Monday, November 18, 2019

Book Review: Psychology and Religion By C. G. Jung

Psychology and Religion By Carl Gustav Jung

Famed psychologist Carl Jung delivered a short series of lectures at Yale in 1937 concerning the relationship between psychology and religion. Sticking strictly to his expertise, Jung discusses religion as a psychological phenomenon, i.e. as humans experience it. He draws on the history of human thought in both Western and Eastern traditions. He's read the popular philosophers and theologians. He's also read various ancient and medieval gnostic, alchemical, and occultist texts. He discovered various images and themes that recur throughout the history of thought. These themes and images also show up in his therapeutic work. He's had patients that describe symbols and images from their dreams that seem to be taken from ancient Egyptian mystical writings or medieval alchemical manuals. But his patients clearly haven't read those texts. Often, they have no historical or educational connection from which to draw the images. In this book, Jung describes one patient who is a thoroughly modern man and has no time for religion. And yet religious imagery from a wide variety of sources shows up in his dreams (the patient wrote down descriptions of about four hundred dreams). In Jung's analysis, humans must have some store from which they draw. He is unsure of what causes the presence of these recurrent images (which he calls "archetypes") but their ubiquity makes them impossible to ignore. The personal experience is real and needs to be dealt with in order for therapy to be successful.

The book is fairly technical about psychology, discussing neuroses and various dream images. Jung delves into certain symbols, like threes and fours as they relate to religious symbols (e.g. the Christian Trinity and gnostic attempts to create a quaternity, a group of four). He also has plenty of references to the history of philosophy. Jung adds a good number of quotes in French, Latin, and Greek without always giving translations, making the book more challenging for casual readers.

I found the content fascinating and occasionally over my head. I appreciate being challenged but wish I understood it better than I do. I thought his discussion of religious experience as only a personal experience may be too limiting. Jung as a psychologist takes no stand on the existence of God, though he clearly believes there is some transcendent reality that touches all people throughout history. I'll probably hunt around for some more accessible text by Jung.

Slightly recommended--this text is not so much for lay readers but does provide a lot of interesting content to mull over.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Movie Review: H. P. Lovecraft's Re-animator (1985)

H. P. Lovecraft's Re-animator (1985) co-written and directed by Stuart Gordon

Medical student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) leaves his Switzerland school when his professor dies under mysterious and gory circumstances. He joins Miskatonic University's medical school in Massachusetts. He has the ambition and arrogance to start up his European experiments in reviving dead tissue with a reagent (glowing green goo) that he developed with the Swiss professor. West rooms with Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) who is dating the daughter of the medical school dean. Cain finds out about West's experiments when the house cat dies and West brings it back to life. They are noticed by Doctor Carl Hill (David Gale), who wants to claim the reagent as his own invention. He has plenty of other nefarious ambitions. Things spiral out of control as they experiment on recently deceased human at the school morgue.

While the movie is based on a Lovecraft story, the execution is much more like the standard 1980s low-budget horror films that avoided getting an MPAA rating so they could max out the gore (like Dawn of the Dead or The Evil Dead). The gore is extreme, with many dead bodies (some naked) running around with parts burnt or hanging out. One major character is decapitated. Both the severed head and the headless body are revived and keep on going to the end of the movie. The story holds the scenes together but it goes only for gross outs rather than the moody Lovecraftian atmosphere and insanity. There's a bit of gratuitous female nudity and sexual abuse too. These cons aren't balanced out by intriguing or creative ideas or a humorous tone to take the edge off.

I found the movie very unenjoyable, though obviously others did and two sequels were made. I will not be watching them.

Not recommended.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

TV Review: Angel Beats! (2010)

Angel Beats! (2010)

Otonashi wakes up on a plaza with no memory of who he is or where he is. He's a teenager and a teen girl nearby has a sniper rifle. The girl is Yuri and she is aiming at another girl, Angel. Yuri explains to Otonashi that they are in the afterlife and Angel is there to force them onto the next level. Yuri wants to recruit Otonashi into her group that fights against Angel, trying to take over the school. Otonashi initially doesn't believe her and goes to warn Angel. Angel tells him that she is the class president and this school is the afterlife. He demands proof. She magically creates a sword and stabs him in the heart. He wakes up in the school infirmary, seemingly unharmed except for his bloody shirt on the floor next to him and the agonizing death he underwent. In the afterlife you can't die but getting killed still hurts badly. He decides to side with Yuri until he gets his memories back. Yuri's group is the Afterlife Battlefront (though they are constantly trying out new names for their group) and they enact various schemes to keep Angel off guard and themselves from being "obliterated."

The story has an interesting blend of comedy and pathos. The characters are endearing, especially as their backstories are revealed. All of them died in hard circumstances and struggle with their feelings about life. The school embodies the Christian concept of Limbo, though the characters are Buddhists and assume obliteration means being reincarnated, probably as something awful like a barnacle or a water flea. The characters struggle with the meaning of their existence and how much control they should have over their lives. The ending of the series (it's only 13 half-hour episodes) is surprisingly moving. Who knew an anime could be such an effective tearjerker?

Highly recommended--it's streaming on Netflix or available through Crunchyroll.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Book Review: Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by J. P. Stassen

Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda written and illustrated by J. P. Stassen

This heartbreaking look at the Rwandan genocide focuses on one character, a teenaged Hutu named Deogratias. He loved a Tutsi woman and had a hard time dealing with a rapidly deteriorating situation. The Hutus began slaughtering the Tutsi minority after the death of the president. Deogratias  turns to drink and to revenge and into a dog (even literally, since this is a graphic novel) thanks to the guilt he carries and the horrors he has witnessed.

This book is a great example of a large and hard disaster that causes so much personal devastation. A lot of the historical context lurks in the background, helping to explain the chaos and the atrocities of a mass genocide. The situation is barely imaginable for Westerns but this short book gives a glimpse into a frightening reality.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Maryland Corn Maze 2019

We found a corn maze near our home (simply called "Maryland Corn Maze") and discount tickets through Certifikid, so visiting there was a no-brainer. We went on a sunny Saturday in late October, which meant that everyone else was there too.

Corn Maze Farm Entrance

The first thing we did was head for the corn maze, the star (but not only) attraction.

Entrance to the farm

The maze has three different challenges. With our children of various ages, we decided to go for the middle challenge. The maze's theme was Harry Potter, so we wandered to different stations and answered Harry Potter trivia questions to guide us to the next station.

Different challenges

A typical station

Wandering through the maze

We did get a flag on a stick in case we had to signal for help. We saw the mid-maze watch tower but didn't need to get help. The trivia questions weren't hard but figuring out which direction to go was. Many of the signs had three different paths, so if you didn't come from the correct path you could interpret the sign wrong (since you naturally assume that you don't go backwards).

The tower isn't very high

Writing help in the sand--maybe one of the kids did want help

Lightening scar is much easier to draw

Map of the maze

The location had plenty of other attractions. The most popular with my children was the corn pit. Much like a ball pit, it was a big box, but with corn kernels instead of balls. Getting buried was the natural thing to do. The only problem was getting kernels in ears or nostrils.

In the corn pit


The petting zoo area had plenty of interesting animals. The Patagonian Mara is the fourth largest rodent in the world and lives in Argentina. It looks a bit like a rabbit but is very large. It cann reach speeds of 45 miles an hour and jump up to seven feet!

Patagonian Mara

The Miniature Zebu is from south Asia and lives in rain forests. This breed is only three to three and a half feet tall.

Miniature zebu

After these first two critters, the alpacas seemed pretty normal.


Other normal animals we saw included goats, chickens, and a turtle.

Goat with a mohawk?


Maybe a tortoise

The kids also had fun climbing on hay bales.

Jumping around

The area had plenty of other Harry Potter-themed activities, including a "pub" serving butterbeer.

The Three Broomsticks

Enjoying a butterbeer

Another sign let our kids pretend they were infamous wizards.

Mad at the description

Fierce-faced felon

Visitors could even ride brooms!

We could set this up in our back yard!

The hay ride was the Hogwarts Express, so naturally it had to leave from the correct platform.

Hanging out

Trying to get through

Sadly, the wand cart was sold out.

Ollivander's mobile shop

The Mirror of Erised

If we ever ran out of ideas of what to do at the corn maze, they had a handy wheel to take the burden of free will away from us.

What to do next

After going to mazes that were over an hour away, it was nice to visit one only twenty minutes away. We'll probably go back next year.

Monday, November 11, 2019

MD Fall Geocaches

I bought some supplies at the BSA Scouting store near BWI airport. Since the weather was nice, I found a couple of geocaches in that area.

The first cache was about a block away at a VFW Post. The cache, Cold War Bull Fighter, is somewhere near their TM-61 Matador missile. I couldn't find the cache, which was disappointing. Still, the location was a fun spot. The Matador was a surface to surface missile. During the Cold War it had a nuclear warhead.

TM-61 Matador

Another angle

They also had a piece of artillery

In a nearby business park is FTF Bait, an easy cache just on the edge of their parking lot. My only problem was some worker sitting in their car on a cell phone break. I waited for her to go back to work lest I look like some ne'er-do-well up to no good. By the time she left, a semi-truck rolled up, making me wait another couple of minutes. Once the coast was clear, I was able to find the cache fairly easily.

The cache location, more or less

At a small business/office complex, the courtyard has a fun sculpture. Don't Stand Out in the Rain might be the name of the statue too, not just the geocache.

Approaching ground zero

The statue

Friday, November 8, 2019

Movie Review: Shazam! (2019)

Shazam! (2019) directed by David F. Sanberg

An old wizard (Djimon Hounsou) wants to pass on his magical powers to a worthy successor, someone pure of heart and strong of will. One candidate he rejected back in the 1970s, Thad Sivana (Mark Strong), finally figures out how to get back to the magic realm. Rather than take the wizard's powers, he takes the powers of the Seven Deadly Sins, contained in a fake eye that he gladly pops into his head. Then Sivana goes after his family who have treated him badly over the years. Meanwhile, perpetual foster-child Billy Batson (Asher Angel) winds up in yet another foster home after he steals a cop car and tries for the umpteenth time to find his mom. They were separated at a carnival when he was three or four years old. He's still angry about it. The new family is nice and they take good care of him. Nonetheless he is unappreciative. On a subway ride, Billy is summoned to the magical realm where he gets the wizard's powers because there's no one else and little time left to fight the bad guy. Billy, as the hero Shazam (Zachary Levi), goes through the typical journey of discovery that every other teenage superhero goes through as he learns to use his powers and, more importantly, for what ends to use them.

The movie has a lot to recommend it. The comedic tone is refreshing for a DC Comics film. Billy cashes in on his ability as best he can before having to get serious when Sivana shows up as a bad guy with equal power. The theme of the importance of family is woven throughout the film in a natural way. The twists are fairly predictable but not in a disappointing way. The movie more than once disses Superman and Batman, who seem to be heroes that aren't around anymore. Even the setting in Philadelphia seems to be outside the DC universe, where the cities are all made up like Gotham, Metropolis, Star City, etc. Making fun of the DCEU is enjoyable though they backpedal at the last minute.

The movie also has flaws. Some of the CG is noticeably unconvincing. The villain is a bit generic. He basically wants power for its own sake and to show he is worthwhile if not worthy. He has the Seven Deadly Sins as minions though they have little recognizable attributes of the actual sins. They are just ugly monsters who are tough to fight. Some bits of the story don't flow well, as if the filmmakers deleted some connecting scenes. The film also borrows a lot of ideas from Marvel films, making it feel a little derivative.

Overall, Shazam! is a fun movie though it is the sort that I'd watch once and have no need to go back to unless someone else wanted to watch it.

Slightly recommended.