Wednesday, July 30, 2008


As a religious person of a fairly orthodox theological persuasion, I am amused when people like me are accused of trying to make the US some kind of theocracy -- a place where our religious ideas will have the force of law. Dissent will be crushed, diversity eliminated, tolerance not tolerated and everyone will have the Ten Commandments mounted on their ceilings. Or something. I'm never sure what kind of religious government we're supposed to want to create, except that "all you evangelicals," which means me, I believe, want to make one.

OK, so I want a government and a society where a religious expression isn't mocked, belittled, marginalized and ignored. Which I more or less have now, although on some days and in some parts of the nation it's a lot less than more. But even if I had everything like that I wanted out of my government and my society, it wouldn't come anywhere close to a theocracy.

This, Good Reader, is a theocracy. Religious scholars determine that men are using pets as a way to "make passes at" women and "disturb" families. So the government enacts a law that dogs and cats may not be sold anymore. Period. Own a pet store? Out of luck, bucko. I'd give you a job sweeping sidewalks but without any dogs on them, there's not so much to sweep anymore. And I seriously doubt the law's effectiveness. A guy who's figured out how to make "I live with cats" a successful pick-up line is a guy who can probably adapt his tactics.

I don't think the distinction could be drawn any more clearly. In Not a Theocracy, a religious leader who called for a ban on selling dogs and cats because men were using them to make passes would get laughed out of his or her pulpit. As well as a serious talking-to by the church women's circles, which own more poodles per capita than any group in the world, and some pointed questions from the spouse about why they just had to rescue that pup from the pound. In Theocracy, the same fruit-basket-turnover of an idea is not only taken seriously as theology, it actually becomes law.

Sure we've got some nutty laws on our books. But at least we haven't blamed them on God.

(Edited when someone pointed out to me that using "over here" and "over there" gives impressions that don't have much to do with my point and might also be uncool)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Something Good

So, having harshed on local radio a few weeks ago, I'll send the media some love this week.

Being back in the OKC area means picking up KGOU, which means from 1 to 5 PM on Saturday and Sunday can be dedicated to Hardluck Jim and The Weekend Blues.

Hardluck plays a sweet combo of blues of all categories: classic, new, jump, piano, guitar, Chicago, swamp, jazz-tinged, soul-flavored and every other kind of music that has at its roots an unfaithful lover or jealous spouse.

The station's an NPR one, which means it receives public funding. I'm not so sure how I feel about public funding of the arts, since everyone's tastes are their own and I don't know why they should pay for stuff they may not think much of. Heck, there may even be some benighted souls out there who don't appreciate the six-string pathos of the blues.

But as long as public funding for the arts gives Hardluck Jim eight hours a week to give us a tour through this great music, I'll call it a good trade.

Hello, Mr. Kettle? This Is Mr. Pot Calling...

So, it seems the NFL doesn't much like the idea that Charles Woodson has his own wine.

According to their statement, Woodson's interview about his winery and its products could be seen as an endorsement of alcohol and have a "detrimental effect" on young NFL fans. Um, waitaminute. This is the National Football League, which has an official beer (Coors) and which has more beer commercials per game than offensive linemen have broken fingers.

Yup, nothing tarnishes a pro sports league's image like someone who decides to open a winery that will produce a high-end boutique wine and try to compete with some of the field's top producers. Much better to have some guy who's an obvious longtime beer customer dance around in the stands with two product-placed cans attached to his hat.

You stay classy, NFL.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hey, Thanks, Mickey...

So the good folks at Disney will be giving me a particularly noxious birthday present this year, as their new version of the longtime movie review show At the Movies will bid goodbye to people who know how to use words in favor of people who know how to be on TV.

Truthfully, I haven't watched the show regularly in some time. I remember catching it on PBS a lot when I was younger and it was called Sneak Previews, because our family enjoyed watching these two nebbishy guys trade opinions about movies with a healthy dose of sauce. And unlike a lot of people who insisted on being called film critics and turned up their noses at stuff that makes it out of the art houses, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel would review movies you might want to see. Since both of them were reviewers in print before they ever started a TV show, they could communicate some particularly complex ideas in their back-and-forth. I took one afternoon when I was in college in Evanston to visit the different Chicago sites they used in the show's opening.

Siskel, who died in 1999, was my favorite of the pair. I found my tastes more often in sync with his and he also seemed to have a lower tolerance for stuff that bordered on degrading or sleazy. But Ebert was also worth a listen, and his smackdown review of Rob Schneider's awful Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo is a classic. Richard Roeper never did a lot for me, and he came along at about the time I had begun to feel I would probably see whatever I wanted to see and like it if I wanted to like it and pshaw on people who insisted on only seeing Important Films, and double pshaw on garbage like Deuce Bigalow's Stepbrother asks Dude, Where's My Car, Because I Left it Running With an American Pie and Zohan Inside It. So I'd stopped paying a lot of attention to pre-movie reviews and mostly read the ones that hammered things like the aforementioned epic, just to see how caustic the writer could be.

Now cancer limits Ebert to written reviews and Roeper has decided to move on as well. And rather than letting the franchise have a dignified end, Buena Vista Entertainment has decided to replace the hosts with two new fellows, one of whom works for E! Television and is unfortunately not Joel McHale. It really doesn't matter who the other guy is, because an E! Television correspondent will be bad enough for any two ordinary people.

And all of this will take place on my birthday this year. So take a hike, mouse. I always liked Warner Bros. better anyway.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Out of the Office, out of My Mind Pt 2

At camp again, back on Friday. Peace-iness!

Friday, July 18, 2008

It Was a Dark (And Stormy?) Knight

OK, so I was apparently the only person who liked my Mr. Movie Person Dave Barry homage, so I'll consign it to the past.

It could also be that no one really cared that much about the opinions Mr. Movie Person expressed, but if people who wrote blogs stopped writing unless people cared about their opinions, we would have maybe four blogs total in the whole world.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure I'm leaving out any real spoilers, but I may still cross the line the way some people see it. If you're a nervous type about that sort of stuff, by all means wait until after seeing The Dark Knight before reading this.

I'm not as negative as the man at the urinal next to me who flipped open his cell phone and in the midst of the Flushing Chorus told his friend, "It sucked. (Whoosh!) But at least now I know." But I was disappointed. On the one hand, the Second Coming couldn't live up to this level of hype (I thought the Last Trump went a little flat, didn't you? No breath control). On the other, even if I spot the movie a few points to make up for the mandatory over-marketing, I still walked out with a shrug and a "meh."

The Dark Knight isn't bad -- too many talented people involved, all working pretty hard at stuff they're good at. But it did meader murkily for more than two-and-a-half hours, creaking under the weight of multiple plotlines and digressions to make Important Philosophical Points. It featured some pretty neat action set pieces as well as some of the blitzkireg-cut fight scenes that directors have been in love with recently. It needs some serious cleaning up, in other words.

The late Heath Ledger makes a fine Joker, although people who talk about giving him an Oscar for this should probably have their own heads examined. He's in no way as cartoonish as Jack Nicholson in Batman, but Christopher Nolan lives and works in the real world a lot more often than Tim Burton does. Christian Bale is also good, drawing the line between his Bruce Wayne and his Batman down to every detail, including vastly different voices for each set of lines.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is head and shoulders above Katie Holmes. Her character of Rachel Dawes has to carry some heavy dramatic weight in the movie that Holmes could never have pulled off. It's kind of a shame that those scenes and Gyllenhaal's greater talents are used in service of what amounts to little more than the same kind of girlfriend-in-jeopardy role that can be seen in any Fall Guy rerun. Aaron Eckhart takes on the role of Harvey Dent and -- well, it's hard to see why. Dent may be supposed to be some kind of mirror to Batman, or something, but we've turned around in so many circles with him that by the time he reaches the place where all good Batman fans know Harvey Dent is headed, he's a tacked-on afterthought with another character's monologue shoe-horned into his scenes to try to give him some structure.

As long as 1997's Batman and Robin exists, it will be impossible for anyone else to make a "worst Batman movie." And The Dark Knight is nowhere near the mess Tim Burton made in 1992's Batman Returns, his second Batman film. But it doesn't really deliver on the promise of Nolan's 2005 Batman Begins, and it leaves hopes for a quality third movie (if one is made) relying more on crossed fingers, knocked wood and rubbed rabbit's feet than one might wish.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

All Hail Whedon...

On the one hand, I love this!

On the other, it reminds me to call down plagues of boils on the television mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers who canceled Firefly.

I have to be a dean at a camp next week and I think my warning phrase prior to getting medieval on some miscreant will be, "Don't make me bust out the death whinny."

ETA (7/19): But I will also agree with those who say the ending stinks...

The Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal, I Can See 'em Clear as Day...

This sounds like it would have been fun to see.

It's kind of interesting to me that some of the most fun uses of modern technology come about when it's employed to do the simplest things or make good on long-ago ideas. A webcam in my living room? Boring (and all too revelatory of my lack of housekeepin' skills). A webcam at the edge of the ocean? Cool!

(H/T Sherri Blossoms)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It Was Twenty Years ago Today...

Sgt. McClane taught the baddies how he played...

(Technically it was 20 years ago yesterday, but I had meetings...)

Ich Bin ein Boss?

I take a back seat to my friend Philip when it comes to being a fan of Mr. Bruce Springsteen, but not to very many others. I've really appreciated his willingness to include a perspective of faith and belief in his music, particularly recently.

But this is just silly. The Reuters writer, who had enough synapses fire to leave his or her name off this, suggests that Springsteen's 1988 concert in East Berlin helped fuel (or, according to the headline at the time I first read the story, "helped fed") discontent amongst the East Germans. A few months later those same Ostdeustche picked up and left when their government finally granted them a right lots of people elsewhere had enjoyed for years -- the ability to walk, drive, swim or fly where you want to without having to cross minefields or dodge bullets.

A lot of people smarter than I am have pointed out that one of the Communist bloc's greatest failings was to provide provide its people with what they wanted. That included everything from basic consumer goods to decent luxury items to the ability to speak their minds on what occurred to them. As worldwide communications technology improved, lots of those people began to notice everything they didn't have. And among the things they wanted was western popular music, such as that performed and recorded by Springsteen. The influx of popular culture through music, movies and even television increased their dissatisfaction. Springsteen and his concert were another drip in a long process of erosion.

But the dissatisfaction wasn't new, or else there wouldn't have been a Berlin wall in the first place. East Germans, Poles, Czechs, Slavs, Russians and a host of other folk who woke up in the middle of Mr. Lenin's nightmare had wanted out for a loooooong time. The Chinese, Cubans and North Koreans still do.

And the article ignores the Springsteen comments it quotes -- he says he's come to East Berlin to play some rock and roll "in the hope that one day all barriers will be torn down," and that he's "not here for or against any government." Which fits well with the Springsteen of the 1980s, who was certainly an activist for many causes but still shunned official politics. His closest tango with that business up until then had been his pointed rejection of Ronald Reagan's attempt to co-opt his songs during the 1984 presidential campaign.

So, did Bruce, as the headline asks, help bring down the Berlin Wall? Well, no more than Levi Strauss did. But he did accurately describe what happened to much of the old Soviet bloc afterwards when he sang this line from "Thunder Road" on Born to Run: "It's a town full of losers, and I'm pulling out of here to win."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Votes for Sale...

A college student in Minnesota tried to auction his vote on eBay (minimum bid $10). The eBay people put a stop to that before he had any takers.

Now a county attorney has decided to charge him under an 1893 bribery law originally used to keep corrupt political workers from coercing votes out of drunks. The prosecutor said he understood the satire behind the student's offer, but he made up his mind to file charges after watching a disabled veteran march in a 4th of July parade. In essence, I guess, you could say that the attorney wishes the student to learn what combat taught that veteran back when he probably wasn't much older than the student is now: Votes do cost, one way or another.

The young man in question understood modern politics pretty well, actually, although he did commit the sin of clumsiness. He didn't understand that while many of us consider our votes for sale, we let the people who want it make us an offer, rather than the other way around. They do that by promising benefits from government programs or other forms of largesse from the public treasury. "Vote for me, and I'll make sure you and yours get a break from the same rules everyone else has to follow."

I've over-simplified and expressed it crudely, of course, but I think the point is clear. If you'd like a longer (and funnier) explanation, I invite you to check out P.J. O'Rourke's 1992 book Parliament of Whores.

So I hope the young man learns his lesson. Selling your vote is, unfortunately, well-accepted practice in our nation. What's not acceptable is admitting to it in public.


I've already admitted I'm a big geek, so you'll have to forgive me if stuff like this brings a smile to my face...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ask Mr. Movie Person: Live at Budokan

Q: Mr. Movie Person, what did you see this week?

A: Mr. Movie Person saw Hellboy 2: The Golden Army at the Warren Theater in Moore in the Grand Auditorium.

Q: What did you think?

A: Wow, on both the theater and the movie. A very large screen, tremendous sound, no bad seats in the house (Mr. Movie Person arrived late and was seated on the left edge towards the back, but he had no obstructions or distortions to his view. He would also like to apologize to the person he almost fell over getting to his seat).

Q: And the movie was good too?

A: Indeed. Mr. Movie Person is not one of the people who felt the original Hellboy was somehow inadequate, nor is he some kind of art-house snob who believes director Guillermo Del Toro should somehow consider himself "above" material that comes from comic books. Del Toro is an immensely creative director who uses his highly talented cast to produce a great movie that just happens to center on a large red person with horns, a tail and an immense stone hand.

Q: So it's recommended.

A: Yes. Not just for comic book people, either. Del Toro inserts a number of fun little jokes that people who may remember some of actor Ron Perlman's earlier roles will appreciate. For example, Roy Dotrice, who played with Perlman in the 1980s TV series Beauty and the Beast, sneaks into the story. And Mr. Movie Person can never fully hate Barry Manilow again after hearing one of his songs in a particular scene, although he will continue to find his music mostly distasteful.

Q: About the post title? Did you use it just because you were looking for some kind of lame sequel joke and you happened to have heard the classic Cheap Trick: Live at Budokan album on the radio, which reminded you how much you liked that record back in the day?

A: This interview is over.


The best bosses I've ever had always gave me the impression that part of their job was making sure their people were taken care of no less than they were, if not better. The president of the University of Louisville took an action this week that follows that path.

It's kind of funny that he had to ask the university trustees to approve him not taking his bonus and raise, though. "We're sorry, we can't allow you to take less money than we wanted to give you unless we vote to approve it."

(H/T University Diaries)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Out of the Office, out of My Mind

I'm at church camp this week; irregular posting will resume Friday...

Friday, July 4, 2008

Ask Mr. Movie Person II

Q: What did you see this week, Mr. Movie Person?

A: Mr. Movie Person saw two films, Will Smith's Hancock and the animated Pixar hit Wall-E.

Q: What did you think?

A: Well, we'll leave Hancock out, because Mr. Movie Person can't figure that movie out at all. But Wall-E was a lot of fun -- Mr. Movie Person thinks it's a good comeback after the not-so-stellar Cars and water-treading Ratatouille.

Q: What did you like about it?

A: The animation was absolutely amazing -- Toy Story was a jaw-dropper when it came out 13 years ago but what Pixar can do these days makes it look like a line-drawing on a flip-pad. Plus, Pixar continues to make certain its movies don't just look good but also have a good story to back up the flash. And any movie that opens with a cartoon short stands head and shoulders above the crowd.

Q: Did Pixar's merger with Disney hurt the movie?

A: Not that Mr. Movie Person could tell. Plus, a movie that finally gives longtime behind-the-scenes effects stalwart Ben Burtt a credited cast role is a good thing no matter whose name is on it. Mr. Movie Person recommends Wall-E to everyone, and recommends Hancock to people who think the world makes too much sense.

Q: What did you think about what some people said about the message -- about how one of the main points of the Wall-E story is we should be more careful with our environment so we don't have all kinds of trash all over the place like Wall-E has to deal with?

A: Mr. Movie Person, who has watched a lot of cartoons in his life, will get back to you on that as soon as he finds a place to get his beagle a pilot's license.

Q: Well, surely you agreed the filmmakers made a firm statement against how corporations and the consumption ethic have damaged our society.

A: Sorry, Mr. Movie Person was busy playing with his Wall-E toys and planning his national vacation tour calendar of The Little Mermaid on Broadway, Disney on Ice and Disneyworld...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ugh and Ugh-er

Turns out that Warner Bros isn't the only major Hollywood studio that wants to deface The Great Detective. Columbia Studios will team Sacha Baron Cohen and Will Ferrell in a comedic rendition of a Holmes-Watson tale. Cohen will play Sherlock Holmes and Ferrell will play Dr. John Watson, Holmes' biographer and co-adventurer.

Now, Holmes has been played for laughs before. Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley had plenty of fun with him in Without a Clue, and Gene Wilder brought his wild hair and Marty Feldman his wild eyes to the scene in The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother.

But Cohen's schticks age quickly, and Saturday Night Live alum Ferrell is on a fast train to Chevy Chase land, thanks to crap like Blades of Glory and Semi-Pro. The project's writer, Etan Cohen, has some fun King of the Hill episodes to his credit, but has also written for the awful American Dad and will burden the world with the one-joke war-movie comedy Tropic Thunder later this summer. Producer Judd Apatow has been a wunderkind of sorts with some well-thought of comedies, but lately his rose has been losing its bloom.

One Matt Tolmach, an official of some sort with Columbia, says this:
"Just the idea of Sacha and Will as Sherlock Holmes and Watson makes us laugh," said Col co-prexy Matt Tolmach.
If by "laugh," you mean "retch without ceasing for a thousand years," then I guess, OK, sure. I'll agree.

The Woods

Harlan Coben's probably best-known as the creator of the sports agent Myron Bolitar, who spends quite a bit of time handling matters for his clients that don't fit on the negotiating table. Matters like murder, kidnapping, extortion, etc.

He also writes stand-alone suspense novels like The Woods, the story of how county prosecutor Paul Copeland, recently widowed, learns that some of what he knows about his past isn't so. Copeland is haunted by the death of his sister some 20 years earlier at the hands of a summer camp serial killer, as well as how he will be the parent his six-year-old daughter needs as they both heal from his wife's death. Then one of the supposed victims of the murder at the campgrounds turns up. He's dead, but he died a lot more recently than 20 years ago.

Coben is a gifted storyteller who writes with humor and focuses much of his attention on the impact of such horrible events to the lives of ordinary people and families. Family ties and the way they affect what people do anchor most of his work. And he's good enough at telling his story that even though The Woods reels in a serial killer, embezzling, the Russian mob and life in the former U.S.S.R., you don't necessarily realize how outlandish all these things are until after you've finished the book and are looking back at it.

The Woods isn't going to be the best Coben you read, and the Bolitar novels are probably a better place to start exploring him. But you could spend $10 on worse stuff to skim through before bed at night. And we all have.