Sunday, March 30, 2008

Again, "What The..."

I had decided to rent the Indiana Jones movies in order to brush up on my Indy-ology in preparation for this summer's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. So I bop on over to my local Hastings -- a sort of hybrid music/video/book store we have in smaller towns like where I live.

I check the Action section, moving through the R's. Here's the 2000 made-for-cable movie Race Against Time. It tells me "Even the brightest future...has its dark side," and it may be better-known as "the movie Cary Elwes was most ashamed of until he did Saw." OK, I made that up. It's not "better-known" as anything.

Here's Raising the Heights, which tells me it's about "A city divided by fear, vengeance is in the truth." Apparently it's not about coherent declarative sentences. But no Raiders of the Lost Ark. Somebody's rented it, I says, and I decide to re-watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the least-liked movie of the series and one I probably haven't seen all the way through since it came out.

Here we go -- good ol' Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, so the movie just in front of it must be...Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark? Step on the brake, Bubba. What's this? I may have been in high school then, but my memory hasn't faded about certain things, like that girl in my sixth hour yearbook class or the title of one of the greatest movies of all time. It was Raiders of the Lost Ark. Period. Indy was in the movie, but he wasn't in the title.

But, according to IMDB, that's what the movie's called now, at least in its video title. Apparently someone decided that, in order to market a DVD set or something, all three movies needed to have the same title format. Maybe they thought people wouldn't get the connection: "Hey, honey, look at this! Harrison Ford played Indiana Jones in this other movie, too even though it doesn't say his name in the title!"

Look forward to the re-titled rereleases Rick and Ilsa in Casablanca, Hal the Computer in 2001, Michael Corleone is Still the Godfather in Godfather III and One Day This Guy Will Be President But Now He's the Cowboy from Brooklyn. Coming soon to a video store near you!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

You Can't Say That

Sort of a companion to the previous post. When my mom told me I shouldn't say "Jesus Christ," she was referring to the use of that name as some sort of epithet or swear word. Apparently somebody else's mom didn't explain that lesson so well.

According to the story, Ms. Vosper (why would you call someone who explicitly rejects a personified divinity "reverend," anyway) has written a book which was published in Canada March 18, called With or Without God. Her argument is that the church has to leave behind pretty much everything that's made it the church for 2,000 years. OK, I'm simplifying. A little. She thinks the sum total of the Christian message is "Love one another," and unless the church reduces its core message to that, it's doomed.

Ms. Vosper's theme is familiar, especially to those who suffered through John Shelby Spong's Why Christianity Must Change or Die. One need not have read that book to have heard this before, though. The upshot of these thinkers is this: In order to survive, the last thing the church can be -- as well as the first thing it must stop being -- is the church. One might note that Mr. Spong's book was published in 1998, and the church seems to have neither changed nor died in the intervening decade. Perhaps someone had a defibrillator handy.

In a quote from Ms. Vosper's book on its publisher's page, she says
I know this book is difficult. I know it will cost you much.
Specifically, it will cost you $29.95 Canadian, or $29.42 US on March 29. She continues:
But I hope you agree that the price is not too high..
Alas, Ms. Vosper. I'm afraid that in this case, I'll have to disagree with what you probably believe St. Paul never said anyway, and state that this particular hope will indeed disappoint. That $29.95 Canadian converted into "Brett dollars," also known as "Cash that the cheapskate Brett will actually part with" is a paltry $0.00, and somehow I don't think that's going to cover shipping.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Spiritual but not Religious?

This blogger has a neat way to address this. Like him, I'll speak from a Christian context. I don't really know how to address the issue of what someone of another faith tradition might mean when they say they're "spiritual but not religious."

There are plenty of people who may actually mean something when they say, "I'm spiritual, but not I'm religious" Much of the time, though, I think it's a phrase without meaning. People who use it are definitely religious, even if their religion might be a sort of "whatever I sort of like and can remember about Sunday school and some stuff from the blurb on a Deepak Chopra book combined under the Greatest Commandment of Thou Shalt Not Offend."

More accurately, I think many of the people who say this mean, "I'm religious, but I'm not Christian." Except that by Christian, they mean "judgmental person who makes exclusive claims about religious beliefs," or some other misconception. And chances are good it's a misconception, too. David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons of the Barna Insitute survey group's book unChristian spends several chapters detailing how many people, including those inside the church, see Christians. Opinions vary, but many share the attribute of being mistaken about what being a Christian means, even if they do accurately describe some people or churches who claim the name.

Give me an honest rogue over such "spirituality" any day of the week -- if I try to get a rogue to listen to the gospel, at least I won't have to spend time trying to convince him he's not the swell guy his own opinion suggests he is. We're already one step ahead of the game.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


... at a retreat this week.

When you happen to be sleeping in a common space, such as a tent or hotel room, and there are other people there because you are on a retreat or a campout or trip or whatever, and you snore like a Pratt & Whitney with a missing cylinder, here's some advice.

Do NOT wake up and ask, "So, did I wake you all up any last night?"

Your next sleep may be with the fishes...

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Man, I knew I should have read The New York Times before I wrote my sermon! From this story:

Some pastors began to rethink their sermons on Tuesday, when Senator Barack Obama gave a speech about race, seeking to calm a furor that had erupted over explosive excerpts of sermons by his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

Yup, nothing could have made me change my topic faster than hearing what the junior senator from Illinois said in order to try to clarify why he attended a church where some of the sermons contained some pretty ugly ideas and phrases. Easter? The resurrection of Christ? The most integral event to the Christian faith and to the meaning of human life and existence? Naw, I'm gonna talk about stuff a politician said in order to try to get himself out of a public perception jam.

I won't bust on Sen. Obama for being ambivalent about leaving his church. After all, according to him the preacher in question played a large role in leading him to Christ. And even if that's the kind of thing that could be blithely set aside, we're talking about a person leaving his church family -- the place where he, for the last 20 years, has found the body of Christ made real and become a part of it. I'd hope that wouldn't be easy to give up. Should he be sticking it out for venial reasons -- as a Chicago-area pol, he knows the only voters you can safely tick off are the dead ones because you already have their ballots filled out -- I can see why he'd do it.

When all is said and done, all we're talking about here is something that's been said. It's just a speech, and if preachers know one thing, it's that good, bad or mediocre, speeches by themselves don't change nothin', even when you call them sermons. Only time will tell if Sen. Obama's speech plays a major role in America's conversation about race. And I regret to inform Ms. Goodstein and Ms. Banerjee that "since last Tuesday" ain't nearly enough time. I'll leave the political talk to the politicians, and I'll keep the pulpit talk for the pulpiteers.

Which leaves the silly airheaded untrendy "trend" stories exclusively for writers from The New York Times.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


I rented the DVD No Country For Old Men the other day -- I'm getting to where I only want to watch really violent movies on my nice small TV screen, and some of them I'd rather not watch at all. No Country earned four Oscars, including best director, best picture and best adapted screenplay. All of them well-earned; the Coen brothers have a rare gift for directing as well as they write, and they writes some goodness.

I can't say the same for Javier Bardem's win for best supporting actor, though. He walks around stone-faced and stupid-haired, flipping coins and shooting people with a gun and a funky oxygen-tank cow-stunner. If this is what it takes to win best supporting actor, then the Academy needs to repossess Haing S. Ngor's 1984 best supporting actor Oscar for The Killing Fields and hand it over to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Or, if they decide that Arnie's actually got the lead role of The Terminator, then they need to ring up F. Murray Abraham and tell him that Salieri loses again, this time to a robot from 2029. Given that Abraham's recently offered the entertainment world the magnum opus Blood Monkey and is about to grace us with something called Shark Swarm, maybe they should do that anyway.

Tommy Lee Jones would have been a better nomination, and his work here is everything that anyone who suffered through In the Valley of Elah wished it might have been in that film. Of course, in No Country he's saying words from Cormac McCarthy by way of Joel and Ethan Coen. In Elah, he's having to make do with the boiled tripe of Paul Haggis. Even Olivier might have stumbled.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Gotta Get Back in Time...

I got around to seeing 10,000 B.C. the other day, and it's very silly. I'm kind of amazed that a big-budget Hollywood flick has CGI critters that don't look much better than what we see on one of the Sci-Fi (or, as a member of my first congregation called it, "skee-fee") Channel's decapitation fests.

I'm less amazed that it's characters have no more depth than the mobile paper dolls one finds in the aforementioned features. Director Roland Emmerich has offered some fun roller-coaster rides to theatergoers, like Independence Day, but no one's ever accused him of spending much time on the people involved in them.

The movie reminded me of a book I checked out and reread probably a dozen times from our local library when I was a kid. Part of the "Allabout" series, this one was All About Strange Beasts of the Past, by a man named Roy Chapman Andrews. Andrews wrote two other books in the Allabout series, about dinosaurs and whales, which were also regular visitors to the family dwelling. Beast's cover -- a rather fanciful scene of a saber-toothed tiger attacking a giant sloth that was itself stuck in a tar pit (and which looked strangely like Baloo the Bear from The Jungle Book) -- always fascinated me.

Andrews himself was a naturalist and adventurer who also served as the director of the American Museum of Natural History. He may have been one of the inspirations, even if indirectly, for the Indiana Jones character played by Harrison Ford.

Beasts was published more than 50 years ago, so its research and information are pretty outdated. But if Mr. Emmerich and co-writer Harold Klosner had picked up a copy, they might not have had saber-tooths and woolly mammoths roaming the area that's supposed to turn into ancient Egypt.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Maalox, Stat!

Sometimes my stomach feels like this is what has been going on after I've eaten a meal.

I Wonder

I wonder if the people in this organization remember that in 1968, the U.S. elected a Republican president. Because my guess is they don't want that.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

It's Almost...

...enough to make me wish I had HBO. Almost. And is it just me, or does that picture of Paul Giamatti make him look a little like Russell Crowe in Master and Commander?

I'll just wait for the DVDs, and in the meantime maybe I'll reread McCullough's book.


This guy, whose 176-page novel about two people having a phone sex conversation, Vox, was reportedly a gift from intern Monica Lewinsky to Pres. Clinton, has written a kind of history book about World War II.

In it, he suggests that the U.S. should have stayed out of WWII and cites Joseph Goebbels as an authoritative source for a view of Winston Churchill. He calls it Human Smoke and wants you to give him $30 for it.

Yeah, there's some smoke here all right, but I don't think it comes from humans...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Faith and Begorra, Yo

Now this is the kind of thing multiculturalism should be about. I doubt any number of mandated diversity seminars could do as much good as what naturally grew out of a teacher's difference, children's curiosity and happy feet.

(H/T Erin O'Connor)

Row for Dough

The New York Times ran a story on how most expectations for collegiate sports scholarships will be unfulfilled. A guy named Steve Sailer crunched some numbers and came up with the expected value of playing a high school sport for the average student. He divided the number of athletic scholarship dollars given in a sport by the number of high school athletes competing in that sport. So obviously, the immensely talented high school athlete who actually gets one of those scholarships receives well above the average. But someone whose talents are, say, more in the range of ducking out of the way of a thrown ball because that thing's headed right for my head -- well, we would receive below the average. Like zero, for example.

So it turns out that the best way to pay for your kid to get a college education is to have a daughter and teacher her how to row crew. That'll earn her almost ten grand towards the ol' room and board. And chances are pretty good the team coach and team members will come after her to get her to join. At the college where I used to work, pretty much any woman who looked athletic and strong heard from the coach or another crew member at least once.

You might also teach little Sally to pick up a sword, which could earn her about three grand towards school on the fencing team, as well as offering a handy deterrent for those overly amorous, morally latitudinous and alcohol-fortified fraternity boys.

Of course, this may not sound right -- we hear about how university football programs run through multi-millions of dollars each year, amounts which could give every D-1 football player in the country his own tenured tutor and ensure they could all read their commitment letters. But as Sailer notes, more than a million kids play high school football, and the actual annual amount of scholarship money passed out by those programs is just over $367 million. Hey -- that six million dollars for a coach who can't win BCS games has gotta come from somewhere.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


If you've got yourself a chance to be the top receiver on one of the premier collegiate football teams in the country, how do you conduct yourself during the semester just before you graduate high school?

Why, you carry a stolen handgun onto your school campus, of course.

What the heck goes through the minds of these student-athletes when they do dumb stuff like this? On the one hand, you've got the shot at a pro career which could make you wealthy beyond your whole hometown's wildest dreams. You could finally play your sport and make money for yourself instead of your coach and AD. On the other, you've got a jacket. Or a few thousand dollars from your part-time job. Or some money from a drug dealer. Or drugs themselves -- and there's no way to link to all those stories without overloading Blogger. Yes, I know Mary Anne did it. But if Mary Anne jumped off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff, too?

So which should you do? Satisfy the short-term desire or exert all your self-control to behave like a civilized, law-abiding person for four years? Maybe only two or three. Is it as mundane as thinking that you won't get caught, just like every other moke who tries to five-finger discount a bottle of malt liquor from QT? Or is it worse? Do you somehow believe that walking into school with a stolen handgun won't cause that college coach who courted you like a prom date to drop you like he would a smelly cow pie?

TV has more sports channels than ever before, offering viewers more sports viewing choices than ever before. The problem is digging through all the high-profile, high level competition to find people you can watch without thinking, "Wonder who his parole officer is?"

Monday, March 10, 2008

What The?

So, a couple of Kathy Griffin fans decided she should preside at their wedding.

Griffin is a comedienne who managed to parlay her stints on Brooke Shields' sitcom and a special "celebrity" edition of The Mole into her own unscripted show, My Life on the D-List. It airs on Bravo TV, which used to be a kind of highbrow basic cable channel but now airs things like The Real Housewives of New York City and Tabloid Wars. D-List won an Emmy, which should be a sign that Ms. Emmy is apparently none too particular with her favors. During her thank-you speech, Griffin took a shot at celebrities who frequently thank Jesus for their awards, whether or not their lifestyles reflect much knowledge about him. Her shot was well-aimed, but she finished with a vulgar suggestion using Jesus' name, which should have surprised no one who had ever seen her act.

Of course humor is one of those subjective things, but Griffin's standup usually demonstrates a much better grasp of how to be profane than how to be funny. (She responded to the controversy over her acceptance speech by rhetorically asking if she was the only Catholic left with a sense of humor. I think she needs to make an offer of proof on both counts).

There are folks who are against the idea of two people of the same sex relating to each other as though they were married. Some of them have that opinion because they're bigoted, but many hold it for sincere and thoughtful reasons. Among those reasons has been the idea that allowing same-sex couples to marry would harm the institution of marriage. Looks to me like we don't need same-sex marriage to damage the institution; a couple like Mr. Anstey and Ms. Shapiro can pull it off just fine with their "wedding ceremony" that consists of off-color jokes from the officiant and the bride reading from the reception menu.

AP's headline says this event is "No joke," making a play on Griffin's profession. Oh, it's a joke alright. But it's like most of the rest of Griffin's jokes. Pretty blankin' stupid and not very bleepin' funny.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Seen at the Gym...

This week:

1. When you go in the daytime, there are a lot of ladies there who turn the TV to stuff they want to watch. This is rarely ESPN or anything to do with drywall, and all too frequently Ellen or The View. The other day, it was Martha Stewart's show, upon which I saw several obscenities. They were showing off purses, and some of them sold for between $900 and $1,500. A thousand dollars for a purse. Ladies who own such better not let the starving hordes of the Third World learn of this, lest they be stuffed inside said expensive purses. Which will probably not be comfortable, in spite of the fact that you could buy a pretty good couch for that money.

2. The college where I work out offers a cardio training course for credit. You pay to take the course, obviously, and the way the gym part of it works is that you sign in, spend some time in the gym and then sign out in order to get the number of hours you need. So I saw three young ladies, a couple of whom had substantial presence, sign in, pick up magazines and sit on the exercise bikes and not even pedal. Fer cryin' out loud, youth of America, if you're not gonna learn which century the Civil War was in, the least you could do make an effort to not keel over from a heart attack before you're 30. You just give us old codgers more room to whinge about how worthless we think you are when compared to us.

Of course, the reason I'm in the gym is because I too took my metabolism for granted when I was 19, but just because I was dumb doesn't mean you have to be. And I suppose we all lose when stacked up 'gainst the mighty Baby Boom generation, who were the greatest thing even before sliced bread came to be. Just ask them.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

How the West Was Fun

For Christmas, my folks bought me season two of the 1960s spy-western The Wild Wild West. Robert Conrad is quick with his guns and his fists, Ross Martin is quick with his gadgets and disguises, and both men are quick with a quip as James West and Artemus Gordon. These two Secret Service agents regularly foil megalomaniacs who are bent on either ruling the world or destroying it (often both) sometime during the latter 1800s. Makes sense -- insane supervillains showed up long before their were movies and TV shows to feature them or rocket-equipped Aston Martins to thwart them.

Conrad worked with a stunt company to choreograph two outrageous fight sequences per episode that took the Western's typical barroom brawl and gave it a few shots of Jolt Cola. Had the great John Wayne ever gotten into a fight like this, he'd have found himself alone and holding a chair while the action went up the stairs, across the balcony, out on the roof and back down into the street. Martin's Artemus Gordon was much more than a sidekick; Martin himself once said his role was a show-off's paradise because of the more than 100 different characters and accents he played when Gordon was in disguise.

The show lasted four seasons, with one of the knocks against it being the high level of violence. Although the fight scenes look way over the top today, it's hard to imagine that TWWW's violence could earn a cancellation. So much for those bold, rule-breaking 1960's.

Anyway, if you've a hankering for some gadget-heavy gunslinging fun, there's pretty much nothing out there like TWWW, so you could do a lot worse than telling Mr. Netflix to send you some episodes.

PS -- avoid the 1999 movie with Will (An African-American secret agent in the 1870s? What's not to believe?) Smith, Kevin (Hate me all you want; I still get to go home to Phoebe Cates) Kline and Kenneth (Apparently I needed the money) Branaugh. It would in fact be one of those ways that I mentioned above in which you do a lot worse.

And It's Goodbye...

Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre has retired, which is a heck of a way to miss your first start in more than 16 seasons. I'm a Kansas City Chiefs fan, but Favre's presence made me usually ready to root for the Packers when they were playing almost anyone else. There's an obvious reason I'm a fan -- I can close my eyes and pretend all the cheers of "Brett!" are for me -- hey, I have a vivid imagination. Pipe down.

But watching Favre play was kind of like watching a regular guy play -- throwing on the run, throwing when you darn well shouldn't (he holds the record for interceptions, as well) and doing stuff that dolts like me would always advise players to do, figuring if we could only yell loud enough our voices would somehow be translated back through the TV and be heard by the guy we were coaching. Even though sports contests are called "games," it's hard to see much of an element of play in them most of the time. But Favre often looked like he was playing, like he'd be just as comfortable telling Artie to cut left behind the black Chevy or Cosby to have the driver of the J bus open the doors at 19th Street for a fake.

There's plenty to like about the Packers -- owned by the people of Green Bay instead of an egomaniac trying to live out jock fantasies far beyond him when he was younger. Storied history. Play outdoors. Won the first Super Bowl (they beat the Chiefs, so I debate that one now and again). All that's still there, but it may be awhile before they're as much fun to watch again.

Monday, March 3, 2008

It's Baaaaack!

Yes, big hair is apparently on its way back. Of course, if you've ever spent time in Texas, you know that there are some places it never left.

This is, I suppose, inevitable. With bands like The Hives, the Click Five, Kaiser Chiefs and others reviving the New Wave genre of power-pop music, someone had to have the idea to run some other '80s fashions and ephemera out for an encore. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out -- when students at the college I used to work at would have "'80s parties," they never seemed to get the looks quite right, mixing some Flashdance with Pat Benatar and Madonna and giving it a ZZ Top video vixen hemline. Which is probably how well we '80s people did when we were younger and we tried to dress like hippies.

On an unrelated note, just after the second picture in the article we're reminded we're reading a British newspaper, as we meet one Peter Newbould, who works for his company as "director of toiletries." That's probably not nearly as interesting as it sounds.

In the meantime, I teach the Cadillac Walk, so shut up and dance.