Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Soial Distancing Fun

   Because quarantine is frying my brain, this post is going to be disjointed and random. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

   I saw a post recently on Buzzfeed about what people would do if they became God, and over half the people said, "Give proof that I exist." Obviously, that infuriated me, and while I could talk for a while about how much evidence there is for God's existence and how if God literally coming to Earth and dying for us isn't enough, nothing is, but instead, I'll leave all those people that complain about nobody being able to "prove" God's existence with this: Philosophers can barely prove that they themselves exist. They're not really sure about you. Everything else could easily be a fever dream; there's no proof either way. You really expect them to be able to prove the existence of a higher power? You expect too much of them, my friend.
   I'm the only history major in my Western Civ class, and so I understand that I'm going to be the student that usually knows the answers to the professor's questions, but some of the stuff is so obvious that there should be other people that know it, like what the Rosetta Stone is. There's one of two things going on here: either nobody remembers anything they ever learned in history, even if they just learned it a semester ago, or other people know things and I'm the only person who feels like speaking up. Either way, I'm not impressed.


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   What is everyone else doing with their quarantine? I'm procrastinating.


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   On the subject of quarantine, everything's shut down in my state right now, which means I get to keep the thirteen books I had out from different libraries for, like, about two or three months; in other words, long enough to actually read them all. Naturally, of course, instead of reading my library books, I'm rereading Ilyon Chronicles, listening to audiobooks I digitally borrowed, and doing my 2000-piece Star Wars puzzle. How can there be so many plain blue pieces in one puzzle?


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   I'm also using this time to work on my current novel, which, somewhat appropriately, is a dystopian. Not featured in my novel, however, are pandemics, toilet paper shortages, or social distancing. Instead, I've been writing about brutal interrogations, labor camps, "brutal" eighty-degree summers in northern New York (so jealous, tbh), and impending medical experimentation. Included in my research for this novel is brainwashing, the effects of tasing, and the soil composition of New York. Also bench presses, for reasons.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Death of Platonic Friendships

 
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   There seemed to be a bit of a movement a while back to recognize the importance of platonic (aka, not romantic) relationships for being just as important as romantic ones. But a groundswell has burst and suddenly platonic relationships in fiction are simply nowhere to be found. Even if there are platonic relationships in the piece of fiction itself, they are romanticized in the fanfiction. Case in point: Luke Skywalker in Star Wars is such a friendly guy, he makes platonic friendships with everyone. He's really close to Han and Leia, who end up being his sister and brother-in-law, which is a perfect representation of what their relationships ended up like. The father-son relationship between Luke and Vader is at the center of the entire trilogy. And yet, I have seen Star Wars fanfiction with Luke Skywalker having a romantic relationship with Han, with Leia, with Vader, and even occasionally with Palpatine. In fanfiction, you can find the strangest pairings imaginable, often based on the barest hints of platonic friendships between characters in the actual story. I'm not even going to open the can of worms that is the pairings in the Sequel Trilogy, but believe me, they are much worse than what I've just said about the Original Trilogy (and I haven't even gotten into the weirdness that is the Leia/Boba Fett ship. What even).
   This tendency to make everything romantic is obviously not staying in the realm of fanfiction. Tom Holland is accused of being gay because he has a best friend that is a guy whom he is roommates with now (which is just what Peter Parker did in the comics, moving in with his best friend Harry Osborne in college, and Peter Parker was very much a ladies' man). And this tendency is growing into the realms of the very disturbing; have you heard of the term "age is just a number" recently? In case you're wondering, this is a phrase excusing massive age gaps in romantic relationships. Not supporting this tendency seems to get people called homophobic, or worse. And yet, how many of us have had the relationships in our lives be solely romantic or sexual ones? Absolutely none of us. Most parents and children don't have a romantic relationship. Many siblings enjoy a close relationship and are never attracted to each other romantically. Sibling relationships are so very rarely portrayed in fiction, and yet when they are (Elsa and Anna, Thor and Loki), many see their relationships as romantic. I had a close best friend of my own age and gender for seven years, and never once was romantically attracted to her.
   My point is this: society today is trying to say that it's okay now to be whoever you want to be, and that women don't need a man to validate them, etc., but if you look at the way they treat everything as romantic these days, it's clear they actually believe the opposite is true. Everything in this culture seems to revolve around romantic relationships these days. If someone isn't attracted to someone of the opposite gender, they must be gay. If someone is close friends with anyone at all, no matter who they may be, they must be romantically involved. And it's incredibly damaging. We're essentially telling all the kids that they are worthless unless they have some sort of romantic relationship. And yet, of the demographics of romantic relationships, the ones the least properly represented is the one we all start out as: single. Everybody grows up single. Some people stay single, and that doesn't mean that there's something wrong with them, as the label "asexual" seems to imply. We all have incredibly fulfilling platonic relationships with people from all walks of life, with family, with coworkers, with best friends, with professors and teachers and anyone else that we may meet.
   It's okay if such-and-such relationship is platonic. It's okay to portray platonic relationships in media. It's okay for people to have best friends and roommates of the same gender and not be romantically attracted to each other. It's okay for men and women to have close, non-romantic relationships. And it's okay for you to be single, now, yesterday, and forever. After all, as the Apostle Paul said, "Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am."
   Let's not forget the value of simple friendships. We all have them, and sometimes, they're the most important relationships we can have.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Why the Movie Industry is Being Ruined

   What is the principle purpose of a movie?
   If you said anything other than "entertainment," you're doing it wrong.
   Many people nowadays would protest this. Movies these days should be promoting diversity, empowering women, revealing the flaws in our society, abolishing racism, fighting for minorities, trying to make a difference, they say. Many, many moviemakers these days are stating exactly these reasons for making movies. These kinds of moviemakers have made it into Star Wars. They've just recently made it into Marvel. They've been making DC TV shows for years and ruining many various sequels, remakes, and reboots. 
   What's the problem with promoting diversity, empowering women, abolishing racism, or just trying to make a difference in the world? Nothing necessarily, but let's go back to the core of why movies and TV shows exist. Tell me, what are they all a part of? The entertainment industry. Why do people spend their money on the entertainment industry? Is it so they can watch a feature-length sermon on why God exists? Is it to be yelled at for not recycling enough? Is it to watch a twenty-minute docudrama on the evils of war profiteering? Not likely. People go to the entertainment industry to be entertained. And it seems that the movies coming out of the entertainment industry just aren't very entertaining these days.
   Just look at Star Wars. The Original Trilogy was fun, and despite what the media claims, was beloved by people from all walks of life, not just fat nerdy fanboys who spend all their time reading comic books and oppressing women (or something like that). In fact, Star Wars became beloved all the world over, by people that couldn't be more different. Star Wars was entertaining, and its basic themes appealed to everyone. The Prequel Trilogy came out and wasn't as beloved because it wasn't as good quality (poor George really should have hired someone else to write the dialogue) and therefore wasn't as entertaining.
   Then along came the Sequel Trilogy. The Force Awakens was pretty good, and fairly entertaining. It was a fun new space adventure with more universal good-and-evil themes that appeal to everyone. It made fans were excited for the new Star Wars movie. And then The Last Jedi came out. Remember my comment about a twenty-minute length docudrama on the evils of war profiteering? Yeah, that was referring to this movie. The bulk of The Last Jedi seemed about war profiteering, animal abuse (but not child abuse, even though there were child slaves), how powerful women are (to the point of not rehiring all of the ethnically and species diverse men that worked for the Resistance in The Force Awakens, which took place in the story five minutes before The Last Jedi), and featuring a token Asian woman that had no relevance to the plot whatsoever. Most of the rest of the movie was just badly put together. It wasn't an entertaining movie at all, it was a dividing movie that wasn't fun to watch and felt very preachy. No escape was to be found here. Yet the primary force behind the movie, Rian Johnson, continues to insult fans that point out the seeming agenda and the failed writing in The Last Jedi, calling them racist manbabies, and ignoring that no one cares what the message is in The Last Jedi, they just don't want their movie to be about it.
   The divide between moviemakers' goals and moviegoers' wants makes me think, of all things, of a Trivial Pursuit question: What was Adolf Hitler's favorite movie? It wasn't a movie heralding the triumph of the Aryan race. It wasn't a movie featuring a Jewish person as the bad guy. It wasn't a movie about the successes of eugenics. It wasn't even a movie with Germans in it. It was the 1930s King Kong, and that wasn't because there are hidden Nazi ideologies in the movie, but because he thought the special effects were really cool and it was a really entertaining movie. Not even someone as good at propaganda as Hitler came to movies to be preached at. Even though the Nazis spewed out propaganda galore, Adolf Hitler's favorite movie wasn't a piece of Nazi propaganda but a universally entertaining movie.
   Why has making movies and TV shows stopped being about entertaining people and become about propaganda? If your primary motive is to champion a cause, you shouldn't make movies. You should start an organization, a charity, or a political movement. Movies, TV shows, and anything that is a part of the entertainment industry, exists first and foremost to entertain. If they fail at that, they are missing their primary purpose for existing. Remember, George Lucas wanted to promote New Age philosophy with Star Wars. He wanted to teach everyone about moral relativism with the story, but he focused first and foremost on making a good, entertaining story. He didn't exactly spread New Ageism all over the world, and he failed spectacularly in making Star Wars about moral relativism, but he made a really amazing story that is popular all over the world. He knew that the job of a movie was to entertain first and if it didn't do that, it wasn't worth making.
   So, if you want to make a movie, and your primary purpose is anything other than entertaining viewers, please, do us all a favor: run for office instead. If you want to make a difference, go into politics. If you want to entertain people, lift them up, make them smile, and give them a reason to keep going, by all means, make movies.


Sunday, February 16, 2020

No Chance Meeting


Looking for a clean romantic read? Check Jaye Elliot's newly released book, No Chance Meeting. You can read all about it below, and don't forget to enter the giveaways! I beta-read this book a couple of months ago and it is fantastic, so if you don't win any of the giveaways, just buy it. It's definitely worth it!


About the Book

Alex Jennings is done with life. After losing her brother in Afghanistan, everything has collapsed around her. Getting laid off from her day job and failing in her art career, she has nowhere left to turn. She once had faith to believe that all things would work together for good, but that faith died with her brother. Now she just wants the pain to end.

Riley Conrad served thirteen years in the military until three bullets sent him home. After a year and a half of physical therapy and scraping together a living, all he wants is to live a simple life and perhaps even open the coffee shop he dreams about. However, the weight of failing his parents’ expectations doesn’t make it easy, and working as a bartender isn’t getting him anywhere fast.

Could a “chance” meeting between Alex and Riley set them both on the path God always intended?

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and more!
20% of all February sales will go to the Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs.

About the Author
Jaye Elliot is an award-winning author, country girl, and hopeless romantic at heart. She loves a good hero and will always sigh happily during the lights scene in Tangled. She writes from her home in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, which she shares with three cats she considers her kids. When not writing romance novels, she pens fantasy and adventure stories as Jaye L. Knight.







Giveaway #1
To celebrate the release of No Chance Meeting, Jaye is giving away a reader bundle that includes a signed copy of NCM, a hand-painted watercolor bookmark, a coffee mug, and a bag of Dove chocolates! Enter using the form below. U.S. entries only. Not open internationally.



Giveaway #2
For her second giveaway, Jaye is offering 3 ebook copies of No Chance Meeting. Open internationally!


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Tour Stops

Friday, February 14
·         Tour Intro at Jaye Elliot
·         Spotlight at Writings, Ramblings, and Reflections
·         Review & Author Post at Reading Anyone
·         Review at Losing the Busyness

Saturday, February 15
·         Author Interview at Angela R. Watts
·         Review & Author Interview at Resting Life
·         Author Post & Excerpt at Lady Grace: A Quiet and Gentle Spirit

Sunday, February 16
·         Review at Perfectly Quirky in Every Way
·         Spotlight at The Music of a Story

Monday, February 17
·         Author Post at Morgan Elizabeth Huneke
·         Review at Write Hard and Pray Harder
·         Author Post & Excerpt at A Day In The Life

Tuesday, February 18
·         Review at Tricia Mingerink
·         Excerpt at Waggin' Tales Inspirational Pet Stories
·         Review and Excerpt at Read Review Rejoice

Wednesday, February 19
·         Review at Green Tea With Books
·         Review & Author Post at Leah's Bookshelf
·         Book Spotlight at The Page Dreamer

Thursday, February 20
·         Review at Stories by Firefly
·         Review & Author Post at God's Peculiar Treasure Rae
·         Author Interview & Post at Read Review Rejoice

Friday, February 21
·         Review at Books, Life, and Christ
·         Author Post at Backing Books
·         Review at Poetree

Saturday, February 22
·         Tour Wrap Up at Jaye Elliot

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

What Tolerance Truly Is

   I know I'm going to open a can of worms with this post, but the topic has been on my mind lately, and I cannot deny its importance. So without further ado, let the can of worms be opened.

   Ah, tolerance. It seems like it's all anybody talks about these days. In any given political or religious disagreement nowadays, especially online, the accusation of intolerance is bound to come up. Christian churches and pastors are told they must declare gay marriage is not a sin or they're not being tolerant. Teachers have been fired for not using transgender students' preferred pronouns on accusations of not being tolerant. Being tolerant is the favorite rallying cry of social justice warriors all across the nation. This movement has become so prevalent that conservatives cringe whenever they/we hear the word "tolerance." And yet...

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   What they are talking about is not tolerance, but adherence. True tolerance is something far different, something that was advocated by none other than Voltaire:
It does not require any great art or studied elocution to prove that Christians ought to tolerate one another. I will go even further and say that we ought to look upon all men as our brothers....It is clear that every private individual who persecutes a man, his brother, because he is not of the same opinion, is a monster....What is a persecutor? He whose wounded pride and furious fanaticism arouse princes and magistrates against innocent men, whose only crime is that of being of a different opinion.
   Voltaire lived in the eighteenth century, in a time when many countries, including his own, still killed those who held to minor differences in beliefs than the state-approved variety. Voltaire argued that people should be able to believe what they like, and live beside each other without resorting to murder, which, naturally, I fully support. But those who argue for "tolerance" today seem to have completely misunderstood the nature of the word tolerance. What they argue is not tolerance at all. It is, as I said, adherence.
   The differences can probably be best illustrated this way. We all have extended families. Within these families are people with widely varying beliefs. We often disagree with our family members on many things, yet we still have family gatherings every so often and (usually) manage not to kill each other over our disagreements. Say you have two uncles, one who thinks Donald John Trump is a gift from Almighty God, and another who thinks he is the Devil incarnate. Their beliefs are diametrically opposed, but they still attend family gatherings together. They may argue politics from time to time, and their arguments can become quite heated, but they don't refuse to see each other just because they disagree on the true nature of Donald Trump. That is toleration, and it is what the United States of America was built upon, the idea that our differences are our strengths. Now, imagine your two uncles never stop arguing until one or the other finally acquiesces and accepts that Donald Trump is either a gift from Almighty God or the Devil incarnate. That is adherence, and it is far too much advocated these days.
   The biggest mistake that seems to lead to this belief is the claim that if you disagree with or plain don't like a person, you are somehow not tolerating someone. However, that could not be further from the truth. The synonyms for "tolerance", according to Merriam-Webster, are forbearance, long-suffering, patience, and sufferance. The claim that one must agree with someone to tolerate them is the most ridiculous of all and easily debunked. After all, you cannot "tolerate" or "forbear" someone you completely agree with. But then there are the claims that if you offend somebody, you are not being tolerant.  The definition for "long-suffering" is "patiently enduring lasting offense or hardship" (emphasis added). Toleration means that we overlook any anger and offense those around us with differing beliefs perpetrate and refuse to pursue persecution against them. Indeed, don't the very connotations of "toleration " imply that we are putting up with something we disagree with, dislike, or possibly even hate?
   Adherence, while touted as the ultimate form of tolerance, is really the exact opposite. We all know people who are vegan, I'm sure. Now, when we bar our vegan friends from the kitchen or try to make them eat non-vegan food, that is intolerance. When we give adherents to all diets the same access to the kitchen or try not to feed our vegan friends non-vegan food, that is toleration. We may understand why they became vegan or we may think being vegan is the stupidest idea since invading Russia in the winter, but being tolerant doesn't require understanding or support, just putting up with each other. When our vegan friends are pressured to accept that not being vegan is better and are forced to apologize for thinking that non-veganism is wrong, or when our vegan friends refuse to use the same kitchen and hang out with us until we acknowledge that not being vegan is wrong and we're all monsters for eating meat, that is adherence. Many social justice warriors today are advocating not tolerance, but adherence. 
   Adherence, in truth, is nothing more than intolerance disguised as tolerance. To be tolerant, we don't have to love each other. We don't even have to like each other. We can think that what each other is doing is a sin. We must not persecute each other for differences in opinion, but that doesn't mean we must affirm each other's beliefs. I personally am not vegan. I don't truly understand why people go vegan when it is not for health reasons. Yet, I have a friend who is vegan for precisely those confusing reasons. I don't treat her like a second-class citizen because she's vegan; she's my friend and we get along very well. But I also don't feel the need to tell her I'm wrong for eating meat or never mention how much I love bacon just because we tolerate each other's differing dietary beliefs. My friend is a vegan. I love bacon. We don't hassle each other about it, but we don't worry about offending each other with our beliefs just because I don't understand why someone would voluntarily give up all animal products and she believes using animal products is wrong. We tolerate each other's beliefs on veganism, but that does not mean we adhere to each other's beliefs. To force others into adherence and claim we cannot get along otherwise and this is how we "tolerate" each other is to spawn wars, tear apart societies, and destroy the very foundations on which this country was founded. Forcing adherence is not being "long-suffering" or "forbearing" with our neighbors' beliefs; it is the opposite. It is intolerance. And, after all, as Voltaire said, "Tolerance has never brought civil war; intolerance has covered the earth with carnage..."
   Sometimes, our beliefs can be offensive to others. Sometimes, other people believe what we are doing is annoying, disgusting, or outright wrong. We can either use this as an occasion to cry for adherence under the guise of tolerance, or instead practice being truly tolerant, being forbearing, long-suffering, patient, and suffering. We can refrain from enforcing our beliefs, we can patiently endure lasting offense or hardship, and we can bear pains or trials calmly or without complaint. Let's stop pretending adherence is tolerance and begin to truly tolerate people's differing beliefs. After all, this is the United States of America. Putting up with people we think are fundamentally wrong is what we do. Yes, we might offend each other. Yes, we might disagree, even argue at times. Crying for adherence leads to war, famine, and death. Tolerance is the only thing that promulgates true peace.

Shel Silverstein
Via Pinterest

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Flaw in our Children's Heroes

   I wrote a post a couple of months ago about Harry Potter and why I don't like it. While I have many reasons, one of the reasons that has stuck with me the most is the same reason my mom didn't like it when she first read it back in the Nineties. That reason is this: all the "good" guys are really mean. It really stuck out to me because this is a franchise supposed to be for young children, and yet it heavily features characters who constantly (and I mean constantly) are mean.
   It's no secret that the Dursleys and Draco Malfoy are mean. But possibly the only person that is not mean is poor Neville. Harry and Ron make fun of Hermione constantly, heedless of whether she can hear them or not. It gets to the point where they're so mean she ends up crying in the bathroom and almost gets killed by a troll. Hermione herself is stuck-up and snobbish and flouts her superior knowledge any chance she gets.


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Harry is drawn to dark magic and wants to learn curses so he can get revenge on his family for being mean.
   And it's not only the kids. Their role models are also mean. Hagrid gives Harry's cousin (and for the life of me I can't remember his name) a pig tail that he has to go to the hospital to get removed. Both Hagrid and Harry find the situation hilarious. The house of Slytherin bullies everyone, and everyone else bullies the Slytherin because they're the "bully house." And then there's the head of the school, Albus Dumbledore himself. The whole situation with the house points being connected to sport championships and student demerits is ridiculous anyway, but, due to Harry breaking the rules, Slytherin legitimately won the house championship. Dumbledore made it as far as the awards ceremony still letting Slytherin believe they had won. Then, at the very last second, he awards enough points to Gryffindor to give them the championship instead, jerking away the Slytherins' hope. Cue wild celebration by the rest of the school. This was incredibly mean.


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   Now I have no problem with flawed main characters. True-to-life human beings (whether they're actually humans or not) struggling to overcome character flaws and do the right thing despite the circumstances and despite themselves is what makes stories so amazing. Watching fictional characters make mistakes, learn from them, and grow inspires us to do the same when we get into similar circumstances. My biggest problem is with how the characters' flaws are portrayed.
   One of the most beloved characters in pop culture is Spider-Man. Spider-Man is an American icon and instantly recognizable to the majority of the world's population. I personally love Spider-Man. Ever since I first saw Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man on TV at five or six years old, I was hooked (although I didn't understand the radioactive spider part and thought getting superpowers from an ordinary spider was the epitome of stupid). However, while I love the Raimi trilogy (yes, even Spider-Man 3, I don't care what my sister says) and adore the MCU version, the Andrew Garfield version...well...
   There are many (many, many) reasons why the Webb duology didn't work. But one of the main reasons, I think, sits with the main character, adorkable nerd Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man. Peter Parker is supposed to be a nice, gentlemanly young man who dotes on his aunt, gets praise from practically every old lady he meets, turns all the ladies heads (mainly because he's nice to them, unlike their boyfriends *cough cough* Human Torch *cough cough*), and only gets the reputation for being a jerk around some people because he walks around with his head in the clouds all. the. freaking. time. and causes people around him trying to reach out and be friends to think he's ignoring them, when really he's wrestling with more angst than the star of a teenage drama. Both the Tobey Maguire version and the Tom Holland version nail the heart of this character, if not quite looking like they stepped right out of the Sixties comics. But Garfield's Peter Parker is almost unrecognizable.


via GIPHY
   From the beginning of the movie, Garfield's Peter Parker is mean. He steals an Oscorp worker's badge and smiles when he sees him get dragged out. The classic selfish moment that led to Uncle Ben's death is made so much worse in this movie. After playing around with his newfound powers, this Peter tries to buy milk at a store and is a few pennies short. The cashier says sorry, you have to have the full amount. As he stalks away to sulk, a thief demands money. Of course, Peter does nothing, and I'm sure you can guess what happens next. Then comes the scene in the gif above. Flash Thompson's bullying goes from cliche movie bullying in the Raimi trilogy to mainly just vocal harassment in the MCU and in the comics, but in this movie, Flash pretty much bullies people whose names don't end with "eter" and "arker". Nevertheless, Peter takes the opportunity of his newfound powers to smugly show off in gym class and make Flash look like an idiot. This isn't portrayed as an immature mistake Peter needs to learn from, but as a triumph for the main character. Indeed, Peter just becomes more and more immature and mean as the duology goes on.
   Far from being a dark portrayal of the character, this was supposed to be just another fun iteration of Spider-Man, someone children for generations have looked up to and loved. Harry Potter is wildly popular and beloved by millions. Both are enjoyed by children everywhere. And yet the main characters, the ones that children, and often us as well, look up to and emulate, are not good people. What does it say about us as a society that we can overlook or just not even notice this type of behavior in the people we call heroes?
   This doesn't necessarily mean that these stories should never be enjoyed by anybody, but I question the wisdom of exposing young kids to them. Children won't know any better. They are predisposed to make bad decisions, as everyone is born a sinner and the younger the person, the less knowledge and experience that person has of anything resembling morals. Young children aren't going to be able to recognize the vindictiveness and revenge in both Webb's Spider-Man and the Harry Potter characters as wrong and not something they should practice. Before indiscriminately giving any media marketed towards children to young children to enjoy, we have a heavy responsibility to be cautious. In the Raimi trilogy, Peter Parker makes many mistakes, it is true. But these mistakes are almost universally portrayed as mistakes. Not so with Webb's Peter Parker and most of the characters in Harry Potter. They make many mistakes, but none are portrayed as such. Instead, this is acceptable and even praised behavior. I know most parents out there would not truly want their children acting like the characters in these movies and books. So why do we promote the said movies and books as good to our kids? Why do we call Harry Potter "good vs. evil" when it really isn't?
   I say all this mainly to warn viewers to exercise caution. I analyze everything I consume and take everything with a grain of salt, partially because I'm just naturally suspicious, but it seems like most of us simply take in everything we see, never question it, and move on with our day. This can be very dangerous, especially when choosing what to expose young children to. Now, the level of caution you exercise with this and similar media must be decided on your own for each individual family. Whether media with heroes of questionable behavior that is endorsed by the movie or book warrants simply a conversation with your children on what is and is not okay or waiting on the movie or book until the child is older must be decided by you, but we must all recognize and be conscious that this is something that needs to be examined and decided before we can exercise this level of caution.
   Just because something is popular or it contains our favorite heroes does not mean their behavior is okay. It's not okay to be mean, and our popular stories shouldn't show that being mean is okay. Only once we are aware of this problem in our media can we seek to counteract it. We need to be aware of popular media that endorses behavior we know is wrong. And maybe, while we're in this new-found spirit of discernment, we should rethink bringing our very young children to PG-13 movies just because Spider-Man or Batman is in it, or because it has dinosaurs and your kids love dinosaurs. (Those movies are PG-13 for a very good reason.) Just sayin*'. Not every movie made with topics that kids like are made for kids, especially young kids, and if something is not made for kids, we probably shouldn't be showing it to our kids.

   *This may seem slightly off-topic, but I just found it very disturbing when I went to see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and a family with young kids (and I mean young) was in there. The kids themselves weren't disruptive, but the mom told her kids "look, he's crying" at a point when one of the dinosaurs seemed to be shedding a tear. Now, I'm not one to judge someone's parenting, but if your children are so young you're still in that mode of talking when watching a movie, perhaps they shouldn't be there. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a very graphic movie about dinosaurs eating people. One man gets his arm bitten off by a dinosaur (and then he's eaten, naturally). This is not a movie for most children under the age of ten. Can you say psychological trauma?

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Your History Books are Wrong About the Black Death

   When I was in elementary school, I read that the cause of the Black Death, which I thought to only really affect Europe, was the Bubonic Plague spread by rats and fleas. "Ring Around the Rosie" is famously said to refer to the Black Death. And that was that. This is the probably the case for most of you as well. Most people don't think all that much about it. "Black Death" and "bubonic plague" are often used simultaneously. We all have higher standards of living now, so we're all safe, right? No need to ever think about it.
   Well...
   Fast forward to last year (last decade, technically), but really only a few months ago. I was about to start researching my presentation in my college Western Civ class about the Black Death when my mom read an article by a UK doctor about how some vaccines simply fail to produce antibodies in some people, and he brought up, in a somewhat related topic, how the Black Death most likely was not the bubonic plague at all, but some sort of viral illness.
   Given that I was about to prepare a presentation on this subject, I was very intrigued. I, my mom, and everyone else I'd ever talked to had been told that the Black Death was definitively the bubonic plague, no questions asked, end of story. And while there is a slight possibility of that being the case, the evidence is heavily against it.
   First of all, some basic facts about the Black Death:
   
  • The Black Death was just as disastrous as are the calculated effects of nuclear war, devastating populations throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle and Near East, stretching as far as Greenland, and possibly as far as India and China
  • An estimated 33% of the European population died of the disease
  • The Black Death wiped out entire villages, killing as high as 1/2 to 2/3 of the population in some countries
  • The Black Death's mortality rate was almost 100%, killing almost all if not all of those infected with the mysterious disease
   While widely reported to come from Asia because rats infected with Y. pestis, or bubonic plague, live in the steppes of Central Asia, the first documented cases of the Black Death were in Kaffa in 1347 in Crimea. Though the origins of the war that spawned it all are too complicated to get into here, basically, Catholics and Muslims around the region and with significant ties to major ports in Italy wound up breaking out into war in the town of Tana, where Catholics and Muslims brawled, with one Muslim being killed. The Mongol inhabitants, being Muslim since the 1200s, threatened the Catholic assailants. The Catholic, and generally Italian, assailants, fled to the nearby port town of Kaffa, with the Mongols following and deciding to lay siege to the town.
   Enter the Black Death.
   Somehow, from somewhere, no one has any clue how, though there are plenty of theories, the besieging Mongol army caught the Black Death. The mysterious disease ravaged their army, although unfortunately for historians, there are no records as to where it could have come from. Not ones to let a bad disease keep them down, the Mongol army decided to catapult the dead and living bodies of victims of the Black Death into the town of Kaffa to spread the disease to the besieged army as well. The inhabitants tried to get rid of the bodies to minimize the spread of disease, but caught the Black Death from the bodies while trying to get rid of them. Interestingly enough, this is also the first recorded case of biological warfare in history.
   The bodies over the wall were the last straw. The inhabitants of Kaffa boarded ships and fled to Italy. Unfortunately, they brought the disease with them. Everywhere their vessels stopped showed signs of infection a week or more later. When inhabitants of these towns began showing signs of symptoms, seemingly healthy residents fled in panic to other parts of Europe, unknowingly showing signs of infection several weeks later and spreading the infectious disease throughout all of Europe. The French port of Marseilles was infected soon after the disease first hit Italy, and, since Marseilles was a major trade hub, the Black Death soon spread throughout all of Europe, throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and possibly much farther. The Black Death was particularly fast-acting and fast-moving. The initial infection was in 1347, and four years later, when the disease reached northern Russia in 1351, the Black Death had already run its course throughout the rest of Europe, completely ravaging the population.

Aw, rats!
   While a disease colloquially referred to as simply "the plague" seems at first glance a perfect fit for the Black Death, one of the most, if not the most, devastating pandemic the world has ever seen, when closer examined, almost none of the evidence fits. The first problems arise with the rats themselves.


via GIPHY

   The problem is, we've witnessed several breakouts of the bubonic plague before, and they have never even remotely resembled what happened in the Black Death. The fact is, rats just don't travel. The Black Death traveled about 4 kilometers or 2.5 miles a day through France, but jumped between towns sometimes 300 kilometers, or 186 miles, apart within just a couple of days. This is much too far for rats or fleas to travel in such a short amount of time. In contrast, the bubonic plague moves very slowly, in India, taking six months to move 300 feet, and in South Africa in 1899, traveling only 20 kilometers a year, even with the aid of trains. The Black Death, however, spread to all of Europe, including Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, England, Greenland, and Russia, North Africa, and the Middle East in just four years. Many of these cold-weather places are not conducive to widespread rat populations at all. Furthermore, fleas are known to like rat bodies much more than human bodies, and documented outbreaks of the bubonic plague, including recent ones in Arizona and New Mexico, were preceded by a massive, incredibly noticeable, die-off of rats. Not only is a significantly higher number of dead rats not reported in any contemporary documents, there are very few rat skeletons to be found in any 14th-century sites. And to top this all off, the Black Death in London is documented to have arrived in November and reached its height by April, spreading very quickly throughout the winter months when rats and fleas are most dormant. The Black Death also spread throughout many very cold regions, such as Norway, Iceland, Greenland, and Russia, all places not very friendly to fleas or rats.

The "filth" commonly cited wasn't everywhere the Black Death was
   Let's assume there was a species of super-rat that lived in the 14th century that traveled at almost Flash-like speeds around the world, taking their superfleas with them, then massively dying off by the thousands, instantly vanishing when dead so that no one could ever see their bodies, then or now. Even supposing rats and fleas were capable of traveling this fast and under all climate conditions, where do rats always, always, always breed? In filthy, dirty conditions. And while medieval Europe was indeed a cesspool of filth at the time, not everywhere that the Black Death spread was. In Northern Africa and the Middle East, Islam was and still is the predominant religion by a large percentage. Muslim cities were known for their cleanliness (nowadays, most of the world is much cleaner than before so these cities don't stand out). This is because the founder of Islam, Mohammed, was a bit of a neat freak and wrote daily baths into the religion. All properly Muslim cities were required to have many constantly flowing fountains so that all devout Muslims could bathe regularly. And they did, and clean habits became part of the culture of these regions. Regular bathing and clean habits cuts down majorly on rats, but even more severely on fleas. Regular bathing habits are also a part of the Jewish religion, and the presence of a Jewish population in any of the places in the Middle East or the high population of Jews in Poland that was present there all the way until Hitler came did nothing to stifle the spread of the Black Death.

The symptoms don't match
   You heard me right. The symptoms of the Black Death don't actually quite match the symptoms of the bubonic plague. The incubation period of the Black Death was about 20 to 30 days. This means an infected person could carry the disease in their body for up to 20 or possibly 30 days without showing any signs of infection, but being able to spread it everywhere. This is in contrast to the two to six day incubation period of bubonic plague, but interestingly matches the incubation periods of several incredibly deadly hemorraghic fevers, such as Ebola. Once the infected person began to show symptoms of the Black Death, the victim would suffer pains, fever and delirium, boils, swollen lymph nodes, blotches, vomiting blood, and then death within three days. If infected, a person was almost certain to die, few if any cases being recorded of victims recovering from the horrid disease. These boils were what is characterized as buboes, a common symptom of many diseases, but the symptom which gives bubonic plague its name. However, buboes in the bubonic plague only occur in specific areas such as the groin and hardly ever spread over the entire body while the boils in the Black Death spread over the entire body, and even the swollen lymph nodes swelled in several areas never seen swollen in the bubonic plague. In addition, the Black Death was accompanied by a horrid stench, blotches, and disrupted nervous systems leading to delirium and stupor, none of which are found in the bubonic plague. Blotches all over the body are found, however, in Ebola, where the blood vessels burst under the skin, creating symptoms almost identical to what the medieval communities called "God's tokens". I also mentioned the mortality rate more than once. The mortality rate for the Black Death was almost 100%, but the bubonic plague is extremely curable, and even untreated, the bubonic plague has a mortality rate of only 60%. 

The origins of quarantining
   Funnily enough, the practice of quarantining originated during the Black Death. In what is now known as Istanbul, officials reported that the disease killed rich and poor equally, no treatments or conditions making any difference in mortality rates. The Black Death killed all it infected equally. The only method that wound up effective in preventing the spread of the disease was quarantine. The city-state of Milan, after hearing reports of the illness sweeping the Italian peninsula, cut themselves off from the rest of the world, ordering their walls closed and allowing very few visitors, as they had significant food stores and multiple wells inside the city. Anyone showing symptoms was barricaded inside their house, and sometimes even burned inside their homes. They managed to wait out the Black Death and not suffer any significant losses. Not a small number of cities, villages, and houses, infected and uninfected either protected themselves from the Black Death or prevented the spread of the disease by staying inside and not leaving. This made the practice of quarantine popular and even invented the word "quarantine". Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but rats and fleas don't honor quarantines. If a rat or a flea saw the red paint on the doors warning people to stay away, he wouldn't see it and go, "Oh, I better not go in there or I'll get sick." And conversely, rats and fleas don't listen to governmental decrees stating they can't leave infected houses or villages or they'll spread disease. If the Black Death was spread by rats or fleas, quarantining wouldn't have worked as rats and fleas don't pay attention to quarantines. Also, many, many contemporary accounts attest that the Black Death was spread through person-to-person contact. If someone touched the living or dead body of an infected person, or anything that came in contact with the infected person, they would most likely get infected too. Like the Black Death, one of the most known hemorrhagic fevers, Ebola, can be spread through any contact with living or dead persons or their things, as it is spread through any bodily fluids, similar to how the common cold spreads. Like the Black Death, an outbreak of Ebola in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Libera from 2013-2015 was kept from infecting the rest of the world by very strict quarantines imposed by world health organizations.

But...but...the scientists and historians argue
   In the late 90s, a group of paleomicrobiologists extracted dental pulp from skeletons in mass graves in France and reportedly found Yersinia pestis, or the bubonic plague. For years, scientists examined skeletons from several grave sites all over Europe and couldn't replicate any of the findings. Finally, in 2010, Y. pestis was found in two teeth from another mass gravesite. Now, this finding is hailed as "proof" that the Black Death was the bubonic plague.
   First of all, these scientists clearly didn't understand one of the first rules of science:
   Science can't prove anything
   This is due to the fact that all science is done through inductive reasoning, which is basically studying what you see and making hypotheses off of that. Because no one can ever have all the evidence or be sure the evidence was collected without any human error, no one can be absolutely sure of any of their hypotheses, but one piece of evidence can disprove a hypothesis, theory, or even scientific law. For instance, there were theories for years that Mars had water canals, upheld by so much evidence that it became a scientific law. However, technology improved, Mars was studied closer, and we found out that these so-called canals were just scratches on telescope lenses and eye fatigue. What a let-down.
   Second of all, the claim that this evidence supports the bubonic plague theory is flimsy at best. The mass gravesite the teeth in 2010 were pulled from was not started until after the first outbreak of the Black Death was over. While it is true that there were outbreaks of the Black Death in isolated areas until the 17th century, this mass grave was used for burying people who died from many mores causes than just the Black Death. DNA in older skeletons is fragile and can be hard to analyze, and diseases can only be found if one knows what one is looking for. All this test "proves" is that two people buried in this gravesite were infected with the bubonic plague at some time over a period of several centuries. After all, people did still get the bubonic plague; it's just not the pandemic-causing killer the Black Death was.

The AIDS mutation
   A mutant form of a protein involved in the immune system called CCR5 arose in northeastern Europe 2,000 years ago​. This mutant form gives protection against diseases such as HIV and AIDS. About 700 years ago, or in the 14th century, the number of Europeans with this mutation rose from 1 in 40,000, which is 0.0025%, to 1 in 5​, which is 20%. This mutation also gives greater resistance to hemorrhagic fevers. Between the 14 and 17th centuries, Europeans grew more and more resistant to the disease causing the Black Death. When tested, however, it was found that the bubonic plague affects people with and without this mutation equally​.

   The Black Death has an incubation period very similar to many hemorrhagic fevers. Ebola victims, for examples, don't show symptoms from five to twenty-one days after infection. The bubonic plague, however, only has an incubation period of two to six days. The symptoms match up more with several different hemorrhagic fevers, as hemorrhagic fevers infect and liquidize all internal organs, essentially dissolving them, causing excruciating pain, such as found in the Black Death victims. This liquidation of internal organs causes a black stinky goo also found in the victims of the Black Death. This goo was basically dissolved organ sludge. I know, disgusting. The quick spread and contact does not correlate with how bubonic plague is known to spread, but is similar to how viral hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola, yellow fever, and the Marburg virus. DNA evidence in favor of the bubonic plague being the Black Death is flimsy at best, but molecular evidence suggests a viral hemorrhagic fever caused the mutation that increased in frequency dramatically after the Black Death first came to Europe. The Black Death had a much higher mortality rate than the bubonic plague does.
   Sadly, my presentation was not as put together as this blog post, since I had to work with a partner in the project and it was very hard actually getting him to meet with me and devote time to the project. Our presentation got a B, but, since we're both honors students, I know we could have done better. Nevertheless, I enjoyed doing the research for my project, as strange as it sounds. I am a history major after all. I was watching a video the other day about the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and was reminded again of the strong similarities between Ebola and the Black Death. Do I think the Black Death was actually Ebola? Maybe. I do think it was a viral hemorrhagic fever. Ebola could have mutated into a particularly viral strain, ravaged the world for a while, then disappeared. It happened in 1918-1919 with a strain of the avian flu that doctors and scientists still aren't sure why that particular strain was so very deadly. The Black Death could have been a strain of a similar viral hemorrhagic fever that wasn't actually a strain of Ebola. I do not think, though, that we need worry too much about the Black Death ravaging the world again. True, viruses have no cure (at least almost always). But it was shown in 2014 that with careful care and quarantine we can prevent an epidemic from becoming a pandemic. It was pretty scary, though, when the few infected American medical personnel were flown into my former hometown, a fairly small place with a very small airport, because I lived near the CDC in Atlanta, but thankfully, Ebola did not break out in Georgia. I think, with careful handling, most pandemics can be avoided. And, if we're lucky, the particular strain of the Black Death died away like smallpox or became less dangerous like measles.
   Don't just take my word for it, though. Check out my sources and decide for yourself.


   Also, here's the video about Ebola that reminded me of my project and inspired me to write this post.