as well as by the awkward Japanese embrace of things western.


Lost in Translation is perfectly titled, because Copolla shines her tragicomic vision on the challenges each of us, no matter how talented or well-intentioned, face in communicating, caring, and empathizing across the mile-high/-wide/-deep chasm of human individual differences. Copolla’s laser gaze scintillates not only cultural barriers such as language and custom, but universal obstacles as well—differences in gender, age, social class, lifestyle, goals, values, interests, backgrounds, personalities—and even the molehills and mountains of distance and time.


Lost in Translation is hilarious, even more-so for Japanophiles. I’ve seen it many times, and still am cajoled into explosive snorts. Like any great lover, Copolla brings knowledge, appreciation, honesty, and a creative, playful intimacy to the peculiar amusements and benefits of relating to the Japanese. Japanese culture has its many endearing and frustrating quirks, as do all cultures; Copolla chooses to laugh equally good-naturedly and respectfully at eastern and western pecadilloes.


I cannot imagine a soundtrack more thoughtfully selected or edited in support of the shifting impressions, emotions, and experiences Coppola develops in each new scene.


Bill Murray’s unique talents are all on glorious display, as are Scarlett Johannsen’s equally bounteous ones, which have an umplumbable feel to them. She defiantly withholds an illusive, precious, sensuous little secret—like Garbo’s, like Monroe’s—whose unveiling the world will breathlessly await forever. Casting Johannsen, like casting Gwyneth Paltrow, will elevate any movie. Only great direction can account for the consistent quality of all the other “smaller” performances.


The fact that anyone could enjoy this movie on the level of a simple, poignant, romantic comedy should not detract from its value as a multifaceted meditation upon the human challenges inherent in connecting with any “other”—whether in “translating” one’s self to another, or in meaningfully “translating” another’s mysterious mumblings and gestures in our own direction. Far too often, we are left feeling all alone in the world throughout most of our lives, feeling quite “lost in translation.”


Please send your comments to epharmon@adelphia.net