Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Amazon usually hits me with movies or books I might like by using what I've already bought. Divergent by Veronica Roth is one of those books.

I saw a trailer for the movie and, after reading the book I have one thing to say. The actress playing Tris is not at all how I pictured her. She is too tall, too obviously female, and not at all like the Tris described in Roth's words. I pictured her more like my little sister Beanie who is short, and though 49 years old, still looks a bit like a 12-year-old boy when she's dressed in jeans and t-shirt and a baseball cap. She is exactly how I see Tris. And she is blonde, though her hair has darkened with age.Having said that, I will get to the point of this post and that is reviewing the book.

Veronica paints a spare landscape using Chicago as the home of the factions: Abnegation, Erudite, Amity, Candor, and Dauntless. It is a world where the five factions are intertwined, each with their own place in their world and each with governance of one facet of their lives.

The story is told from Tris's point of view, or rather Beatrice Prior's. She changes her name when she chooses to leave Abnegation and become Dauntless. Tris doesn't feel she belongs with her family in Abnegation because she is selfish not selfless. She has a desire to live, to be free of the restrictions placed on her by the rules of her faction. She chooses with the specter of being Divergent, someone whose brain is wired so that she can do what has been thought impossible; she shows aptitudes in the simulation tests for 3 different factions: Abnegation, Dauntless, and Erudite. Being Divergent is dangerous and Tori, her examiner, tells Beatrice that she must never let anyone know or it will mean her death.

From the beginning Roth keeps up the pressure, first from Tris's rare difference to disappointing her parents because Tris doesn't think she's good enough to be in Abnegation and then on to the tough initiation in Dauntless where she pushes herself to the limit, and often beyond. Despite Tris's confusion about where she belongs, there is no confusion in the reader's mind that she is a complex young woman who has more value than she realizes, no matter how tough and fearless she acts.

Add attraction to Four, her initiation instructor at Dauntless, to the confusion already rampant in Tris's mind and her inexperience and fear of what the closeness she craves with Four means, and the action and emotion go right off the scale.

Roth adds complication to complexity as she slowly peels the layers of this closed society and the struggle that results from the Erudite leader's greed for power and control, and Jeanine's fear and loathing for the Divergent she works so hard to get rid of because she cannot control them with her science, and yet Roth never veers off the true, keeping the pressure and the focus on Tris and her fearless -- and selfless -- drive to sacrifice herself for what Tris believes is the greater good. There is also a note of selfishness in Tris's struggle to be fearless and selfless at the same time and it seems she has a death wish once her parents die in the struggle with Erudite over control of the government and everyone in it.

Roth's writing is very accessible and the story speeds along at a break-neck pace. The characters are complex and the world Roth builds complicated and simple at the same time. Divergent is the first of a trilogy, and an adrenaline fueled and emotional ride into a rigid world of compartmentalization torn by greed and intellectualism without morals or feeling for humanity. Although written for a YA audience, Divergent will appeal to everyone. I would give Divergent 5/5 for a thrill ride I will not soon forget, especially since I've moved on to Insurgent.

Snow and Blood on the Moon

It has been a while since I posted anything really personal. Time to change the pattern.

Winter definitely is not through with us here in Colorado Springs yet as is clearly evident.

Nothing like snow the first day after spring and again on Sunday. I hope that means the drought is over for us and the snow pack in the mountains is at high levels. One can only hope.

Beanie thinks it is funny when I say I live surrounding by parking lot, but it is true. There must have been a lot of business at that little building on the right, or maybe they had a lot of family visiting and wanted plenty of parking that wouldn't end up as a muddy swamp the way my parents' house looked in Hilliard every time it rained on the day we had a family get-together. The only problem is that the parking lot is usually filled morning and afternoon with parents dropping off and picking up their kids from the middle school across the road. That would be far to the left of these pictures.

That's a corner of the deck and this picture was taken very early in the morning before the people started roaring down the streets. It is lovely in a way and I never have to worry about shoveling the walks because there are none.

Last night's blood moon was my first opportunity to watch a lunar eclipse. There have been 3 or 4 visible here in Colorado since I moved here, but the weather has always been lousy for viewing. It was cold and clear last night at the start of the festivities. 

I sat on the toilet and took pictures out the bathroom window. This was the start of the event.

Though far away, the moon began to pass under the Earth's shadow and it was lovely. I don't have a good enough camera to catch the nuances of color, like the blood that spread over the shining face of the moon, but it was at least proof I watched.

By manipulating the photos after I downloaded them to my computer, the background got fuzzier and the moon did too, but at least it is there. I was too early to see the high point when the moon was completely bloody.

Still fuzzy from manipulating, but definitely farther along. This was at the height of the eclipse.
My battery ran down at that point and I couldn't get another clear picture until I hunted up new batteries.By then, the eclipse was over, but I saw most of it. Another first.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Manipulating Illegal Immigration

I saw a video while following another news story. The headline got my attention. Why wouldn't a smart young woman with a 4.0 grade average be able to get into college?

The headline was manipulative and so was the plea by the teacher, Clint Smith. That is what the whole video was designed to do. I was manipulated by my emotions. It's easy to do when you have a caring heart and want to help out someone who is less fortunate. But, like so many other issues, some of the facts are missing or slanted far from true.

As sad as this is for Maria, what Clint Smith forgets is that this country was built on legal immigrants, people who waited at Ellis Island to be allowed to enter the country and become American citizens, not on people who defy the laws and sneak into the country. Maria suffers because her parents did not get in legally. It would not matter if Maria were yellow or red or white or black. Her parents broke the law. It doesn't matter the reason they broke the law. It does matter that they broke the law and must pay for that crime.

This is no longer the New World, a wide land of meadows, trees, plains, and forests waiting to be expanded and built upon. We are not an undiscovered country; we have been here for over 200 years, and we have laws. What would happen in any other country in the world where millions cross their borders and bear and raise their children and expect to be given the rights of full citizenship when their presence is based on a lie, on breaking the country's laws? Yes, the young who know nothing else will suffer, but it is their parents to whom they must look for answers, not the country that is following its own laws. Laws their parents broke.

These people cannot be allowed to break the laws of the country they sneaked into and expect to be given full citizenship as a result. That makes the laws of this country worth nothing and our borders no more lasting than a soap bubble in a wind storm. As much as my heart aches for the children, it is not the fault of the country or the law that puts them in the untenable position of not belonging; it is their parents' disregard for the laws of this land they illegally entered that is the problem and from that must come the solution.

America is the land of the free and the home of the brave, but it is also a land of laws. You cannot be free no matter how brave you were escaping poverty in your own country if you are not willing to obey the laws. That is what we must keep uppermost in mind. We have not denied Maria a college education; her family has. We have not ignored her hard work and her good grades; her family has. We have not denied her access to a better life; her family has. That is the cost of such a lie. The cost is in the damage her parents did to her by allowing her to believe she was an American and entitled to what her school fellows are legally entitled to because they are citizens?

Did her parents at any time seek to redress the wrong they did Maria by appealing to Immigration to become an American citizen? Until the 7 million illegal immigrants are willing to own up to their lies and the ways in which they broke the laws of this land and go through the naturalization process, waiting in line like all those refugees who landed at Ellis Island waited and hoped, then they cannot and should not be allowed to stay in this country and be given amnesty. It's a hard truth, but it is the truth.

I understand how Clint Smith feels about Maria. I felt the same way about a young man I once knew in Arvada, Colorado. He was a young man of Mexican heritage and he had just been rewarded for his hard work by a raise and a promotion to assistant manager of a local fast food restaurant. I was happy for him. His world came crumbling down when corporate headquarters fired him. He had done nothing wrong, at least as far as I could see, but then the story came out. He was an illegal immigrant who had lived and worked in Arvada for over 10 years. He showed me the letter he received from the social security department stating that the SS number he used was invalid and that he would be required to use the new card they had enclosed. Social Security knew he was illegal, but they gave him a valid card and number. The like to get their payments on time and in full, and he had used the correct number on all subsequent tax filings and at work. The social security system still marked him as an illegal immigrant.

The restaurant where he worked knew he was illegal from the beginning, but they continued to employ and pay him and take taxes, social security, etc. from his wages and report them to the right governmental offices. They had no problem with him working for them as long as he maintained a low profile, a profile that could no longer be maintained when he was promoted to assistant manager, a position he earned. He had risen in the ranks and he had become with that rise more visible in the system and the corporation more accountable for hiring and paying an illegal immigrant.

From what I soon found out, this is a common practice all over America. Forget about sweat shops and businesses that operate at a profit below the radar only to be raided by the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). Those raids you see in movies and on TV are the tips of a very large field of icebergs. The truth is more subtle with far more tendrils and roots throughout the governmental system. Illegal immigrants are not difficult to find. The government has always known where they are and how to find them, but chooses not to do so.

I felt sorry for Rafael and went with him to a lawyer specializing in making illegal immigrants into legal American citizens. I was so moved by his story that I was willing to marry him to help him get a green card and become an American citizen. His girlfriend of several years, a natural born American, though she loved him deeply and wanted to marry him, could not because her father forbade it. He knew Rafael was illegal and he would not allow his daughter to compound Rafael's crime by marrying him and allowing him to get a green card. Their marriage would not have been a sham as my marriage to him would be. The girl's father had been born in America after his parents legally entered this country and became American citizens and demanded his children uphold the laws of this land, their land. She followed her father's wishes and broke off her relationship with Rafael. It was a heart breaking moment for him and I was sad to see it happen.

Full of righteous indignation and caring for my friend, I was willing to flout the law -- for him. That is the problem. Like Clint Smith, I wanted to right what I saw as a wrong done to my friend. I was wrong. The law has to be upheld no matter the cost to the heart in this case. Rafael knew he did wrong. He wanted to escape the few choices he had in his own land and was willing to break the laws of this land, America, to get what he wanted. He told me if he was deported he would have to wait for 2 years before he could apply again.

Rafael's family was not poor; they were middle class. His younger brother was employed by the government of Mexico and held a responsible position in the local government and was rising quickly. His family owned property and lived a good life, but Rafael wanted more, and he was willing to break into this country to get it. To cross the border illegally to get away from what he saw as few choices and fewer chances to rise.

He told me about how much he paid to get here, how he was given a social security card, and taught how to evade discovery. Rafael was also told that the longer he lived in America the harder it would be for him to be caught and deported. He would play the waiting game that millions had played and continue to play now. Having children on American soil would make his children Americans and it was a tool Rafael could use to his advantage in remaining in America and forcing the government to make him a legal citizen.

As he opened the doors to this dark underworld of corruption, lies, and crime, I was saddened -- and appalled. Rafael was no Cuban fleeing repression and risking death to cross the water in a leaky boat overloaded with people nor was he a Vietnamese family crowded into boats too small to hold the fleeing hordes and crossing the Pacific fighting the odds in the hope they could make it to America. Rafael is a middle class Mexican man who deliberately gamed the system, playing the odds so he could become an American.

Maria and her family are different, but not all that different. They were poor and they risked capture and being turned back when they raced across the desert to sneak past the border guards to come into America illegally. The story Clint Smith tells about running through the darkness and hiding in fertilized fields beneath trucks to avoid detection by dogs has nothing to do with fleeing their own forces. They were fleeing detection by American border guards, sneaking in under cover of darkness to exploit weaknesses in our border patrols. As dramatic and shocking as it is, what Maria and her family did was commit a crime. Maria was a small child and did what she was told, but her parents knew what they were doing and were willing to risk it. To risk their child's safety and life to break the laws of this country. That is a fact.

No amount of emotional manipulation can change the facts. Maria is not culpable, and I understand her parents' reasons for getting out of their own country, seeing America as the Promised Land, but they broke the law. Millions of people like Maria's family have broken the law. Do we bow to sentiment and allow our emotional buttons to be pushed or do we stand by our laws and the laws of this country. Do we keep out people who have entered the country legally and maybe doom someone whose life is in immediate danger from their own government to uphold the Marias and their families who broke the law? Forget sentiment. Either uphold the law or bow to emotional manipulation and doom someone who did obey the law. That is the choice.

Either uphold the law or bow to emotional manipulation and doom someone who did obey the law to possibly death. That is the choice.