Archive for July 2015

Summer movies and philosophy [with printables]

July 28, 2015

Summer Movies 2015

Summer is full of big-budget blockbuster-movies that are big on action, big on adventure, and big on laughs, but not usually big on thought. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a movie purely for entertainment. But sometimes a little philosophy with your popcorn can make a movie more interesting, and help your movie ticket dollars after the movies are over.

Here are three summer movies that give us something different to talk with our family, friends, and children.

Note: There are spoilers in this post, so please don’t read further if you haven’t seen the movies.

“Jurassic World” (2015) is an action-packed thriller about a genetically engineered dinosaur who goes on a killing spree at a theme park. The best part: riding a motorcycle with a pack of velociraptors through the forest…
* Creating life. The dinosaurs are all genetically engineered and cloned. Is it okay to “create” animals that are extinct (no longer living)? Is it okay to “create” animals that have never lived before? Do you think we should genetically engineer and clone humans?
* The ethics of zoos. The Jurassic World theme park is basically a giant zoo that has been set up for humans’ enjoyment. Should animals be kept in zoos? Do zoos and aquariums benefit animals? Is it more important for animals to live in their native habitat (no matter how dangerous or unfavorable) or to live in a habitat that allows them to thrive (even if it’s an artificial environment)?
* Why we fight. Of all the dinosaurs, Indominus Rex is the only dinosaur that was raised in isolation – and the only dinosaur that kills for sport (entertainment). What do dinosaurs – and humans – learn from living with others when they are young? Does knowing that Indominus Rex was raised alone change your opinion of her actions?
* Trust and cooperation. Owen Grady is training a pack of velociraptors, with himself as alpha (leader). They eventually work together to hunt Indominus Rex. How does Grady convince the dinosaurs to trust him? Is Grady trustworthy? How do animals help humans today?
* Entertainment and commercialism. There were many real-life brands and product placements in the movie. Which brands did you notice? Does it add realism to the story or is it distracting? Why do you think the movie choose those brands to showcase? Does seeing those brands in the movie change your opinion of them in any way?

“Inside Out” (2015) is an animated children’s adventure about 11-year old Riley, who adjusts to a new home and new school with the help of her emotions, Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness. Bring tissues.
* The influence of emotions. Riley’s actions are directed by her emotions, usually Joy, who live in Headquarters. Should our actions be controlled by our emotions? How do we decide what to do?
* The importance of imagination. Bing Bong was Riley’s imaginary friend. He is forgotten and lonely, but he still wants what is best for Riley. Why do some children have imaginary friends? Are imaginary friends important? Did you have an imaginary friend when you were young?
* The value of sadness. When Bing Bong is despondent, Joy tries to cheer him up, but it is Sadness who empathizes with him. Is it good to feel sad sometimes? What do your friends and family do when you feel sad? If your friend feels sad, what do you do?
* The power of personality. Riley’s five Islands of Personality (Family, Honesty, Hockey, Friendship, and Goofball) seem strong, but it only took a small act for them to crumble. Do you think that our personality becomes more durable and resilient as we get older? Are aspects of our personality separate or interconnected? What happens if we lose our core memories (experience amnesia)?
* The gift of self-sacrifice. When Joy and Bing Bong are trapped in the Memory Dump, Bing Bong’s sacrifice allows Joy to escape. Has anyone in your life made sacrifices for you? Have you made any sacrifices so that someone else can be happy? If yes, how did it make you feel?

“Minions” (2015) is an animated children’s comedy about three Minions who search for a new super-villain boss. Lots of frosting, very little cake.
* Finding a purpose. The Minions want “to serve the most despicable master they could find.” Why do Minions admire villains? Do you think that Minions can and should rule themselves? Do you admire their goal of serving someone else?
* Dreaming big. Super villainess Scarlet Overkill said that everyone has big dreams. Her dream is to steal the Queen of England’s crown. Why does Scarlet want to be Queen? How would it make her feel? What is your big dream? What could you do right now to achieve it and who could you ask for help?
* Owning happiness. Scarlet Overkill has love, wealth, success, and fame, but she wants a crown to be happy. Why is she unhappy despite her accomplishments? Can things (possessions) make you truly happy?

In a burst of energy, I created three printable activity booklets for kids that you can download free for personal and educational use.

Printables - Summer Movies 2015

* “Jurassic World” Printable Activity Book (PDF)
* “Inside Out” Printable Activity Book (PDF)
* “Minions” Printable Activity Book (PDF)

What were your favorite movies of the summer? What did you like best about them? What could they teach you?

Calling Juror #10

July 21, 2015

Hawaii Jury Service

One Tuesday morning, I walked into the judiciary building. I put my bag on the conveyor belt, walked through the security check-point, and took the elevator to the third floor. I waited with a small crowd – some on their phones, some looking sleepy or bored, only a few people talking to each other. After a late start, we all filed into Classroom A – it even had a chalkboard and student desks. We went through roll call and basic instructions, and then we were sent to wait outside a courtroom. It was the start of jury selection.

Members of the jury pool sat on wooden benches in the chilly courtroom, listening to the judge’s welcome speech, and waited to see whose names would be called. It was like a reverse lottery. Everything was quiet except for the shuffling of papers as the judge and attorneys wrote down the names of prospective jurors. The 12 seats in the jury box started to fill up. I was the tenth juror called and I sat in the front row close to the witness stand. One person was excused because they felt they could not be impartial; another was excused because of English language proficiency.

The prosecuting attorney and defense attorney began rounds of questioning that lasted almost two hours. The judge explained that we should answer truthfully and that there are no right or wrong answers. The attorneys posed simple, everyday scenarios. The prosecuting attorney focused on consequences and what should happen if someone doesn’t follow the rules. The defense attorney focused on intentions and stressed three ideas: the defendant is presumed innocent, the prosecutor has the burden of proof, and the evidence must be beyond a reasonable doubt. As the attorneys dismissed jurors without explanation (peremptory strikes), the round of questioning would begin again, directed at the new jurors and two alternate jurors.

The trial was conducted in one afternoon. Under the judge’s attentive gaze, we listened to opening statements, witness testimony, and closing arguments. The attorneys paid close attention to details – exact times and dates, locations, and precise wording. The judge’s remarks were formal and thorough – from introductions and an overview of the trial process to the pages of instructions about jury deliberations.

It was cold in the jury deliberation room. All of our phones and electronics went into a cardboard box. We were strangers picked to decide a stranger’s fate. We didn’t even take the time to introduce ourselves. After an uncomfortable silence, someone agreed to be foreperson. Hesitantly, we began discussing the case. We took an informal secret ballot to find out where we stood on the verdict, and what concerns needed to be addressed. In this case, I thought there was more to the circumstances than the jury knew – but those circumstances were irrelevant. I wanted to give the defendant the benefit of the doubt, but in the end I was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.

After a brief sojourn in the courtroom, here are three things I learned from jury duty service:
1. Be very sure of your decision before you start any legal proceeding. The law moves slowly, but it is tenacious – even if you change your mind.
2. Be very clear about what you want government and the law to do for you. It’s not about intentions or interpretations; it’s about facts and evidence.
3. Our government really is committed to the law and due process. We spend a lot of time, effort, and money to give people a fair trial.

Have you ever served on a jury? If yes, what was your experience?

3 questions about charity, responsibility, and government

July 14, 2015


noun: 1. benevolent goodwill toward others. 2. generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless. 3. An organization that helps people in need.

Hawaii is a truly giving state. In 2014, an inspiring 93% of Hawaii households donated money or goods, or volunteer their time in the community, according to the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Hawaii Giving Study 2015. Households of all income levels increased their giving and volunteering. Around the nation, people are giving more and planning more of their giving.

But it seems as if there are more people in need than ever. Here are three giving numbers to think about:

  1. $2.76 billion: the amount the Hawaii Department of Human Services spent on social programs in 2014 (State of Hawaii Department of Human Services Annual Report on Fiscal Year 2014, FY 2014 Budget).
  1. $597 million: the amount Hawaii residents donated to charities and nonprofits in 2014, of which $418 million (70%) stayed in the state, according to Hawaii’s Giving Study 2015.
  1. 4,250: the number of charitable organizations registered with Hawaii’s Tax and Charities Division (as of July 10, 2015).

I was raised with my grandmother’s generosity. A devout Christian, she gave money to her church, pastors, and missionaries. She volunteered at her church and always set aside money to give to others, before she spent money on herself. She worked part-time, but it was usually for her spending money. She didn’t have to worry about paying bills or balancing a checkbook.

My husband gave me a different perspective on charity: he believes that we donate enough money to charities through our taxes, and he doesn’t feel the need to give more. Of course, I knew that our taxes pay for social services, but I hadn’t really connected taxes with “giving” before. I couldn’t argue with his viewpoint; unlike my grandmother, I worry about paying bills and budgeting. But the difference is that I choose where to give, and government chooses for me.

I don’t have any easy solutions or cost-saving ideas to helping people who need food, medical services, or housing. I don’t want to blame anyone for their circumstances or blame government for not taking care of people. This week, please think about three broader questions about charity and responsibility:

* Why do more people need help? If people need help, they usually turn first to family and friends, then to the community, and finally to government. But today, we have more single-parent families, smaller families, and families that live farther away from each other. Has government become the “family” we turn to for help? Do we expect more help, for longer periods of time, when we fall on hard times? Did we stop helping individuals and families because government became responsible for charity?

* How did we get here? Government has created a social “safety net” for all of us, not just the most vulnerable for a limited amount of time. Did government, though lawmakers and legislation, end up helping people because it meant winning elections, or because the community couldn’t? Does the community, through churches and charities, end up helping people because the government is ineffective?

* What is the most effective balance between government services and local charities? Government has the advantage of legislation, greater funding, economies of scale, and a network of other agencies to call upon. Local charities have the advantage of first-hand knowledge of an issue, a first-name basis with people in need, quick response time, and volunteers who can help keep costs down.

What charities and organizations do you support? Why do you give?

Capitals across the U.S.

July 7, 2015

Washington DC was chosen as the nation’s capital because of a political compromise between northern and southern states. In 1800, when the US Congress met for the first time at the Capitol, there were 16 states and a resident population of 5.3 million people.

Today, America has 50 states and an estimated 318.8 million people (US Census Bureau, Vintage 2014 Population Estimates). The country sprawls across North America and reaches across the Pacific Ocean.

I think that our country has out-grown Washington DC. The Capitol is no longer centrally located either geographically or by population density. In fact, its location on the East Coast of the US has become a barrier to a representative democracy.

I’d like to suggest a radical idea: rotate the US capital among Washington DC and two additional cities, in each of the four presidential years. Based on population density and climate, we could establish new Capital Districts on the West Coast (near California or Oregon) and Midwest (near Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, or Texas). Interested cities would have to bid to host a permanent US Capital District, similar to bidding on the Olympics. Some considerations: location, land availability (unless there is already available federal land, cities would need to cede land to the federal government), infrastructure (utilities and infrastructure), and defensibility.

3 US Capital Districts

There’s no doubt that creating US Capital Districts would be a costly endeavor. It would be expensive to build and maintain, and could mean bigger government. It would require a realistic strategy during “off-rotation” years – maybe involving historical exhibits and educational activities.

How could this benefit citizens and taxpayers? More people could participate in legislation, by submitting testimony, staging protests, or just visiting. It could reduce barriers to civic participation, such as travel time and expenses – especially for residents in the Western US. It could re-energize voters and give them more access to presidents and presidential nominees. It could revitalize cities with public works projects. It could make the federal government a little more local.

How could this benefit lawmakers? Congress and the president could see first-hand how other parts of the country react to laws and initiatives, rather than being influenced only by their home state and Washington DC. It could give Congressmembers more opportunities for public debate and provide a bigger springboard into national politics. It could make travel more equitable, instead of putting a heavy burden on the states farthest from Washington DC.

How could this affect Hawaii? Hawaii residents and political candidates could be less discouraged by the amount of traveling necessary to visit the Capitol, learn about our country’s history, or represent our state. Our Congressmembers could spend slightly less time and money on travel – and could have more opportunities to promote Hawaii as a place for business, eco-adventure, and tourism.

Have you ever visited Washington DC? Do you think that Washington DC represents you and the nation as a whole? Is this a crazy idea or an idea worth considering?

“One Nation” by Ben Carson

July 4, 2015

One Nation

America, and Hawaii in particular, has often been described as a “melting pot” – a mix of different peoples who come together, sharing some of the best traditions and ideals of each culture. Ben Carson, a columnist, author, and former director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, believes that America can and should become a more unified country – and this can lead to a stronger and more successful future.

In “One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future” (2014), Carson (with his wife Candy Carson, an accomplished musician) focuses on the underlying attitudes that divide our country and shows us how we can challenge our biases and assumptions. Instead of blaming individuals or groups, he refuses to think of minorities as victims or as incapable of succeeding on their own. Instead of complaining about the wealthy, he reminds us that we have opportunities to achieve success.

Carson offers glimpses into his past and the influences on his life. I admire how Carson overcame poverty and racism with the support of his mother, who understood the value of education; his own determination and patience; and his faith in God.

With straight-forward and reasoned arguments, Carson outlines his stances on four issues: health care reform (we need health savings accounts), tort reform (we need immediate and appropriate compensation or medical injuries), welfare (we need to eliminate welfare for able-bodied individuals who could work and support themselves), and taxation (we need a flat tax that is fair to everyone and allows everyone contribute to public services). In each chapter, he offers “Action Steps” that help us examine the way we think challenge our beliefs. Carson warns, “As the rights of the government increase, the rights of the people decrease” (page 93).

According to Carson, there are six causes of disunity and decline in America:

  1. Political correctness. Open, calm, and reasonable discussions are important. When we refrain from being offended by words, we keep the conversation on the issue, not the speaker.
  2. Elitism. When we constantly provide benefits to those less fortunate, we perpetuate an elite class. Instead, we must promote self-reliance and self-help – teaching self-respect, encouraging education, offering affordable child care, and teaching economics and money management. “To facilitate dependency by giving able-bodied people hand-outs rather than requiring they work for pay is every bit as cruel (even if unintentionally so) as the activities practiced by racists of the past” (page 52).
  3. Ignorance and forgetfulness. Be aware that people frequently re-write history to increase self-esteem or discredit others. We need to examine accounts from different, trusted sources.
  4. Bigotry. We should try to look at the situation from the other person’s point of view, and remain civil when confronted by bigots.
  5. Political divisiveness. Politicians and the media need to focus on solutions, not blame or victimization.
  6. National debt. Debt leads to disaster. The US federal debt is almost $17 trillion in 2014. The solution is to grow the economy and balance the budget, just as individual households to.

Carson offers six attitudes and actions that can help us bringing America together:

  1. Accountability. Track politicians’ votes and expose negative patterns to the public. Use social media to fight against media bias and gain allies.
  2. Choose to respectfully disagree. “It is eminently possible to have substantial disagreements with others and remain friendly and cooperative” (page 99). We need to let someone else be right sometimes and always be ready to listen.
  3. Compromise. Identify principles that can’t be compromised, as well as ideas that could be compromised.
  4. Be informed. Informed voters look beyond party affiliation to voting records. Education can lead to economic prosperity and personal fulfillment.
  5. Practice wisdom. Learn from your mistakes, be able to prioritize, and acknowledge that there is still more you can learn.
  6. Family and community obligations. We must care for the elderly and disabled in our families and the poor in our communities, instead of relying on government programs. Government should be a supplement, not a main source of income or support.

Carson also identifies four things we as Americans and elected leaders need for a better future:

  1. Vision. Just as we need a personal vision to succeed in life, our political leaders need to have a vision for our country, based on the US Constitution.
  2. Role models. We need to help set role models for our children, starting with parents and teachers.
  3. Morality. Carson believes that some things are immoral, but we can all agree on basic principles of right and wrong. However, he concludes that “I do not believe it to be necessary for us to all agree on the source of morality as long as we agree on the basic principles of what is right and what is wrong” (page 200).
  4. Courage. We must consider what will happen if we fail to act – or if we act thoughtlessly.

What do you think are the biggest challenges that America faces? How can we balance multiculturalism (celebrating our differences) and Americanization (shared culture)?