Brandon's Notepad

September 6, 2017

Creativity Deconstructed

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Before you can effectively and consistently boost creativity, you must first understand what creativity really is. As I always say, words are important, and the study of words can reveal some truly amazing things. In this case, creativity appears to be a fairly simple etymological study.


The root word of creativity is obviously create, so it is not surprising that most English dictionaries define the word as the ability to create. Personally, I don’t find that definition very satisfying, because when we talk about creativity or when we describe someone as being very creative, we typically have something much greater in mind than the simple ability to make something. Some dictionaries extend this definition to include the ability to think new things. The Oxford dictionary explicitly ties the act of creation in this context to the use of the imagination and notes that the resultant thing or idea is original. The Cambridge definition goes even further to suggest that the ideas produced also possess the property of being unusual. I prefer the word unique over unusual, but the latter does connote that the thing or idea is not only one-of-a-kind, but also out-of-the-ordinary.

One must be careful throwing a word like create around too loosely, however. All too often, people equate it with the word make, as in, “let’s go make some art”. This seldom works in reverse, because you never hear things like, “I’ll create the coffee in the morning”. The word make has other meanings that are also incompatible; for example, phrases like “please create your bed before leaving for school” and “I hope you can create it home in time for dinner” make no sense at all!

The same problem is inherent with the word produce (the verb, not the lettuce). Does an artist produce great works of art in the same way a manufacturing plant produces widgets? Obviously not. In Latin, we can distinguish the verb creo from produco, facio, and fabrico (think produce, manufacture, and fabricate respectively). Things can be made (produced/manufactured/fabricated) according to a design, but the creative act must, by definition, occur before or coincident with the design. This ties in well with the notion of originality: a new creation’s origin is an outcome of the creative act.

I am rather partial to the definition of creativity that I first heard in a Lynda.com training course titled “Creativity Bootcamp”. In that course, author and instructor Stefan Mumaw explains that “creativity is problem solving with relevance and novelty.” Relevance is a binary property: a proposed solution either solves a problem or it doesn’t. Novelty (i.e. “newness”) is where originality comes in. Why does Mumaw include these two properties in his definition? Because he wants to emphasize that creativity is not the same thing as artistry. An art (from the Latin ars) is a skill that one learns through practice. So, while a very skilled artist can, say, paint impressive landscapes, there may be little or no creativity in his work, because he is not solving the problem — capturing and expressing the essence of the place — in a new way.

So where does that leave us in terms of understanding the nature of creativity? More importantly, does this understanding bring us any closer to learning how to consistently deliver creative solutions? At a minimum, it helps us define our boundaries. If a problem truly calls for a creative solution, it is either because the problem itself is new or all previous solutions have proven to be ineffective or suboptimal. Also, we can recognize that looking for ideas (e.g. Pinterest) is the antithesis of being creative, and may in fact hinder our own creativity in most cases. Instead, we should focus on analyzing and solving the problem outright, and then researching to see if our “best” solution has already been attempted by someone else. Finally, we can completely dismiss the notion that creativity is inextricably linked to artistic talent. In fact, scientific discovery and invention are predicated on creative thinking. Thus, creativity is not so much about the solution, but about how we, as creative beings, approach the problem.


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March 24, 2017

What Does “Catholic” Mean Anyway?

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My recent post covering the five Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch to the Churches in Asia gave rise to some interesting discussions online, including one about the origin of the word “Catholic”. I knew the general answer, that the word means “universal” and that Ignatius was indeed the earliest author to use it, but I wasn’t satisfied with that. I wanted to dig deeper. Here is the result of my research.


Ignatius of Antioch

A discourse on the meaning of the word ‘catholic’ would hardly be complete without some mention of Saint Ignatius of Antioch who used it to describe the Church in his letter to the Smyrnæans in approximately A.D. 108. His message to the believers in Smyrna was clear: be subject to your bishop in all things concerning belief. This is the earliest known writing in which the Church is referred to as ‘universal’ and that leads many people to the conclusion that Ignatius was the first to give the Church her name, or at least the first to coin the phrase. Nothing in the text, however, supports the hypothesis that Ignatius was trying to do either. It appears more likely that he was using a common adjective to describe the whole body of believers everywhere, and that the phrase caught on amongst early Christian writers.

Here is an excerpt taken from the eighth chapter of Ignatius’ letter to the Smyrnæans (taken from NewAdvent.org). The key line of interest has been emphasized and the phrase Catholic Church rendered in bold:

Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. [Smyrnæans 8]

Here is the emphasized line in Greek (from TextExcavation), again with Catholic Church in bold:

οπου αν φανη ο επισκοπος, εκει το πληθος εστω, ωσπερ οπου αν η Χριστος Ιησους, εκει η καθολικη εκκλησια.

I would take the time to provide a word-for-word translation of the entire excerpt, but it’s not really necessary for this discussion. There are online lexicons and translators for that purpose, so if you are not familar with Greek, now might be a good time to check out some of these tools.

εκκλησια

Let’s start with the noun in this phrase. This is the less controversial of the two words. Almost always rendered in English as ‘church’, the word ekklēsía really just means assembly or gathering, as in a group of people assembled together. It was the term used to refer to the principal assembly of the Athenian democracy over 400 years before Christ walked the Earth. So, which assembly of believers Ignatius is talking about? Since the letter was written for the Chirstians in Smyrna, is he only referring to that assembly? Obviously, no. Ignatius clarified his message by modifying this noun with the adjective καθολικη.

καθολικη

This adjective is actually a combination of two root words: κατά (katá) + ὅλος (hólos). According to Strong’s Concordance, κατά (2596) is a preposition that can have various meanings, such as “down from”, “throughout”, and “according to”. Likewise, ὅλος (3650) is an adjective that means “all”, “whole”, or “entire”. Note how the words are combined into a single adjective, καθολικη. When used to modify the word ekklēsía, one might read the phrase as “according to the entire assembly” or “throughout the whole church”. It requires no stretch of thought to see why the word “universal” is used in translation.

To take this one step further, please note the spelling of the word. The suffix identifies the word’s declension, which is a fancy way of saying number, case, and gender in a single word. Taking a glance at the Wiktionary entry for καθολικός, we can easily determine that for three grammatical cases, this variant of the word modifies a female noun (which εκκλησια is) and is singluar. Ignatius is talking about one church. This implies a level of unity beyond that of the local church and her bishop. Ignatius did not consider the Christian communities to be a loose federation of independent congregations, at least when it came to matters of faith.

Another Look

Now that we have examined the key words in question, let’s reconstruct the line in English based on the Greek above. Again, I am not going to explain every word as they can easily be referenced online. I used the Greek Dictionary Headword Search engine in the Perseus Digital Library at Tufts University to translate the line as follows:

The place where lights the bishop, there the multitude is one; even as, where is Christ Jesus, there is the whole assembly throughout.

Ignatius is clearly drawing an analogy that makes perfect sense in his plea for the Churches in Asia to remain in unity with their respective bishops who are, themselves, in unity insofar as the teaching of the faith is concerned. What’s more, this concept of the whole assembly of believers being ever-present with Christ is an expression of what Mircea Eliade would call sacred time and space, though whether Ignatius intended to convey this idea or if it was a product of divine inspiration will be left for discussion at another time.

Word Usage

Some make the argument that Ignatius coined the word καθολικη, based primarily on the observation that the word is not used in the Bible to describe the Church…in fact, it doesn’t appear at all in the Bible. (Such people also tend to be Fundamentalist Christians who only know the word “Catholic” as a proper name and who want to prove that the Church’s universal authority is illegitimate by claiming that Ignatius invented the word after the age of the Apostles and therefore it isn’t “Biblical”.) However, if the word καθολικη (or more properly, καθολικός) existed prior to the time of Christ and the Apostles (and was even found to be commonly used), then there should be instances of it in other Greek texts that predate the New Testament. Whether or not these texts are part of Sacred Scripture is, of course, immaterial, but it never hurts to start there.

The words κατά (2596) and ὅλος (3739) both appear numerous times in the New Testament (480 and 1411 respectively). The word καθό (2526), which means “according to”, is found four times (Rom 8:26, twice in 2 Cor 8:12, and 1 Peter 4:13). The word καθόλου (2527), which is an adverb meaning “entirely” or “at all”, is found once, in Acts 4:18: they instructed them not to teach at all in the name of Jesus. Browsing through Hatch & Redpath’s 1897 Concordance to the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), a similar pattern emerges: many references to the root words, a handful to καθό and καθόλου, and none for καθολικός. So, the root words and some similar words appear in the Bible, but the specific usage we are seeking here is not present.

A search of other Greek texts proves to be more fruitful. Again, using the Greek Dictionary Headword Search engine in the Perseus Digital Library, a search for words starting with καθολ resulted in over sixty hits across eleven works. Nine instances were found in the Histories of Polybius (200-118 B.C.), two of which concern making a “general assertion” (καθολικῆς ἀποφάσεως). The geopgrapher Strabo (63 B.C.-A.D.24; thus immediately prior to Jesus’ public ministry) used it in his work on Geography. The excerpt …ὥστ᾽ οὐδ᾽ ἔνεστι καθολικῶς εἰπεῖν ἐπὶ τῶν ἀπεριλήπτων τὸ πλῆθος… [Strab. 17.3] is translated in the accompanying English translation as “…so that it cannot be asserted generally of places indefinite in number…”, but could probably be reduced to “…it cannot be generally said…” So much for the notion that Ignatius was the original inventor of this word.

There are examples of the word being used by writers contemporary to Ignatius as well. The Stoic Philosopher Epictetus (A.D. 50-135) used the word six times in his Discourses. One sample drawn from that work is καθολικοῦ μέμνησο [book2, chapter 2], which is rendered in the accompanying English version as “Remember, then, the general rule…” but which could probably be simplified as “Remember generally…”. In a work called Tetrabiblos by Claudius Ptolemy (A.D. 100-170; yes, the same Ptolemy famous for his geocentric model of the universe), there can be found thirteen separate instances of the word with usages similar to those found in Polybius, such as to describe a calling, a custom, etc. Two more instances can be found in M. Antonius Imperator Ad Se Ipsum by Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121-180). And so on and so forth. Even if the Perseus Digital Library contains a complete collection of ancient Greek texts, there is proof enough that the compound word καθολικός was common in ancient Greek texts, making Ignatius’ single use of it even less extraordinary.

Incidentally, the largest number of search hits (21 occurences) arose from the Church History according to Eusebius (~A.D. 260-341), six modifing the “assembly” (same usage as Ignatius), four in reference to letters or letter writers (i.e. epistles, as in the Catholic Epistles of Peter, Jude, James, and John), and the remainder modifying various other words to describe general knowledge, direction, order, etc. So, while this adjective was starting to grow in usage, it was still not used to refer exclusively to the Church, even in the Fourth Centruy writings of the Church Fathers.

Conclusion

Ignatius was not attempting to give a name to a universal church, or to coin a new phrase, but was simply using a common adjective to describe the collective of all Christian believers everywhere. In the long run, of course, that is what eventually happened. “Catholic Church” is a proper name that, today, specifically identifies an assembly of people around the world that is rooted in a common belief, and whose “headquarters” (if you want to call it that) is located in Rome. It is slightly more complicated than that, of course, because the Roman Church is just one of many that belong to this more universal collection of Churches, but then, this makes Ignatius’ message even more understandable for modern Catholics.

Addendum: New Questions

Doing this research has brought to mind two additional questions that will make for some interesting study in the future.

First, at what point in history did the word ‘Catholic’ become part of the proper name of the Church, and thus an adjective that exclusively associates whatever it modifies as belonging to the same? One might expect to find this usage prevailent in the writings of the Protestant Reformers and possibly even in Catholic writings in the years leading up to the Reformation. I have seen some claims online that explain how the Church didn’t have to qualify itself as Catholic until Protestant thought became widespread and uncontrollable. Perhaps this was the same reason καθολικός became so popular amongst the Church Fathers, as they were often combating the early heresies and wrote about how these strange beliefs contradicted the Church’s universal teachings.

Second, why does καθολικός not appear in Sacred Scripture? This may be much harder to answer, as it requires a deep understanding of ancient Greek and how the language evolved over time. It may have to do with the level of sophistication with which the various authors wrote. All of the examples given above where the word appears are from works written by scholars, philosophers, scientists, and even an Emperor! Their education, and thus their, command of the Greek language was undoubtedly superior to those common men who roughly incribed the stories of the Apostles while in hiding for fear of Roman persecution. Likewise, translation of ancient Hebrew writings, most of which had already been passed from age to age as oral traditions, into Greek may have dictated the use of simple language.

Perhaps these questions have already been answered in some scholarly works just waiting for me to discover.


September 16, 2014

Religion

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Religion. It is a deceptively simple word. It means different things to different people. What does it mean to you?

I have stubbed out this page for notes as I explore the meaning of this very important word. If you would like to participate in this exploration, please tweet your thoughts to me anytime @brandonsnotepad.


Definition

After surveying the definitions of the word religion at Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, Wikipedia, and others, it seems that it can be defined, at a minimum, as a belief in a higher power. Most definitions describe this belief as organized, note that it gives rise to specific ritual practices, and makes an allowance for one or more deities.

Etymology

Sources consistently trace the etymology of religion through English and Old French to the Latin word religionem, which more or less refers to respect for or devotion to the sacred. This word was used early to describe monasticism, a full devotion of one’s life to God. Most sources agree that religio (nom.) is derived from religare, “to bind”, though a few other possible origins exist. This etymology could simply imply that one chooses to bind oneself to God voluntarily, but may also be interpreted to mean that reverence to God (as creator of all) is an intrinsic obligation of man (as the creature). These are not mutually exclusive, as the devout church-goer and the cloistered monk are both religious, but to differing degrees.

Negative Connotation

Religion is often used as a pejorative term, especially by English-speaking Christian Fundamentalists who wish to equate traditional Christian practices to those of the Jews in Jesus’ time. Contrast the following examples as they appeared at the time of this writing. The Online Etymology Dictionary (OED) entry for religion offers the following explanation for religio:

“respect for what is sacred, reverence for the gods; conscientiousness, sense of right, moral obligation; fear of the gods; divine service, religious observance; a religion, a faith, a mode of worship, cult; sanctity, holiness”

The Wiktionary description for the same word is quite different:

“scrupulousness”, “pious misgivings”, “superstition”, “conscientiousness”, “sanctity”, “an object of veneration”, “cult-observance”, “reverence”

In this case, reverence is the very last in a series of otherwise disparaging terms. Consider the following comment from Tentmaker author Gary Amirault on the etymology of religion:

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary traces the word back to an old Latin word religio meaning “taboo, restraint.” A deeper study discovers the word comes from the two words re and ligare. Re is a prefix meaning “return,” and ligare means “to bind;” in other words, “return to bondage.” Do you still want some of that “old-time religion”?

There are two issues with this translation. First, the OED entry makes it clear that the re- prefix is used here in the intensive form; thus, it means thoroughly and not again. Second, ligare is not a Latin word for slavery, as are servitus and famulatus. If the blatant mistranslation of the words is not convincing evidence that the author intends to lead the reader to a negative connotation, then consider the last line. The phrase Old-Time Religion alludes to the Southern Gospel music and black spirituals of Nineteenth Century, evoking images of slavery in America. This excerpt is followed by the opening words of Galatians 3, the underlying premise being that religion places the Christian in spiritual chains in the same way in which the Judaizers bound believers to the Law through rituals.


February 3, 2014

The Hunger Games


I never intended to read this book, but with the second movie in the theaters, I thought it was high time to get caught up. There is a lot of information about this story online, including this very informative wiki site, so I chose to provide a brief synopsis and to expound on a few observations I made while reading the book.


Synopsis

This synopsis is on the book. At the time of this writing, I have not yet seen the movie, so I do not know how faithful it is to the original story. Based on what I’ve read in the wiki pages I know that there are at least a few minor differences.

* * *   SPOILER ALERT   * * *   SPOILER ALERT   * * *   SPOILER ALERT   * * *

The story is set in a future North America, now called Panem. Following the destruction of modern civilization by natural forces, a totalitarian government called the Capitol arose and established rule over twelve districts. Each district provides different goods and services to the oppressive government. After a failed revolution by the districts against the Capitol, the Treaty of Treason was enacted. It contained penitential provisions including the institution of an annual contest called The Hunger Games in which every district must enroll one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen, chosen by lottery, to fight to the death in an outdoor arena controlled by the Capitol’s Gamemakers. These youth are called tributes and the lottery is called the reaping. This is the story of the 74th Hunger Games.

District Twelve is one of the poorest districts and has not had a Hunger Games victory in a long time. The tributes from Twelve, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, make a stunning impression during the opening ceremonies and are cast as star-crossed lovers. The 74th Hunger Games begin as normal, but as it becomes more likely that Katniss and Peeta must face one another as enemies in the arena, the Gamemakers change the rules, announcing that if the final two tributes are from the same district then they will be declared co-winners. This results in the formation of natural alliances between various remaining tributes, including Katniss and Peeta. The team from Twelve eventually win, but when the Gamemakers retract the rule change, Katniss proposes a suicide pact. She presumes that the Gamemakers will not allow them to end the games without a winner for if they were both to die then they would be martyrs in resistance against the Capitol and that could lead to civil unrest and even rebellion within the districts. When the Gamemakers realize what they are about to do, they quickly announce the two tributes as winners just before their plan can be fully executed.

My Initial Reaction

I really wanted to hate this story. Pitting children against one another in a death match, much less making it a game that some youths spend their whole lives in training to win, is not what I consider a very wholesome theme. To be honest, the thought still turns my stomach. What’s more, I heard nothing about the movie but how violent it is. This is why I didn’t read the book or see the film for so long. In the end though, I did enjoy the book, not just because it was fairly well-written with good characterization and subplots, but because it did not glorify the murder of children as I had first expected. Instead, it actually reinforced moral arguments against it.

Analysis

Basis. The story was much easier digest once I understood that it was loosely based on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. In one version of that story the city of Athens must give up nine courageous boys and nine beautiful maidens every nine years as a tribute after suffering a major military defeat to Crete. The children are sent into Daedalus’ labyrinth where the Minotaur monster lives, and there they are killed and eaten. Theseus, who is secretly the son of the Athenian king, volunteers as a tribute with the intention of killing the Minotaur and ending the bloody ritual. With this in mind, I was able to force myself to stop pondering how the surviving descendants of Americans living in Panem could totally abandon Judeo-Christian morals in favor of the Capitol’s version of justice and focus more deeply on the story at hand.

Self-Sacrifice. The only overt expression of the Christian ethos is Katniss’ choice to volunteer to be a tribute in place of her younger sister, Prim. One might hope to see the tributes stand united, refusing to fight one another and accepting death at the hands of the Gamemakers. In this way, they would resemble early Christian martyrs. But this is not the plot the author chose, so we must trudge forward toward a less edifying treatment of the human condition.

Violence. Insofar as the book is concerned, the depiction of violence was no worse than any war novel I’ve ever read, and was actually far more tame than some. Fans of Stephen King and Clive Barker have no voice in this debate whatsoever. Some of the tributes are developed as characters easy to hate, the career tributes in particular since they are trained to be killers. Katniss is different. She is not a killer but a survivor and all of her ‘kills’ are presented as justifiable. Glimmer and the girl from District Four die from stings when Katniss drops a nest of genetically enhanced wasps on them. Katniss was cornered at that time, trapped in a tree, and if she had not done this then her own fate was imminent. She shot the male from District One after he kills her only ally, Rue. This happened so quickly that I interpreted it as an instinctive reaction, the elimination of an immediate threat, and not a vengeful murder in cold blood. The slaying of her final adversary, Cato, was depicted as a mercy killing for he was already being torn to shreds by mutant beasts created by the Gamemakers. As for the suicide pact with Peeta, that scene was reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet.

The Twist. The rule change made by the Gamemakers was very predictable in my opinion, and because it came at the point in the plot where it did, its reversal was even more so. Though I wasn’t necessarily expecting Katniss’ suicide wager, it was an obvious course of action given that neither tribute could bring themselves to kill the other and then pretend to live a normal life afterward. The biggest question left on my mind was whether or not the rule change (and/or its retraction) was announced to the watching public or only within the arena. After all, the Gamemakers do control what footage is released to the masses. That the star-crossed lovers had formed an alliance under the assumption that one of them would eventually be killed at the hands of another tribute would not have seemed unusual, and a final battle between them should they be the last two standing would have provided the ultimate in entertainment. The Gamemakers did not expect the suicide pact, however, and if Katniss and Peeta had succeeded then the secret rule change would have been exposed and the two from Twelve would had won the games together, at least in principle, for the Capitol would have had no way to cover up their rebellious act.

Etymologies. As long as its done well, I really appreciate it when authors give meaningful names to their characters. It just adds a different dimension to the characterization, a deeper sense of personality. Subtlety is key.

The name Katniss is a prime example, referring not only to an edible plant, thereby underscoring her ability to survive off of the land, but also to Sagittarius, the famous archer in Greek mythology, as a testimony to her skill as a hunter. Peeta is the son of a baker in District Twelve and so he known to Katniss as ‘the boy with the bread’. I found no official word that this pun was intended by the author, but many have noted online that the sound of his name is strikingly similar to ‘pita’ which is, of course, the name of a pocketed flatbread. (Because I was listening to the audiobook version, I thought at first that his name was actually Peter and that the narrator was pronouncing it with a slight English accent, that is until I looked it up online.) The names of some of the other tributes were really just nicknames, such as Foxface, whose name was derived not only from her red hair and slender facial features but also from her stealthiness. Similarly, Thresh’s name is certainly derived from the agricultural term, he being from District Eleven where agriculture is the primary industry. He seeks refuge in a wheat field because he is familiar with that type of terrain and knows how to prepare food from the crop. Moreover, the threshing of grains involves beating them until they separate from the chaff, and Thresh’s primary asset is his strength, which he uses to crush the head of Clove with a rock. I do find the selection of Cato’s name puzzling in a way. Based on baby name sites, it means wise or all-knowing. I find this ironic, not because he wasn’t a smart contender, but because we was immature and emotional, traits that overshadowed any real wisdom he may have possessed.

The application of meaningful names isn’t limited to the human characters in this story but extends to places and things as well. Consider Panem. At first glance one might assume it is a futuristic transliteration or abbreviated form of “Pan-American”. Indeed, the author may have banked on this illusory reference, but anyone who has studied even basic Latin should pick up on the root word for bread. The Latin phrase panem et circenses (“bread and games”) is used to refer to a superficial means of appeasement of the people through the satisfaction of shallow needs (i.e. the need for entertainment in this case). This phrase was used to describe Rome during its decline when the people lived in luxury with an insatiable appetite for entertainment, including games in which human captives battled beasts in an arena. Though the term was certainly borrowed from the Theseus myth, the word tribute literally means something that is paid, such as a tax paid to a ruler for protection. Tessera is a Latin word for inscribed stones or tiles that were commonly used as theater tickets. In Panem, tesserae are tokens for food rations given to a youth in exchange for additional entries in the reaping lottery (or to put it more morbidly, extra tickets to the Games).

As you can see, the author’s borrowing of terms from antiquity is far from trite and should earn for her some respect from the intellectual reader. I just find it curious that a culture having limited knowledge of history beyond the previous seventy-five years or so employs so much ancient vocabulary in their vernacular, especially since the meanings of the words often depend on historical context. Perhaps those in the Capitol are not so ignorant, and knowing that knowledge is power, they keep the inhabitants of the districts uneducated about the culture of their ancestors.

The Art of War. I’ve read a few books on military strategy in my time and I couldn’t help but notice how some parts of the narrative sounded like the excerpts from Sun Tzu’s Art of War. For example, Katniss preferred not to travel in the valley, because she felt exposed to predators, but would much rather traverse the hills, allowing her to fight down hill. She also knows how important it is to learn your enemy’s strengths and weaknesses, skills and tactics, and to know your own limitations as well. She uses incendiary warfare to disrupt the enemy’s supply lines. The Gamemakers understand that there are different types of terrain (ground) and that the tributes may enter them only under certain circumstances. They use disruptions to guide the tributes’ movements. Espionage and alliances definitely play a role. It should come as no surprise though. Sun Tzu is a short treatise on warfare that can be easily digested and is probably used quite often as a quick reference by authors when writing battle stories. Plus, she’s the daughter of an Air Force officer and Vietnam War veteran, so she has a subject matter expert close at hand.

Rule By Fear. The Hunger Games has an effect beyond the simple penance they impose. They reinforce the Capitol’s dominion over the districts, but they also hinder the districts from organizing an effective force against the oppressive government. There is the preparation for the games themselves. That several districts raise and train elite youths to be tributes expose where their resources are expended. Other districts are poor and must work hard to survive. Rivalries between districts also reduce the likelihood that rebellious alliances will form. Over time, the Games have been accepted as part of life in Panem, as horrific and as wrong as they may be, and the people are desensitized to the violence. To paraphrase the author, after the children are reaped everyone in the district rejoices save but two households, which close tight the shutters on the windows and figure out how they are going to make it through the coming weeks. This is a potentially volatile environment, so the Capitol is careful to put down any action that might encourage resistance or rebellion through police action.

Political Message. I was told by a friend that the book was published shortly after the tragic events of 9-11 and (more pointedly) the passage of the Patriot Act…well, by shortly I mean within a year or two. The implication was that Panem and the Capitol are warnings of what will happen to the U.S.A. should we continue to follow leaders like George W. Bush. Now, this is just his opinion mind you, though he did said “he read all about it on the Internet”. Honestly, I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to substantiate his claim, but if I have a chance to do so in the future then I will update this section with my findings. All I can say is that The Hunger Games wasn’t published until 2008, and it appears that the author was quite busy writing other books in the meantime. One might surmise that the timing of the book’s first publication less than two months before the 2008 presidential election was a little too coincidental. But then, the case can also be made that political conservatives could be just as likely to interpret the work as warning against the “evils” of a possible liberal administration. Just maybe, if any political message was intended at all, it was kept vague and flexible enough to make the story seem timely regardless of the current political atmosphere. If that was done with purpose, then well played, Mrs. Collins, well played indeed!

Conclusion

Though I enjoyed the story as it unfolded and the opportunity to reflect more deeply on its intricacies, I still question whether or not this book contains a theme too mature for pre-teen readers. I remember reading the story of Theseus and the Minotaur around that age, and fighting against a vicious beast to survive may be acceptable, but I do not see the need for a twelve-year-old to wrestle with the moral dilemma of being forced to kill their friends, classmates, and neighbors. With regard to the culture statement made by this work, I ended the book with the notion that the sequels will contain the story of a second revolution, a small seed of hope that liberty will indeed survive the wrath of the Capitol. When I mentioned this to a friend I was reassured more with a smile than with words that I won’t be disappointed in the outcome. With that, Catching Fire is already loaded into my vehicle’s six-disc changer and I brace myself for another eleven hours of agony and adventure.


December 8, 2011

Sacred Scripture: Exegeses

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Exegesis is the critical examination of a text. It is not limited to grammar and syntax, but can extend into the historical and cultural context of the work, as well as other literary analyses. Hermeneutics (to translate or interpret) is often used interchangeably. Most of the essays found on this page are also (or eventually will be) linked within my Sacred Scripture Summaries & Commentary pages. These are my writings, and like the Theology page, this page was created as a convenient index. While these essays are rather informal compared to most exegeses available on the Internet, they do seem to fit under the same umbrella.

Update 10/21/2014: I started this page three years ago and didn’t do anything with it. I am resurrecting it now, but it is still in its infancy. Please check back later or follow me on Twitter for updates.


Old Testament New Testament
Torah
Genesis 3:15
Gospels
John 3:16

Pauline Epistles
Ephesians 2:8-10


July 30, 2010

Useful Latin Words & Phrases

Filed under: Language,Latin — Brandon @ 8:11 am
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My Lists > Language > Latin Resources > Useful Latin Words & Phrases


If nothing else, Latin is useful for getting a point across. For example, a single English word can have several meanings, all of which are conveyed by different Latin words that can be compared and contrasted. Also, word roots and extensions are very useful for understanding the meanings of unfamiliar words and for the expansion of one’s own vocabulary. They aren’t very useful if you don’t use them at least on occasion, so it is beneficial to have a good list of Latin phrases on hand. Below are links to some good online lists, as well as a (growing) list of phrases I’ve found helpful or just plain cool.


Sites

Some sites with useful Latin phrases:

And, some not-so-serious ones:

Favourites

Here are some I’ve used, mostly at work:

  • cum grano salis – “with a grain of salt”.
  • cura posterior – “future concern”.
  • domus dulcis domus – “home sweet home”, or at work: domus dulcis cubus.
  • esse quam videri – “to be, rather than seem to be”; common motto, including North Carolina’s.
  • ex abrupto – “without preparation”.
  • ex mea sententia – “in my opinion”.
  • imperium – power or authority.
  • in esse – “in being”, “in actual existence”.
  • locus in quo – “The place in which”; in law, the scene of an event.
  • obsta principiis – “resist the beginnings”; i.e. “nip in the bud”.
  • sapere aude – “dare to discern”; used by Horace, Kant & Foucault.
  • terra incognita – “unknown land”; ancient cartography term for unmapped regions.

From showbiz:

  • Me transmitte sursum, caledoni! – “Beam me up, Scottie!”

And, some from religion and philosophy:

  • credo ut intelligam – “I believe so that I may understand”; Anselm of Canterbury.

November 6, 2009

Online Etymology Dictionary

Filed under: English,Language — Brandon @ 10:58 am
Tags: , , ,

The Online Etymology Dictionary provides explanations for the origins of many English words as found in forty-six other dictionaries and lexicons. The copyright notice on the home page names Douglas Harper as the holder and is dated November 2001.

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