And Another Thing…

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From the trivial to the serious

     Christine and I caught The Simpsons Movie this past weekend, and it more than surpassed our expectations. Every scene is packed with jokes; I probably missed some of them because I was still laughing at the last one.  Doing a big screen version of a television show that is still on the air is always a dicey proposition; you have to justify asking people to pay for something that they normally get for free.  The movie succeeds on this front by amping up everything: the humor, the animation, and the storyline.  I don’t want to give too much away, but the main plot concerns Homer inadvertently causing an environmental disaster by dumping his new pet pig’s waste into the town’s already overly contaminated lake.  The EPA quarantines the entire city, and a lynch mob comes looking for Homer’s blood.  The family escapes and attempts to forge a new life in the wilds of Alaska.  When they learn that the sleazy head of the EPA has convinced President Schwarzenegger (you read that right) to bomb Springfield off of the map, they return to try to save their town.  Other subplots include Bart’s yearning for his father’s unconditional love, Lisa finding the love of her life, and Homer going on a vision quest.  Hilarity ensues.  I cannot remember the last time I left a movie theatre with my abdomen sore and tears rolling down my face from laughing so hard.  If you are concerned about the satirical shots that the show sometimes takes at organized religion, relax. The Simpsons has always been an equal-opportunity offender, satirizing everything on the scale from right to left and back again.  And you know what? There is plenty about modern religion that merits satire. 

     On Saturday, we were set to go to a birthday party that got cancelled at the last minute due to the guest of honor’s illness. At about the same time I was invited by some guys to go see Rescue Dawn with them.  Since Christine does not dig on war movies, I took the opportunity.  This is a very good film. It tells the true story of Dieter Dengler (played by Christian Bale), a naval pilot who was shot down over Laos in 1966. After being captured by enemy forces, Dengler spent five months in a POW camp, enduring starvation, random beatings, and worse. The film shows the careful escape that Dengler began to plan immediately after his arrival in camp, his 23 day flight through the jungles of Laos (without food, potable water, or shoes), and eventual rescue.  It is harrowing, nerve-wracking stuff. Bale, now known for his portrayal of the title character in the excellent Batman Begins, delivers the goods as always. Steve Zahn, who typically plays goofballs, is also excellent as one of Dieter’s fellow prisoners.  

     John Dobbs has a link on his excellent blog to this thoughtful essay on the potential costs, to individuals and communities, of using free speech arguments to protect pornography.  The author discusses the increasing sexual obsessiveness of our society, the sexualization of children and adolescents, and the destructive capacity of the bizarre porn that the internet makes available to any household.  It merits a read and consideration. 

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Filed under: Faith and Religion, Movies, Politics

The Blame Game, Plus-Size Edition

Apparently, being fat is contagious, at least according to results reported in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.  The study reports that a thin person is 57% more likely to get fat if he/she has a fat friend.  The risk is 40% with a fat friend and 37% with a fat spouse.

In the NY Daily News article on the study, Dr. Louis Aronne, a weight management doctor, is quoted as saying that there may be an unintended result of publishing the study:

 “There’s a danger that people will be biased against the overweight even more than in the past,” Aronne said. “Is a mother going to say, ‘I’m not going to let my kid play with an overweight kid because it’s going to make my kid overweight’?” 

Gee, you think?  In our modern age where parents screen and regulate every possible contact or influence in their child’s life, how can they hear about this study and not freak out?  I can hear the conversations now: “Y’know honey, that Smith kid is a polite, well-behaved, fun boy, and his parents seem very nice as well.  But I don’t think we should let Junior play with him anymore. He’s fat and it might rub off on Junior.”

Although I am fat, I am not a “fat rights” advocate. I am not going to whine, weep, and wail over alleged “discrimination” against the overweight.  I don’t blame my genes or my potty-training. It is my problem and my responsibility to fix it.  And in most cases, I think this goes for others.  Except for those who have an illness or disorder, everyone is responsible for their own physical condition.  If you are fat, then it’s on you, not your fat friend, sibling, or spouse.  Having said that, I do take exception to those who presume to judge my character or intellect by my weight.  If you are heavy, there is an unfair tendency for people to think that they know everything they need to know about you on sight. This is the root to the behavior of avoiding fat people as job candidates, friends, and significant others.  And frankly, my Christian brothers and sisters, you are some of the worst to judge and look down your noses at heavy people. Everyone has a struggle, a bad habit, something about themselves that they want to change. Fat people are at a disadvantage because our struggle is visible to everyone around us.

I have a story about this, of course. Several years ago my mom and brother both happened to be in town visiting and went to church with me. A well-known church of Christ preacher (one of our progressive brethren, no less) was the guest-speaker that Sunday. My brother, like me, is a large man. When my mother, brother, and I were walking out of the auditorium, we went through the door where the guest speaker was greeting members. My mother was ahead of us, so she introduced herself to him and introduced my brother and me as her sons. No kidding, this well-known progressive preacher looked at my brother and me and said to my mother, “You must be a good cook.”  I asked him if they had stopped teaching manners in preaching school.  The look on his face was worth taking the insult.

If you think I have a chip on my shoulder about this, you are absolutely right. 35 years of this crap will do that to a person. I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself I can tell you that I don’t want anyone’s pity and I won’t tolerate anyone’s rudeness or condescension.  And finally, all of my thin friends: if you start to get fat, don’t go blaming me.

Filed under: Rants

Geeking Out, big-time

This is me as a resident of Springfield…

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To get your own Simpsons avatar, click here.

      I just heard that the final cast has been confirmed for the upcoming film Watchmen, and my inner geek is doing back flips.  For those not in the know, Watchmen was originally a 12 issue comic book series (ahem…excuse me, graphic novel) originally published from 1985 – 1986.  Written by the legendary Alan Moore with art by Dave Gibbons, the idea of the series was simple: What if super heroes, as portrayed in comic books, actually existed? Supposing that they had appeared in the late 30s and early 40s (roughly the same time as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman made their debuts), what effect would they have had on America and the world? What type of people would actually dress up in these outrageous costumes and go out into the streets to fight crime?  The answers were frightening:

·        Many of the heroes suffered from some fairly serious neuroses and personality disorders; one of them turned out to be a full-bore misogynist and sociopath, while another was an amoral government puppet.

·        The one hero with actual super-human powers gradually began to lose his humanity.

·        Thanks to having our own Superman, America would have won in Vietnam, thus ensuring Nixon’s popularity and allowing him to overturn the 22nd Amendment and remain president well into the 1980s.

·        America’s enemies abroad would be in a constant state of alert as a result of the American Superman, making nuclear war an even greater threat than it was at the height of the Cold War.

·        Anti-superhero riots would be a regular event.

And these are just a few of the nightmarish results.  The plot of the series centers on the efforts of Rorschach (the aforementioned sociopath) to find the murderer(s) of the Comedian (the aforementioned amoral government puppet).  Eventually, Rorschach’s search draws in most of the other surviving heroes (all of whom have retired in the wake of a congressional act demanding that they cease their activities) and reveals a Byzantine plot that could kill millions of people.

            This is a complex, sweeping story that rewrites most of the history of 20th century America.  Moore carefully weaves in scores of excerpts from books, newspaper and journal articles, and a memoir written by one of the retired heroes in the alternative history of the series.  Scathing social and political commentary, ruminations on religion, philosophy, and the meaning of life, and subplots detailing the experiences of ordinary people in the world of the series all help to elevate the series above its medium (or maybe reveal the potential of the medium) and turn it into a work of serious literature (for those of you laughing in the back at this point, consider that Watchmen has received, among other honors and recognitions, a place on Time Magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Novels of All Time).

            The series’ tagline, “Who watches the watchmen?” sums up the most critical issue of the story: How much authority over the destiny of the world should fallible human beings be allowed to wield?  A question whose relevancy never diminishes.

            The movie appears to be in good hands.  The director, Zack Snyder, has established himself with two solid action films, the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake and this year’s 300.  And the casting choices demonstrate the intention to fill the screen with talent rather than movie stars.  I know that some changes will take place in the transition from page to film, but that is an inevitable result of hopping mediums. Time will tell…

 

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On a slightly related note, this makes me curious: Name one book (of any kind) that you would like to see adapted for another medium (film, television, or stage)?  The floor is open folks…

Filed under: Books, Movies

Reviewing Away

As a rule, I don’t like espionage novels.  The prose tends to be humorless, the techno babble incomprehensible, and the characters mostly flat and cliché-ridden.  Often, the heroes of such novels are, in the words of Raymond Chandler, a little boy’s idea of a tough guy.  Most of them read like warmed-over James Bond.  However, I just finished the novel Legends, by Robert Littel, and am ready to give it a whole-hearted recommendation.  Littel is a former naval officer and journalist highly regarded by aficionados of spy fiction, and if this book is any indication of his usual caliber, I can see why.

            The story begins in 1993 with the brutal execution of a spy in a remote Russian village.  It then jumps to 1997 where we are introduced to Martin Odum, a former CIA agent making his living as a private investigator in New York.  A survivor of scores of missions under several false identities (“legend” is the agency term for a false identity) Martin is not entirely sure which of his legends is his true identity.  He is approached by Stella, a young woman of Russian-Israeli descent to find her sister’s missing husband in order to obtain a divorce that is recognized by Jewish law, thus allowing Stella’s sister to re-marry.  Initially, Martin refuses the case on the grounds that he has nothing to go on. However, when his former supervisor (or “handler”) from the agency pays him an unexpected visit and warns him off of the case, Martin decides to accept Stella’s offer, as much to find out what his handler doesn’t want him to know as to help Stella and her sister.

            As Martin’s investigation takes him and Stella around the world, chapter-length interludes give us background on Martin’s career with the agency and the various legends he employed in the course of his missions. The question of the hero’s true identity is always hanging over the proceedings: Is he really Martin Odum? Or is he Lincoln Dittman, historian, weapons expert, and arms dealer? Could he really be Dante Pippen, a former bomber for the IRA who now instructs terrorists in bomb building?  And what does the execution at the beginning of the book have to do with Martin’s story? I am giving nothing away by telling you that the search for Stella’s brother-in-law and the resolution of Martin’s true identity are connected, but I defy you to figure it all out before the end of the book.  Littel withholds no critical information, and all of the twists make sense in the end.  Heavy doses of action, humor, social commentary and an entirely satisfying resolution help to make this a spy novel for people who don’t like spy novels.

            Christine and I saw Talk to Me this past weekend. It’s a biopic of Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene, an ex-con who became a Washington D.C. radio and television personality and civil rights activist from the 60s to the 80s.  Although I never caught his shows, I remember hearing about Greene while growing up in the D.C. metro area. Greene was famous for saying exactly what he thought regardless of who he angered. One might say he was the original “shock jock.”  The movie focuses on the complicated relationship between Greene and Dewey Hughes, the radio station manager who gave Greene his big break and managed his career.  Highlights include the incident in prison that Greene used to obtain an early release, his efforts at obtaining an honest job, and his legendary broadcast during the D.C. riots in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King.  Greene stayed on the air for hours pleading with the citizens of D.C. to honor King’s memory by not rioting and taking the high road of peace.

            Don Cheadle stars as Greene and delivers yet another in a long line of great performances.  He is one of those actors who just slides into a role without any fuss or “Hey Look At Me!” tricks. In other words, you don’t see him Acting. If you don’t recognize Cheadle’s name, you may remember having seen him as Basher, the British electronics expert in Ocean’s Eleven and its sequels; or as the lead in the excellent Hotel Rwanda, or his hilarious and frightening turn as Mouse in Devil in a Blue Dress.

            Hughes is played by the unusually-named British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, a promising up-and-coming talent. I have enjoyed his work as the villain in Serenity (a great science fiction movie) and as Denzel Washington’s partner in The Inside Man.

            Although very funny and moving, this is not a film for everyone, and definitely not for kids.  The language is rough and the filmmakers never shy away from depicting Greene’s faults, including his drug and alcohol abuse, manipulation of others, and womanizing.  However, it does a great job of conveying the desperation of a reformed criminal trying to make something of his life through legitimate means and the power in just telling the truth, about one’s self and what one sees in the world.

Filed under: Books, Movies

Fully poseable?

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 According to the Church Report website, Wal-Mart wil soon begin selling Bible-based toys manufactured by the One2believe company.  The toys are aimed at parents who don’t want their children playing with toys inspired by movies or comic-book characters.

I have to say, this seems kind of silly to me. Whether your kid has a Spider-Man action figure or Moses action figure (complete with 10 Commandments and snake/staff accessories!) he is going to do with it whatever he wants. If he has Spider-Man fighting one of the Transformers then he is likely going to have Moses do the same thing. To each their own I guess.  However, I have to wonder if the image above is the best idea that their marketing department could come up with…

Filed under: Uncategorized

Doug Marlette, 1949 – 2007

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“We are in deep trouble when victimhood becomes a sacrament, personal injury a point of pride, when irreverence is seen as a hate crime, when the true values of art and religion are distorted and debased by fanatics and zealots, whether in the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Prophet Mohammed, or a literary Cult of Narcissus.”  – Doug Marlette

            Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, political satirist, and novelist Doug Marlette died in an automobile accident on July 10th.  Marlette was probably best known as the creator of Kudzu, a daily syndicated comic strip chronicling life in sleepy Bypass, S.C. Although ostensibly about the title character, an ordinary teen named after the weed that grows rampant in the South, Kudzu was a gentle (most of the time) and knowing satire about all things Southern, including Southern attitudes about religion and politics.  The strip was not published for long before the most popular character turned out to be the Rev. Will B. Dunn, the pastor of the local Baptist church. Marlette went to great lengths to make Dunn realistic: Dunn could be a blowhard, many of his sermons and ideas fell flat, and he was often tempted by the power of his position; but his faith was sincere and he meant well. Some of my personal favorite moments in the strip:

·        Kudzu purchases a mail-order chest-toupee to make himself look more “manly” and impress Veranda Tadsworth, the girl of his dreams. Veranda responds by accusing Kudzu of animal abuse for stuffing “some poor varmint” down his shirt.

·        Local loser and “whitest white-boy on Earth” Nasal T. Lardbottom travels to Switzerland for a “race change and soul implant.”

·        When Bypass’ most powerful citizens scheme to sell the entire town to a Japanese company, the only hold-out is Kudzu’s Uncle Dub, the local mechanic and Kudzu’s role model. Then-President Ronald Reagan pays a personal visit to Bypass to convince Dub to sell. When Reagan asks Dub if he is a Republican, Dub replies, “No Mr. President, I’m a Southern Baptist!”

For years, reading Kudzu was one of my favorite daily activities, and I have never forgotten all of the laughs it brought to me and my family. Marlette won the Pulitzer for his political cartoons, and he was not afraid to provoke people on the left or right (my personal favorite kind of provacateur).  For some of his more pointed works, click here.

 

More information about Marlette’s life and work can be found here, here, and here.

 

Rest in peace, Mr. Marlette.

 

Filed under: Uncategorized

Read and consider

These two posts from John Dobbs (who is also featured on my blogroll)

Homeless Part One and Part Two

Filed under: Faith and Religion

In no particular order

·        Christine’s birthday was Wednesday. With our work schedules being what they are, we are postponing the real celebration (mini golf and steaks with some friends) until the weekend. However, I did get her a card and a gift bag of jelly beans (her favorite candy). Coming up with a gift idea was tricky. Having just gotten married we have had gifts showered on us starting in March and only recently slowing down (despite the wedding being in May). For the first time in my life I actually feel “gifted out.” Of course I appreciate every gift we have received, and all of them will be put to good use. I just never expected to get so many at once. As far as gifts go, Christine is neither greedy nor demanding, and when she says “Oh, I don’t really need anything” I think that she actually means it. Like me, she enjoys movies, books, and music, and over the time that I have known her I have given her all of these. However, I wanted to get her something a little different than the norm. After wracking my brain I finally settled on tickets to see Chris Isaak at Wolf Trap in August. I have heard that he puts on a great show and I have always enjoyed his music, so we will see. I will probably post a review of it.  However, it makes me want to put the question to you, gentle reader: What sort of gifts have you given to or received from your spouse/significant other that stick out? Consider your comments advice to a newlywed…

·        Haven’t been to the movies much this summer, which is unusual for me. I don’t know if it is less time or less interest, or something else that is keeping me away from the multiplex these days. Part of it may be that having a wife, mortgage, and school to pay for makes me a little more judicious with my income. A matinee show in the D.C. area now averages $7 and I don’t want to shell out that kind of money for movies based on a 20 year old toy line or the latest entry in the despicable and growing “kidnap and torture” genre.  Not to mention the subhuman manners of a lot of film audiences these days.  On the other hand, there are some movies that have piqued my interest, such as Sicko, Talk to Me (Don Cheadle is one of my favorite actors working today), and The Simpsons Movie.  If I get around to seeing any of them, you’ll be the first to know.  On an amusing note, I found out that my mother took my nephew to see Transformers while he was staying with my parents in Mississippi. The reason this amuses me is that this is probably the first science fiction movie my mother has seen since taking me and my friends to see Return of the Jedi in 1983. When I asked her what she thought of it, she said that she didn’t have an opinion of it because she had no idea what was going on at any point in the film. Have any of you seen any movies this summer that you considered worth the price of admission?

·        I realize that I am way behind the curve on this one, but I have only recently discovered the joy that is iTunes.  Being able to get just about any song you want, when you want it? Boss, man.  However, I have actually managed to stump the catalog a couple of times. I am not sure what that says about my tastes in music.

·        I am a little annoyed with [my school] right now. Back in the spring, I went to great lengths to get a certain class with a certain professor, whom they just announced will not be teaching any courses for the upcoming school year. Instead, the section that I registered for will be taught by the professor that I was told to avoid at all costs.  And so it goes…

Filed under: Movies, Music, School, Uncategorized

Frustration

My employer offers a tuition reimbursement program for one class per semester. They started taking applications for the fall semester on Monday. They require a receipt showing payment with the application. However, [my school] has not tabbed student bills for the fall semester yet, so student accounting cannot even tell me what I (will) owe.  Consequently, I have to wait to submit my application for reimbursement. Since reimbursement funds are limited and earmarked on a first come-first served basis, by the time that I can apply I will likely be told that all funds have already been reserved and then be put on the waitlist. Grrrr…

Filed under: Uncategorized

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