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Friday, January 29, 2010

Sexual Assault Response & Crime Victim Service Center

This nonprofit United Way agency relies on volunteers to help run its 24-hour hotline, helping with issues of sexual assault, abuse and other crimes.

The center provides crisis services and prevention education for community members of Benton and Franklin counties.

  • Sexual assault
  • Sexual abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Elder abuse
  • Assault
  • Homicide
  • Robbery
  • Identity theft
  • Fraud

Volunteer on-call Crisis Line Advocates need only a cell or home phone number. They provide crisis intervention, support and advocacy.

Read more...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sanctity of Human Life

This is from a presentation made by my wife, Robin, in honor of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, January 24, 2010.

Special thanks to Lindsy Morton for allowing us to place her recording of "Amazing Grace" in the background. Thank you, Lindsy!

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Frazer Wambeke Trio

The Frazer Wambeke Trio

Great local jazz/blues/rock group!

Frazer Wambeke
(Piano/Guitar/Vocals)

Juan Hernandez
(Electric and Upright Bass)

Derek Munson
(Drums and Percussion)

I've heard their jazz and blues, gospel and worship, and I've enjoyed it all. Innovative, high-level technique, tremendous emotion, fun riffs, great sound.

Here's a brief bio from their website:

"This group plays original songs, improvises, and also takes jazz standards and turns them upside-down, frequently using odd meters, alternate chord structures, and funky grooves (among other things).

"We are well-versed in the styles of swing, latin, fusion, funk, R&B, blues, rock, and more. We incorporate our diverse backgrounds into each piece, helping to make everything we play original and distinct with our our personal signatures. It is this combination of our individual tastes compiled into one cohesive group that makes us stand apart."

They've just recorded their first album, expecting it to be available in February 2010. Derek wrote an interesting description of the process involved in studio recording and mixing: http://derekmunson.com

Contact Info

http://www.thefw3.com/

http://www.myspace.com/frazerwambeke

Facebook: The Frazer Wambeke Trio

http://www.youtube.com

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday: Healing Hearts Ministries International

This is from a presentation made by my wife, Robin, at our church this morning.

All my days are planned out by God.

From the time I first drew breath until the time I draw my last, God continually brings things into my life that open my eyes to Him and show me my need for Him. God brings words, circumstances and people into my life that are for my good and for His glory.

When I was molested, when I was into drugs and alcohol, when I had three abortions, when I was beaten and almost killed by my first husband, when I almost died giving birth to my daughter.....God used all of these things to bring me to Himself. He died in my place and was with me through everything. I was not alone. Jesus redeemed me and gave me new life. He filled up the emptiness I was desperately trying to fill myself.

I want to talk specifically about abortion.

43%

Women in USA who have an abortion by the age of 40
(Source: www.usnews.com)

1,500,000

Number of abortions in USA yearly

54,000,000

Number of abortions in the USA since 1973

56,000,000

2009 combined population of California and Florida

These statistics are based on reports submitted to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). However, not all states are required to report, so the actual numbers are probably even higher.

With one out of three women in the USA having had an abortion, it is likely that in any group of people you are with, there are post-abortive women.

But this is just the women. The affects of each abortion are multiplied because the babies have fathers and grandparents and siblings. Include the health care workers and this is a lot of people!

The truth about abortion is that it is the taking of a life. It is a sin against God and it causes a deep soul-wound. It is a life altering decision.

Healing Hearts Ministries International began small, with a vision of helping women, like myself, who were suffering from the consequences of abortion. God expanded the vision to include men and families who were trying to cope with the pain of abortion. Now, twenty-five years later, we have expanded our services to minister to anyone who needs healing from any trauma and affliction. Healing Hearts Ministries International has grown to serve both women and men in 31 states and 8 foreign countries.

We minister to individuals around the world by giving them the “living water” of God’s Word so they can receive the grace and healing that only comes through Jesus Christ.

The need is great. A demographic study by a local church in Washington state found that approximately 7,000 women within a 5-mile radius of that church were post-abortive. This number would increase tremendously if it included victims of other traumatic life events. This mission field is huge, and Healing Hearts Ministries International exists to be a resource to help those both inside and outside the church walls.

Healing Hearts Ministries International...this is not merely our name, but our mission: Healing Hearts is a ministry of discipleship, with its focus being Jesus Christ and based on His Word. We provide counseling and God’s healing Word to those who have been wounded by their past. Tragedies and afflictions such as sexual abuse, domestic violence, abortion, rape, addictions and catastrophic loss can be prisons of pain and hopelessness. We share a message of hope and healing, offering God’s peace to thousands of individuals.

We understand...because we have been there.

God’s Word is sufficient to heal the wounds of the brokenhearted. Healing Hearts groups are led by trained lay counselors who have personally experienced similar pain and trauma and have walked through the healing process. Over three hundred former clients have continued on to become group facilitators. Counselors volunteer because they want others to know that they are living testimonies to the truth that there is no hurt so great, no wound so deep, that the Word of God can't heal. I have hope, I have healing, and I have light in the darkness....His name is Jesus!

A Healing Hearts study class is available online by internet or with a small group in your community. If you are not sure who Jesus is, you will come to know Him as you make your journey through this study. If you are longing for a closer walk with God, this is a journey I would encourage you to take. If you think you know Him now, by the time you are finished with this study, your life and relationship with God will never be the same again.

Healing Hearts Ministries International: www.healinghearts.org

Monday, January 18, 2010

I Have a Dream

I Have a Dream

by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Source: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

Audio recording of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. giving the "I Have a Dream" speech during the Civil Rights rally on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963: http://www.archive.org/details/MLKDream

John Wambeke's Cabin Fever Concert 2010

John Wambeke's Cabin Fever Concert 2010

An evening of homegrown, Hermiston music and humor. John Wambeke and Pat Ward entertained the crowd with guitar and a tweaked-up one-man band contraption. In between shticks were commercial skits advertising major sponsors of the concert, and great performances by local musicians:

  • State champion fiddlers Eric Jepsen and Alex Carlson
  • Hermiston High School band
  • Jessica and Amanda St. Hilaire
  • Retired bronc rider Harry Noble
  • Frazer Wambeke Jazz Trio
  • Harpist Rebecca Jepsen
  • Thelma and Eunice (played by John and Pat)

If you've not yet attended this annual vaudeville/variety show, you really need to put it on your calendar for next year.

The show has just the right blend of down-home informality and polished professionalism. A great set constructed on the stage shows a snow-covered log cabin and outhouse, complete with bear traps and furs hanging on the wall. The troupe has fun using the outhouse as a grand entry point for different players on stage.

The Hermiston Convention Center seems the ideal venue for the show, and the sound system and stage management make the whole evening go smoothly and enjoyably.

I can't wait for next year's show!

For more information

Luke's Photos Online

Lots of photos taken at the event, available for purchase:

www.shutterfly.com/pro/LukesPhotosOnline

John's MySpace site:

www.myspace.com/johnwambeke

John's Facebook site:

Facebook: John Wambeke

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Loving Away Domestic Violence

Loving Away Domestic Violence

February 14, 2010
Dinner, 6:00 PM
Raffle, 7:30 PM

Location:
ARC
215 W. Orchard
Hermiston

Dinner tickets: $18 per person

Contact: 541-567-0424

Proceeds benefit victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Read more...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind

I've watched this movie only twice. Both times I've cried, stricken by the conflict and emotions portrayed by the actors playing John Nash and his wife, Alicia.

I'm writing this article less as a review or recommendation and more as a personal, cathartic exercise. What about this film hurts me? Why do I cry? Why does it affect me so?

John F. Nash, Jr. was a mathematician, brilliant even during high school. His genius, however, came at a cost to his relationships with friends, family and colleagues, ultimately climaxing with a spiraling fall into mental illness. Only one person was willing, and able, to support, protect, and eventually, bring him back to reality: his wife, Alicia Larde. During and after the cycles of schizophrenia, hospitalization, treatment and recovery, Nash contributed many original discoveries in the field of mathematics, culminating with the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economic Science. (http://www-history.mcs)

The movie is extremely well done. Russell Crowe is entirely convincing as a brilliant but socially disabled mathematician. Jennifer Connelly first appears in the film playing a young university student attracted to her doltish math professor. Her character grows steadily, first as a pert, flirty girl, and then becoming a strong, heart-torn wife and mother, and finally, a gray-haired, mature woman celebrating a lifetime with an eccentric, desperately dependent husband awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

But many films are well-done. Many stories describe emotional conflict. Why does this story rip my heart?

John F. Nash, Jr., at about age 30, began to experience hallucinations, delusions and paranoia. His mental illness was apparent to his students, his colleagues, and finally, his wife. He denied any illness and fought all attempts to counsel him or hospitalize him. His wife was forced to commit him to a treatment facility and he underwent excruciating sessions of chemical-induced shock therapy and drugs.

Nash left the hospital seemingly recovered, at least enough to live at home, with a daily regimin of controlling medications. But the drugs dulled his mind and emotions, preventing him from continuing his mathematical research and teaching job. He was unable to respond to his wife's physical and emotional needs for love and support. His life seemed empty and worthless.

I watched the film to this point without crying. I was drawn to the man and his illness, but I did not personally identify myself with him. I was interested in how the problem would resolve, but I was not emotionally invested in his life nor that of his wife.

The climax of the story came when Nash neglected to continue his medications and the delusions returned. He assaulted his wife, unintentionally, but it frightened her and she clutched their infant son and attempted to drive away, hoping to get to her mother's house for shelter. Nash experienced a dizzying flashback of all his hallucinations and delusions, finding himself focusing on one specific hallucination: a young girl, about eight years old, who had often appeared to him. He realized the girl never aged...in all the years he had seen her and spoken with her and embraced her, the eight-year old girl never aged. The difference between reality and dream was suddenly made clear to him, at least in this one instance.

Nash was able to express this to his wife, and she saw that medication and shock therapy were no help to her husband. She knew that she alone could help him sort through his delusions and learn what was real and what was not. She loved him and set herself to remake their relationship.

At this point I began to lose control of my emotions. My heart throbbed with sadness and poignancy and desperation and relief and humility. I identified myself with Nash.

It wasn't his paranoia or hallucinations or schizophrenia...at least not directly. It was more the idea that Nash had deep confusion and despair and fear that not a single person on earth could understand or sympathize with or patiently listen to...except his wife. She alone, of all the billions of people on earth, and the scores of people they knew, had the strength to hear him voice his despair and not turn away. She alone was willing to take his hand, place it over her heart, and tell him what was real. She alone could restore sanity and contentment to an internal world of despair and fear.

I've felt this. I'll not describe it in detail, but let it suffice to know that I've felt the emotions portrayed by Russell Crowe in this film. And more importantly, I've felt the emotional and spiritual rescue by another person, intervening with reality and prayer and patience and compassion and strength.

The resolution of the story grips my heart also. The film ends with Nash recovered sufficiently to return to Princeton as a researcher and professor. But he is not cured. He still hallucinates. He still sees imagined people. He still feels echoes of paranoia and delusion.

But he copes. He sees the visions, but he ignores them. He jokes with students about his delusions. He appears weak and fragile. He is extremely uncomfortable around people. But he copes. He regards his condition as being on a "mental diet", consciously choosing what stimuli are real, ignoring the fantasy.

This, too, reverberates with me. It seems to be a picture of the conflicting doubts, lusts, and fears that pass through and around my mind daily, hourly, moment by moment. I, too, must consciously decide what thoughts to hold as real, and what thoughts to dismiss as dangerous imaginings.

I identify with his aloneness, or rather, the small number of those with whom he can confide and trust. He may joke with his students and colleagues about his mental illness, but his most intimate disclosures and need for support are with one person: his wife.

This film makes clear to me my susceptibility to loneliness. Hell for me would be a condition in which not a single person, human or God or demon, was willing and able to understand me, offering sympathy and empathy...offering companionship.

Experiencing this film forces me to admit reality...spiritual, emotional and physical reality...about myself. I'm forced to admit weakness and want. I'm forced to look outside myself for help.

I suspect...no, I am sure, that most people have similar thoughts and fears and weaknesses. Most people can control them, or compensate for them, without visible effort, earning them a place with the "socially acceptable", the "mentally and emotionally normal".

But it doesn't take much for our thin facade of control and competence to evaporate. An injury, a sickness, a loss, a betrayal. And then we turn to anything at hand to dull or distract or delude. Only a few get past these shallow, inadequate coping strategies and seek that which is eternal and effective.

I first watched "A Beautiful Mind" in 2001, the year it was shown in theaters. The emotional impact I felt then has kept me from rewatching it until this year, 2010...nine years. I've often considered watching it again, but I've shied away from the emotional pain I expected to feel.

I watched it for the second time this week, the first week of January, 2010. I cried, but not as hard, not as heartrendingly. I feel stronger now than nine years ago, less susceptible to fear and confusion. But it's not due to any strength or wisdom or psychology created by me.

Thank my wife.
Thank my family.
Thank my friends.

Thank God.

References for further information:

Official movie site

http://www.abeautifulmind.com/

Movie review and cast notes

At Princeton University, John Nash struggles to make a worthwhile contribution to serve as his legacy to the world of mathematics. He finally makes a revolutionary breakthrough that will eventually earn him the Nobel Prize. After graduate school he turns to teaching, becoming romantically involved with his student Alicia. Meanwhile the government asks his help with breaking Soviet codes, which soon gets him involved in a terrifying conspiracy plot. Nash grows more and more paranoid until a discovery that turns his entire world upside down. Now it is only with Alicia's help that he will be able to recover his mental strength and regain his status as the great mathematician we know him as today. (www.imdb.com)

NPR inteviews Ron Howard, director of "A Beautiful Mind"

www.npr.org

Brief autobiography

John F. Nash Jr.
Born June 13, 1928 in Bluefield, West Virginia.
Father, John F. Nash, an electrical engineer, veteran of WW1, originally from Texas, B.S. degree in electrical engineering from Texas Agricultural and Mechanical.
Mother, Margaret Virginia Martin, teacher, suffered from hearing loss resulting from scarlet fever.
A sister, Martha, born November 16, 1930.
Voracious reader, excelling in mathematics in high school. Full scholarship to Carnegie, studying chemical engineering. "Reacted negatively to the regimentation of courses such as mechanical drawing" and changed focus to chemistry.
Chemistry classes, however, emphasized laboratory skills of using pipettes and titrating compounds. He soon changed his major a third time, this time to mathematics. He graduated with a bachelor and a master's degree in math. (From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 1994, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1995, nobelprize.org, visited January 8, 2010)

Continued Influence

Nash laid the groundwork that helped economists and other social scientists think fruitfully about and model strategic aspects of social engagement. In fact, some of the most important and pathbreaking work in economics undertaken in the latter half of the twentieth century simply could not have taken place without the benefit of Nash’s insights.
There are a huge number of social phenomena that can best be thought of as noncooperative games. For example,
  • Firms competing for customers
  • National tariff wars
  • Union and firm bargaining over a contract.
There is virtually no area in economics or the social sciences that has not benefited from Nash’s “beautiful theory.” (www.clevelandfed.org)

Game Theory Simply Explained

simonsingh.net

Schizophrenia Simply Explained

www.columbia.edu

A Beautiful Mind: The Book

www.amazon.com

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Avatar

Jake Sully is a marine, wounded and confined to a wheelchair, who joins a research group as an "avatar driver", on the planet "Pandora". The group is attempting to befriend the hostile native people, the "Na'vi", in order to gain mining rights to "unobtanium", a rare and valuable mineral.

An avatar is a body cloned from DNA derived from a human and an alien. The human becomes a "driver", remotely controlling the avatar's body through sophisticated computer-to-brain connections.

Sully begins the project fully intending to gain the natives' trust, learning their secrets, in order to persuade them to relinguish the mining rights, or to break their defenses and overwhelm them militarily.

But a strong emotional attachment to one of the Na'vi begins to change his desire from one of conquest to that of love and respect for their culture. The climax of the story comes as the military machine of the humans collides with the stone-age technology of the natives.

The film offers several intriguing topics:

  • Stunning visual effects
  • Science fiction elements
  • Disabilities in the arts
  • Earth worship
  • Indigenous populations
  • Militarism

Stunning visual effects.

To my jaded eye, the computer-generated images are nearly lifelike. Facial expressions, movement, textures, and colors are all rendered in detail and striking variety.

The background images of Pandora are beautiful, as clear and colorful as photographs enlarged to the big screen. The machines and vehicles have depth and detail. The explosions are vivid and "explosive".

Science Fiction Elements

The primary sci-fi element is the link between the human brain and the soul-less body of the avatar. The film assumes a technology that can combine DNA from two lifeforms and clone a body without any hint of a controlling mind or soul. Because the avatar includes the human's DNA, a direct connection can be made between human and avatar. With the alien DNA, the avatar can breathe Pandora's atmosphere, poisonous to humans.

Linked to the avatar, Sully can walk, run, eat, fight, and make love...all things previously limited or nearly impossible when confined to his wheelchair. When his avatar's body sleeps, the link is dropped and Sully returns to consciousness, with only his weak human body.

The mining company's intention is to use the avatars to make contact with the natives, learning their language, their ways, and most importantly, their weaknesses and defences. If diplomacy fails, the military is prepared to overwhelm, neutralize, and remove the indigenous population from any areas needed for mining.

An intriguing fighting machine is a human-operated robotic vehicle, in appearance similar to a giant human, with two legs and two arms. It is very similar to that shown in District 9. The operator rides inside the contraption's torso, shielded by armor and bullet-proof glass. Sensor-covered gloves relay arm and hand movements from the human to the machine, multiplying strength many times.

On the native's side, a cool sci-fi innovation is the ability to link biologically with both a horse-like animal, and a flying dragon-like creature. Warriors on the planet, male and female, wear their hair in a single, long, braided ponytail. Apparently, the ponytail provides a direct connection with the warrior's brain. The warrior captures an animal, either the horse or the dragon, and inserts the end of their ponytail into the matching end of an appendage from the animal's head.

Once connected, the animal's brain submits telepathically to that of its rider, allowing the warrior to control its movements with thought alone.

This seems to be a parallel of the relationship between human and avatar, and perhaps even deeper, of the intention of the humans toward the entire planet of Pandora. It's as if the humans form a single mind, intent upon conquest and control, regardless of any pre-existing culture or society.

Disabilities in the Arts

The actor playing Jake Sully does not require a wheelchair...he walks and runs on his own two legs. But he plays the part extremely convincingly. One scene shows him facing the camera in his chair, wearing shorts so that his legs are exposed. The appear heartrendingly weak and skinny, obviously emaciated from disuse. Jake is adamantly independent, allowing little or no help in getting in and out of his chair.

Until one researches the matter further, it seems obvious that here at last is a major film in which a disabled character is played by a disabled actor. It would seem that the director would have had a perfect opportunity to support the strength and ability of those who have an apparent "disAbility".

But no, you would be mistaken. The director chose to use a two-legged man to play a man confined to a wheelchair, despite the many disabled actors available. The film took over four years to create. There seems that there was time to rise above stereotypical casting.

By ignoring the talent and strength of the disabled, our society, which includes movie-makers and movie-goers, raises a banner which proclaims, "Only the physically fit and beautiful have worth!"

It's a shame.

Earth Worship

This film relies heavily on the theme of Earth worship. The native population live in intimate harmony with their planet's plants and animals. We see sacred trees, holy groves, prayers to an all-seeing, but impersonal god who "does not take sides", but only works to maintain balance.

The big-screen version of Earth worship is shallow and inconsistent, based only tenuously upon actual experience of those who follow it. The part played by religion in this film is negligible, despite the frequent references. The war between human technology and the native population is resolved only by the intervention of the earth goddess, Eywa, sending a horde of animals flying into the fray. Hardly a god who "doesn't take sides". The natives fight against hopeless odds, not because of faith in their goddess, but only because they are trapped like animals and fear destruction.

A far better directorial choice may have been to explore a religion based upon a God with personality, a God Who actually had power and authority and purpose and mercy and love. But, the director only had a few hours in which to present a movie that would earn its keep, and it's best not to mess too much with the tried and true...

Indigenous Populations

The history of Native Americans in the United States of America is loudly advertised in this film. The natives of Pandora are taller, and their skin is bluer, but their dress, weapons and society appear identical to that of the New World's indigenous population. White-skinned Europeans ran rough-shod over the culture, government, and individual rights of Native Americans, and the mining corporation and military leaders in Avatar appear to be doing the same.

Again, a two- or three-hour long film is too short to give much depth to the story. The conflict between explorers, settlers and invaders is complex and beyond easy stereotyping. The movie tries too hard to show their sympathy for Native rights, making the issue seem ridiculously simple and obvious. One would wish for a bit more depth in the "bad guy" characters.

Militarism

The final element that stands out clearly is that of the military as a character of its own, personified in the battalion's leader, the Colonel. Again, limitations in time seem to have forced the director to make the Colonel cartoonish in his extreme disregard for the native population. The character shows little depth, no growth or development, no hint of anything attractive or sympathetic.

Curiously, the one "bad guy" that seemed to have depth and development was the corporate suit, Parker Selfridge. The story placed him in the middle, a nexus or bottleneck for the military, the scientists, and the natives. The only ones that didn't have a problem with him were the avatars...they didn't care who was running the show.

Selfridge was wholeheartedly a "bad guy". He wanted the natives moved or destroyed, but to his credit, either option appeared to bother him. He is seen initially as a shallow administrator looking only at pleasing his bosses and continuing to get a paycheck. But there are good indications late in the story that the callous, greedy, violent, vindictive company, supported by the gun-happy military was beginning to worry Selfridge's soul...he was acting like he had a conscience, and it was bothering him.

Go See Avatar

Even with the several weaknesses and disappointments, Avatar is a great film, filled with surprise, pleasure, sadness, love, thrills, and hope for the future.

Go see it.